Small Caves and Sacred Geography: A Case Study from the Prehispanic Maya Site of Maax Na, Belize

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Latin American Antiquity


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Contemporary research on prehispanic Maya landscapes has focused on caves as core features of the cultural geography. Investigations within a number of large caves have suggested that they served as the loci for important rituals, legitimized inhabitants’ claims to their territory, and helped establish the authority of a site’s ruling elite. The ubiquity and centrality of caves in the Maya worldview raises questions about what happened in regions where large caves did not naturally form. Recent investigations at the site of Maax Na in northern Belize suggest that small caves, despite their diminutive size, still functioned to establish legitimacy and uphold power. The results serve to demonstrate the pervasive power of key ideological concepts in shaping the cultural landscape and indicate the need to take these into account in documenting landmarks at Maya sites, as even the less imposing ones may have been important to their inhabitants.

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