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- Research reports in Belizean archaeology
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- National Science Foundation
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This article addresses the critical role that archaeology in Northern Belize has played in shaping Maya Archaeology. It traces the history of archaeological research in Northern Belize and identifies three areas in which Northern Belize research has transformed the nature of Maya Archaeology. First, excavations at Northern Belize archaeological sites have been critical in providing the empirical evidence for the duration of human occupation in the Maya area. Second, the robust picture of the longevity of human occupation revealed by Northern Belize research provides a concerted challenge to traditional narratives of Maya archaeology, particularly narratives of the “collapse” of Maya society. Third, female leadership in archaeological project direction, artifact analyses, and scholarly publication in Northern Belize broke down barriers for the inclusion of women and other underrepresented groups in archaeology widening the lens of participation and production in archaeology. Across its history, research in Northern Belize has been on the forefront of transformations advancing both the understanding and practice of Maya archaeology.
With very little known about preceramic occupations in Belize we present the chronology of a small rockshelter in southern Belize that has clear evidence of human activity extending back to the late Pleistocene. The shelter is located along the Rio Blanco valley less than 2 km from the site of Uxbenká. Data collected from four seasons of excavation indicate that the first humans began exploiting local resources, including freshwater snails (jute) by 10,500 BC and were drawn to the rockshelter by its location near fresh water and stone tool resources. Jute processing was a major part of the use of the shelter and continued likely through the Classic Period. Unfortunately, the upper levels of the archaic and Classic Maya period are mixed or were removed, possibly for the carbonate jute shells, likely during the occupation of Uxbenká.
Aventura in a Northern Belize Context: Challenging Traditional Narratives of Ancient Maya CivilizationThis paper draws upon the results of the 2017 field research at Aventura to illustrate how Aventura research challenges traditional narratives about ancient Maya civilization. The Maya site of Aventura, located in northern Belize, is a community with a five millennia history spanning forager-horticulturalist, PreColumbian Maya, historic, and contemporary periods. The Classic Maya city of Aventura had its heyday during the period of the Maya “collapse.” As a community with a five millennia history and a city that survives the period of the “collapse,” Aventura challenges traditional narratives about the trajectory of ancient Maya civilization. While Aventura lacks extensive trappings of Maya high culture (stelae, hieroglyphs, and tall temples) its long history belies its importance and prompts reassessment of traditional measures of high culture and reconsideration of terms such as collapse and decline. Aventura is not unique in northern Belize in terms of its ability to survive, and even thrive, during the “collapse.” Lamanai, Caye Coco, Nohmul, Santa Rita, and Sarteneja, among others, survive the “collapse.” Originally considered a peripheral part of the ancient Maya world, site longevity in northern Belize challenges the identification of this region as peripheral.
The Archaic and “Early Formative” of Northern Belize: With special reference to San Estevan and Progresso Lagoon.In this paper, I discuss what is known of the Late Archaic occupation in northern Belize. The second millennium BC is the “Early Formative” for most of Mesoamerica but the subsistence and residential adaptation of the Maya lowlands residents up until ~1100 BC consisted of mixed foraging-horticulturalists with no ceramic containers or permanent villages. This means that an “Archaic” strategy persisted in the Maya area for almost a thousand years longer than elsewhere in Mesoamerica. I review evidence from the site of San Estevan where first ceramic-using (i.e., Swasey phase) villagers are documented with little evidence of their predecessors. Next, I review evidence of Archaic-period occupation on the west shore of Progresso Lagoon where maize, squash and chili peppers were cultivated by mobile foragers. Finally, I present plans to thoroughly document and date the second and third millennium BC occupation of Progresso Lagoon and explore how the global climatic change impacted the adaptation of forager-horticulturalists.
Research in Southern Belize has produced a 1000-year record of coupled human and environmental relationships at the ancient Maya city Uxbenká. Located at the southeastern margin of the Maya Lowlands, this region has excellent agricultural land and some of the highest rainfall in the Maya region. Uxbenká was the founding political center in southern Belize after 100 BCE. After 850 years, Uxbenká experienced a long geopolitical disintegration ending in depopulation as part of broad regional collapse. We use kernel density and summed probability distributions of 167 high-precision AMS14C dates to reconstruct relative changes in population and investments in the built environment throughout the growth and decline of the polity. Those data are compared to an annually resolved speleothem paleoclimate record from Yok Balum cave, located less than 3 km from Uxbenká’s civic ceremonial core. With no Classic Period wetland fields or evidence for large-scale landscape investments in agricultural intensification, food production would have been rainfall dependent as was water availability for household use. Using a 30 m SRTM DEM, we compute flow accumulation and the upvalley extents of river networks while varying the input precipitation to reflect hypothesized changes in paleorainfall over time. Our data suggest that Uxbenká experienced rapid growth following amore »