Posted by: Johan Normark | August 16, 2010

Prehispanic cult vs Christian destruction

I am currently working myself through a huge pile of articles and books that I have read but not made any notes from for my own research. Today I encountered a FAMSI report in the middle of the pile that discusses the ceramic fragments found during the explorations of the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza during the 1960s. The report is written by Eduardo J. Pérez de Heredia Puente (2008) and shows the problem with interpreting the ritual activities that once took place around the cenote. It also confirms my hypothesis that the decreased use of cave sites during Colonial period droughts was the effect of the Spanish reducción program.

Basically, there are two major periods of deposition of ceramics: Terminal Classic and early Postclassic (AD 850-1150) and later Postclassic (1150-conquest). The earlier assemblage indicates that the main function of the cenote was water procurement and as a deposit of refuse. Luxury objects and imported goods have been found at the bottom of the cenote. However, they may not be offerings, but the results of a large termination ritual. The Sacred Cenote was associated with the Feathered Serpent and Warrior rituals during the Terminal Classic.

It is the later assemblage that I find to be more interesting since it indicates a greater ceremonial homogeneity. Clemency Coggins launched the idea that there was a Postclassic cult for the cenote where large quantities of cajetas and censers were thrown in as offerings. According to this hypothesis these vessels would have been deposited during an extended period by multiple agents.

However, it is also possible that these vessels were thrown into the cenote during one event, an event directed by one main agent: the infamous Bishop Diego de Landa. He visited Chichen Itza in 1558 and described the masonry structure (the Steam Bath) at the edge of the cenote where he encountered numerous “idols” (censers sometimes have anthropomorphic attributes). He conducted a purifying act but never mentions the act of casting the idols into the cenote. His visit to the cenote was part of a plan to destroy important religious centers throughout Yucatan. Excavation of the Steam Bath does not show the Pantheon of idols that de Landa mentioned. It is estimated, based on ceramic sherds found in the cenote, that roughly 800 vessels must have stood at the edge of the cenote. However, similar destructions are better documented elsewhere. In 1583 Bishop Montalvo destroyed idols and threw them into the cenote at Tizminac.

In short: during Postclassic times the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza appears to have used for rain petition or the veneration of ancestors. Vessels were no longer thrown into the cenote, as in Terminal Classic times, but rather deposited on its margins. Coggins’ Postclassic cenote cult may therefore never have existed, at least not the act of throwing down offerings. The Spaniards’ agenda to destroy religious places included the destruction of “idols” and monuments. Cenotes and caves became forbidden places and for that reason no settlement congregations emerged around “dry” caves during the Colonial period as had been the pattern in Prehispanic times (at least in the Cochuah region).



  1. Interesting! Always good to see a good re-interpretation…

  2. I think this is a correct interpretation. I wonder if anyone has investigated the bottom of the cenote at Tizminac yet?

  3. The Senergy Between The Catholic Gestopo And The Original Peoples Cosmology.Can Be Seen At The Catedral De San Jose,And The Santo Domingo Monastery,In Antigua Guate. Where Behind The Catholic Alters Are Steped Alters Built Into The Walls,Looking Like Maya Temples At Tikal
    In The Caticombs Below San Jose The Maya Made Offering Of Wax And Copal.The Fret Work Around The Cathederal Is A Row Of Tajixx Glphs (Cajalom?)
    The Fountain In The Town Square Has Women Emerging From the Mouth of Serpents.There Was A Sighting Of The Virgin At The Catherdal.
    The Two Religions Morphed,So The Originals Could Survive And Priests Could Report On The Conversions.
    In The Cave Pottery Offerings,Were They Broken On Purpose?

  4. The pottery found in the cenote were located 14 m below the water surface. Before that the pottery fell more than 20 m before it hit the water. It will be difficult to say if the pottery was broken before it hit water five hundred years ago.

  5. I Your Study Of The Actuns Are There Any With Thermal Features I’m Sure Not In The Lowlands,But Perhaps The Guate Highlands Or The Maya Mts.There Are Thermal Springs Near Copan.
    When In The Chayo Stayed At A Lodge With Chultuns Used For Burials With Grave Goods Offered To The Bolan Ti Ku,The Earth Lords Of Meso-am,Tikal Was Dedicated To Them.

  6. No thermal features.

  7. […] Prehispanic cult vs Christian destruction « Archaeological Haecceities Today I encountered a FAMSI report in the middle of the pile that discusses the ceramic fragments found during the explorations of the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza during the 1960s. The report is written by Eduardo J. Pérez de Heredia … — Mon, 16 Aug 2010 03:12:56 -0700 […]


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