A Case Study of Funerary Cave Use from Je’reftheel, Central Belize


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The Bioarchaeology of Space and Place


Bioarchaeological analysis of mortuary deposits from Je’reftheel, a small cave located in the Roaring Creek Works of central Belize, focused on characterizing the nature of mortuary activities conducted in the cave to determine whether the site was used for funerary or sacrificial purposes. In contrasting caves and cenotes, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and epigraphic accounts of cave use by the Maya fairly consistently mention mortuary events that occur in caves, as funerary. The combined osteological and isotopic analyses from Je’reftheel are also consistent with models of funerary behavior among the Maya. The skeletal deposits comprise both primary, articulated bodies, and secondary deposits. Other data suggest that most of the individuals were of local origin and may have been closely related. Together, these results provide a strong analogy to funerary behavior documented in tombs throughout the Maya region and beyond.

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