Mexico’s Comalapa Cave With Toothless Skulls

INAH researchers have analyzed approximately 150 toothless skulls and other bones unearthed a decade ago in southeastern Mexico’s Comalapa Cave, in the town of Carrizal, near the border with Guatemala.

These human remains are not related to people killed in recent incidents of violence but correspond to individuals decapitated between 900 and 1200 AD.

When Mexican cops stumbled upon a pile of about 150 skulls in a cave near the Guatemalan border a decade ago, they thought they were looking at a crime scene.

In a way, they were correct, but it has turned out to be a very cold case dating back a millennium.

It took 10 years of tests and analysis to determine the toothless craniums of men and women were from sacrificial victims killed between AD 900 and 1200, the National Institute of Anthropology and History said Wednesday.“Believing they were looking at a crime scene, investigators collected the bones and started examining them in Tuxtla Gutierrez,” the state capital, the institute, known as INAH, said in a statement.

The police in 2012 weren’t being stupid; the border area around the town of Frontera Comalapa in southern Chiapas state has long been plagued by violence and immigrant trafficking. And pre-Hispanic skull piles in Mexico usually show a hole bashed through each side of every skull, and were usually found in ceremonial plazas, not caves.

But experts said Wednesday the victims in the cave had probably been ritually beheaded and the skulls put on display on a kind of trophy rack known as a “tzompantli.”

Spanish conquistadores wrote about seeing such gruesome racks in the 1520s, and some Spaniards’ heads even wound up on them.


There are more sacrificial skulls belonging to women compared to men.


The tzompantli in the Comalapa Cave in Chiapas, Mexico.


The skulls were on a display known as a “tzompantli.”

While usually strung on wooden poles using holes bashed through them — the common practice among the Aztecs and other cultures — experts say the cave skulls may have rested atop poles, rather than being strung on them.

Interestingly, there were more females than males among the victims, and none of them had any teeth.

In light of the cave experience, archaeologist Javier Montes de Paz said people should probably call archaeologists, not police.

“When people find something that could be in an archaeological context, don’t touch it and notify local authorities or directly the INAH,” he said.

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