Archaeology Magazine - Maya Caves of West-Central Belize: Barton Creek Cave: Update 3 - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Barton Creek Cave: Update 3 "Maya Caves of West-Central Belize"
September 27, 2000
by Vanessa Mirro and Mike Mirro

End of the Season

The investigations of Barton Creek during the 2000 season revealed many new insights about the use of caves by the Maya, as well as confirming many others. One of the most important discoveries was a hearth that contained the charred remains of ears of corn and various other botanical remains. There were fragments of ten ears of corn in the hearth, and although most of them were completely carbonized, some still showed evidence of husks, stems, and leaves. There were other artifacts associated with the hearth feature: a crude biface that may have served as an agricultural implement, a small olla, and fragments of two Late Classic ceramic dishes. We believe this offering may have been associated with an agricultural fertility ritual.


Another interesting assemblage of artifacts and features was discovered on a small ledge above the cave stream. Here we uncovered the remains of a necklace comprised of perforated animal phalanges (toe bones), one of which was carved in the form of a seated figure. These were found in a mound of looter's backdirt--soil that the looter dug out of a small niche in the cave wall. A long, narrow, chipped-stone knife, known as a laurel-leaf point, was found on the floor of this chamber in front of a small natural platform littered with ceramic material. The absence of human remains in this area suggests that, rather than being used for human sacrifice, this tool may have adorned the head of a staff as seen in many depictions in Maya artwork.

Left, an olla, covered with red dripstone, cached in an alcove

Preliminary investigations of the skeletal remains in Barton Creek Cave suggest that a minimum number of 28 individuals were placed in the cave. These individuals ranged in age from young children to old adults. Very few grave offerings or ritual paraphernalia were found in direct association with these individuals. This conforms to the predominant lack of grave goods with individuals found in other caves in the area. It is important to note that looters may have stolen artifacts that were associated with skeletal remains in it.

A cursory analysis of the ceramics from the cave suggest that it was being utilized from the Early Classic period through the Late Classic (approximately A.D. 300-900). Evidence of ancient Maya activity in Barton Creek cave can be found in the entrance and as distant as 1000 feet within the cavern. In the small mounds near the entrance of the cave the ceramics dated from the Preclassic period to the Late Classic. Our preliminary investigations suggest that, despite the fact that the area was seemingly a prime habitation spot because of the alluvial soils and close proximity to water, the cave was not actively and intensely used until the Early Classic period.

Right, preliminary ceramic analysis in the cave


Vanessa Mirro climbs a cable ladder in Barton Creek Cave.

July 17 | Barton Creek Intro