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Significance of Caves in Mesoamerican Art

Mesoamerica comprised of the region extending from central Mexico to Nicaragua and Honduras. Civilizations such as those of the Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs and the Teotihuacan flourished in this area in the 15th and 16th centuries till the Spanish conquistadores, driven by the greed untold fortunes and abundant supply of gold, arrived and after the conquest the civilizations perished. The term literally means mid America and consists of countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, parts of Costa Rica and western Honduras.

These were mainly agricultural villages with ceremonious and religious capitals. The art and architecture, which was prevalent in this are in that era, were comparable and as splendid as those of the Greeks were and Romans were. This essay is an attempt to demystify the caves and the art that existed in those caves. Six such caves have been short-listed and the essay would try to unravel the various imageries that were attached to it. They are the caves situated at Dos Pilas, Utatlan, Belize, Chicomoztoc, Naj Tunich and Jolja. THE SITES

DOS PILAS: the city was founded by the brother of King of Tikal in 645 AD. The brother had finally been able to defeat the King and then ascended to the throne in 679 AD. This site was discovered in 1960 by the Geologist G. L. Vinson. The city is located along the Pasion River in Guatemala. The site was later excavated and explored by Arthur Demarest. Demarest discovered caves underlying the city and great temples and walls full of hieroglyphs. UTATLAN: Utatlan is also known as Gumarcaj, Cumarcaj or Kumarcaaj and is the Nahuati language for Gumarcaj.

The word literally means the place of old reeds. The site founded in 1400 AD is essentially is a Mayan city. BELIZE: The cave in Belize is also of significant importance and is essentially a Mayan civilization. Around 198 registered caves in Belize have been discovered until date. TEOTIHUACAN: In Nahuati, the word literally means the City Of Gods or the place where men become Gods. In 1971, it was established that the great pyramids in the city were built over a natural cave with four sacred chambers. JOLJA: the word in Ch’ol language means at the head of the water.

The caves have a number of painted murals and inscriptions or hieroglyphs. The caves ere used for religious purposes and is still in use and the local inhabitants use it for the same purpose on the day of the cross. The site is situated in the central southern part of Mexico in the Chiapas Highlands. NAJ TUNICH: the discovery of this archaeological site in 1979 and the subsequent research work through the eighties have provided the groundwork for most Mayanists and the interest in cave art. It revolutionized the manner in which art historians perceived Mayan cave art.

The inscriptions and murals on the caves contain a mix of both hieroglyphs and petro glyphs. Cave Art and the Significance of Caves in Mesoamerican Art and Architecture The caves were regarded by these civilizations as the entrance to the underworld. They believed that people after their death went to the underworld through the caves. The Mayans believed that the sun and moon were also born out of the underworld and so too all humans were born in the caves and after their death passed on to the underworld through it. Therefore, the caves were related to both life and death.

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