Of Cenotes and Serpents: Modern and Ancient Cave Ritual at Mayapán, Yucatán, Mexico

Author(s): Bradley Russell

Year: 2015


The pairing of ritual architecture with sacred underground spaces is common throughout Mesoamerica and makes clear the importance that ancient inhabitants of the culture area placed on caves and cenotes. These spaces were home to powerful forces. The Late Postclassic Maya center of Mayapán (1150-1450AD) is known for its clear spatial associations between temples and cenotes. These temple/cenote complexes have been found both within and outside of the large defensive city wall. Cenote Sac Uayum, located south of the city wall is still believed to be guarded by an enormous feathered serpent with the head of a horse, an easily angered chimera. Underwater exploration of the feature has revealed at least 17 ancient skeletons within. Cenote San Jose, also located south of the wall contains dozens more burials. Several cenotes in the area currently serve as the focus of rain or other rituals. Some cenotes are said to be "alive". They are considered the source of winds, both good and bad, that can bring disaster or prosperity to individuals and the community. This paper will examine several examples of archaeologically known cave ritual at the site and compare those to modern practices still evident at the nearby village of Telchaquillo.

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Cite this Record

Of Cenotes and Serpents: Modern and Ancient Cave Ritual at Mayapán, Yucatán, Mexico. Bradley Russell. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397774)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections


Cave Maya Ritual

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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