The discovery of a mass grave is by its nature a gruesome find, but what researchers uncovered in the ancient Maya city of Uxul in present-day Mexico is that to the extreme. University of Bonn archaeologists on Tuesday announced that they have found a 1,400-year-old grave containing the dismembered bones of two dozen people, reports Nature World News. What those bones reveal is twofold: First, the dead were no lowly individuals, as evidenced by the presence of bits of jade that had been inserted into holes drilled in some of the teeth. Second, they prove a bit of history: "that the dismemberment of prisoners of war and opponents often represented in Maya art was in fact practiced," says the dig's lead.
Archaeologist Nicolaus Seefield found the gravesite in an "artificial cave," which he explains to LiveScience had likely functioned as a water reservoir before the burial "since the cave's floor was perfectly clean." The skeletons found there were not "in their original anatomical articulation," he says. "The observed hatchet marks on the cervical vertebra are a clear indication of decapitation"; most had their lower jaw detached, and the "spatial pattern" of the bones is consistent with dismemberment. The archaeologists believe the dead were either prisoners of war or Uxul nobles; they hope upcoming isotope analysis will reveal whether they were from Uxul—which is near what is now the Guatemala border—or elsewhere. Neat fact from LiveScience: "Uxul" means "at the end." (It wasn't the only Mayan discovery of the summer: A "lost" Maya city was discovered in June.)