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The Mass Grave of Uxul and the Function of Ritual Violence in Classic Maya Society

While Maya art provides explicit representations of ritual violence, such as the degradation of prisoners, sacrifice and other procedures, the physical remains of such practices have largely remained undocumented in the archaeological record. Nevertheless, numerous scholars have tried to identify the victims and the religious and political motivations of ritual violence. Even though motivations varied in specific cases, recent studies have shown that the practice and representation of ritual violence frequently served to degrade opponents and display political dominance.

History of Research
During the 2013 field season, archaeological excavations within an artificial cave at the site of Uxul, Mexico led to the discovery of the bones of at least 20 individuals. The excavations of the mass grave were carried out within the Uxul Archaeological Project (Department for the Anthropology of the Americas, University of Bonn), which was directed by Prof. Dr. Nikolai Grube.


 Mass Grave.jpg

Overview of body parts during the excavations of the Mass Grave o Uxul (Photo: N. Seefeld).


The excavation process and the documentation showed that these individuals had been dismembered prior to their deposition. Subsequent analysis of the bone material confirmed the primary field observations since all individuals showed signs of decapitation and dismemberment while most long bones featured distinct cut marks suggesting that the flesh had been scraped off from the limbs before their deposition.

Research objective
Since January 2018, the bone material of the mass grave is the focus of an extensive post-doc project. Apart from determining the age and gender of the buried individuals, the physical anthropological investigation also focuses on the systematic documentation of the location, form, and distribution of traces of physical violence in the bone material. The overall goal of the project is the publication of a monograph in English which reflects the diverse aspects of the Mass Grave of Uxul, incorporates the insights on graphic representations, physical-anthropological investigations and comparable archaeological findings of mass graves from other Maya sites. On that basis, the study will enable a substantiated evaluation of the context and the political function of ritual violence in Classic Maya society.


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Close-up view of cutting marks on the rib of an individual buried in the Mass Grave of Uxul (Photo: N. Seefeld).


Project management:
Dr. Nicolaus Seefeld (Department for the Anthropology of the Americas, University of Bonn) Contact: nicolaus.seefeld(at)

The Gerda Henkel Foundation supports the project through a research grant, as well as travel and material expenses.

More info can be found here.