Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2008:
Eduardo J. Pérez de Heredia Puente

Chen K’u: The Ceramic of the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá
Study of the Ceramic Fragments of the Explorations Conducted in the 60’s
Translation of the Spanish by Alex Lomónaco
Ver este informe en Español.

Cover image

Research Year:  1998
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Contemporary
Location:  Yucatán, México
Site:  Chichén Itzá

Table of Contents

A Brief History of the Explorations at the Cenote
Thompson’s Exploration
Exploration by Piña Chan and Folan
Previous Studies of the Ceramics from the Cenote
Brainerd’s Analysis
Ball’s Analysis
Results of the 1998 Chen K’u Project
The Ecab Horizon
The Tihosuco Horizon
The Xculul Horizon
The Cochuah Horizon
The Motul Horizon
The Cehpech Horizon
The Sotuta Horizon
The Functionality of the Sacred Cenote during the Sotuta Complex
The Hocabá and Tases Horizons
Hocabá Ceramics
Tases Ceramics
The Functionality of the Sacred Cenote during the Middle and Late Postclassic Periods
The Chauaca Horizon
List of Figures
List of Photographs of the Ceramics from the 1998 Chen K’u Project
Sources Cited


The northern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula is characterized by the presence of cavities or dolinas filled with water, better known in the area as Cenotes, after the Maya term Dzonot. Many Cenotes were considered sacred by the ancient Maya, such as those known as Tabi, Yaxcabá, Tibolón, Sotuta and Kanchunnup, being the most famous among them the Cenote of Sacrifices from Chichén Itzá. Also known as the Sacred Cenote (it was called Chen K’u by the locals during the XIX century), this natural feature is a part of a ritual north-south axis that connects El Castillo or Kukulcán Pyramid, the platform of Venus, Sacbé no. 1, and the famous Well of the Sacrifices. The Sacred Cenote has vertical walls and it measures 59 m in a north-south direction, and 60.5 m from east to west. The water mirror is found at 22 m from the edge, and has a maximum depth of almost 14 meters.

This Cenote seems to have had a critical religious symbolism in pre-Hispanic times, as stated by the chroniclers Friar Diego de Landa and Father Aguilar, both as a depositary of offerings and a recipient of human sacrifices. Several archaeological projects have attempted to confirm such beliefs, and an amazing amount of evidence was found indicating that there were deposits of human remains, precious stones and metals (jade, turquoise, gold, tombac and copper) silex, obsidian, wooden objects, shell and even textiles, and naturally, a large number of local and imported vessels, complete and fragmented.

Nonetheless, the study and publication of the materials recovered has been extremely casual and this has affected the interpretations made on the chronology and functionality of the Cenote. Therefore, and as a part of the ongoing ceramic study by this author for the Chichén Itzá Project conducted by Peter J. Schmidt, it was decided to analyze the ceramic remains of the Cenote that were in storage at the Centro INAH, Yucatán, for which purpose a grant was requested and obtained from the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI).

The Sacred Cenote is the most important ceramic deposit of Chichén Itzá, considering both the amount and the variety of the vessels recovered there during the two explorations completed. However, the real knowledge we had at hand until now regarding the Cenote ceramics was insufficient, as it was almost entirely based on complete vessels which are not representative of their extended history, while no significant amount of fragments had been previously analyzed.

Click to download the report in PDF format:

Chen K’u: The Ceramic of the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá  (7.27 MB)

The PDF files require Adobe Acrobat Reader.
To download the latest version, click the Get Acrobat Reader button below.

Get Acrobat Reader


Return to top of page