Doctoral Dissertation Research: The Ritual Use of Checham Ha Cave, Belize: A Study of Changes in Ritual Practice Over Time Using GIS
Ezra B. Zubrow Principal Investigator
MetadataShow full item record
The study of ritual in the archaeological record is a relatively new line of inquiry that is undergoing theoretical and methodological development. Under the supervision of Dr. Ezra Zubrow, Holley Moyes will analyze ritual deposits and sediment profiles from Chechem Ha, an ancient Maya ceremonial cave located in western Belize, Central America. The project seeks to understand changes in ritual practice over time within the cave and to correlate these changes with local and regional histories. This information is vital in understanding the nature of cave ritual and its relationship to broader social, political, and economic systems. Ultimately, the study will contribute to a growing body knowledge that seeks to explain the function of ritual in social systems and the relationship of ritual to ideology and power.<br/><br/>Chechem Ha is an important site for several reasons. Firstly, the cave is unlooted. Although it has been opened for tourism, features and modifications are still intact and sub-floor deposits are in good condition. Also, ritual use of the cave spans the entire history of local occupation in the area. An early radiocarbon date from test excavations showed that the cave is contemporaneous with the earliest Maya occupations in Belize. Additionally the site contains a number of specialty usage areas including a ritual sweatbath. A small stela surrounded by a stone circle is located in a chamber deep within the cave as well.<br/><br/>Preliminary analyses have indicated that different areas of the cave were used at different time periods. This suggests that rituals conducted within the cave changed over time. The project will assess these changes by evaluating: 1) spatial components of the periodicity of use, 2) frequency of usage both locally (activity loci) and globally (cave system), 3) feature construction/cave modification and 4) the artifact assemblage. Use-frequency will be studied using microstratigraphic analyses. Charcoal from torches used by the ancient Maya to light the cave will be employed as a proxy for the amount of utilization. Feature placement, modifications to the cave, and the artifact assemblage will be correlated with these data to create a model of cave use that spans the cultural history of the site. Results of the study will be displayed and analyzed using a geographical information system (GIS). This way, it will be possible to envision the way that the cave looked at different time periods. Because events occurring in the cave will be well dated, it will be possible to tie cave ritual to local and regional histories.<br/><br/>Work at Chechem Ha Cave impacts a broad community. The cave functions not only as a major archaeological find of great antiquity, but also as an important site for archaeological tourism in Belize. Archaeological inquiry contributes to the Belizean goals of economic development via tourism by enhancing knowledge and interest in archaeological sites. Research conducted at the site will be disseminated not just to a professional community of archaeologists, but also to the general public by means of the internet, the Belizean Department of Archaeology, local tour guides, local schools and museums, and tourist brochures.