Archaeology Magazine - Maya Caves of West-Central Belize: Actun Chapat - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Actun Chapat "Maya Caves of West-Central Belize"
Summer 2000

The cave site of Actun Chapat (Centipede Cave) is located approximately 19 miles south of the modern town of San Ignacio, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains (see map). Preliminary reconnaissance of the site was conducted by members of the Belize Department of Archaeology in 1982. They identified such architectural features as walls, terraced and raised platforms, as well as human remains, and disturbed ceramic artifacts dating between 300 B.C. and A.D. 1000. Additional investigations of Actun Chapat were conducted by the Western Belize Regional Cave Project during the 1999 field season, focusing primarily on the ongoing mapping and reconnaissance of the cave and excavations in the area immediate to Entrance II.


Entrances to a looted chamber within Actun Chapat, still partially walled.

The majority of artifacts found in the cave consisted of ceramic sherds, however, a number of lithic and faunal items have also been recovered. Actun Chapat has a walled burial chamber that has been looted, plus several fragments of human remains. Artifacts found here also include wooden items such as a fragment of a torch and a carved backing for a pyrite mirror. The largest and most abundant form of construction in the cave are terraced platforms, of which there are over 30. Other artificial constructions identified in Actun Chapat include platforms, staircases, and a bench. Over 200 caves have been identified in Belize, however, fewer than ten have been intensively examined by archaeologists. Actun Chapat potentially holds the largest corpus of artificial constructions in western Belize, perhaps the country. The site of Actun Chapat thus presents a formidable opportunity to conduct a case study in the examination of architecture within Maya caves.

The main objective of the Actun Chapat research is to examine the architectural constructions within the cave to see what they can tell us about its use by the Precolumbian Maya. Our investigation will not be limited to architecture, but will include the examination of patterns of constructions within specific cave locus and with associated artifacts. We are focusing our excavations within Actun Chapat this summer on the area adjacent to Entrance I. We will then compare our data to that recovered from other caves throughout Belize. We hope that this will lead to a broader understanding of the social, ritual, and temporal purpose and significance of architecture within caves to the Precolumbian Maya. The investigation of Actun Chapat is of great significance to archaeology and to Belizean peoples, as increases in looting and the popularity of cave tourism are threatening the survival of the archaeological data, and thus an understanding of this aspect of Belizean heritage.


A wall built with cave stones within Actun Chapat

The excavations at Actun Chapat in 2000 were supervised by Josalyn Ferguson. Josalyn received both her B.A. and M.A. from Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, and is now pursuing her Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Albany. She will be focusing her dissertation research on the Maya Terminal Classic period.

Field Update:

December 5, 2000

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