Jon Spenard



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Publication Date

January 2006


Guatemala, Archaeology


"This thesis presents the results of a regional cave survey in the San Francisco Hills near the lowland Maya site of Cancuén, Petén, Guatemala. The survey was a component of the Cancuén Archaeology Project directed by Dr. Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt University. The project investigated eleven caves through a combination of surface collection and excavation. The study was divided into North and South regions reflecting the natural landscape. The North Area is comprised of tall, tower-like hills that contain the caves Hix Pec, Cueva de las Tinajas, China Ochoch, Ventana Maya, Torre Quib, and Torre Hun. The South Area is defined as a low, hilly region that is naturally separated from the large hills to the north by a swampy area. The caves investigated in the south region include Saber, CHOC-05, Ocox, and Cabeza de Tepezquintle. The analysis of recovered artifacts used a gift-giving economic framework to place cave ritual in the context of social theory. The ceramics revealed that the caves were utilized by highland and lowland Maya populations from the Middle Preclassic through the Late Classic periods. The heaviest utilization occurred during the Early Classic period, but no substantial Early Classic period populations are known in the Cancuén region. I use the works of Mauss (2000), Weiner (1992), and Levi-Strauss (1969), to argue that the Maya economy was largely dependant on obligatory ritual gift-giving transactions with supernatural beings that inhabited caves. The gods required the Maya to perform rituals continually in exchange for the gift of the world. I use the principle of mimesis, or mimicry, to explain how the physical objects left in caves were transformed into offerings to the supernatural realm through their destruction. Offerings to the prehistoric equivalent of the modern Earth Lord were the most vital transactions for the success of the ancient Maya economy because his permission must be granted to harvest the resources necessary for production, such as stone, wood, and food. Activities associated with gift-giving, such as ancestor worship and pilgrimage, resulted in the development of social relations between the ritual participants. Today, the caves continue to be imbued with sacred power for many communities in the surrounding region. The continual ritual utilization of these caves adds to the life histories of those places. This thesis is an attempt to understand a part of that history." -- Author Open Access - Permission by Author(s) See Extended description for more information.

Subject: topical


Subject: geographic





Thesis / Dissertation; serial





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