Oaxaca temple complex hints at human sacrifice
|Aerial view of El Palenque's temple precinct, facing southwest toward|
a public plaza [Credit: Charles Spencer and Elsa Redmond]
Archaeologists have been excavating a site in the valley called El Palenque for years. The site is the center of what was once an independent mini-state. Between 1997 and 2000, the researchers found and studied the remains of a 9,150-square-foot (850 square meters) palace complex complete with a plaza on the north side of the site. Radiocarbon dating and copious ash reveal that the palace burned down sometime around 60 B.C. or so.
Now, the archaeologists have unearthed an even larger complex of buildings on the east side of El Palenque. The walled-off area appears to be a temple complex, consisting of a main temple flanked by two smaller temple buildings. There are also at least two residences, probably for priests, as well as a number of fireboxes where offerings may have been made.
The whole complex measures almost 54,000 square feet (5,000 square meters), and the main temple alone has a 4,090-square-foot (380 square meters) footprint.
|A temple (Structure 20) excavated at the El Palenque site in Oaxaca, Mexico. At right, workers expose a staircase that may have led to private areas accessible only to priests [Credit: Charles Spencer and Elsa Redmond]|
It was in this room that the human tooth and possible human limb bone were discovered, though researchers can't say for certain whether those bones were a sign of human sacrifice at the temple.
The main temple also contained a kitchen much larger than those found in households in El Palenque, suggesting that cooks whipped up meals for large groups in this spot. Behind the temple were several cell-like rooms, perhaps places for priests-in-training or low-ranking priests to sleep.
Hierarchy of priests
Also behind the temple, archaeologists turned up two buildings that appear to be priestly residences. These buildings were earthen-floored and thick-walled, with firepits inside that are characteristic of El Palenque homes.
|Priestly residence (Structure 27) excavated at the early temple|
precinct [Credit: Charles Spencer and Elsa Redmond]
Like the palace, the temple complex has been burned and appears to have fallen out of use by the end of the first century B.C or the first century A.D., making it the oldest temple discovered yet in the Valley of Oaxaca. Among the remaining mysteries of the site is a hastily buried body found in one of the temple's fireboxes.
According to the researchers, the skeleton was found "in a cramped position that resulted in the skull resting at the firebox's southeast corner and a knee poking about its northwest corner."
Author: Stephanie Pappas | Source: LiveScience [April 22, 2013]