University of Illinois at Chicago
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Xibalba: the Ancient Maya Underworld

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posted on 2010-09-01, 00:00 authored by Jeff Buechler
This is the Black Road: the entrance to Xibalba, the ancient Maya Underworld, complete with a bat denizen trying to escape. This and many other such cave entrances dot the Guatemala landscape where I researched, surveyed, and documented ancient Maya settlements and their spatial relationship to geographic features. The ancient Maya built their residences close to such important loci of ritual activity, and most such caves (if unlooted) are littered with centuries-worth of accumulated debris of ceramic offerings to Underworld deities, which we documented. Further, the bat denizens of Xibalba were associated with decapitation in Colonial period creation narratives, which makes the Underworld bat in this image very near and dear to me personally. During my survey in 2005, in a deep crevasse we were exploring not far from this cave, I was almost decapitated by a dry log falling from 30m above, which narrowly missed my head (by 10 inches) and pinned my leg to the ground. Were Xibalba bats from nearby caves such as this one irritated by our archaeological intrusions?


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Finalist in 2009 in The Image of Research, a competition for students in graduate or professional degree programs at UIC, sponsored by UIC's Graduate College and the University Library. Images of award recipients and honorable mention images on exhibition in the Richard J. Daley Library and the Library of the Health Sciences, April 16-May 12, 2009.

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