Posted by: Johan Normark | June 26, 2009

INAH reports on caves in the Puuc region

Of the estimated 2000 caves, caverns, and cenotes (sinkholes) in the Puuc region in northwestern Yucatan, 300 have been surveyed by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH). Eunice Uc Gonzalez has been directing the investigations and she says that they have found masonry walls, subterranean accesses with lintels and jambs, ceramics, metates (grinding stones), petroglyphs, and a mural. During the 11 years of research the project has classified the caves into three groups based on ancient usage: ritual spaces, domestic work, and mines for extracting minerals.

Most caves were used for rituals and related to these are chambers with lintels and petroglyphs and drawings in blue color. Entrances to some caves have painted signs of deer and Ch’aak, the rain god. Uc Gonzalez says that inside the caves the people sought suhuy ha’ (virgin or holy water), water that has not been touched by humans. Here she relies on older ideas that states that the suhuy ha’ was collected from the dripping water from stalactites. This I believe is an idea that Brady and Prufer finds to be not well supported by archaeological evidence. Anyway I have not seen the evidence for the Puuc area yet. Uc Gonzalez says this is a practice that continues today, such as at  Aktun-Usil and Calcehtok in the municipality of Maxcanú and Aktun-Sabakhá in the Tekax region. At Aktun Usil they encountered red paintings of cardinal directions and glyphs and these are associated with astronomy and calendars related to planting and cultivation.

Domestic spaces are open areas illuminated from the surface or from skylights that illuminate interior spaces. Engravings, glyphs, metates, haltuns, ceramics and other artifacts used for grinding and habitation have been located in these spaces. A cave like this is located in Ramonal, in the Tekax area. However, I doubt these were domestic spaces or activities, the metates were probably used to grind corn for ritual activities. Uc Gonzalez also refers to sources from the 16th century that states that people disposed their domestic utensils in the cave during certain period endings or New Year renewal ceremonies. These discarded items are used to establish the chronology of the sites.

In the third kind of cave they found clay deposits (ok’at) which were extracted for pottery making. The pottery has a polish that is reminiscent of a stalactite. Another kind of mineral extracted from the caves was híb or hí, a kind of carbonated mineral or gypsum also used in pottery making. People also extracted red cancab clay that served as construction material in buildings. Aktun Ho’on in the municipality of Tekax is an example of this.

The bulletin from INAH does not mention if the use of each caves changed in time. I doubt that one can easily define the caves into three categories and that each cave belonged to this category from time immemorial until the present. In the Cochuah region there are substantial changes in use through time. I would like to know more of the Colonial impact of cave use in this area.

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