National Geographic : 2004 Nov
ritual the ajq'ij poured a can of pineapple juice on the ground, to each of the four directions. The men embraced, giddy with happiness. All the candles had burned flush to the ground another propitious sign. But as we loaded our packs to start the long hike back to Santiago, Stephen and I were still disappointed that we had not been allowed to go to Paq'alibal. Then Christenson told us the good news. The ajq'ij had determined that the nuwals had been so pleased with the offering, it would be safe to go the next day. Even as I rejoiced at this second chance, I blanched at the thought of repeating the grueling hike. Not to worry, Christenson said: We had followed the ancient ceremonial route to Paq'alibal. The success of our ceremony meant that tomorrow we could take the shortcut. SINCE THE DISCOVERY of the hidden throne at Balankanche, archaeologists have found pot sherds, rock art, and stone altars dating back to before the time of Christ inside underground grottoes all over the Maya world. Whether the ceremonies that left behind these vestiges were anything like those of today's Maya remains an unanswered question. But sometimes the arti facts are so rich, we can reconstruct the ritual that produced them. One such ritual took place on a day in the sec ond half of the ninth century A.D., as a group of Maya gathered before the hourglass-shaped mouth of a cave deep in the rain forest of what is today highland Belize, about 215 miles north east of Paq'alibal. The celebrants carried huge orange and brown pots, grinding stones hewn from granite, copal to burn, and corn to offer.