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A group of scientists from the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology (ICML) of the UNAM, led by Francisco Alonso Solís Marín, found remains of sea cucumbers in a Offering of the Mexican goddess Tlaltecuhtli, in the Templo Mayor, in Mexico City.
Together with the Mexican archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, director of the Templo Mayor Archaeological Project, experts had already found in 2011 the remains of echinoderms (marine invertebrates that have spines on the skin), and now they discovered the spicules that formed the internal skeleton of a cucumber of sea.
“Due to the confinement we have not been able to continue searching the powders of other offerings to find out if there are more, but most likely there are. At first we thought that it was a fortuitous find, since three of the species of sea cucumbers found are very small, and could have been inside coral bases that were uprooted, however, the fourth species found reaches sizes larger than the 20 centimeters long, so it was undoubtedly captured to be part of the offering, ”he said.
Through paintings, it is known of the existence of Mexican divers who extracted products from the sea, and that through corridors they were taken from the Pacific coast to Tenochtitlán, highlighted the university student.
Great Mexica offering to the goddess Tlaltecuhtli
López Luján pointed out that The monolith of the goddess Tlaltecuhtli is the largest in the history of Mexica culture, and houses a large number of objects and specimens of plants, birds, mammals and aquatic organisms.
“There have been more than 12 thousand objects recovered from the offering 126; in the others we do not find even half. We found more than 15 species of echinoderms associated with the offerings of the Templo Mayor, among them six starfish, three species of urchin, four species of sea biscuit, a sea biscuit, brittle stars and four sea cucumbers ", Solís recalled Marin.
Like other Mesoamerican peoples, the Mexica used to bury large offerings in their main places of worship.
The associated with the Tlaltecuhtli monolith is composed of four thousand organic remains that represented the cosmogony, a ritual activity that took place during the government of Ahuízotl (1486-1502).
It is believed that the animals were sacrificed at the time of the rite, and the more gifted the offering was, the more the deity was respected, he explained.
In 2011, the university student and his research team realized the existence of starfish in the offering, after analyzing pulverized material and reconstructing part of their skeletons.
They also found small spines of ofiuros, but this year, a coffee scoop of dust from the excavations discovered the spicules that formed the internal skeleton of a sea cucumber.
Sea cucumbers in the offering
Francisco Alonso Solis, also curator of the ICML National Collection of Echinoderms, commented that sea cucumbers (holothurians) have existed on the planet for 400 million years.
At present about 1,700 species are known, which inhabit almost all marine environments, especially in shallow salty waters of coral reefs. In Mexico they live on all the coasts of the country.
“They are important because they are the architects of the seabed. Tons of sand pass through your body in one year, they are responsible for making it loose and not feeling like cement; they remove the substrate and that is important ecologically, because they put oxygen in the sand so that other animals survive”.
Scientists have validated that these animals are potential source of high value-added compounds with therapeutic properties, such as bioactive peptides, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and collagens, among others.
In recent years, beneficial health effects such as wound healing, neuroprotective, antitumor, anticoagulant, antimicrobial and antioxidant have been discovered in them.
The use of sea cucumbers as food and traditional medicine began in China almost a thousand years ago and continues to be over-exploited to date, as well as in other regions of the world.
In some countries its consumption is now illegal, which makes it an expensive product.
In Asia, Africa and Mexico, research on their sexual reproduction to make farms and thus avoid the extraction of native populations.
Bulletin UNAM-DGCS-461: «They find remains of sea cucumbers in Mexica offering«. Francisco Alonso Solís Marín, ICML / UNAM.
Images: Francisco Alonso Solís Martín.