Nestled within the depths of the interior of the Cayo District, in the western part of the Central American country Belize, lies the ominously titled Midnight Terror Cave. This archaeological site is situated south of Belize’s capital, Belmopan, and in close proximity to the Mennonite community of Springfield.
This cave, which has connections to the Mayan civilization, holds a crucial role in understanding the ancient Mayan culture. What horrors lie within, to earn the cave its awful title?
Baptizing a Horrifying Discovery
The ominous name “Midnight Terror Cave” was given to the site in 2006. It came about when a tomb raider accidentally fell into a previously unexplored cave near Springfield in December of that year.
Accounts vary about the specifics, with some saying that the man plummeted 18 meters (59 feet) into the cave, while others maintain it was a fall of half that height or at most a few meters more. Either way, he was trapped in the dark interior of the cave.
The narratives diverge when it comes to how the man’s rescuers discovered him as well. One version suggests that the rescuers heard his cries for help, while another version claims the raider had a partner who went to seek help. Regardless of the details, Mennonite farmers from Springfield stepped in to help and successfully extracted him from the cave.
During the rescue operation, a Mennonite farmer who ventured into the cave discovered an unusual sight: a floor littered with human skeletal remains. After dispatching the injured individual to a nearby hospital, the farmer reportedly named the cave “Mitnacht Schreknis Heel”, which translates to “Midnight Terror Cave” in Plautdietsch, the Dutch-German dialect spoken by Mennonites in Belize.
The Start of Archaeological Examination
Following the discovery of the Midnight Terror Cave, archaeologists quickly became interested, and by the spring of the following year, investigations commenced. Dr. James Brady, a professor of anthropology at California State University, was one of the leading investigators.
The good doctor was right to investigate the depths of the cave’s interior. Over time, researchers have documented approximately 10,000 human bone fragments and about three times as many pottery shards.
About 100 of these bone fragments are reportedly teeth, including molars, canines, incisors, and bicuspids. Interestingly, investigators also found teeth lost by the individual who initially fell into the cave. An examination of the ancient teeth revealed that a significant portion (around 25%) displayed minimal wear, suggesting they belonged to children.
Using these teeth, researchers identified the origins of the people whose remains were found in the Midnight Terror Cave. The analysis of tooth enamel showed that some of the victims came from as far away as 322 km (200 miles) beyond modern Belize’s borders.
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While this distance may seem insignificant today, it was quite substantial at the time, Particularly considering that these children might have been transported to the cave exclusively for sacrificial purposes, it is clear that the site held a special significance.
Proof of Sacrifice and Queries Regarding Human Trafficking
The hypothesis that the children were offered as sacrifices in the Midnight Terror Cave is reinforced by the fact that none had died of natural causes. Furthermore, they were not interred, and the bones exhibited perimortem cut marks, blunt force trauma, and evidence of blue pigment.
Until the 1980s, it was widely believed that the Maya utilized caves as living quarters. However, discoveries like the Midnight Terror Cave have led to a revision of this view, suggesting these locations mainly served ritualistic purposes, including human sacrifice. The Midnight Terror Cave is one of two known Maya sites where large-scale child sacrifices occurred, with the other being an underground cave at Chichén Itzá in southern Mexico.
The discovery of the Midnight Terror Cave raises several questions, the most pressing of which concerns how the children were transported to the cave, given that many victims were from outside the area. One increasingly popular theory suggests that these children may have been part of a “human trafficking” network and were traded like commodities.
Top image: Bone fragments recovered from the Midnight Terror Cave reveal that hundreds of children were sacrificed here. Source: gustavofer74 / Public Domain.
By Wu Mingren