Dozens of red and black hand prints cover the walls of a cave in Mexico, believed to be linked to a coming-of-age ritual of the ancient Maya, according to an archeologist who has explored and studied the subterranean cavern.
The 137 prints, mostly made by the hands of children, are more than 1,200 years old, which would date them near the end of the ancient Maya’s classical zenith, when major cities across present-day Central America and southern Mexico thrived amid key human achievements in art and math.
The cave is located near the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, where the towering pyramids of urban centers like Uxmal and Chichen Itza still stand, and lies some 33 feet (10 meters) below a large ceiba tree, which the Maya consider sacred.
Archeologist Sergio Grosjean says the hand prints were likely made by children as they entered puberty, due to an analysis of their size with the colors providing a clue to their significance.
“They imprinted their hands on the walls in black… which symbolized death, but that didn’t mean they were going to be killed, but rather death from a ritual perspective,” Grosjean said.
“Afterwards, these children imprinted their hands in red, which was a reference to war or life,” he added.