Mummies Unwrapped (2019) s01e01 Episode Script

Mayan Mass Grave Mystery

Romany: Ancient warriors feared this place.
-Stay calm.
-Just don't let go.
It was packed with burnt human bone, all the way down to bedrock.
Romany: Bones and bodies everywhere.
It is like an underwater crime scene.
Could these deadly depths reveal why the most powerful civilization of the americas vanished? You are not going to believe what I found down here.
Romany: Could this place be a gateway to the underworld as locals believed? Or is there a darker story behind one of the bloodiest wars of the ancient world? I'm archaeologist and mummy expert, ramy romany.
Across the globe, earth is giving up her dead.
Oh, my god, Pedro.
Look at this.
Thanks to cutting-edge technology, new mummies are unearthed every day.
It is like an underwater crime scene.
Romany: These mummies hold extraordinary secrets Oh, my god, what is this? Priceless.
Romany: If you know how to unwrap them.
That changes everything.
Romany: This is "mummies unwrapped.
" Romany: Just recently, a mass underwater grave filled with hundreds of ancient human remains was discovered in a cenote near the lost Mayan city of mayapan.
Its existence cannot be explained by archaeologists.
Locals insist these water-filled caves are gateways to the underworld, and this one is guarded by a massive serpentine.
Could this legend explain why these bodies ended up in the cenote? I've come here to the Yucatan peninsula to investigate.
All my life, I've looked to the dead for vital information to explain the greatest mysteries faced by mankind, and I always start with the keeper of all clues the mummies.
My first step in this investigation is meeting Dr.
Bradley Russell, an American archaeologist who spent his career the past 20 years studying the Maya, and specifically this area, mayapan.
The Maya they were the longest-lasting civilization of the americas.
Their empire encompassed the entire Yucatan peninsula, stretching as far south as Guatemala, thriving for 3,000 years until the mid-1400s when they suddenly and mysteriously collapsed.
The Mayans have been so thoroughly studied that it's rare to uncover any new mystery, but that's exactly what Dr.
Bradley Russell has done.
Bradley Russell, the man with the Mayan mummies.
Ramy, how are you? Great to finally meet you, Dr.
How are you doing? -You, too.
Look at this.
Did these all come out of the cenote? Yeah, all of this material is from cenote sac uayum.
Romany: A cenote is a natural cave where the bedrock has collapsed to expose the groundwater underneath.
This freshwater source was crucial for the rise of the Mayan culture.
We found that the entire cenote was just filled with human bones.
How much human bones were in there? Well, we bought up a sample of 18 skulls and a large number of other, you know, bones from the site, and there's still a significant number in there.
Are we talking hundreds? It depends what's under the sediment.
There's probably a lot more under the sediment.
-So and these are Mayan remains? -Yes.
We've brought some samples in for radio carbon dating, and they show a range right around 1350s.
Do we know what happened to them? How did they end up being there? That's what we've sort of been trying to figure out.
They seem to be young adults in their prime.
These are folks in their in their young 20s and their late teens.
Right, so folks who would otherwise be expected to be in great shape.
It's a mixed sex population, which makes it unlikely to be, say, a whole bunch of people who've died in combat, right? These would be warriors who would be all male.
Do you know how they died? We expected we might find evidence of violence, that these people had been killed in some sort of attack, but we find no evidence of that at all.
And how can you tell? The major indicators of violence are definitely fractures.
There are two that are very, very common.
One, most attackers are right-handed, and they would be crushing in this side of your skull.
Which is intact right here.
On all of these, you see nothing like that.
The other thing that's a very, very common injury in warfare or violence or even spousal abuse are defensive injuries to the arm.
And this is an arm bone right here.
Right, so this is an upper arm bone.
There are no cut marks.
There are no fractures.
And is there any reason to believe that it was a mass sacrifice? We don't really have any evidence for that.
You see a variety of forms of sacrifice.
Decapitations or heart extractions.
Romany: The Maya believe that their gods were nourished by human blood, and that the sacrifice of a human life was the ultimate offer.
Over 1,000 years, hundreds of thousands of victims lost their lives to this brutal violence.
And from these human remains, we know for a fact that these human remains that were found in the cenote were not brutally murdered.
We have no evidence of any kind of acts of violence like that.
So the possibilities here are limited, really.
Something more significant is in that cenote.
No, I completely agree with that.
When I arrived, I began very quickly to hear stories about, you know, a serpent guardian at the cenote and other things, so pretty quickly, my interest was piqued.
They believe that cenote specifically had a serpent guardian? Absolutely.
Romany: The Mayans believe this massive, feather-covered serpent, kukulkan, was the supreme leader of all gods and could bring great suffering on humans with this power.
But do people believe that that serpent guardian is responsible for these human remains? Until we found these, the people today did not have any knowledge or recollection that there were bones in there at all.
If only mummies could talk.
Romany: Bradley's taking me to the site where he discovered them.
I want to dive the cenote to see if the remains that are still under the water can offer any more clues to why they're there.
How much do the locals here believe in the fear towards the cenote? They don't just believe it.
I've heard tales from people who have wrestled a massive, feathered serpent with the head of a horse.
They have been surrounded by it and squeezed by it until they had to let it escape.
And you dove into the cenote, and you have not encountered that massive snake or bitten by it, I assume? I have not run into the serpent, although I have given strict instructions every time I go in that if they see me being killed by a massive serpent, please get video or photos.
I would love to watch a video of you getting bitten by a massive serpent.
Romany: Even though Bradley has never seen the massive serpent demon, the locals here believe there is something very dangerous about the cenote, and they have for hundreds of years.
Russell: So this is it.
This is one very small section of a 9-kilometer-long city wall, the largest defensive fortification really anywhere in the Maya area in broader mesoamerica.
Romany: That's pretty amazing.
So this is 9 kilometers long? -Yeah.
And it surrounds the whole city of mayapan.
Russell: It includes 4.
2 square kilometers of the city which has 4,000 structures inside of it.
Romany: Wow.
And sac uayum, the cenote, is completely outside of the city of mayapan, correct? Yeah, you can see how the city wall actually diverts and curves around and leaves the cenote excluded from this interior civilian space.
Sounds like it was on purpose.
Yeah, it absolutely does seem to be intentional.
When you move further to the north along this wall, you actually see that it does just the opposite, where it bumps out, and it includes the cenote up the line.
Pretty mysterious.
Romany: Why is the cenote so dangerous that the wall was built to exclude it? Bradley and I are going to dive the cenote to see if the answer is with the bodies that are still at the bottom.
So here it is, cenote sac uayum.
-Wow! -It's impressive, right? Romany: It's marvelous.
Water source is extremely important, and the cenotes are here, and that's how the whole Mayan civilization happened.
They took place right next to those cenotes.
That's where the population clusters, the houses are densest closest to the cenotes.
Romany: To enter this place that the locals insist is cursed, a shaman asks the gods to Grant us permission.
The first step in this ritual blessing is to make a sacred food named kal.
This spicy stew is an offering to the cenote's guardian the feathered serpent.
Romany: I think you could do much better stirring, Bradley.
There's always a critique.
You went the wrong way.
You switched.
You reversed.
Is that bad Karma? No, it's bad cooking.
Well, I'm fine with that.
And how common is this dish here in Merida? The kal is only made for ceremonial purposes.
So the point is to placate any forces that are associated with the cenote and to ask permission to essentially all the gods of the Maya pantheon to be involved in this activity, as well as, in this case, the serpent god, the serpent guardian who is here.
Romany: Now that we have the blessing of the shaman, it's time to brave the descent into the cenote.
Russell: We'll go down to about 15 meters, which is the depth at the bottom of the first room.
That's 45-ish, 50 feet? -About 50 feet.
And that's where we actually find the entrance that goes into the second chamber is right at the very lowest point.
And that second chamber starts at that level and then goes down to about twice that depth.
Just don't let go.
Romany: The descent into the cave is just the beginning.
It's what lies underneath the jungle right here.
At the bottom of the cenote that the locals believe is cursed are the remains of hundreds of bodies that have been decaying in the water for hundreds of years.
-Are you good, Bradley? -I'm good, man.
Romany: So many human remains ended up in this cenote that their weight helped collapse a part of the floor and created a second chamber.
Russell: Ramy, the second chamber's gonna be through here.
It's tight.
Be sure to stay low.
Romany: Wow.
That's pretty narrow.
Russell: Ramy, this is your guide line.
It starts here at the entrance.
Keep your hand on it.
Don't lose it.
We're gonna have to move kind of fast.
In the second chamber, it's quite a bit deeper than the first, and our air will be dropping pretty quickly.
Romany: This tunnel looks like it's never going to end.
Russell: The second chamber's gonna open up in front of us in a second.
Just stay calm.
We're getting there.
Romany: Wow! It's like an underwater crime scene.
Romany: Recently, dozens of decayed human bones were discovered inside this Mayan cenote.
Russell: Ramy, the second chamber's gonna be through here.
It's tight, so be sure to stay low.
Romany: And no one knows why they were placed there.
It's like an underwater crime scene.
Wow! Look at this cranium.
Russell: I'm gonna fan this a little bit so we can clear a little bit of the sediment.
Romany: It is amazing how well-preserved these bones are.
There are skulls and bones everywhere.
Russell: All right, we're getting a little bit low.
We're probably gonna have to turn the dive.
Let's head back on down the slope, follow the guide line, stay in contact with it.
Romany: Bone-chilling stories have kept the locals far from this cenote, but could they hold any truth? -Wow! -That was something else, right? It's absolutely mind-boggling.
What are these human remains doing down there? This is the big question.
It can't be just a mistake.
It can't be just people walking around, falling into a cenote.
No, it absolutely was intentional.
Romany: Now that I've seen the cenote, I want to learn more about the legend of the serpent demon that is said to guard it.
I've arranged to meet a local snake expert who's taking me to talk to some of these people that believe they have seen this massive snake.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
Romany: I'm always intrigued with local lore.
It often has specific details that can help me get closer to the truth.
How thick was that snake? [ Speaking Spanish .]
-That thick.
-Wow, that thick? There is truth to these stories.
The most common to the stories like a rattlesnake.
Rattlesnake? They have scales like a feather.
Romany: Luis' expertise is specifically in the snakes of the Yucatan peninsula.
Because the rattlesnakes are tiny? Yes.
Romany: While the idea of a feathered serpent might sound far-fetched, in 2016, scientists confirmed that embryos of reptiles and birds both share spot-like structures that can lead to scales or feathers.
And although anacondas generally live south of the Yucatan peninsula, is it possible that this semi-aquatic snake, which can reach nearly 30-feet in length, could be in this area? I mean, you learn something new about snakes.
How long have you been a herpetologist? 20 years being a herpetologist.
What was the most magnificent thing that you've learned? The behaviors? -The feeding behavior? -Yes.
They can evolve? They can mutate? Yeah.
Romany: To show me these out-of-this-world snakes, Luis is taking me to a cave of the hanging serpents.
It has long been a source of terror because of the legend of the mutant snakes with mystical powers that live inside.
Could it be that these local people have seen an undiscovered snake species? Romany: We're not even to our destination, and Luis has already found a snake to show me.
These are one of the venomous snakes here in the Yucatan peninsula.
Why why do you want to go out? Because he's dead.
No problem.
It's acting dead.
Snakes are very sneaky.
That's you know what? Sneaky, the word sneaky comes from snakes.
Wow! Look at this.
-Can I touch it? -Yeah, you can touch.
Oh, the skin feels so oh, my god.
It's beautiful but disgusting at the same time.
What is it called? They call vine snake.
The scientific name is oxybelis fulgidus.
Look at the skin.
We have 57 species of different snakes.
Only five snakes are completely lethal.
Romany: Of the five lethally venomous snakes found here in the Yucatan, four are vipers that have evolved to have heat-sensing nostrils so they can find and kill their prey in total darkness.
It's in this one.
This is the craziest road I've ever been on in the middle of the jungle.
Romany: We're headed to see the hanging snakes, but Luis still thinks our legs may need some protection.
There are so many species of snakes out here in the Yucatan region, and they can attack in so many different ways.
Two dozen of them are found nowhere else in the world but here.
Is there anything to protect my face? No, you don't need.
I don't need? I need my face.
What are you talking about? You don't need to protect your face.
That's rude.
So I just watch for snakes on the on the ground, right? Yes.
Romany: Luis has warned me that the snakes in this cave have evolved in a surprisingly deadly way, and that they exhibit strange and monstrous behaviors.
Because here, bats are the abundant food source.
Snakes have learned to literally hang from the ceiling to catch their prey.
I hear bats.
Romany: It's very slippery.
There's a lot of guano.
Hey, Luis.
Do these snakes ever actually bite humans? Mm, not usually.
"Not usually"? That's very comforting.
Thank you very much.
Romany: If it wasn't for our flashlights, this cave would be pitch black.
And if a snake was right next to me, I wouldn't even know until it was touching me.
Whoa! Romany: I'm just outside the ancient city of mayapan with herpetologist Luis Diaz.
He's brought me to a cave in the jungle to see whether the unusual snake behavior in this region might help explain how hundreds of human bodies ended up in a nearby Mayan cenote.
-It's getting narrow.
-It's getting narrower? The space are very narrow and only one of us can go inside.
You first.
Whoa! Whoa! Romany: The population of this cave is 1 million bats.
See that snake? Oh, my god.
It's huge.
Right there.
Romany: This is a boa, quite scary, but not too unusual.
Could the mutation of snakes in this region be responsible for the bodies in the cenote like the locals believe? Oh! I see a snake.
It's right there.
Oh, my god.
Luis! That's amazing.
Romany: It is clear to me that there are unique and dangerous snakes in this region, but it doesn't seem possible that they are responsible for those bodies inside the cenote.
Now the question is, "why and how did this legend start?" Because he's an expert on Mayan history and culture, I've asked Dr.
Bradley Russell to help me look for clues among the mayapan ruins.
Not only did people here fear the deadly snake god kukulkan, they also build a monument to him in the very center of mayapan.
Romany: Wow! Look at that.
Russell: This is the temple of kukulkan.
It's also called El castillo, the castle, and it's a monument to the feathered serpent, to kukulkan.
The largest temple in all of mayapan was dedicated to the kukulkan? It's really the beating heart of mayapan.
Romany: According to legend, kukulkan, the feathered serpent god, gave mankind laws.
The ruling families got their power from kukulkan who symbolized the divinity of the state and served as a messenger between the kings and the god.
But like all Mayan gods, he required sacrifice.
So this is the sacrificial location? This is.
Essentially, they would be spread out backwards over the stone, and that would expose their chest so that they could get underneath the sternum and pull out the heart that way.
Here, like, in public? It's always public, but it's also really important to understand that they were a way for the state or, in this case, a particular lineage to show their power to the people and to remind them who was in charge.
Romany: At this time, a great civil war was raging in mayapan.
The rulers used public sacrifices as a show of force and displayed bodies all over the city.
What story does this scene tell? So this is an individual who's been decapitated.
So you can see you have this niche.
And when we excavated this, they found skull fragments and mandibles.
So this entire temple would have been covered with scenery of sacrifice? Yes, absolutely.
Again, an obvious show of power from the Mayans here.
How long did mayapan last? Mayapan was around from 1100 to 1450.
350 years of death that ended with drought, war -Rebellion.
Russell: So this is the crematory.
Crematory, as in people were cremated in here? It was packed with burnt human bone all the way down to bedrock.
They burnt them here.
They decapitated them there.
They took their beating heart out of their body right there.
It's quite brutal.
-It is.
And very much a show of power.
If you want to assert your authority over a population, over an entire peninsula -Kill them in multiple ways.
it's an effective way to do it.
None of these is anywhere close to the human remains that we found in the cenotes.
No, the sac uayum collection looks very different.
Is that why you believe that the cenote human remains were not sacrificed? Yeah.
You just don't see the evidence for it there the way you do in other very clearly sacrificial deposits.
This city is pretty much just a big graveyard.
Literally is the graveyard.
Romany: If those bodies aren't sacrifices, then what are they doing in the cenotes? The cenotes provide water, so why would anyone dump bodies in the water source? A battle for power was raging.
Could it have been an act of war to spoil the water on purpose? We know that disease and viruses contributed to the collapse of the Maya.
Poison and other forms of biological warfare have been around for centuries.
As far back as 590 b.
, athenians poisoned the water supply of their enemies.
And during the middle ages, genghis Khan used plague-infested bodies as a weapon against his enemy.
And if the cenotes are connected, contamination of water could have spread all over mayapan.
Is it possible that the plague that brought down the Maya were spread intentionally? Bradley.
-I have a question.
-Yeah? Are the cenotes connected? They're connected by water.
So all the cenotes are connected under the ground? Yes.
This is what I'm thinking.
What if those bodies inside sac uayum were dumped there on purpose, deliberately to poison the water as a part of the war? I don't think the amount of contamination that you're dealing with in that situation would affect a city this size.
Unless there's more cenotes similar to sac uayum, hundreds of bodies that have been dumped there to poison the main water source for the whole city.
What we know about the history of mayapan, it was an epidemic disease that drove the political disintegration of this city.
Nobody knows the source of those diseases.
There's a possibility here that we're looking at one of the first recorded attempts of biological warfare in this region.
Romany: A mysterious mass grave has been discovered at the bottom of a cenote outside of the walls of the ancient city of mayapan.
At the time, the bodies were placed, the Mayan empire was fighting a great civil war.
This is what I'm thinking.
What if those bodies inside sac uayum were dumped there on purpose, deliberately to poison the water as a part of the war? I don't think the amount of contamination that you're dealing with in that situation would affect a city this size.
Unless there's more cenotes similar to sac uayum, hundreds of bodies that have been dumped there? To poison the main water source for the whole city.
There's a possibility here that we're looking at one of the first recorded attempts of biological warfare in this region.
How many cenotes outside of the city of mayapan, outside of the walls of mayapan, have been excavated by archaeologists spread? -A tiny fraction.
If more and more cenotes outside of the city of mayapan ends up with mass burials discovered, then a biological warfare is plausible.
It is.
But our next step is finding multiple cenotes with mass burials in them.
Romany: Disease, drought, and conflict were tearing Mayan society apart.
If someone could get control of the water supply, they could control the whole city.
To prove my theory, I need to find more cenotes similar to sac uayum, ones that might also contain human remains.
I will look for cenotes excluded from mayapan by its city wall using one of my favorite high-tech tools.
Lidar technology has been crucial for archaeology in the past years.
It's basically laser pulses of light that measures the distance to a target.
So in a jungle like this, you can see under the canopy of the jungle.
Romany: Using lidar along with a drone means we can scan the area very quickly.
I did lidar in Egypt.
We ended up finding a hidden pyramid under the sand.
So what I'm looking for is a cenote.
There are thousands of cenotes around here.
I know, but the cenote I'm looking for has to have four specific things.
It has to be near the Mayan wall.
It has to be near sac uayum.
It has to be outside of the old city of mayapan, outside the wall, and it has to be deep and somewhat hidden.
That's what I'm looking for.
Let's do this.
-Let's do it.
Let's go to the area next to sac uayum.
-And completely cover that area.
Do multiple scans.
That's the most important area.
Okay, let's try let's try the smooth scan so I can get that big image.
I think we got what we need, guys.
Let's let it process and see what we got.
I have to say that data coming in is one of the coolest things.
It makes me looks like I'm from "matrix.
" Look at that.
It's really cool, the lidar data.
Here you go.
The pictures are coming in.
Romany: What we're seeing here is the layer of the lidar that shows us the ground.
Any dark spots are cenotes.
So this is our center.
This is the city of mayapan.
Sac uayum should be around here.
I think so.
Look at this.
-That's amazing.
There are cenotes everywhere.
This is literally just thousands of cenotes thousands of holes in the ground.
Okay, let's go to -Sac uayum is right there.
Here you go.
So this right here is where I was diving yesterday.
There are dozens of ancient Mayan mummies.
So we have four cenotes right here.
One, two, three, four are the closest to sac uayum.
Romany: If people go into a cenote regularly, we would know if it has any remains in it.
So this means it's out.
What is this? -Yep, that's cenote.
-That's the open one.
That's the public cenote.
Definitely not the cenote we're looking for.
-And that's another one.
This looks public, as well.
So that narrows it down between two specific cenotes right here.
This one right here and that one right there.
This one is closest to sac uayum.
We'll check both, but let's start with the one closest to sac uayum.
This cenote right here has got the GPS coordinates.
There's a little building next to that small cenote, but that's the one we need to check out.
-This is great work.
Thank you very much, guys.
That was perfect.
And I've located a cenote around here that could help solve the questions behind the mass burials in sac uayum.
Romany: Because all of the cenotes share an aquifer.
They're all connected.
If there are human remains in this cenote, then that's hard evidence that this could have been one of the first known cases of biological warfare in this region.
Bradley is still skeptical about my theory, but he's agreed to come help me explore this cenote.
Russell: You made it.
I'm glad to see you.
How's it going? This is not what I expected when I saw it on the lidar.
This looks like a water well.
This is the cenote? Well, no.
This is a well that was dug by the family who lived in this house behind us.
Is it normal people abandon their houses like this after building it? No, in this case, it was something special.
Wherever locals are scared from, we go look.
Start checking it out.
Have you ever been down there, Bradley? This one, no.
This is sort of a new experience for all of us, really.
This does not look as inviting the other one, sac uayum was very uninviting, but this? Yeah, you seemed a little intimidated by sac uayum, this one's a bit more of an intimidating descent, I think.
Wow, what is that smell? You have to be very careful to not lower you into a gas pocket.
If you're having any difficulty breathing, you need to let us know right away.
So, stay calm.
Don't let your heart rate get up.
Don't let your breathing get really, really heavy.
Try to keep a steady, deep breathing if you're feeling a little bit off, and we'll bring you up.
We'll make the arrangements.
Just keep a keep a check on your breathing.
Oh, my god.
There's a bit of land here that I'm trying to land on first to assess before I dive.
So I'm going to try to swing myself on the rope.
Can you ask them to dangle me a little bit more? -Okay, they're lowering.
Right there, right there, right there.
Right there, right there.
Russell: How's the breathing? Romany: There's very little oxygen here.
I made it on land.
I'm gonna detach right now.
I'm still on land.
Brad? I just looked at the shallow water side.
dive the deep waters.
Make sure you don't step in any let me know what you see.
Romany: Just walking around Merida you could see how alive the Mayan culture is.
People are on the streets playing a pok-a-tok game.
We don't know the full details of how exactly they played that game in the ancient times, but back then, the losers are sacrificed to the gods.
Yes! That means I'm dead.
Romany: I'm in the Yucatan peninsula, the site of the former Mayan city mayapan, investigating the discovery of hundreds of human remains in a cenote.
Why were these bodies left to rot in the main water supply? We know that diseases contributed to the fall of the Maya.
I believe these bodies were an orchestrated plot to take down the city by poisoning their water supply as a part of a violent civil war that raged at the time.
If this cenote also contains human remains, then it's evidence that my theory might be true.
Romany: I'm still on land.
And Brad? I just looked at the shallow water side.
There's nothing there.
I'm gonna have to dive the deep waters.
Let me know what you see.
Talk to me, ramy.
What do you got? You are not going to believe what I found down here.
Romany: As mayapan fell, warring factions violently tore each other apart.
I believe that they also used biological warfare, and this confirms that my theory could be true.
Romany: Mass burials down there.
It sounds like it's a very similar situation to sac uayum.
Romany: All of these cenotes are connected, and if you control the water, you control the city.
Of course, I'm excited about any evidence that could help support an emerging new theory, but the more I think about those bones, the more I think about the Mayan empire.
How strong they were.
They built massive temples and incredible cities.
It is very possible that they also understood the idea of biological warfare.
And that during this great civil war, it helped tear this city apart and caused their empire to collapse.