"The Geopolitics of Emerging Maya Rulers A Case Study of Kayuko Naj Tunich, a Foundational Shrine at Uxbenká, Southern Belize"


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Journal of Anthropological Research

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Cross-culturally we find that emerging leaders in agrarian societies create ritual ties to the land as a political resource in gaining and maintaining political power. Based on research in ancient Maya caves, we argue that this strategy was followed by emerging Maya kings, who used ritual practice in caves to establish their relationships with deities associated with the earth and its resources. These rites bolstered their legitimacy, supported their right to rule, and established a natural political order. This is borne out both ethnohistorically and ethnographically, by examples in which caves figure prominently in the foundation of communities and in establishing geopolitical boundaries that serve to spiritually anchor leaders to the land by providing the most important ritual venue for the propitiation of local deities. In this paper we demonstrate that this practice has a deep history by examining an Early Classic cave site in southern Belize, Kayuko Naj Tunich, and argue that it served as a foundational shrine for the polity of Uxbenká.

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