Osteoarchaeological Perspectives on Maya Mortuary Ritual in the Caves and Rockshelters of Central Belize

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

Osteoarchaeological investigations of mortuary deposits in caves and rockshelters in the river valleys of west-central Belize have yielded one of the larger and more complex regional skeletal assemblages in the Maya area, providing insights into the lives and deaths of people living in the nearby communities between 900 BCE to 900 CE. However, archaeologists often disagree about the nature of human remains found deep within some of these caves. Some argue that they are sacrificial victims while others suggest that the caves were used for funerary purposes. This talk will highlight recent osteoarchaeological research at these sites, and will discuss how and why researchers often disagree over their interpretations.

Gabriel Wrobel is an associate professor at Michigan State University. His primary research specialty is osteoarchaeology. Most of his research is carried out in Belize in Central America, where he directs the Central Belize Archaeological Survey project. Excavations focus on a variety of sites, including ritual rockshelters and caves, several large urban ceremonial centres, and surrounding settlement zones dating to approximately 900 BCE to 900 CE. His work has demonstrated how changes over time in the rituals performed at the rockshelters and caves closely parallel socio-political transitions identified at the nearby urban centers, as well as at other sites found throughout the rest of the Maya region.