- Publication Date:
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Journal Name:
- Research reports in Belizean archaeology
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Abstract The fourth millennium b.p. in the Maya lowlands provides an interesting case, with mobile, aceramic peoples documented, while ceramic-using villagers lived in other parts of Mesoamerica. Rather than ask why ceramic containers and village life took so long to reach the Maya lowlands, the question can be inverted to posit that a mixed horticultural-foraging adaptation was so effective that it persisted longer than elsewhere. I propose that the so-called 4.2 ka b.p. event was the ultimate cause of increased sedentism and the first adoption of ceramic containers in a limited number of regions of Mesoamerica. My musings are grounded in the comparisons of data from the Soconusco region of southern Mexico and evidence from northern Belize at Colha and Pulltrouser Swamp, as well as the Freshwater Creek drainage. I assume that proximate behavior must account for local adaptations and different rates of change in each region of Mesoamerica. Therefore, regional adaptation in northern Belize during the Late Archaic period provides the evidence with which to reconstruct local adaptation. Excavations and regional reconnaissance document a distinctive orange soil horizon at Progresso Lagoon associated with patinated chert tools and an absence of ceramics. Stone tool assemblages from the preceramic components ofmore »
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 »
In the past decade, Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) has fundamentally changed our ability to remotely detect archaeological features and deepen our understanding of past human-environment interactions, settlement systems, agricultural practices, and monumental constructions. Across archaeological contexts, lidar relief visualization techniques test how local environments impact archaeological prospection. This study used a 132 km2 lidar dataset to assess three relief visualization techniques—sky-view factor (SVF), topographic position index (TPI), and simple local relief model (SLRM)—and object-based image analysis (OBIA) on a slope model for the non-automated visual detection of small hinterland Classic (250–800 CE) Maya settlements near the polities of Uxbenká and Ix Kuku’il in Southern Belize. Pedestrian survey in the study area identified 315 plazuelas across a 35 km2 area; the remaining 90 km2 in the lidar dataset is yet to be surveyed. The previously surveyed plazuelas were compared to the plazuelas visually identified on the TPI and SLRM. In total, an additional 563 new possible plazuelas were visually identified across the lidar dataset, using TPI and SLRM. Larger plazuelas, and especially plazuelas located in disturbed environments, are often more likely to be detected in a visual assessment of the TPI and SLRM. These findings emphasize the extent and densitymore »
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.
Metabolomics-based analysis of miniature flask contents identifies tobacco mixture use among the ancient Maya
A particular type of miniature ceramic vessel locally known as “veneneras” is occasionally found during archaeological excavations in the Maya Area. To date, only one study of a collection of such containers successfully identified organic residues through coupled chromatography–mass spectrometry methods. That study identified traces of nicotine likely associated with tobacco. Here we present a more complete picture by analyzing a suite of possible complementary ingredients in tobacco mixtures across a collection of 14 miniature vessels. The collection includes four different vessel forms and allows for the comparison of specimens which had previously formed part of museum exhibitions with recently excavated, untreated containers. Archaeological samples were compared with fresh as well as cured reference materials from two different species of tobacco (
Nicotiana tabacumand N. rustica). In addition, we sampled six more plants which are linked to mind-altering practices through Mesoamerican ethnohistoric or ethnographic records. Analyses were conducted using UPLC-MS metabolomics-based analytical techniques, which significantly expand the possible detection of chemical compounds compared to previous biomarker-focused studies. Results include the detection of more than 9000 residual chemical features. We trace, for the first time, the presence of Mexican marigold ( Tagetes lucida) in presumptive polydrug mixtures.