Artifacts that speak for themselves: Sounds underfoot in Mesoamerica


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Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

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Previously overlooked in archaeological research, natural sounds emitted from the underground affect humans and culture. In this paper, it is suggested that noises generated by subterranean ground movement, water, wind, and wildlife are a reason why residents in Mesoamerica perceive caves, waterholes, limestone sinks, and mountains as sacred. Too, a mental grasp of the sounds, conceptualized as anthropomorphized voices and music, may have been employed as an ideological basis for authority in Maya society. Support is shown using examples of ethnohistory, ethnography, and archaeology. Called for is the systematic collection and study of underground sounds, as artifacts, to define the noises as possible use determinants in ritual venues and settlement sites. Their potential importance as early warning devices for destructive agents in the natural environment suggests that an understanding of the noises and their regard by residents in the region could contribute to theory-building in anthropology, particularly in issues of human-environment relations, and sociocultural development.

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