Posted by: Johan Normark | May 25, 2011

Ritualization and cosmologization of droughts and cenotes

I have written plenty of posts about droughts in the past week. I just got a link from a colleague of mine (thanks Håkan). The link led me to Lisa Lucero who writes for The New York Times. She is currently investing whether or not there is an increased ritual activity at cenotes and other water sources in Belize during the mega-drought. I am sure that kind of evidence will be found. Lucero has focused on cosmology and rituals related to water and power in her most recent work. She writes that:

Cara Blanca, with its concentration of several cenotes and year-round water, is practically devoid of farmsteads. Instead, we have found ritual sweat baths and other ceremonial buildings near cenotes, indicating that this area served a special purpose — a sacred one, likely for pilgrimage. Water jar sherds excavated from buildings near the pools also indicate intensified ritual activities between A.D. 800 to 900 during an intense period of climate change. That is why it is so critical to explore these sacred waters, not only to find offerings, but to find out from how many centers or communities they came.

This place may very well have been a the focus for pilgrimage although I am not very fond of the pilgrimage concept. I do not know the area but I doubt that there are no sites within a day’s walk or two. Pilgrimage is supposed to be hard and long. The very idea of ritual intensification is also problematic since basically any increased activity around a cave automatically be interpreted as a ritual activity (water jars and sweat baths are not evidence of ritual activity in themselves, although sweat baths tend to be filled with various cosmological meaning, such as birth places for gods, etc.). Sweat baths are preferrably located near water sources and jars are needed to bring the water into the hearth. Mayanists simply love to fill these buildings with “meaning”.

My experience is that caves, at least in the Cochuah region, primarily are used for hunting various mammals, not for rituals (although this is today I also believe this to have been the case in the past). The ritualization and cosmologization of everything in the past is something I find to be truly problematic. Other options are being erased before research even begins. Archaeologists are inclined to see too uch rituals behind ancient practices. Although Lucero focus on the ritual and not the belief behind it, the assumption is almost always related to cosmology (she mentions the watery underworld in the text so the link is automatically made).

I find all these archaeologists now rushing to investigate the effects of the mega-drought(s), without checking what hides in the Black Box of the mega-drought hypothesis, to be an interesting example of how contemporary currents affect research. My experience is that once something becomes mainstream it is time to reevaluate it.

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