Cenotes and the Maya


Cenotes and the Ancient Maya

Cenotes and the Modern Maya


Cenotes and the Ancient Maya

The word cenote (pronounced, say-no-tay) is derived from the Mayan word 'Dzonot' which means sacred well. Perhaps the best-known cenote is the Sacrificial Well at Chichen Itza where evidence of human sacrifice has captured the imagination of many. Although the cenotes played a large ceremonial role in the life of the ancient Mayan civilization, they also played a more practical role as a source of water for a very large population. As mentioned on our geology page, there are no superficial rivers in the northern part of the Yucatan peninsula. The aquifer for the whole area flows through underground rivers carved into the limestone such as Ox Bel Ha. Chances are that if you visit a Mayan Archeological Site in the Yucatan Peninsula, there is a cenote nearby. The ancient Mayan cosmology or belief system revolved around caves. Xibalba (the Mayans pronounce X's like sh as in shoe) was the name the Mayans gave to their underworld and the entrance to it was through a cave. Mayans still believe that their god Kukulcan will rise again from the depths of a great cenote.



 

 

 

 


Cenotes and the Modern Maya

Although the monuments to the great Mayan civilization lie in ruins, that does not mean that the Mayan culture has disappeared from the face of the earth. In fact, the modern Mayan culture is alive and well and retains much of its cultural heritage. Passing through many villages in the countryside of the Yucatan Peninsula you will see Mayan women on their way to the market dressed in their traditional "huiipil" dresses. The Mayan language is intact and in many villages that is all that is spoken. Modern Mayans still live very close to the land and on their milpas or farms they cultivate corn, watermelon, zuchini, tomatoes and a variety of other crops. Cenotes still play an essential role in providing water to the crops and to the people themselves. For many, especially the older generations, the cenotes are sacred ground, but on any given weekend it is not uncommon to find the local teenagers delighting in the cool waters, a welcome refuge from the oppressive summer heat of the Yucatan.


 

 

 

 


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