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Place of origin of the sacrificial victims in the sacred Cenote, Chichén Itzá, Mexico.

OBJECTIVES: The ancient city of Chichén Itzá in the northern Yucatán of Mexico was one of the most important in the Maya area, but its origins and history are poorly understood. A major question concerns the origins of the peoples who founded and later expanded the ancient city. Hundreds of people were ritually executed and their bodies thrown into the waters of the Sacred Cenote at Chichén.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: In this study, we use strontium and oxygen isotopes to study the place of origin of a large sample of these individuals. Isotopes are deposited in human tooth enamel. Enamel forms during the first years of life, remains largely unchanged long past death, and can provide a signature of the place of birth. If the isotope ratios in enamel are different from the place of death, the individual must have moved during his/her lifetime.

RESULTS: Comparison of our results from the cenote with information on isotope ratios across the Maya region and elsewhere suggests that the individuals in the cenote came from a number of different parts of Mexico and possibly beyond.

DISCUSSION: It is not known if all of the sacrificial victims resided in Chichén Itzá, but their suggested origins likely reflect patterns of population movement and social networks that existed between Chichén Itzá and both neighboring and distant regions. Various lines of evidence point to places in the Yucatán, along the Gulf Coast, Central America, or even in the Central Highlands of Mexico.

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