Bibliography of the archaeology of the caves

I have been exploring caves since age 8. I grew up surrounded by the Karst geology of the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.

I was in my first cave in Mesoamerica by age 16, in a cave alongside the railroad tracks leading out of Tenosique (in those past years you reached Palenque by train).

I do no archaeological research in the caves. For example, during five seasons at Yaxha we did not do excavations in the cenote at Yaxha nor did we search out caves (my interests in archaeology are architectural sequence, sacbes, pyramid terraces, based on my archaeological work at Tikal in 1965). I am more interested in Karst geology and the inherent natural beauty of caves.

But since there are many archaeologists who have done helpful studies of caves, this bibliography is to assist students and scholars to learn about the caves of Guatemala in general and Alta Verapaz in particular.

We are preparing separate bibliographies on the caves of El Petén, Belize, and other parts of the Maya areas of Mesoamerica.

Mucbila cave in Chisec, Alta Verapaz, Taken with a Canon EOS 6D, June 2014.

Caves have potential to attract visitors to Guatemala. This in turn can provide income for Mayan families. Guatemala has such diverse attractions. Yes, Tikal, Chichicastenango, and Lake Atitlan are worth visiting, but I kept returning to Guatemala to see even more. Thus I suggest expanding the offerings of Guatemala, so that more people will consider visiting (which means that jobs will be available to more local people).

Lanquin Cave, Alta Verapaz, Taken with a Canon PowerShot G16, June 2014.

Bibliography by cave

  • Hun Nal Ye, Chisec, Alta Verapaz
  • N.D.
  • Seamay Cave
  • BARR, T. C., Jr.
  • 1973
  • Speocolpodes, a New Genus of Troglobitic Beetles from Guatemala (Coleoptera, Carabidae).Psyche 80:271-276, 1973.

    Based on a visit to Semay Cave in 1973. Has no info on the cave, only on the extremely rare beetle species inside.  Available on-line:
  • GURNEE, Russell H.
  • 1965
  • Seamay Cave (Caves of the Grand Staircase),Senahu, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, C.A. NSS News 23  (8):114-117. National Speleological Society.

    The front cover shows the stairway perfectly.

Do not disturb any sherds or cultural remains

It is obvious that you are not supposed to steal or otherwise take out any artifacts.

But it is equally important not to mess up, disrupt, or move any cultural remains inside caves of Mesoamerica.

And if you find incense areas of the modern local Maya people, respect these areas and do not walk over them or move anything.
And rather obviously, do not move stones which are part of terraces or mounds or other Maya construction inside caves.

Bibliography of the archaeology and ethnography of the caves

  • ADAMS, Abigail and James E. BRADY
  • 1994
  • “Etnografía Q’eqchi’ de los ritos en cuevas: implicaciones para la interpretación arqueológica”. VII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en  Guatemala. Juan Pedro Laporte and Héctor L. Escobedo A., editors.  Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Instituto de Antropología e Historia, and Asociación Tikal.  Guatemala. 205-211 pages.
  • ADAMS, Abigail and James E. BRADY
  • 2005
  • Ethnographic Notes on Maya Q’eqchi’ Cave Rituals: Implications for Archaeological Interpretation. In In the Maw of the Earth Monster: Mesoamerican Ritual Cave Use, edited by James E. Brady and Keith M. Prufer, pp. 301-327. University of Texas Press, Austin.
  • AGUILAR, Boris
  • 2004
  • Informe consolidado de sitios y montículos arqueológicos identificados en el polígono de protección del Parque Nacional Cuevas del Río Candelaria, Chisec, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Guatemala.
  • ARNAULD, Marie Charlotte
  • 1986
  • "Archéologie de l'habitat en Alta Verapaz (Guatemala)." In Etudes Mésoaméricaines 10. México: CEMCA.
  • ARROYO, Bárbara
  • 1994
  • El Proyecto Nueve Cerros, un ejemplo de la arqueología de rescate: Ventajas y desventajas. En VII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala, 1993 (editado por J.P. Laporte y H. Escobedo), Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala.           188-198 pages.

    Mentions the Cueva del Hix, and Cueva de Nuevo Leon.
  • BERLIN, Andrea and Kathleen WARNER-Slane
  • 1997
  • "Tel Anafi II, I, The Hellenistic and Roman Pottery." In Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supplement 10, II, i. Ann Arbor: Kelsey Museum.
  • BONOR Villarejo, J. L.
  • 1989
  • Las Cuevas Mayas: Simbolismo y Ritual. Universidad Compútense de Madrid, Instituto de Cooperación Iberoamericana, Madrid.
  • BRADY, James E.
  • 2012
  • Sources for the Study of Mesoamerican Ritual Cave Use. Publication 1, Studies in Mesoamerican Cave Use, Dept of Anthropology, California State University, Los Angeles.
  • CAROT, Patricia
  • 1982
  • La Ocupación Prehispánica de las Cuevas de Alta Verapaz. Anales de la Academia de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala 58:161-165.
  • CAROT, Patricia
  • 1989
  • Arqueología de las cuevas del norte de Alta Verapaz. In Cuadernos de Estudios Guatemaltecos I. Centro de Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos. México.
  • 1975
  • Mission en République de Sainte-Domingue et au Guatemala. Anales de Speleologie 30 (4). Paris.
  • De la CRUZ Torres, Mario
  • 1982
  • Monografía del Municipio de San Antonio Senahú, Alta Verapaz. Guatemala Indígena XVII(3/4).
  • GOUBAUD Carrera, Antonio
  • 1949
  • Notes on San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz. University of Chicago Microfilms,
    Manuscripts on Middle American Cultural Anthropology, No. 23.

    Brady suggests pp. 35, 36, 38-39, 42, 78, 106-107, 124, 125.
  • GOULD, Richard
  • 1968
  • Archaeology. In Mayan Cave Discoveries, by Russell H.
    Gurnee et al. Explorers Journal 46 (3):164-167.
  • HAMMOND, Norman
  • 1972
  • "Obsidian Trade Routes in the Mayan Area." In Science 178: 1092-3.
  • POPE, Kevin and Malcolm SIBBERENSEN
  • 1989
  • In Search of Tzultacaj: Cave Explorations in the Maya Lowlands of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. In Journal of New World Archaeology    4(3):16-54.
  • SMITH, A. Ledyard
  • 1955
  • Archaeological Reconnaissance in Central Guatemala. In Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 608.
  • WOODFILL, Brent
  • 2004
  • Manual arqueológico para guías turísticas en las Cuevas de Candelaria. Chemonics, Inc., Guatemala City.
  • WOODFILL, Brent
  • 2003
  • Álvaro Ramírez, Carlos Girón, Jose Hurtado, Mirza Monterroso, Nicholas Miller, and Paul Halacy 2003 "Investigaciones Arqueológicas en las cuevas de Candelaria." In XVII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala. Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Guatemala.

Respect the laws of national patrimony of Guatemala

It is not appropriate to damage or take any artifact.

It is illegal to bring any Mayan archaeological artifacts into the USA or into Europe or elsewhere.  It is also illegal to take any Mayan archaeology artifacts out of Guatemala..

  • WOODFILL, Brent and Mirza MONTERROSO
  • 2005
  • "La cerámica de las Cuevas de Candelaria." InProyecto Arqueológico Cancuén Informe Preliminar No. 6, Temporadas 2004 y 2005. Nashville and Guatemala: Vanderbilt University Press.

Bibliography on Caves of Verapaz in general

  • DIDONNA, Ferdinaldo, GORDILLO, Lucrecia, MOLLINEDO, Nancy and Andres ULLOA
  • 2009
  • Guatemala Show Caves Participative Diagnostic. 15th International Congress of Speleology

    Ironic that this article in a speleology journal has a better list of caves of Alta Verapaz than most archaeological journals. The authors come from diverse assoaciations: Project ICEKE Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Kársticos y Espeleológicos, San José, Costa Rica, INGUAT Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo, Guatemala. ASOKARST Asociación para el Manejo Sostenible de los Recursos kársticos y Espeleológicos, Cobán, Guatemala, Grupo Espeleológico Antros Escuela Centroamericana de Geología, Universidad de Costa Rica, Costa Rica
  • DREUX, Daniel
  • 1976
  • Recherches spéléologiques au Guatemala L’ expédition nationale - Spélunca - supplément n° 3 1978 - Guatemala : dans les gouffres du pays maya.
  • G.S.O. Groupe Spéléologique Ollioulais
  • 2007
  • QUETZAL 93, Expédition spéléologique au Guatemala COMPTE-RENDU D’EXPEDITION, Groupe Spéléologique Ollioulais, Fédération Française de Spéléologie. Paris and Lyon. 46 pages.

    The English summary is computer translated (and hence rather hilarious, cave entrance is translated as pot hole (as in a hole in a highway)).

    Not a single photograph, but has map of each cave they visited.
  • GURNEE, Russell H.
  • 1965
  • Seamay Cave (Caves of the Grand Staircase),Senahu, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, C.A. National Speleological Society News 23      (8):114-117.
  • IVANOFF, Pierre
  • 1968
  • Découverte chez les Mayas. 1 volume broché. Montboucher-sur-Jabron. France.
  • 1990
  • “Infraestructura para cavernas turísticas”.  Spelaion 1 (1): 33-39.
  • Mollinedo, N.
  • 2005
  • Caracterización Geológica del Karst en los cuadrángulos Caquipec y Senahú. Tesis no publicada. Carrera de Geología, Centro Universitario del Norte, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala.
  • SIFFRE, Michel
  • 1979
  • Mystérieuses civilisations dans les entrailles de la terre 1979 2 - L’or des gouffres : découvertes dans les jungles mayas 1979 3 - Les animaux des gouffres et des cavernes.
  • STOCKS, A.
  • 2002
  • The struggle for Q’eqchi community conservation and   management of Mayan sacred (cave) sites: the case of         Caves of Candelaria and Bombil Pek in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala”. Protecting the Cultural and Natural Heritage in the Western Hemisphere: Lessons from the Past; Looking to the Future. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Respect the geology of the caves

It is not appropriate to break off stalagmites or stalactites.

It is not appropriate to take stone samples nor specimens (without clear and specific permission in writing).

It is not appropriate to visit caves on private property without permission of the owner.

Please do not leave graffiti.

It is not appropriate to sign your name on the cave wall (even if the guide suggests that you do).



First posted July, 2014