The sacred landscape as a political resource: A case study of ancient Maya cave use at Chechem Ha Cave, Belize, Central America
MetadataShow full item record
This is a case study of the archaeology of Chechem Ha Cave, an ancient Maya ceremonial site in western Belize. It adds to the growing body of archaeological research that seeks to explain the role of ritual and symbolism in the creation and maintenance of social power and hierarchical development. Ancient Maya caves were fundamentally associated with rain control. Because of this cognitive association they became important political resources in the establishment of elite power. Chechem Ha is the earliest radiocarbon-dated cave site in the Maya lowlands. It contains a 2,000-year history of ancient Maya ritual cave use that spans the development of social complexity from early settlements through the rise of kingship and eventual political collapse. The study develops methodology to examine changes in ritual practice through time within the cave. Ritual transformations are situated within the framework of local settlement data, socio/political histories, and historical climatic conditions, which enables the study to articulate these changes with broader social and environmental contexts. The correlation of cave usage with environmental and sociopolitical histories creates a context for understanding the ritual life of the ancient users and provides insight into the mechanisms used by agents for the consolidation and maintenance of political power during the development and elaboration of Maya social complexity. By evaluating the frequency and nature of cave ritual this study demonstrates that rain control was a major factor in both the establishment of elite dominance and the downfall of elite rulership.