Ancient Mesoamerica

PITS AND BONES: Identifying Maya ritual behavior in the archaeological record

Julie L.  Kunen  a1, Mary Jo  Galindo  a2 and Erin  Chase  a3
a1 Department of Anthropology, Northern Arizona University, PO Box 15200, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5200, USA
a2 Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA
a3 Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA


In this article, we examine the traditional classificatory terms of cache and burial as they are used in Lowland Maya archaeology and argue that, rather than forming mutually exclusive categories, these ritual deposits are members of a continuum. After discussing the intertwined concepts of dedication and termination and the cosmology of caches, we summarize burgeoning evidence that not all deposits classified as caches are votive offerings. We also discuss the role played by household refuse in ritual contexts. We then describe the investigation of a pit excavated into bedrock beneath a residential structure at the Maya site of La Caldera, in northwestern Belize. Our interpretation of the ritual importance of the pit is based on a series of behaviors that activated, terminated, and then reactivated the ritual pathway defined by the feature. We suggest that this behavioral approach to special deposits is more compelling than attempts to classify the material traces of ritual actions according to narrowly defined terms.