Caches and burials, or specially placed deposits of all types, among the Classic Period lowland Maya represent the material remains of religious or ritual behaviors. These behaviors are shared by people of all economic levels but expanded according to available economic resources. Discussions of these aspects of material culture commonly focus on elite or upscale examples found within various contexts. At Tikal, as at other Lowland Maya sites, the expression of these rituals varied by the wealth of the participants. Elite offerings involved greater quantities of precious and durable goods such as jade, marine shell, and elaborate lithic items. [FIGURE 1] Less affluent Maya utilized wooden or paper equivalents in performing these same rituals.
Perishable goods and objects of lesser economic value, including foodstuffs that were placed in caches, today survive, with rare exception, only in the form of the dust of decay. The “ashes” from burned items, perhaps even some wood ash associated with human remains, may have been buried in special deposits. Narrowing our analytical focus on ashes or dust, or what may be the remains of goods not readily evident in these ritual contexts may provide direct evidence for cultural uniformity that has been obscured by time and our techniques of study. Traditional macroscopic study may blur our understanding of Maya society. Directing greater attention to the recovery and analysis of ephemeral materials from contexts representing all economic strata reveals the cultural uniformity underlying Maya society. Similarities among the categories of goods found as grave offerings, and parallels in caching behavior, confirm the heterarchichal organization postulated for the Classic Period Maya.
Pre-Columbian Society at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Becker, M. J. (2020). Ashes to Caches: Is Dust Dust Among the Heterarchichal Maya?. The Codex, 28(3), 20-78. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.wcupa.edu/anthrosoc_facpub/90