Posted by: Johan Normark | December 20, 2010

Speleotheme breakage

Speleothemes (statlactites, stalagmites, etc.) of the caves in the Maya area were sometimes broken and removed from their original place. They have been found on household altars, in caches, burials, and used as construction material at both caves and surface sites. At least one speleotheme has become a stela (at Yaxchilan). Broken speleothemes have been used to facilitate or restrict movements in caves and to create niches. Other speleothemes have been modified into vessels and even as incense burners.

Balam Na Cave 1 has large amounts of broken stalactites. 1660 broken stalactites have been recorded. This is 59 percent of all stalactites at the site. Larger stalactites showed greater breakage rates since 69% of stalactites with 15 cm in diameter were broken. Most broken pieces have been removed from the cave. At Aktun Nak Beh it appears that the speleothems found with human remains were from another cave. In the northern lowlands speleothemes were also used in the Postclassic shrines at Naranjal in the Yalahau region. Some of them were found in association with Chen Mul incensarios. One of the speleothemes had also been burned.

It has been suggested that the speleothemes may have been collected during pilgrimages and for being used in rain making ceremonies. However, Helmke and Brady (2009) have recently proposed the idea that speleothemes may have been war trophies since most sites were associated with the cave as the center of the cosmos and the polity and/or community.

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