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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)
Abstract
Abstract

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.

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Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-antiquity
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