Manos and metates are ubiquitous at archaeological sites in Mesoamerica. Unfortunately, grinding stones are understudied, and thus, not much is understood about them. Understanding that archaeology is based on the use of analogy to infer past life-ways, little work has been done to create analogies specifically for manos and metates. The purpose of this thesis is to study modern grinding stones used by Mayans living in Guatemala to better understand manos and metates used by ancient peoples. I worked for two field seasons in Guatemala recording the life histories of manos and metates used by the Q'eqchi' and K'iche', two contemporary Mayan groups. I conducted surveys with 97 people which highlighted the history of their grinding stones, associated cultural beliefs, their physical descriptions, and metate use-location. I also interviewed several men who manufacture manos and metates at two of the few existing metate quarries in Guatemala. After analyzing the information gathered, I determined many new ways to interpret manos and metates found within the archaeological record. Some of the implications of my study are the identification of wear patterns and the behaviors that cause these patterns. I also show that manos and metates can be multi-generational and are often passed from one generation to the next. Taboos that determine how people handle and use grinding stones as well as other cultural beliefs are discussed in my thesis. I also compare the use-location of manos and metates among the modern Maya to help interpret the locations of these tools among the Maya of the pre-Columbian site Cerén, El Salvador. Other contributions of this study include a correlation between the size and function of manos and metates and many ethnographic implications such as the manifestation of gender roles through grinding stones and the gradual loss of cultural traditions due to economic development. Finally, this study has preserved information on the production and use of manos and metates. These traditional utilitarian tools will soon be abandoned by the Mayans of Guatemala and further study may not be possible.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Anthropology



Date Submitted


Document Type





metate, Maya, Q'eqchi', K'iche', Guatemala, K'ekchi', ethnoarchaeology, grinding stone, Mayan, analogy



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Anthropology Commons