The ATM Caves are one of the most significant spiritual historical sites in the world. Through the caves you follow the paths of the ancient Maya and throuh incredible preservation of the ritual artifacts you can see a detailed history of their past. Sadly no one is allowed to bring cameras or filming equipment into the caves because of damage done in the past to the artefacts.
You start the day with a walk through the jungle where you have to swim across a river three times before reaching the caves mouth. Once you enter the cave the first thing you start to notice is the incredible curved patterns within the stalgtites and stalagmites and if you look carefully you can spot bats nestled in along the rock.
The Mayans were driven into this cave because of a devastating drought that lasted for 80 years. As you walk up further into the cave you can see how their desperation grew, their rituals developed and their sacrifices to their gods became more extreme.
According to the Ancient Mayan religion there are three levels; earth where humans live, above with the good gods and below in the dark with the demons and bad gods. The cave is the opening between our world and the world below but it was also the source of all the water in the area so it was where they needed to lay their offerings.
They brought into the cave large, round pots which they would fill with insense. Then by braking off nearby stalagmites they would make a tripod on which to place the pots.When the smoke of insense rises up in a tunnel it was believed to create a link between you and the gods above and when the smoke spreads out it protects you from the demons around you. The Maya believed everything had a soul, including inaminate objects like ceramic pots, so they broke them after use in order to free the soul and not leave it trapped down in the dark with the demons forever.
Some of the pots are not actually broken but, rather than have their souls tormented for all eternity, they actually have protection due to their special shapes which indicate they are made directly for the good gods. One particular pot has caused widespread speculation as it featured a strange four fingered figure on it. Was it a human? A sloth? An alien?! Or simply the pottery makers mark? After all the Maya used ceramic pottery as widespread as we use plastic. (My money’s on a sloth by the way)
A little further up the pots that start appearing are sitting upside down. This shows us that the previous offerings weren’t working, the drought had not ended, so they had started to change things up and try something new. The insense was clearly not working so the next step was bloodletting where they would drip blood into basins. Still no rain, so now its time to start chopping off fingers! At one point you can see a finger bone calcified into the rock.
Once you are well into the cave there suddenly appears a boulder that from that angle looks like their water God. You can see why they persisted, inspite of their failed efforts, when an religious symbol appears to them like that. Especially when you find out that they would take hallucinogenic mushrooms when walking up there with only a little candlelight!
So then the skeletons start appearing. Bones calcified and preserved look huge, cartoonish and almost comical. Skulls that have been sitting there for hundreds of years now have with cracks from cameras and phones dropping and breaking them. The first few human sacrifices were just regular everyday citizens, then the noble born and leader’s sons start to appear. There was a colony of Mayans that are refered to as the Cone Heads. The leaders and highborns of these people would take their children as babies and have their heads wrapped up tightly for several months so as to manipulate the shape of the skulls into cones. Along the path you could easily spot the Cone Head children that had been sacrificed to the Water God.
You climb up a bit further and the area opens up into the cathedral who has towering stalagmites and stalagtites everywhere. The glittering cavern is absolutely stunning. Who knows what is undiscovered under the top layer of soft rock. How many more countless victims could be laying there just below the surface?
At the last stretch of our journey through the cave there’s a ladder, which was pretty scary for me, despite having been clambering up, under and over some precarious rocks! At the top is the crystal maiden. A complete and perfectly calcified skeleton right at the top of the cave. They call it a maiden but they had an anthropologist in and discovered it was a 13 year old boy.
The drought never the less persisted and the Mayan civilisation broke apart. Ordinary citizens began to revolt against their leaders and left their homes in smaller groups, venturing further North and South to populate areas such as Southern Guatemala. Here ends the Golden Age of the Mayans.
Banana owl butterfly