Journal of Cave and Karst Studies - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 62 Number 1: 3-10 - April 2000

A publication of the National Speleological Society

The Ritual Use of a Cave on the Northern Vaca Plateau, Belize, Central America
Pierre Robert Colas, Philip Reeder and James Webster


Research conducted on the Northern Vaca Plateau in west-central Belize has discovered numerous caves that were utilized by the Maya. In particular, Ch’en P’ix appears to have been used for religious activities, including autosacrificial bloodletting. A constructed platform in the cave was excavated in 1998, and a nearly complete tripod plate (the Ch’en P’ix Tripod) was recovered. This plate depicts a seated single figure that appears to be catching blood dripping from his right hand, in a vessel held in the left hand, and on a loincloth spread in front of the figure. We think that the Ch’en P’ix Tripod was probably used for collecting blood scattered during ritual events conducted on the platform, and we offer the following interpretation. A platform was constructed within Ch’en P’ix (with a speleothem-bordered path leading from the entrance drop to this platform) that was used for ritual activities. One ritual activity involved bloodletting, and a plate depicting autosacrificial bloodletting (the Ch’en P’ix Tripod) was used during this ceremony. The Tripod plate not only depicts the scene, but we also think it was used for collecting blood during the ritual. Upon completion of the ritual, the plate was broken on the platform as an offering. These events might have taken place in Ch’en P’ix sometime during the Late Classic period.

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