Ancient Maya Ritual Pathways: Performing Power Outside The Cave At Las Cuevas, Belize


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Breaking Barriers: Proceedings of the 47th Annual Chacmool Conference, Publisher: Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary


From as early as 1000 B.C., the Maya considered caves to be sacred features of the landscape and used them as ritual performance spaces. These performances became increasingly important during the 8-10th centuries Late Classic Maya ‘collapse’ when a series of events caused the localities in the Southern Lowlands to grow increasingly dissatisfied with their rulers. Las Cuevas, Belize is the most salient example of the strong tie that existed between monumental centers and ritual cave sites of the ancient Maya during this period. Using a combination of perceptual approaches grounded in cognitive methods, traditional excavation techniques, and a Geographic Information System (GIS) to analyze artifact densities, the sinkhole outside the cave at Las Cuevas is shown to be a physically and socially restricted space which reveals political control over ritual resources and the appropriation of sacred space by the elite in reafirming their right to rule in a time of crisis. It is also shown to contain a Late Classic ritual procession route connecting the main plaza and underlying cave, which further suggests the need to refine existing models of ritual circuits in order to include these vital yet previously neglected features of the sacred landscape.

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Book Chapter