Posted by: Johan Normark | March 29, 2009

Chakal Ja’as

Chakal Ja’as is a small cave site located 3.5 km east of the larger Prehispanic site and the Colonial/contemporary village of Sacalaca. It was investigated in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Architecturally, Chakal Ja’as is dominated by a pyramidal structure that sits on the slope of a hill, 7 m high on its south side and 2 m high on the north side (N1E1-1). Architectural features, such as well dressed veneer stones, indicate a final Terminal Classic (A.D. 800-1100) date for this complex. There is a small Postclassic (A.D. 1100-1544) altar beneath this hill. However, a test pit near the Postclassic altar did only reveal one Postclassic sherd. South of this area is a platform complex that also has been created after modifying the terrain. Large uncut stones partially ring the outcrop and could potentially be Late Formative (300 B.C.-A.D. 250). There are two round structures, a Terminal Classic double wall line foundation brace, other foundation braces and another Postclassic altar. Judging from surface finds at the site of Gruta de Alux, it is possible that the round structures are domestic buildings dating to the Postclassic period.

Chakal Ja'as

Chakal Ja'as

Roughly 100 m east of the pyramid is a 15 m deep rejollada with a cave. Along the eastern wall of the rejollada, under an overhang, is a platform bordered by a wall to the south. The platform is in front of a small “cavity” that resembles a vault. This feature penetrates into the eastern part of the rejollada. A pit, probably a pib (used for subterranean cooking), has recently been excavated into the platform. Numerous sherds were found in the profile of this pit as well as a 12 cm long chert projectile point.

Along the southern and southeastern wall of the rejollada are petroglyphs. Most notable is an image with fangs, goggle-like eyes, a possible moustache or curled mouth and earflares. Maybe this is a depiction of the rain god Chaak/Tlaloc. Above it there is a small face. A Prehispanic date is likely for the Chaak image. However, inscriptions in the Latin alphabet also exist in the rejollada, but they are probably unrelated to the Chaak image. The Chaak image is located directly north of an entrance to an inner cave. The cave contains some sherds but its interior does not seem to have been modified.

Petroglyph, cave and reservoir in the rejollada

Petroglyph, cave and reservoir in the rejollada

Surface collection in the rejollada shows a presence of Middle Formative (600-300 B.C.) sherds and some Late Classic (A.D. 550-800) sherds as well. A 2×2 m test pit has been excavated at the bottom of the rejollada, in order to establish a basic chronology. It was located near the entrance of the cave, below the Chaak figure. Late Formative and Terminal Classic sherds dominated. This cave deposit has a near absence of Terminal Classic Yokat Striated ceramics which were used to prepare and consume hot liquids. Instead there were primarily sherds from jars and basins, probably used to collect water. Indeed, a stacked retaining wall was also found in the test pit. The wall was constructed of boulders with fairly smooth unmodified faces. It was designed to hold back slopewash from the deepest portion of the rejollada and to collect water or maybe it lead down to a natural pool of water. Excavation could not be continued further to investigate this possibility. So far, no other possible water source is known at the site. The water collecting device is probably contemporaneous with the Terminal Classic settlement.

Fragments of human bones were also found at the bottom of the test pit. These were the right maleolus from an adult man and portions of a cranium. The bones were found in soil deposited after the feature was abandoned and they could come from the cave above and may have been washed in by rains or the bones may have been intentionally deposited when the feature no longer was in use. Since there are mineral deposits on the maleolus, it indicates that the bones had been lying in a cave before it was deposited in the water collecting device. Plenty of Prehispanic cave burials in the Maya area indicate the importance of caves as possible ancestral shrines.

Thus, the rejollada was originally used in the Middle Formative, but it had no known adjacent settlement at this time. In the Late Formative the site had minor settlement and people used the rejollada. Early Classic (A.D. 250-550) activities are absent from both site and rejollada. The rejollada was used in the Late Classic. A major surge in settlement near the rejollada and a contemporaneous use of the rejollada occurred during the Terminal Classic. Ritual activities at the surface site are known from the Postclassic as well as a possible light occupation but no activities are known in the rejollada. No Colonial or later settlement exist at the site but some minor traces of usage of the rejollada exist in the form of inscriptions in the Latin alphabet. Today the rejollada is used for hunting agoutis (rodents) and on at least one occasion it has been used for cooking in the pib. In short: the area surrounding the rejollada at Chakal Ja’as appears to have been settled in the Terminal Classic and perhaps during the Late Formative and the Postclassic. The rejollada itself shows a more continuous, but less intensive, usage than the surface site. It suggests that iconic codes related to the cave remained but that the discursive order related to it changed. What this mean you have to wait until my next “theoretical” entry.

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