Caves, hills, and caches: The importance of karst landscapes for the Prehispanic and contemporary Maya


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Caves and Karst Across Time

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Caves were and continue to be highly charged and sacred places for the Maya of Mexico and northern Central America. Viewed as the homes of gods, spirits, and ancestors as well as living beings themselves, they were the sites of regular ritual activities including the burning and caching of offerings. Caves defined and even at times provided the names for communities. They were often incorporated into the layout of cities, and the ancient elite associated themselves with caves through proximity, as well as representations in iconography and architecture in order to reinforce their political power. Archaeologists, historians, and ethnographers conduct research in caves for a variety of reasons. They are essential places for the study of Maya ritual and religion, but the paraphernalia left behind from ceremonial events can also be used to answer questions related to the economy, changing political systems, land tenure, and responses to drought and other environmental changes. Nevertheless, they continue to be important places for the contemporary inhabitants of the region, and, therefore, it is necessary to collaborate with neighboring groups when planning and conducting speleological research.

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