10 Things You Didn’t Know About Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (or the ATM for short) is one of the top adventurous and thrilling experiences Belize has to offer. The cave is found in the beautiful Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve located in the foothills of the Maya Mountains in Western Belize. Here are ten interesting things you might not know about this ancient Maya sitet:
1) The name Actun Tunichil Muknal means, “Cave of the Stone Sepulcher”, and locally known as “Xibalba”, roughly translated to “a place of fear”.
2) The cave was first discovered in 1989 and opened to the public in 1998. Dr. Jamie Awe was the first person to explore the cave, and along with his Western Belize Regional Cave Project they conducted archeological research there from 1993-2000.
3) The cave is a full 5 kilometers deep (roughly 3 miles) but tourist are only brought 3,5 kilometers into the cave.
4) Inside the cave over 1400 artifacts has been found and catalogued. Among these artifacts are ceramic pottery, water vessels, tools and weapons dated al the way back to AD 250-909. It is to this day one of the most impressive and artifact rich caves ever found.
5) A famous artifact found is the “Monkey Pot”, which is decorated with a monkey near the pot’s rim. It is one of four located across Central America with such characteristic decoration.
6) It is believed that the cave was a sacred place used by the Maya people to perform their sacrificing rituals. The Maya people believed that the gods who provided rain and agricultural fertility resided in the underworld and that the cave was the place where they could reach that underworld and appease the gods during times of strife.
7) There is clear evidence in the cave of bodies being bound and tortured. “The Stelae Chamber”, one of the major sights in the ATM cave, contains two slate stelae in front of which individuals of high status performed rituals, where they would cut themselves with obsidian blades and offer their blood to the gods.
8) It is home of the famous “Crystal Maiden”, a young woman around the age of 18. It is believed that she was brought into the cave as a sacrificing gift for the gods. She was clubbed and left for dead and with the passing of time she has been cemented to the floor, caused by the water running over the remains causing a crystalline coating of brown calcite to form over the bones.
9) In the ATM cave there has been found up to 14 skeleton remains in the “Main Chamber”: 7 adults and 7 children, all under the age of 5. These are like not ceremonial burials but sacrificial victims The reason why the Mayas used young people, women in particular is because they were considered to be “Zuhui” meaning pure and uncontaminated and pleasing in the eyes of the gods.
10) Since an accident in 2003, where a tourist dropped a camera onto one of the skeletons, it is no longer allowed to bring cameras to the cave. And when entering the “Main Chambers”, you have to wear socks and no shoes are allowed, in order to maintain and preserve the delicate environment in the cave.
The Actun Tunichil Muknal is protected and there are only a few licensed guides that by the Belize Department of Ecology have been authorized to do tours in the cave. Luckily The Lodge at Chaa Creek has professional, licensed and experienced guides that can take you.
So do you want to join us and visit this exciting, intriguing and mysterious world?