Paper No. 224-11
Presentation Time: 4:45 PM
CAVES: THE SACRED SUBSTRATE OF MAYA CIVILIZATION
John Lloyd Stephens introduced caves as important features of the Maya cultural landscape in his publications in the 1840s. Viewed for over a century primarily as vital subsurface water resources in a generally dry surface karst landscape, over the past 30 years caves became recognized as critical sacred elements in the physical and cultural landscape of the Maya. Many communities are based around cavernous access to groundwater. The layout of ceremonial and political power centers is increasing found over and in alignment with caves. In non-karst segments of the Maya region, artificial caves have been excavated to convey supernatural authority to temples and their occupants. Religious and political ascension rituals were conducted in caves, exploiting key elements in caves’ geography, mineral, and water resources.
The major missing element in Maya cave research is quantification. What percent of water used by the Maya came from caves and cenotes? Did Maya agricultural practices adversely impact water quality? How prevalent was the mining of cave minerals and sediments? Geophysical studies may answer some questions, such as the number of structures deliberately built over caves. Studies are developing to quantify other aspects of this complex relationship between the ancient Maya and caves.