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THE DISCOVERY OF A BEEHIVE AND THE IDENTIFICATION OF APIARIES AMONG THE ANCIENT MAYA

  • Jarosław Źrałka (a1), Christophe Helmke (a2), Laura Sotelo (a3) and Wiesław Koszkul (a4)
Abstract

Recently, an exceptional find was made by the Nakum Archaeological Project in an offering deposited deep within the architectural core of the Precolumbian Maya site of Nakum located in northeastern Guatemala. The form of the object and comparisons made to ethnographic analogs indicate that it is a clay beehive, most probably one of the oldest in the Maya area and in the whole of Mesoamerica. Whether the object was used for its intended function or is an emulation, or skeuomorph, of perishable counterparts, remains unknown. The importance of this find lies in the fact that beekeeping is an activity that is traced with difficulty in archaeology. The present paper discusses the discovery of this artifact at Nakum, which dates to the end of the Preclassic period (ca. 100 BC–AD 250/300), in a wider temporal and spatial context and provides new data on Precolumbian beekeeping. We use a broad comparative vantage, drawing on archaeological, epigraphic, and ethnohistorical sources to discuss Mesoamerican beekeeping and its role in both the daily and the ritual lives of the Maya.

Recientemente, el Proyecto Arqueológico Nakum realizó un hallazgo excepcional en el sitio Maya precolombino de Nakum, ubicado en el noreste de Guatemala. Este hallazgo consiste en un artefacto único que formó parte de una ofrenda depositada debajo del núcleo arquitectónico de una de las estructuras excavadas. La forma del objeto, así como comparaciones hechas mediante analogía etnográfica, indican que se trata de una colmena de barro, muy probablemente una de las más antiguas en el área Maya y en toda Mesoamérica. Aún se desconoce si el objeto fue utilizado para alojar una colonia de abejas nativas o si se trata de una representación a escala. La importancia de este hallazgo se debe a que la meliponicultura es una actividad que se rastrea con dificultad arqueológicamente. En este artículo se analiza el hallazgo de Nakum, atribuible cronológicamente a la parte final del periodo Preclásico (ca. 100 aC‐250/300 dC), en un contexto temporal y espacial más amplio y se proporciona nueva información sobre el manejo y la crianza de abejas nativas en la época prehispánica. Utilizamos de manera comparativa un amplio cuerpo de datos, recurriendo a fuentes arqueológicas, epigráficas y etnohistóricas para analizar la meliponicultura mesoamericana y su papel en la vida diaria y ritual de los Mayas.

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(j.zralka@uj.edu.pl; corresponding author)
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Latin American Antiquity
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