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7253 - What does it mean to build?: Symbolic landscapes, construction and identity at Ka'Kabish, Belize

Community identity and the construction of identity is recognized as being directly tied to the practice of place-making. Creation and recreation of place not only provides individual inhabitants and actors with physical space from which community identity, and subsequently unity, may be drawn but also reifies ideological associations between the living and a divine and/or supernatural landscape. Ancient Maya communities often embodied landscapes with symbolic meaning either through reconceptualising and sacralising of existing topographic features (i.e., mountains or caves), by constructing aspects of landscapes deemed sacred (i.e., temples as sacred mountains), or by creating physical manifestations of their cosmological visions through large-scale transformations of the landscape with the manipulation of their built-environment into cosmograms. Initial place-making efforts that included these types of actions served to create foci of community life with continuance of activities at these foci through time enhancing and reaffirming ideas of community place-making and thereby identity. At Ka’Kabish in north-central Belize, the site of a new and on-going research project, the action of place-making through ritual action and the creation of sacred landscape features are materialised by the construction of a temple (a symbolic representation of the sacred mountain) during the Middle Formative Period (ca. 800-600 BC), the earliest known period of occupation at the site. The significance and power of the sacralisation of this structure can be seen in the continued refurbishment and use of the temple through time and by the extension of the urban centre, to which this structure forms a key part, in such a way as to keep this building at the physical and metaphorical heart of the community for almost a millennium. This paper will address the nature of this structure in an archaeological context before discussing the important role it played in the construction of place and identity for the ancient inhabitants.

Keywords: symbolic landscapes, archaeology, Maya

Author: Haines, Helen (Trent University, Canada / Kanada)

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