The treasures of the Cave of Glowing Skulls

The Caves of the Bright Skulls are magical findings in Honduras, whose secrets have yet to be revealed. Photo: The Cave of the Glowing Skulls

HONDURAS, May 19, 2013 - In the Sierra de Agalta, in one of the most fertile and extensive departments on Honduras, a sacred cave has revealed its secrets. Just 19 years ago, the door to the underworld showed its treasures to the world. The great deposits of calcite preserved large quantities of human bones and gave them a luminescence that has become both famous and mysterious.

The cave is in the department of Olancho,  one of the most fertile and extensive departments of Honduras.  The cave gets its name because its insides are traversed by the water of Pinabete River, a tributary of the River Talgua, whose word is Lenca origin, meaning, “Tal”, cave and “gua” water. (Cave of Water)

The formation of this cave, according to scientific studies, dates back at least a million years, chiseled corner to corner by the action of the undercurrents, whose shapes ignite the imagination of those who visit it. Stalactites and stalagmites have names like “Angel Wing”, “The Cassock”, “tiger’s head”, “Buddha” and even “the Sphinx of Pope John Paul II.”

Its extraordinary beauty overwhelms any spirit, and mystery surrounds everything

No records can tell us who used these caves as burial shrine. Many cultures flourished near the cave were the Pech, Tawahka, Lenca, and Tolupan. In 1674, Father Fernando Espino reported in his chronicles of the Talgua River area that there were at least 200 indigenous nations in the area.

The only certainty is that the region of Talgua is the bellybutton of two great civilizations: the Northern Mesoamerican and Andean at the South. This region was influenced by both. This region of Honduras is the confluence of ancient linguistic heritage, archaeological and anthropological of these ethnic groups. Anthropologists know of no pattern as those found in the ossuary of Talgua.

The reason ancient cultures gave so much importance to these caves is because their logic made them think that the deities responsible for the fertility of the land, had to live in the underground, and they were certain that the rain and the thunder lived in caves, from where they escaped through the roof, from where they returned on a source of nourishment and life giving.

They also believed that somewhere in these caves there was a doorway that led directly to the underworld. This is why the elite classes provisionally buried their dead in tombs, until the bones were cleaned. They then placed the bones in bags made from beautiful cotton fabrics, which were placed inside the cave to facilitate the journey of the deceased to the underworld, thus preventing their soul wander in the world of the living

The study of funerary remains and pottery found in Talgua show that the civilization in the area date from about AD 900-1000 BC. The tribes in the area maintained relationships with the Maya, yet there were no traces of corn as part of their diet. Instead, evidence suggests they ate root crops including cassava. Archeologists also discovered the residents of the area were taller than other native people, standing about 1.80 meters on average.

The caves have been the subject of many myths and legends. There is talk of a network of caves that connected various ethnic groups from what is now Mexico to South America, and that this network functioned as an extensive highway.

There are also stories about witchcraft schools located a few kilometers from the town of Talgua. It is also said that there is a stone which they call “La Pintada,” with the faces of chiefs carved on the surface, and of using the “Cerro de Miramar as a sacrificial altar and offerings for gods.

The Caves of the Bright Skulls are the most magical of all the findings in the area. They have not yet revealed their secrets, but thanks to two adventurous students, Jorge Yanes and Desiderio Reyes who left their group and climbed a wall of more than 9 meters where they found the remain bones and funerary vessels, we are starting to unravel the stories.

For the first time in Honduras, an archaeological site unrelated to the Maya has captured the interest of such important figures in the scientific world as James Brady (anthropologist), George Hasseman (archaeologist) and John Fogarty (espeólogo).

With their help, we will soon know the amazing stories of this place.


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Carmen Stella Van den Heuvel Almonacid

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