| | About Us | | |



 Petén Caves
Formation in Actún Kan, Santa Elena, Flores, Petén
Alta Verapaz Caves      Maya Caves Gallery  

Naj Tunich:

The discovery of Naj Tunich caves, in Poptún southern Petén, Guatemala, in 1980 initiated the interest for Cave Archeology among the Mayanist.  Naj Tunich is the preeminent Maya cave site, boasting the most cave architecture ever found, the only elite masonry tombs reported from caves and Naj Tunich entrance from outsidethe largest (and most exceptional) corpus of Maya cave inscriptions and paintings us an exceptional place for Maya Art lovers. The investigation of the site throughout the 1980s and the attempt to understand its obvious importance was the catalyst that led to Naj Tunich entrance from Inside, Note the 2 man sizethe formation of the field of Maya cave archaeology. Naj Tunich has dozens of hieroglyphic texts and figures, as well as some handprints and about a half dozen incised petro glyphs. The entrance to the cave is majestic, with a room more than 30 m. high, filled with stalactites, with few stalagmites, and an ancient collapse blocking it. More than 3 Km. of tunnels have been investigated to date.

 This cave is so rich in artwork, artifacts, tombs, and monumental architecture that it effectively revolutionizes our picture of caves as an element of Maya social and religious life, particularly among the elite. The site possesses unique features, and gives evidence of child sacrifice, ritual bloodletting, and intercourse - sacred activates which may have been accompanied by alerted states of consciousness induced byNaj Tunich passage alcoholic or hallucinogenic substances. Members of Maya royalty may be included among those who were buried there. A sacred site from as early as the late Preclassic period, around 100 B.C., this cave continued in use until the Late Classic era (A.D. 550-900), although its greatest use occurred during the Early Classic phase from A.D. 250-550.

 Naj Tunich is the Maya term for cave and literally means "stone house", because caves were conceived of as places where the gods lived. But among caves, Naj Tunich must always have been something extraordinary. All the Kek’chis' Maya in the area agree that it is the largest cave Hieroglyphic text in Naj Tunichand, shortly after its discovery, one man expressed the opinion that this was where the maize god dwelt. During the Late Pre-Classic and Classic Maya era, Naj Tunich was an important pilgrimage center on at least a regional scale. The site has always produced its share of surprises.  Initially, the large corpus of inscriptions and paintings located deep within the tunnel system received the greatest attention. In carrying out the archaeological survey of the cave, Dr. Andrea Stone and Dr. James Brady, undertake the task of recording each and every image. In 1988, geologist George Veni found a previously unknown passage that dramatically increased the size of the cave and yielded a number of important new paintings.. While recording the paintings Drs. Brady and Gene Ware in 1999 using a multi-spectral imaging system discovered several totally unexpected cases of over-painting that are now yield to suspect that the history of the paintings is far more complex than previously thought.       

 Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo is located north of Naj Tunich, about four hours away walking. Santo Domingo has preserved a single painted hieroglyphic text. There is also middle and late Classic pottery, and some Obsidian knives, but the main feature is its refined calligraphy, painting of this sort is what the Maya might have been expected to produce in many more caves with Late Classic occupation. Yet, there are few painted caves of the caliber of Naj Tunich and Santo Domingo.


 Pusilá is located, about 10 km. south of Naj Tunich and Santo Domingo. The cave has drawings of a seated figure, a profile face, and other curious concentric circles, and meandering lines that appear to be rendered in charcoal. Handprints and footprints are also found there along with pottery. The figures are Late Classic, making them roughly contemporary with Naj Tunich and Santo Domingo, but the quality of drawing is much inferior.

San Miguel, Jobonché, Jovelte

Another cave painting site in the general region of these three, but lying further to the northwest, is San Miguel, The paintings, however, do not appear to be coeval with either Naj Tunich, Santo Domingo, or Pusilá art. Cave explorations in southeast Petén uncovered several caves with petroglyphs taking the form of crude faces with deeply drilled eye holes carved into flowstone protrusions or stalagmites. One is the previously mentioned Pusilá cave Others include Jovelté, and a cave Jobonché, where the presence of four carved faces with large staring eyes with deeply drilled centers, prominent brows, and thick, squared lips. These roughly carved faces might be thought of as a type of vernacular cave art, carved stalactites, such as these, might have functioned as “idols” and discusses literature demonstrating that stalactites functioned in this manner, either in caves or removed from caves and used in surface contexts. Crude faces carved in calcite deposits represent a type of vernacular cave art seemingly restricted to caves. They may relate, as Brady suggests, to certain types of associated ritual activities and may have functioned in a manner similar to the crude human sculptures, sometimes found in caves, such as at Quen Santo in highland Guatemala.

Cueva de Las Pinturas

Located near the village of San Antonio, in San Benito Petén, form part of a system known as Grutas de La Cobanerita. Its main feature is a hieroglyph panel painted in black and read over a yellow painted mural 1.5 mt wide and 4.5 mt tall, there are two other paintings there. Other caves nearby are: Cueva de los monos, Cueva del Sapo and Cueva de los Tecolotes located 300 mt. form Cueva de las Pinturas, with 3 different chambers and a large number of paintings, all can be visited in the same day.


Balam Ná is also located in Poptún, southern Petén, on the Poxte river, it is being investigated since the 90’, 4 caves have been discovered to date, being the number 1 the most impressive due to its size (40 m.)  figures and hieroglyphs exquisitely made in the Pre Classic, and the fact that it crosses a hill from north to south, giving it 2 entrances, being the south the main entrance at witch there are well done and distributed figures and glyphs that showed to the pilgrims the importance of the Natural world and the sacristy of the place they are going to enter.

 There have been found pottery in all 4 caves and some cave sculpture, although not as elaborated as in other caves in the Maya world, there also several figures alongside with glyphs, representing Faces and the Jaguar, that the Mayanist think represent a Sacred place connected with Xibalbá, (They identified the glyph for Ak’bal related to the night and Xibalbá).  There have been found numerous human bones, but there are not considered burials due to its lack of anatomic correlation, the pottery found there is both ceremonial and every day use.     

Petexbatún Area Caves

 The Petexbatún Regional Cave Survey, the largest and most intensive cave project mounted in the Maya area, and Include Cueva del Río Pottery in Los Murciélagos, Dos PilasMurciélago and Cueva de Sangre in the site of Dos Pilas  with several findings of pottery, obsidian and Jade objects, as well as the San Francisco Caves, Located near La Pasión river some 14 Km. North of Cancuén, these Caves are in "Mogotes" (Karstic hills resembling pyramids) and have evidence of use from the Pre-classic (1000 BC) to the late Classic (910 AD) despite its difficult access and lack of big sites in its vicinity, all the caves have evidence of use, mostly in the early Classic, these caves were used both as public and private rituals, just as in the Temples of theirs citiesSan Francisco Karst hills (Using the plaza and stairways as scenery and the rooms on top for private ceremonies), the Maya uses the outer part of these caves for public rituals and the inner for private ones as the burials of Jade, pottery, burn pottery and obsidian knives show. There is evidence of the late Classic that people from Cancuén, performed rituals in the caves of the 3 biggest hills. In the K’aaminaq So’tz cave there is another example of the use of caves as the temples of the northern cities, this cave have a labyrinth  with several entrances and a very little shredded pottery but the main exit of this labyrinth is called the Sala de Tiestos, (Pottery Hall) located over a 20 m, ravine where hundreds of pottery both every day and ceremonial, are located, along with obsidian knives and a shell with an incised face, resembling the passage to the underworld as in some temples.

Altar Maya de Kobjá

Is located 2 Km from San Luis southwest Petén, the cave show occupation during the classic era, also in this area are the Sahamay, Cueva de los Muertos and Secuachil

Tres Entradas Caves

Located near Oso Negro site in Sierra de Lacandón, Western Petén The cave is oval in shape, measuring 17 meters at its greatest width and with a Tres Entradas Caveceiling 5 meters high. There are three openings in the roof of the cave, from which it derives itsTres Entradas Cave, Bone and Pottery shreads name.  The cave is entered by climbing down a long tree root in the western opening. The floor of the cave consists primarily of loose rubble with some areas of exposed earth. The cave was dry and lacked stalactite and stalagmite formation .Near the northern end of the cave was a large concentration of human remains and ceramic shreds, presumably from a looted burial. In general, the ceramic shreds are most similar to forms from the Central Petén and include a mix of primarily Late Preclassic and Early Classic materials. The human remains included skeletal elements of at least five individuals. This minimum number of individuals was based on the presence of left proximal ulna fragments from three different adults and skeletal elements from two sub-adults of different ages. Although there was no evidence of pathological or cultural modifications, the human remains had been burned.



Locations of visitors to this page


Last updated 28/01/2011 17:07:37 -0500
© 2005 Copyright, Authentic Maya