One of the primary goals for me during the 2010 season was to map the cave sites of the Cochuah region that has surrounding settlement. Four sites remained to map and places with only caves were therefore not researched. My research focuses on settlement changes and climate changes and caves are important in my study since most sites with caves have Late Formative, Terminal Classic and Postclassic settlement (periods with recorded droughts) but lack Colonial period settlement. This discrepancy indicates that the caves were used during Prehispanic droughts but not during Colonial period droughts. I use this discrepancy to criticize the drought related hypotheses concerning the “Maya collapse” since many of them use Colonial analogies and ignores the great changes that occurred during the conquest, particularly in settlement strategies during droughts. Hence, my interest in caves is indirect and focuses on the surrounding settlement rather than the interior of caves.
The main problem was that these cave sites were located far from the main roads. We had to go there on mountain bikes (it turned out to be a good thing for my weight, since I lost 3 kg during my field season despite the fat Mexican food). The site of Xtojil (“Place of the toj [motmot]), which Alberto Flores and I first visited in 2003, was located 75 minutes away on a chac luum (red soil that becomes muddy when it rains)/laja (bedrock) trails. Walking to this site would have taken us 2.5 hours each way.
Due to the goals of the regional survey we only had time to map the central portions of each site. Hence, a multitude of structures could not be mapped. This is true for Xtojil but here Dave Johnstone and I took advantage of a recently cleared milpa (swidden area) southeast of the cave. This area was located on a higher altitude than the major architecture at the site. Here several foundation braces for perishable structures were located, a chultun (subterranean chamber), and some terraces. Most of the site is surrounded by similar unmapped structures.
North of the milpa area is the most interesting part of the site. This is a plaza group with several low structures. On the east side is an unusual boundary wall (albarrada) and a small Postclassic shrine. In the northeast part of the group there is a possible cave entrance or a possible sascabera (mine for limestone marl). Since its height is only ten cm, being filled in with debris, we cannot know for sure what it is.
The north and west part of the plaza group is of crucial importance. Here we located three C-shaped structures (or rather “open fronted structures”). These are usually seen as “post-monumental” and date roughly to AD 950-1030 (late Terminal Classic). The western structure sits on a fairly substantial platform and even had a stairway which is unusual for these “post-monumental” structures. No earlier super-structures were located on this platform so it is possible that the platform was built to support the C-shaped structure. The southern part of this platform has another angle and coarser stone work and is most likely a later (Postclassic) addition.
Directly southwest of the main structure of the plaza group is the cave which has a pila (local name for metate) located near its entrance. The cave is said to have a pool of water, hence its name since the motmot lives near water.
In the northern part of the site there is a 7 m high pyramidal structure. Portions of the southern wall are fairly well preserved. This wall appears to be early Terminal Classic and hence it is older than the C-shaped structures. Northeast of the pyramid is a platform that never was mapped. Directly east of the pyramid is a large sascabera with a column.
Xtojil is of major importance to my research since it indicates a strong early and late Terminal Classic and minor Postclassic presence. It fits my hypothesis that during the droughts during these periods people moved away from more centralized settlements and occupied areas near caves as part of a long-term strategy. The Colonial politics and Catholicism changed this strategy and areas surrounding caves were no longer settled during droughts since caves were seen as pagan places.