CURRENT PROJECTS

Rio Frio Cave A (AKA Twin Caves)

Although excavated originally in 1928, little was published about the work. We have recently located part of the artifact collection at the Smithsonian Institution, and are trying to learn where the remainder is located. The cave is full of architecture and artifacts are still scattered all over the floors. Our aim is to learn when this cave was used, who was using it, and for what purposes? In the Summer of 2019, we began excavations in this cave to address those questions. Our studies revealed the cave was used throughout the Classic period (approximately C.E 250-900), although some earlier and later use is likely. Several small, charred corn cobs suggest agricultural rituals were performed in the entrance. Unfortunately, the cave has been severely damaged by modern graffiti. One of the ways we are studying this cave and aim to preserve it in its current state for future generations to enjoy is through the creation of digital models and virtual tours.

Silhouttes of two people in a cave passage

Domingo Ruiz Cave

This cave first came to our attention in December 2018, soon after it had been opened for tourism. We began our investigations of the cavern a year later in December 2019. Like our work in Rio Frio Cave A, our research is focused on basic questions about the site; when was it used, who was using it and for what purposes. Our aim in studying this cavern in conjunction with Rio Frio Cave A is to begin understand the regional pattern of cave use. One pattern that has become increasingly clear is that the caves of this region are filled with architecture, both large and small scale. In the case of Domingo Ruiz cave,  much of the architecture at the entrance seems to be designed to limit the amount of sunlight reaching the interior chambers. Walls, terraces, and stone alignments abound.  To date our investigations include only a few test units for chronology. Unfortunately, the current pandemic has prevented any analysis of the recovered materials.

 

Ancient Maya Resource Extraction in the Mountain Pine Ridge

Archaeologists have long known that the Mountain Pine Ridge was a primary source of vital resources necessary for Ancient Maya daily life. Resources such as granite and other metamorphic rock, slate/shale, and pine wood in particular are found there. The Mountain Pine Ridge is one of the few places in the Maya lowlands where these important resources were found. Although the artifacts the materials were used to make are familiar to archaeologists–manos and metates, mirro backs, stela, incense, and more–we know very little about the acquisition stage of production. How were the resources harvested? Was control over them centralized or decentralized? In the case of the minerals, were they gathered from bedrock quarries or secondary sources such as rivers and streams? We also know that many Maya people today consider resources in the wildlands as being owned by an Earth Lord. Whenever someone wants to use some of the Earth Lord’s possessions, they must make a petition to him and a ritual of thanks afterwords. Were similar rituals being performed in the past?

A waterfall surrounded by trees and boulders

Waterfalls and pools

Anthropological studies of cultures world wide report that waterfalls are nearly universally revered as powerful places. The Mountain Pine Ridge is home to many waterfalls and pools, such as the Rio On pools, Big Rock Falls, Pinol Falls, and Thousand Foot Falls. With many cave sites and important rock outcrops near them, the ancient Maya were undoubtedly aware of these beautiful spots. Yet, such places are few in the Maya world and we will be investigating these well known tourist places to search for shrines and other evidence for how the Maya may have used them.

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