Speleothems

Speleothems are cave formations. Those found in archaeological sites in Peten are generally stalactites or stalagmites. Postclassic sites usually include small portable speleothems, though larger examples have been found. Classic period Yaxchilan includes a carved speleothem stela; thus, speleothems were important ritual objects long before the Middle Postclassic period.

“Speleothems are described as part of the basic ritual paraphernalia of household altars in the Maya highlands and are sometimes used as candle holders (Deal 1987: 175-177). These objects were also used as stelae, idols, and sometimes power stones that activated god pots (Brady et al. 1997: 732-736). Brady et al (1997: 740-746) suggest that speleothems were thought to naturally contain supernatural power, especially “rain, fertility, and healing” power, associated with caves. As cave objects, speleothems most likely evoked caves and symbolism associated with them such as the axis-mundi, and the caves from which the primordial ancestors emerged. They are not, however, only used in cave rituals as they are often found in surface sites, especially in burials and caches. Speleothems are rarely mentioned in the archaeological literature and while they are uncommon, a large part of their apparent absence may be that field archaeologists are simply not looking for them (Brady et al 1997: 736-737).” (Pugh 2001).