Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Wood of the Gods: The Ritual Use of Pine (Pinus spp.) by the Ancient Lowland Maya

  • Christopher T. Morehart (a1), David L. Lentz (a2) and Keith M. Prufer (a3)

The recovery of pine (Pinus spp.) charcoal remains from ceremonial contexts at sites in the Maya Lowlands suggests that pine had a significant role in ancient Maya ritual activities. Data collected by the authors reveal that pine remains are a regular component of archaeobotanical assemblages from caves, sites that were used almost exclusively for ritual purposes, and that pine is often the dominant taxon of wood charcoal recovered. Comparisons with archaeobotanical data from surface sites likewise reveals that pine is common in ceremonial deposits. The authors propose that the appearance of pine remains in ceremonial contexts indicates pine was a valued element of Maya ritual paraphernalia. By basing interpretations with analogous information from ethnography, ethnohistory, iconography, and epigraphy, the use of pine during rituals is argued to be have been linked with a symbolic complex of ritual burning and offering “food” sacrifices to deities. The possibility is raised that burning pine, perhaps as torches, during some ancient rituals was similar to the modern use of candles. The diversity of ceremonial contexts yielding pine suggests that burning pine may have been a basic element of ritual activities that was essential to establish the legitimacy of ritual performances.

La recuperación de restos de carbón de pino (Pinus spp.) de contextos ceremoniales en sitios de las tierras bajas mayas sugiere que tuvo un papel significativo en las actividades ceremoniales de los antiguos mayas. Datos recolectados por los autores señalan que los restos de pino son normales dentro de los materiales arqueobotánicos encontrados en cuevas; tipos de sitios usados casi exclusivamento para propósitos rituales, y que el carbón de pino es el recuperado más frecuentemente. Además, comparaciones con datos arqueobotánicos de otros sitios arqueológicos indican que el pino es común en depósitos ceremoniales. Los autores proponen que la presencia de restos de pino en contextos ceremoniales revela que fue un elemento significativo en las actividades rituales mayas. Sobre interpretaciones basadas en información análoga procedente de la etnografía, la etnohistoria, la iconografía, y la epigrafía el uso de madera de pino durante rituales tiene probablemente una relación con un complejo de quemas rituales y ofrendas de sacrificios de “comida” a las deidades. Esto surge de la posibilidad de que el uso del pino, posiblemente en antorchas durante ciertos rituales antiguos, fuese similar al empleo moderno de las velas. La diversidad de los contextos ceremoniales en donde se encuentra el pino sugiere que la quema de pino posiblemente haya sido un elemento básico de las actividades rituales, esencial para establecer la autenticidad de las actividades ceremoniales.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Arjun Appadurai 1986 Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value. In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai, pp. 363. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Brent Berlin , Dennis E. Breedlove , and Peter H. Raven 1974 Principles of Tzeltal Plant Classification: An Introduction to the Botanical Ethnography of a Mayan-Speaking People of Highland Chiapas. Academic Press, New York.

James E. Brady 1995 A Reassessment of the Chronology and Function of Gordon’s Cave #3, Copan, Honduras. Ancient Mesoamerica 6:2938.

James E. Brady 1997 Settlement Configuration and Cosmology: The Role of Caves at Dos Pilas. American Anthropologist 99:602618.

James E. Brady , and Keith M. Prufer 1999 Caves and Crystalmancy: Evidence for the Use of Crystals in Ancient Maya Religion. Journal of Anthropological Research 55:129144.

Linda A. Brown 2004 Dangerous Places and Wild Spaces: Creating Meaning with Materials and Space at Contemporary Maya Shrines on El Duende Mountain. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 11:3158.

Ryan J. Case , Arthur O. Tucker , Michael J. Maciarello , and Kraig A. Wheeler 2003 Chemistry and Ethnobotany of Commercial Incense Copals, Copal Blanco, Copal Oro, and Copal Negro, of North America. Economic Botany 57: 189202.

Elizabeth Graham , Locan McNatt , and Mark A. Gutchen 1980 Excavations in Footprint Cave, Caves Branch, Belize. Journal of Field Archaeology 7:172.

Christine A. Hastorf , and Sissel Johannessen 1993 Pre-Hispanic Political Change and the Role of Maize in the Central Andes of Peru. American Anthropologist 95:115138.

Ian Hodder 1985 Postprocessual Archaeology. In Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory, Vol. 8, edited by Michael B. Schiffer, pp. 126. Academic Press, New York.

Stephen D. Houston , and Karl A. Taube 2000 An Archaeology of the Senses: Perception and Cultural Expression in Ancient Mesoamerica. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 10:261294.

Igor Kopytoff 1986 The Social Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process. In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by Arjun Appadurai, pp. 6491. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

David L. Lentz 1991 Maya Diets of the Rich and Poor: Paleoethnobotanical Evidence from Copan. Latin American Antiquity 2:269287.

David L. Lentz , Marilyn P. Beaudry-Corbett , Maria L. R. de Aguilar , and Lawrence Kaplan 1996 Foodstuffs, Forest, Fields and Shelter: A Paleoethnobotanical Analysis of Vessel Contents from the Ceren Site, El Salvador. Latin American Antiquity 7:247262.

David L. Lentz , Carlos R. Ramirez , and Bronson W. Grimson 1997 Formative Period Subsistence and Forest Product Extraction at the Yarumela Site, Honduras. Ancient Mesoamerica 8:6374.

Heather I. McKillop 1994 Ancient Maya Tree Cropping: a Viable Subsistence Adaptation for the Island Maya. Ancient Mesoamerica 5:129140.

Duane G. Metzger , and Gerald E. Williams 1966 Some Procedures and Results in the Study of Native Categories: Tzeltal “Firewood.” American Anthropologist 68:389407.

Charles H. Miksicek , Robert M. Bird , Barbara Pickersgill , Sara Donaghey , Juliette Cartwright , and Norman Hammond 1981 Preclassic Lowland Maize from Cuello, Belize. Nature 289:5659.

Mary D. Pohl , Kevin O. Pope , John G. Jones , John S. Jacob , Dolores R. Piperno , Susan D. deFrance , David L. Lentz , John A. Gifford , Marie E. Danforth , J. Kathryn Kosserand 1996 Early Agriculture in the MayaLowlands. Latin American Antiquity 7:355372.

Laura Rival 1993 The Growth of Family Trees: Understanding Huaoram Perceptions of the Forest. Man 28:638652.

Karl A. Taube 1989 The Maize Tamale in Classic Maya Diet, Epigraphy, and Art. American Antiquity 54:3151.

Billie L. Turner , and Charles H. Miksicek 1984 Economic Plant Species Associated with Prehistoric Agriculture in the Maya Lowlands. Economic Botany 38:179193.

Evon Z. Vogt 1969 Zinacantan: A Maya Community in the Highlands of Chiapas. The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 3 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 47 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 20th January 2017 - 28th July 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.