Final Report on the 2013 Season of the Mayapán Taboo Cenote Project

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National Geographic Society/Waitt Grant #W264-13


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With support from The National Geographic Society and The Waitt Foundation, the Mayapán Taboo Cenote Project concluded its first season of exploration at Cenote Sac Uayumin the summer of 2013. Sac Uayum is a sacred, water-bearing sinkhole located at the PostclassicMaya political capital of Mayapán, Yucatán, Mexico (1150-1450AD). The work broughttogether an international collaboration of researchers from the United States, Mexico andEstonia. Principle Investigator Bradley W. Russell (College of St. Rose) and Co-DirectorsCarlos Peraza Lope (INAH Centro Yucatan), Eunice Uc González (INAH Centro Yucatan) andMarilyn A. Masson (SUNY Albany) enlisted the help of lead diver Rait Kütt and underwaterarchaeologist Lisseth Pedroza Fuentes. The study yielded significant new insights into thecenote that many modern inhabitants consider t o be “alive” and believe is guarded by a largefeathered serpent with the head of a horse. The feature has drawn the attention of researchersworking at the site since the first archaeological work began at the ancient city because of itsconspicuous and apparently intentional exclusion by the large defensive wall surrounding the bulk of the settlement. Caves and sinkholes were/are especially important to the Maya as theyare believed to be accesses to the underworld and homes of gods. Sac Uayum remains sacredtoday and local residents both respect and fear it and the supernatural serpent said to guard it. Inorder to enter the cenote, we hosted a traditional Maya Jeets’ Lu’um or “calming of the earth” ceremony to petition the gods of the sky, earth and winds as well as its serpent guardian for permission to perform the work. Doing so provided new ethnographic data on modern Mayacave ritual and beliefs. Our team of divers and underwater archaeologists focused on detailedunderwater mapping and photography of the cenote and its contents. During the study, welocated 15 human crania and a large number of other bones, attesting to the use of the site as a burial location. Early data suggests that the site contains burials of both sexes and a range ofages, including one as young as six or seven years old. Ceramic fragments show a mix ofPreclassic and Postclassic Maya use of the feature. We recovered a small sample of the bones(two femurs, a mandible and a tibia) that we will use to obtain radiocarbon dates for the burialsthemselves. We were surprised and excited to find that the cenote’s main chamber is connected to a second even larger and deeper cavern that contained five of the best preserved skullsidentified along with many other bones. While connected, submerged cave systems are commonnear the coast, they are rare this far inland

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