Maya cave sites
Maya cave sites are caves used by and associated with the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Certain beliefs and observances connected with cave sites are also maintained among some contemporary Maya communities. These cave sites are understood to have served religious purposes rather than utilitarian ones. Accordingly, archaeological artifacts found within caves can inform interpretations of religious ritual and cave studies combined with epigraphic, iconographic, and ethnographic studies can further inform Maya religion and society.
Association with settlement
A desire to be near the sacred has influenced Mesoamerican settlement. Mountains and caves were important elements in Mesoamerican creation myths. Mesoamerican belief systems liken water to fertility and mountains give flowing water and rainfall through caves. Accordingly, these natural features were considered sacred and were sought out by Mesoamerican migrants looking for a new home. A cave could be considered an axis mundi if it marked the center of a village (Brady and Ashmore 1999: 127). The Late Postclassic site of Mayapan incorporated several cenotes into its ceremonial groups and the Cenote Ch’en Mul is at the site core. At Dos Pilas house platforms were often in front of cave entries and the tunnel went beneath the platform.
Architectural landscapes and themes
Artificial landscapes often mimicked sacred landscapes. Doorways of temples were seen as the cave entrances to mountains. Sometimes these doorways were witz monster mouths. The same was true for the Aztecs, who at Utatlán designed an artificial cave that ends under the central plaza and is designed according to the mythical seven-chamber cave of emergence, Chicomoztoc (this is also seen at Teotihuacan, though somewhat different). and at Muklebal Tzul it appears that an artificial well underneath a massive platform was made to appear like a water-bearing cave.. In the Yucatán many Late Postclassic temples had Spanish churches built on top of them after the conquest and so caves and cenotes can still be found near these places today.
Entrances to the Underworld
Caves are often described as entries into the watery Maya underworld. For Mesoamerican groups, including the Maya, life and death occur at liminal zones between this world and the otherworld. Caves then are both associated with life and death; when something emerges from the underworld, that something lives, and when something descends into the underworld, that something dies. Caves are seen as birthplaces where humans and group ancestors were born (and live) and the Maya of the Yucatán even thought that the sun and moon were born out of the underworld.
Associations with sex and fertility
There appears to be a strong association (and perhaps conflation) between caves and sweatbaths. Caves are often perceived as female and are likened to the womb and vagina. Hence they are a symbol of fertility.. Like caves, sweatbaths have also been associated with human fertility and both have strong sexual connotations. Examples of these sexual connotations include the painting of a couple engaged in intercourse at the cave site of Naj Tunich, the contemporary Tzotzil Maya belief that a hypersexual being lives in a cave, and the fact that sweatbaths have been places of illicit sex amongst many Maya groups. Artifacts found at a sweatbath on the periphery of Piedras Negras included a circular mirror and five marine shells, artifacts that have been associated with the watery underworld and the latter of which has been found in the artificial caves underneath the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan.
Speleothems in caves have also been regarded as sacred and have played a role in Maya religion. Caves are considered to be "living beings with personhood and souls". and according to a 41 year old Q’eqchi’ Maya their speleothems "are also alive, they grow and sweat water; they themselves are water". People may take these rocks from the caves and put them on their altars. The Xibun Maya incorporated speleothems into the construction of the ball court at the Hershey site. Ball courts have been associated with the underworld just as caves have been.
Associations with natural forces
Caves are linked with wind, rain, and clouds. The Zinacantecos of the Chiapas highlands even believe that lightning comes from caves.. The Yukatek and Lacandon believe that caves and cenotes are where rain deities reside and the Yukatek of the sixteenth century sacrificed humans to appease these deities.
At Dos Pilas the Cueva de Murciélagos rests beneath the royal palace platform. After it rains heavily water rushes out from this cave signaling the beginning of the rainy season and the advance of the crop cycle. This artificial landscape showed that the king had control over water, rainmaking, and fertility, thereby legitimizing his authority.
Caves in art have also been used to legitimize authority and elevate status. Individuals in the mouth of a cave for example are endowed with authority that is often associated with shamanism. Scribal imagery is often associated with a skeletal jaw (maws are often likened to the mouths of caves), which may indicate that caves are where his craft originated. Perhaps this imagery "served to mystify and exalt the scribe's role."
Associations of art and ritual
Caves are often associated with transformation. One artifact in the Cenote X-Coton is a human stone figure that is making an offering and wearing a (possible) jaguar skin with the human's face coming out of its mouth. It appears that in addition to water and sacrifice rituals the cenote may have been used for way transformations.
Human sacrifice to gods connected to caves was widespread. The sacrifice either occurred in the cave or the body was put there afterwards. Children were commonly sacrificed in the Yucatán and child sacrifice was recorded in Highland Guatemala as well.
Archaeologists have found caves that have been sealed such as the Cueva de El Duende. It is possible that the desecration of caves could have been used as a symbol of conquest and political legitimacy. Another explanation could relate to termination rituals that have often been seen in architectural construction.
Agricultural products are common offerings in caves. Modern Maya believe that maize originated beneath the earth, an idea perhaps expressed by Classic depictions of the Maize God emerging from the underworld. This belief gives caves life-giving power as accounts from the Popul Vuh indicate that humans were made from maize dough. Domesticated plants found in lowland caves were probably used in rituals performed for deities related to agricultural fertility. Use of agricultural products in agricultural rituals continues amongst the contemporary Maya.
Jade is a frequent cave offering. The largest amount of jade found at one site is at the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza. Metal was a common offering during the Postclassic, the largest collections coming from the Cenote of Sacrifice and "bell" caves in western Honduras. It is possible that the notion of the Earth Lord having lots of wealth in his cave may have come from this tradition.
It appears that elite cave burial was rare, but it is possible that common people may have used caves as burial places for their dead such as at the Caves Branch Rock Shelter in Belize. Lineage founders have also been buried in caves. Elites were able to build their own elaborate burial "caves" and by doing so reinforced their power and status. It seems elites tried to make their tombs look like natural caves. Stalactites found at Tomb 2 of Nim Li Punit provide an example of this.
- ^ Prufer and Brady 2005: 11
- ^ Dunning et al. 1999: 652
- ^ Prufer and Kindon 2005: 28
- ^ Brady and Prufer 2005: 368
- ^ Pugh 2005: 54
- ^ Brady and Ashmore 2005: 131
- ^ Miller 1999: 51, 55
- ^ Brady and Prufer 2005: 373
- ^ Prufer and Kindon 2005: 40
- ^ Pugh 2005: 58
- ^ Pugh 2005: 50; Moyes 2005: 189; Brady and Colas 2005: 151
- ^ Brady and Prufer 2005: 369
- ^ Moyes 2005: 189
- ^ Moyes 2005: 190
- ^ Moyes 2005: 193; Christenson 2001: 80
- ^ a b Brady and Prufer 2005: 370
- ^ Brady et al. 2005: 218
- ^ Brady et al. 2005: 219
- ^ Peterson et al. 2005: 233
- ^ Pugh 2005: 50
- ^ Morehart 2005: 174-75
- ^ Brady and Ashmore 1999: 132
- ^ Brady and Ashmore 1999: 127
- ^ Stone 2005: 141-2
- ^ Pugh 2005: 57-8
- ^ Scott and Brady 2005: 275
- ^ Owen 2005: 336
- ^ Brady and Colas 2005: 161-2
- ^ Morehart 2005: 174-5
- ^ Brady 2005: 121, 125
- ^ Scott and Brady 2005: 269
- ^ Glassman and Bonor Villarejo 2005: 293-4; Brady and Colas 2005: 151
- Brady, James E. (2005). The Impact of Ritual on Ancient Maya Economy. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 115–134. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Brady, James E. and Wendy Ashmore (1999). Mountains, Caves, Water: Ideational Landscapes of the Ancient Maya. In Archaeologies of Landscape: Contemporary Perspectives. Edited by Wendy Ashmore and Arthur Bernard Knapp. pp. 124–145. Blackwell Publishing.
- Brady, James E., Allan B. Cobb, Sergio Garza, Cesar Espinosa, and Robert Burnett (2005). An Analysis of Ancient Maya Stalactite Breakage at Balam Na Cave, Guatemala. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 213–224. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Brady, James E. and Pierre R. Colas (2005). Nikte Mo’ Scattered Fire in the Cave of K’ab Chante’: Epigraphic and Archaeological Evidence for Cave Desecration in Ancient Maya Warfare. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 149–166. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Brady, James E. and Keith M. Prufer (2005). Maya Cave Archaeology: A New Look at Religion and Cosmology. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 365–379. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Christenson, Allen J. (2001). Art and Society in a Highland Maya Community: The Altarpiece of Santiago Atitlán. U of Texas P, Austin.
- Dunning, Nicholas, Vernon Scarborough, Fred Valdez, Jr., Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, Timothy Beach, and John G. Jones (1999). Temple Mountains, sacred lakes, and fertile fields: ancient Maya landscapes in northwestern Belize. Antiquity 73: 650-660.
- Glassman, David M. and Juan Luis Bonor Villarejo (2005). Mortuary Practices of the Prehistoric Maya from Caves Branch Rock Shelter, Belize. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 285–296. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Miller, Mary Ellen (1999). Maya Art and Architecture. Thames and Hudson, LTD, London.
- Morehart, Christopher T. (2005). Plants and Caves in Ancient Maya Society. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 167–185. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Moyes, Holly (2005). The Sweathbath in the Cave: A Modified Passage in Chechem Ha Cave, Belize. In Stones Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 187–211. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Owen, Vanessa A. (2005). A Question of Sacrifice: Classic Maya Cave Mortuary Practices at Barton Creek Cave, Belize. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 323–340. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Peterson, Polly A., Patricia A. McAnany, and Allan B. Cobb (2005). De-fanging the Earth Monster: Speleothem Transport to Surface Sites in the Sibun Valley. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 225–247. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Prufer, Keith M. and James E. Brady (2005). Introduction: Religion and Role of Caves in Lowland Maya Archaeology. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 1–22. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Prufer, Keith M. and Andrew Kindon (2005). Replicating Sacred Landscape: The Chen at Muklebal Tzul. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 25–46. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Pugh, Timothy W. (2005). Caves and Artificial Caves in Late Postclassic Maya Ceremonial Groups. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 47–69. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Scott, Ann M. and James E. Brady (2005). Human Remains in Lowland Maya Caves: Problems of Interpretation. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M. Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 263–284. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
- Stone, Andrea (2005). Scribes and Caves in the Maya Lowlands. In Stone Houses and Earth Lords: Maya Religion in the Cave Context. Edited by Keith M Prufer and James E. Brady, pp. 135–147. U of Colorado P, Boulder, Colorado.
Some Maya cave sites:
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