Keeping it Natural: Ancient Maya Modifications of the Ritual Landscape Outside of Caves

Author(s): Marieka Arksey; Holley Moyes

Year: 2015


From as early as 1000 B.C., the Maya considered caves to be sacred features of the landscape and used them as ritual spaces. Performances associated with caves served not only the ruling elite in reaffirming their right to rule, but the entire community’s confidence in their rulers. These performances became increasingly important in times of crisis, such as during the Late Classic Maya ‘collapse’ when a series of droughts aggravated the overcrowded, over-farmed, and deforested localities which grew increasingly dissatisfied with their rulers. While we know that modern Maya use the spaces outside of caves for rituals, no one has yet investigated how these spaces functioned for ancient people. Using a combination of both cognitive methods and traditional excavation techniques, I compare the modifications to the landscape outside of several different caves in Belize. These investigations have revealed that the spaces outside cave entrances were modified for the first time during the Late Classic period, providing an ideal paradigm to begin to address how these ritual spaces were used to reinforce social rules and norms during a time period associated with the rising political complexity and the subsequent failure of Maya kingship and social hierarchy in the Maya Lowlands.

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Cite this Record

Keeping it Natural: Ancient Maya Modifications of the Ritual Landscape Outside of Caves. Marieka Arksey, Holley Moyes. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396889)


Cave Landscape Ritual

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;