Preliminary investigation of a ritual cave site in the Puuc Region of Yucatàn, Mexico: ActunXcoch


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Journal of cave and karst studies

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Within the Lowland Maya site of Xcoch is a deep cave first described by John Lloyd Stephens in 1843. Evidence indicates the Maya settled the area during the Middle Preclassic (800 BC) and continued to maintain occupation at the site until the Terminal Classic. The cave's central location within the Xcoch site and its location at the base of a pyramid indicate that the cave played an important role in replicating Maya cosmology. Initial exploration of the cave in 2006 by Michael Smyth revealed examples of the oldest ceramic known in the Yucatán-Yotolin Patterned Burnished. Mapping of the cave in 2009 and 2010 revealed a cave that had been heavily used for ritual purposes. Throughout its reaches are broken ceramic vessels, and the lowest chamber, which contains a pool of water, contains piles of ceramic meters deep. As few caves in this region contain freshwater and the land above is void of natural surface water, it is assumed that the focus of interest was the water in the cave and that Chaac, the Maya rain god, was the principal deity for which the offerings were made. An obsidian blade found in a passage suggests bloodletting, and human bones indicate the cave was used for funerary purposes or for human sacrifice. It is evident that this cave was an important religious site for the Maya, and future excavations will produce a better understanding of the site.

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