Abstract: The Canoe in the Cave: A Foundational Shrine Complex in Southern Belize


Across Mesoamerica natural features are salient geographic markers defining both the physical and spiritual boundaries of communities and geopolitical entities.  In this talk I argue that this tradition has ancient Classic Period roots dating as early as the 2nd century AD.  Kayuko Naj Tunich, an Early Classic cave site located in southern Belize, served as a foundational shrine for the mid-sized Maya polity of Uxbenká. The concept of “foundational” places and the rites associated with them are found in the ethnographic and ethnohistoric literature and help us to understand the relationship between ancient people and their built and natural environment.  Multiple sources suggest that caves figure prominently in the foundation of communities, and that they serve to anchor the people to place by providing an important venue for the propitiation of earth deities.  In the past, this connection to the earth provided legitimacy to ruling elite and bolstered their rights to rule. 


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

García-Zambrano, Angel J., 1994 Early Colonial Evidence of Pre-Columbian Rituals of Foundation. In Seventh Palenque Round Table, Vol. IX, 1989, edited by Merle G. Robertson and Virginia Field, pp. 217-227, Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco, CA.

Moyes, Holley, 2007, The Canoe in the Cave: A Foundational Shrine at Uxbenká?, Interim Report submitted to the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. http://www.famsi.org/reports/07068/index.html

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