Co-authors J. Palka, V Tiesler. Sacred shrines form part of the rituals revolving around Northern Lacandons' circle of life and death. They are located in caves, crevices or rock shelters all around the Lacandons’ region and vary from few bone segments in crevices to large human depositories in rock shelters. Rituals have decreased in recent years although shrines are still considered sacred by the local communities. This investigation focuses on the ritual use and reuse of sacred shrines containing human remains, focusing on the relationship and meaning of the ancestors in everyday life. Bioarchaeological and taphonomic analyses carried out in several sacred shrines around Menzabak’s lagoon in Chiapas, reveal a complex dynamic in the formation process of the ossuary deposits. While few bony remains derive from primary underground depositions, all surface deposits are secondary, representing mostly adult individuals equally divided between males and females. All skulls show cranial deformation, which was in use among the Lacandons until early 20 th century. The physical, contextual and historical evidence show that these Northern Lacandon deposits accumulated over centuries before this practice was abandoned more than a century ago. Subsequent, more recent uses of these sanctuaries have centered on redeposition of ancestral remains, as the taphonomic distribution of primary and secondary skeletal segments shows. These recent practices appear to have been motivated by the Lacandon beliefs in their sacred power as sacred caretakers. Also other behavior, like removal of specific skeletal segments (skulls and limbs’ long bones) for other ritual activities, vandalizing acts by hand of rivaling communities, or simply maintenance processes during or between ceremonies, have contributed to the complex spatial organization of human cave deposits, posing a caveat for all archaeological efforts to define ritual meanings from ancient Lacandon or Maya cave contexts in general

Keywords: Bioarchaeology, Taphonomy, Sacred shrines, Lacandon Maya, Chiapas

Author: Cucina, Andrea (Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, Mexico / Mexiko)


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