Communicating with the sacred earthscape : ethnoarchaeological investigation of Kaqchikel Maya ceremonies in highland Guatemala

Scott, Ann M.
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This dissertation presents the results of an ethnoarchaeological study of Kaqchikel Maya ceremonies in the southwestern highlands of Guatemala. The Maya view the Earth as being animate and sacred. Within this earthscape exist places that are especially alive and powerful. These are sacred earthmarks. Ceremonies are performed at these locations to communicate with this animate world as well as provide the maintenance necessary to keep the relationship between the natural and supernatural in balance. These special places can be various geographic locations including caves, rockshelters, mountain tops, boulders, cliffs, rivers, and archaeological sites. Inquiries into Maya cosmology show that the earth is of central importance and questions assumptions concerning the multi level worldview of sky, earth, and underworld. Furthermore, this work challenges the long tradition among Maya researchers of associating caves with the underworld. Data for this dissertation was gathered over eight seasons of fieldwork that included visiting over 65 sites. At each site a ceremony was performed by a ritual specialist; the author directly participated in the majority of these ceremonies. Theoretically, the data and insights are used as a basis for constructing ethnographic models used as analogs in the interpretation and reconstruction of pre-contact ritual contexts, especially those found in caves. This research found that four phases were observed as part of the ceremonial process. These phases include a consultation phase, a preparation phase, a communication phase, and a termination phase. Of the various materials utilized many had pre-contact antecedents. Discussions are included on the use of brooms, sticks or staffs, and torches by the pre-contact and contemporary Maya. The study further documented that sacred sites are dynamic, constantly changing spaces often modified in the process of use. Altars are assembled, disassembled, and/or relocated. Sweeping, or altar activation, affects the depositional nature of these sites. Offerings are constructed at these sites utilizing a variety of materials to "feed" the ancestors and spiritual guardians found at these sacred portals. Numerous materials are used in a ceremonial offering for consumption. Materials used include: colored candles, numerous types of resin-based incense, sugar, chocolate, cigars, breads, herbs, flowers, perfumed liquids, and liquor.