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Belize's Midnight Terror Cave, where the skeletal remains of 118 people were found, may have played host to large scale gagging, new research suggests.
The cave is in central Belize, near the Mennonite village of Springfield – some nine miles or so south of the capital, Belmopan.
It was discovered in 2006 and the 10,000 bones found inside are believed to represent a sacrifice to the Maya rain god Chaak.
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And now, strange blue fibres found on the teeth of some victims may suggest they were gagged, researchers from California State University, Los Angeles think.
Boffins found what they believed to be string in the calcified plaque from two specimen's teeth, known as dental calculus.
Study lead author Amy Chan told Live Science: "After finding minimal instances of dental pathology, I became interested in determining what foodstuffs the victims were consuming."
Chan scraped the gunk off six teeth and found that the samples contained primarily cotton fibers, and that several of those were dyed bright blue.
"The discovery of blue cotton fibers in both samples was a surprise," Chan said, because "blue is important in Maya ritual."
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The Maya period ran from AD 250 to 925 and the blue shade has been found at other sites in Mesoamerica, where it seems to have been used in ceremonies.
But Chan et al think that the fibres from gags may have fused with the calculus if certain people were in custody for a long time before execution.
"It is interesting that they found colored fiber in dental calculus," Gabriel Wrobel, a bioarchaeologist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study, told Live Science.
"Many researchers think that calculus only reflects diet, but this study is a great example of how much more information can be learned."
Chan said future studies will reveal more about the Maya teeth fibres.
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