Communing with the Gods: The Paleoethnobotany of Fire Rituals

Author(s): Rebecca Friedel; M. Kathryn Brown

Year: 2018


The importance of fire in Maya rituals is well-known, both archaeologically and ethnographically. Fire, which is symbolic of the life cycle in Maya ideology, has been used as a means of communicating with the supernatural world in order to manage specific aspects of everyday life, such as the success of the agricultural season. In the archaeological record, we find evidence for ancient fires as features consisting mostly of burnt plant remains, some of which resemble modern Maya fire altars both materially and spatially. In this paper we present archaeological and paleoethnobotanical evidence from fire features recently excavated within E-Group complexes at the sites of Early Xunantunich and Buenavista del Cayo. We argue that the characteristics of these features suggest that these fires were ritual in nature. Therefore, the types of plants used to start and fuel these ritual fires likely held special significance to the ancient Maya as they were "sacrificed" to the Gods. Paleoethnobotanical studies are often focused on reconstructing the ancient environment and subsistence strategies. This study highlights the important use of paleoethnobotanical data to shed light on past ritual activities and ideologies.

Cite this Record

Communing with the Gods: The Paleoethnobotany of Fire Rituals. Rebecca Friedel, M. Kathryn Brown. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443617)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.197; min lat: 16.004 ; max long: -86.682; max lat: 21.984 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 20856