Planting the Bones: Hunting Ceremonialism at Contemporary and Nineteenth-Century Shrines in the Guatemalan Highlands


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Latin American Antiquity

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From the Classic period to the present, scholars have documented the widespread Maya belief in a supernatural guardian of the animals who must be appeased in hunting rituals. Despite this resilience, features and deposits entering the archaeological record as a result of hunting ceremonies remain largely unknown. I describe several contemporary and nineteenth-century shrines used for hunting rites in the Maya highlands of Guatemala. These sites contain a unique feature, a ritual fauna cache, which consists of animal remains secondarily deposited during hunting ceremonies. The formation of these caches is informed by two beliefs with historical time depth: (1) the belief in a guardian of animals and (2) the symbolic conflation of bone and regeneration. The unique life history of remains in hunting-related ritual fauna caches suggests a hypothesis for puzzling deposits of mammal remains recovered archaeologically in lowland Maya caves. These may have functioned in hunting rites designed to placate the animal guardian and ensure the regeneration of the species via ceremonies that incorporated the secondary discard of skeletal remains. A review of the ethnographic literature from the Lenca, Huichol, Nahua, Tlapanec, and Mixe areas reveals similar hunting rites indicating a broader Mesoamerican ritual practice.

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