Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2006:
Linda A. Brown

Planting the Bones: An Ethnoarchaeological Exploration of Hunting Shrines and Deposits around Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
Vea este informe en Español.

Cazadores, Painted Wall Mural, San Juan la Laguna.

Research Year:  2005
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Contemporary
Location:  Guatemala
Site:  Lake Atitlán

Table of Contents

Where's the Archaeological Evidence of Hunting Rites?
Description of Hunting Shrines
San Pedro la Laguna
San Juan la Laguna
San Pablo la Laguna
Santiago Atitlán
San Antonio Palopó
Ethnographic Interviews
Animals who should undergo Specialized Discard
Skeletal Elements that should be Deposited at Shrines
Offerings Entering Archaeological Contexts at Hunting Shrines
Offerings Deposited in Pre-Hunting Rites
Offerings Deposited in Post-Hunting Rites
Archaeological Implications Recognizing Ancient Hunting Shrines
Species Present in Hunting Caches
Skeletal Elements in Hunting Caches
Condition of Bones Deposited in Hunting Caches
Topographic Settings used for Hunting Rites
List of Figures
Sources Cited


In this report, I present the results of recent ethnoarchaeological research focusing on Maya hunting shrines and ceremonialism around Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. Hunting shrines are sacred places in the landscape used for rituals to placate the lord of the animals before and after a hunt. From a material perspective, these sites are notable as they contain a unique feature indicative of their use in hunting-related rites–a ritual fauna cache–that would be recognizable by archaeologists after site abandonment. Ritual fauna caches consist of animal remains that are secondarily deposited at sacred sites in the context of a hunting ritual.

In previous research, we identified and mapped three hunting shrines (Brown and Romero 2002) with three additional sites identified yet not recorded (Brown 2005). With support from the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., (FAMSI) we returned to Guatemala during the summer of 2005 to focus on several broad goals: 1) identifying additional hunting shrines around the lake, 2) mapping all known hunting shrines and recording on-site features, and 3) conducting ethnographic interviews with hunters and ritual practitioners who used or remember the use of these sites. As a result of this research, we identified and mapped fourteen new hunting shrines bringing the current total of known sites to seventeen (Figure 1).

Hunting shrines are associated with both Tz'utujil and Kaqchikel communities around the lake. Three hunting shrines are still minimally active while 14 are abandoned. Interviews with locals confirmed that most sites were abandoned within the last 50 years.

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Planting the Bones: An Ethnoarchaeological Exploration of Hunting Shrines and Deposits around Lake Atitlán, Guatemala  (3.17 MB)

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Submitted 04/01/2006 by:
Linda A. Brown
Department of Anthropology
George Washington University

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