University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Ancient Maya Cave Rituals in Belize: Talk and Workshop by Jaime Awe June 21,22 2013

Belizian archaeologist Dr. Jaime Awe, a key consultant for “MAYA: Hidden Worlds Revealed,” carries out research on Maya sites in Belize, including caves used for sacred rituals. His research has uncovered evidence that increased ritual activities in the ninth century A.D. may be tied to climate change and the decline of Maya civilization.

Lecture: Ancient Maya Cave Rituals in Western Belize: Evidence for Human Response to Environmental Change. Jaime Awe, Director, Institute of Archaeology, Belize.

This lecture is available for download as audio (.mp3, 61.7MB) or video (.m4v, 310.8MB).

Question and Answer Session

This Q&A is available for download as audio (.mp3, 21.3MB) or video (.m4v, 113.6MB).

jaime-awe-2013 Maya

In Maya cosmology, few locations were (and are) considered more sacred or ritually charged than caves. Representing portals to the underworld and places of origin, these dark subterranean sites were also perceived as the abode for important, powerful, and often capricious deities. The Maya further believed that, at death, the spirits of deceased ancestors descended to the watery underworld where they could eventually be reborn. Caves were thus places of death and creation and served as the loci for important ritual activity. Until recently, however, intensive scientific investigations of cave sites have been rare. In an effort to address this research bias, the Western Belize Regional Cave Project embarked on a multi-year project designed to ascertain the character of Maya cave utilization. By combining ethnographic and ethnohistoric information with data from archaeological investigations, Dr. Awe will present evidence that the Maya visited caves in an effort to communicate with particular gods and ancestral spirits, that the primary focus of their ritual activities was directed toward sustenance and agricultural fertility, and that intensified cave ritual in the ninth century A.D. was intrinsically related to climate change and the decline of Maya civilization.

Workshop: Forms and Function of Preclassic Maya Figurines from Cahal Pech, Belize
Saturday, June 22, 9 am-noon, 304 Anderson Center, Hamline University, St. Paul
Cost: $10* (students free)

Workshop description: This workshop will look at figurines from the site of Cahal Pech (Belize River valley). Using these figurines as the study sample, with guidance from Dr. Awe, workshop participants will apply their conclusions and interpretations to collections from other sub-regions.

No advanced registration is required. General admission is: $5 lectures, $10 half-day workshops. All students (middle-school through post-secondary) can attend any event for free. SMM staff and volunteers can attend all of the lectures for free. There is a special Maya Society membership for 2013-14 that includes all lectures and half-day workshops (June 2013 through April 2014). Cost: Individual = $50; Household = $80. It can be purchased at the door of any of the events (cash or check payable to the Maya Society).

Special registration information and fees for the October Hieroglyphic Workshop and November Maya/Sustainability Symposium will be available soon.

Questions? Contact the Maya Society at or 612-625-8606 (Phyllis Messenger, IAS).

Related Links

Cosponsored by the Science Museum of Minnesota, Hamline University and the Maya Society of Minnesota.

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