April 30, 2024
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Unusual Maya Chultún Discovered in Tulum

TULUM, Mexico – A groundbreaking discovery within the architectural footprint of the ancient Maya has stirred excitement among archaeologists at Tulum’s Archaeological Zone. A chultún, a subterranean bottle-shaped deposit traditionally used for rainwater collection, was uncovered for the first time inside a building, marking a significant find for the region.

The excavation is a part of the Program for the Improvement of Archaeological Zones (Promeza), spearheaded by Mexico’s Ministry of Culture through the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). This particular chultún, discovered in Building 25—also known as the House of the Halach Uinic—measures 2.48 meters in diameter and 2.39 meters deep. Unlike typical chultúns found outside, the location within a structure suggests a unique purpose beyond water storage.

Unusual Maya Chultún Discovered in Tulum
Snail (Strombidae) found in layer X EU 2A. Credit: Antonio Reyes / CINAH Quintana Roo

José Antonio Reyes Solís, the coordinator for the Promeza project in Tulum, explains that while the ancient walled city houses other chultúns, none share the distinctive features of the one found inside Building 25. This chultún’s positioning and design indicate potential uses not previously documented in the area, such as food and plant storage or ritual activities.

Unusual Maya Chultún Discovered in Tulum
Plastron and scapula of a sea turtle (Cheloniidae) EU 1B layer VI. Credit: Antonio Reyes / CINAH Quintana Roo

Field supervisor Enrique Marín Vázquez noted that the chultún is layered with a 1-2 cm thick coating of ground coral, forming part of the surface layer. Beneath this lies a layer of reddish clay. Inside, archaeologists discovered medium-sized stone fillings, thick layers of pure ash, and, at the deepest level, human bone remains alongside burned stones. These findings suggest the chultún was used for continuous combustion processes before its final construction phase.

Unusual Maya Chultún Discovered in Tulum

The human remains are being analyzed at the Physical Anthropology Laboratory of the INAH Center in Quintana Roo. Preliminary findings suggest they might belong to three infants buried with diverse materials such as deer antlers, shark teeth, and shell earrings. This indicates a shift in the chultún’s original use. The presence of these artifacts raises the possibility of prehistoric or colonial looting.

This discovery offers a rare glimpse into the multifaceted use of chultúns, challenging previous notions of their function solely as water reservoirs. The unique findings in Tulum contribute to a deeper understanding of the Mayan civilization’s architectural innovations and cultural practices.

Further research is scheduled to continue until April 30, 2024, focusing on maintaining, rehabilitation, and consolidating the archaeological site, including significant structures like the Casa del Cenote and the Temple of the Wind. In addition, a virtual tour is being developed to allow the public to explore the chultún’s interior without physically accessing the site, enhancing the accessibility and educational value of Tulum’s archaeological heritage.

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