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'''Naj Tunich''' is a natural [[cave]] and an important archaeological site in [[Guatemala]].
The discovery of the Naj Tunich caves, in Poptún southern [[Petén Basin|Peten]], [[Guatemala]], in 1979 initiated the interest for Cave [[Archeology]] among [[Mayanist]]s. Naj Tunich is the preeminent of [[Maya cave sites]], boasting the most cave architecture ever found, the only elite masonry tombs reported from caves and the largest (and most exceptional) corpus of [[Maya civilization|Maya]] cave inscriptions and [[Maya art|paintings]]. The investigation of the site throughout the 1980s and the attempt to understand its obvious importance was the catalyst that led to the formation of the field of Maya cave archaeology. Naj Tunich has dozens of [[Maya script|hieroglyphic texts]] and figures, as well as some handprints and about a half dozen incised [[petroglyph]]s.
This cave is so rich in artwork, artifacts, tombs, and monumental [[Maya architecture|architecture]] that it effectively revolutionizes our picture of caves as an element of Maya social and [[Maya religion|religious]] life, particularly among the elite. The site possesses unique features, and gives evidence of [[Child sacrifice in pre-Columbian cultures|child sacrifice]], ritual [[bloodletting]], and intercourse - sacred activities, which may have been accompanied by altered states of consciousness induced by alcoholic or [[hallucinogenic]] substances. Members of [[Maya rulers|Maya royalty]] may be included among those who were buried there. A sacred site from as early as the late [[Preclassic Maya|Preclassic]] period, around 100 [[BCE]], this cave continued in use until the [[Mesoamerican chronology|Late Classic]] era during 550–900, although its greatest use occurred during the Early Classic phase from 250–550.
Naj Tunich is the Maya term for cave and literally means "stone house", because caves were conceived of as places where the [[List of Maya gods and supernatural beings|gods]] lived. But among caves, Naj Tunich must always have been something extraordinary. All the [[Q'eqchi' people|Kek’chi' Maya]] in the area agree that it is the largest cave and, shortly after its discovery, one man expressed the opinion that this was where the [[Maya maize god]] dwelt, or the entrance to [[Xibalba|Xibalbá]]. During the Late Pre-Classic and Classic Maya era, Naj Tunich was an important pilgrimage center on at least a regional scale. The site has always produced its share of surprises. Initially, the large corpus of inscriptions and paintings located deep within the tunnel system received the greatest attention. In carrying out the archaeological survey of the cave, Dr. Andrea Stone and Dr. James Brady, undertook the task of recording each and every image. In 1988, geologist George Veni found a previously unknown passage that dramatically increased the size of the cave and yielded a number of important new paintings. While recording the paintings, Drs Brady and Gene Ware in 1999 using a multispectral imaging system, discovered several totally unexpected cases of over-painting that are now cause to suppose that the history of the paintings is far more complex than previously thought.
*[http://www.authenticmaya.com/Maya%20Caves_copy(1).htm Maya Caves, Description and Gallery]