A Reappraisal of Ancient Maya Cave Mining

James E. Brady
Dominique Rissolo

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Throughout the world caves are often important sacred landmarks whose dark zones tend to be restricted spaces reserved for religious rituals. The function and meaning of activities conducted within these spaces are categorically different than physically similar activities conducted at the surface. Archaeology has been slow to integrate this fact into the analysis of cave features. Recently discovered evidence of extractive activities within Maya caves allows us to reevaluate previous work on cave mines. We suggest that the extraction was always small in scale and that the material extracted was most likely used in ritual. We then examine several surface mines where tunnel mining was used to extract a relatively undifferentiated matrix. Evidence suggests that a prime concern in the excavation was the creation of an artificial cave.