An investigation of Maya ritual cave use with special refe­rence to Naj Tunich, Peten, Guatemala


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Publication Date

January 1989


This dissertation provides a basic paradigm for the investigation of Maya ritual cave use. The historical development of Maya cave archaeology is drawn beginning with the travels of Stephens and Catherwood. A chapter focuses on Maya cave use and updates J. Eric Thompson's famous studies of the subject. The second portion of the chapter deals with the meaning of caves in Maya ideology. The report on the cave of Naj Tunich begins in the fourth chapter with a description of the site and its investigation. The fifth chapter provides a discussion of the ceramics including functional aspects within the ritual context. An analysis of the artifacts makes up the sixth chapter. This analysis is distinctive in providing the first detailed comparison with other cave artifact assemblages. The symbolic meaning and possible ritual use of a number of artifacts are discussed and a characterization of the cave artifact assemblage is made. Chapter 7 discusses the chronological significance of the obsidian hydration data obtained from blades found in the cave. A number of blades were subjected to X-ray fluorescence and the trade implications of the resulting data is analyzed. The chapter discussing the human skeletal material attempts to determine why particular individuals were buried in the cave. Data is presented to support the proposition that many of the individuals were sacrificial victims. The ninth chapter attempts to test a number of proposals by Mary Pohl concerning the character of the faunal remains recovered from sacred contexts. Possible differences between cave and non-cave faunal collections are also discussed. The final chapter provides an historical reconstruction of the utilization of the Naj Tunich. An analysis of the spatial distribution of the artifacts finds that there is a public and private aspect to Maya cave rituals. Other aspects of Maya cave ritual are also discussed.