Wood of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Pine (Pinus spp.) by the Ancient Lowland Maya


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Latin American Antiquity

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The recovery of pine (Pinus spp.) charcoal remains from ceremonial contexts at sites in the Maya Lowlands suggests that pine had a significant role in ancient Maya ritual activities. Data collected by the authors reveal that pine remains are a regular component of archaeobotanical assemblages from caves, sites that were used almost exclusively for ritual purposes, and that pine is often the dominant taxon of wood charcoal recovered. Comparisons with archaeobotanical data from surface sites likewise reveals that pine is common in ceremonial deposits. The authors propose that the appearance of pine remains in ceremonial contexts indicates pine was a valued element of Maya ritual paraphernalia. By basing interpretations with analogous information from ethnography, ethnohistory, iconography, and epigraphy, the use of pine during rituals is argued to be have been linked with a symbolic complex of ritual burning and offering “food” sacrifices to deities. The possibility is raised that burning pine, perhaps as torches, during some ancient rituals was similar to the modern use of candles. The diversity of ceremonial contexts yielding pine suggests that burning pine may have been a basic element of ritual activities that was essential to establish the legitimacy of ritual performances.

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