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  1. Abstract The genetic prehistory of human populations in Central America is largely unexplored leaving an important gap in our knowledge of the global expansion of humans. We report genome-wide ancient DNA data for a transect of twenty individuals from two Belize rock-shelters dating between 9,600-3,700 calibrated radiocarbon years before present (cal. BP). The oldest individuals (9,600-7,300 cal. BP) descend from an Early Holocene Native American lineage with only distant relatedness to present-day Mesoamericans, including Mayan-speaking populations. After ~5,600 cal. BP a previously unknown human dispersal from the south made a major demographic impact on the region, contributing more than 50% of the ancestry of all later individuals. This new ancestry derived from a source related to present-day Chibchan speakers living from Costa Rica to Colombia. Its arrival corresponds to the first clear evidence for forest clearing and maize horticulture in what later became the Maya region.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  2. Abstract

    The influence of climate change on civil conflict and societal instability in the premodern world is a subject of much debate, in part because of the limited temporal or disciplinary scope of case studies. We present a transdisciplinary case study that combines archeological, historical, and paleoclimate datasets to explore the dynamic, shifting relationships among climate change, civil conflict, and political collapse at Mayapan, the largest Postclassic Maya capital of the Yucatán Peninsula in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries CE. Multiple data sources indicate that civil conflict increased significantly and generalized linear modeling correlates strife in the city with drought conditions between 1400 and 1450 cal. CE. We argue that prolonged drought escalated rival factional tensions, but subsequent adaptations reveal regional-scale resiliency, ensuring that Maya political and economic structures endured until European contact in the early sixteenth century CE.

  3. Abstract Data from rock shelters in southern Belize show evidence of tool making, hunting, and aquatic resource exploitation by 10,500 cal b.c. ; the shelters functioned as mortuary sites between 7600 and 2000 cal b.c. Early Holocene contexts contain stemmed and barbed bifaces as part of a tradition found broadly throughout the neotropics. After around 6000 cal b.c. , bifacial tools largely disappear from the record, likely reflecting a shift to increasing reliance on plant foods, around the same time that the earliest domesticates appear in the archaeological record in the neotropics. We suggest that people living in southern Belize maintained close ties with neighbors to the south during the Early Holocene, but lagged behind in innovating new crops and farming technologies during the Middle Holocene. Maize farming in Belize intensified between 2750–2050 cal b.c. as maize became a dietary staple, 1000–1300 years later than in South America. Overall, we argue from multiple lines of data that the Neotropics of Central and South America were an area of shared information and technologies that heavily influenced cultural developments in southeastern Mesoamerica during the Early and Middle Holocene.
  4. A menudo se afirma que los asentamientos del sur de Mesoamérica representan un tipo de organización espacial distinto al de otros sistemas urbanos contemporáneos. Utilizando el marco analítico “escalado de asentamientos” investigamos las maneras específicas en las que los sistemas de asentamientos de Mesoamérica del Sur se asemejan, o no, a sistemas contemporáneos. Utilizamos la información registrada en sondeos de asentamientos Mayas y encontramos que la relación entre población y área difiere marcadamente de lo reportado para otros sistemas de asentamientos de carácter agrario. Notamos patrones más típicos cuando consideramos el epicentro de una zona arqueológica como el área de principal interacción social. Nuestros resultados implican que las poblaciones del sur de Mesoamérica poseían ritmos de interacción más lentos que la de otros sistemas urbanos contemporáneos. Las unidades familiares ubicaban sus residencias con el fin de equilibrar los costos de transporte ligados a la actividad agrícola y al desplazamiento a lugares centrales. El aumento de los rendimientos en actividades colectivas fueron realizadas a través de mezclas sociales de menor frecuencia. Concluimos que la principal diferencia entre el urbanismo Maya de baja densidad y otras experiencias urbanas contemporáneas tienen su origen en los patrones de movimiento asociados a las interacciónes sociales.
  5. From the perspective of Central America, the peopling of the New World was a complex process lasting thousands of years and involving multiple waves of migration in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene periods. As the ice age ended across the New World people were adapting to changing environments and resources. In the Neotropics these changes would have been pronounced as patchy forests and grasslands gave way to broadleaf tropical forests. Investigations since 2014 are demonstrating that early Holocene humans lived, hunted, and were buried in and around rockshelters in the Bladen Nature Reserve. Data from these studies are illuminating the life histories and subsistence strategies of these earliest colonists of the lowland tropics
  6. A decade of archaeology research at Uxbenká and five years of archaeological investigations at Ix Kuku’il have resulted in an understanding of the prehistory of these ancient political centers and established a tradition of engaged archaeology in Santa Cruz (Uxbenká) and San Jose (Ix Kuku’il). Over the course of 1000 years Uxbenká and Ix Kuku’il were initially settled during the end of the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic, developed into regional centers as foci of ritual and political events throughout the Early and Late Classic periods, and gradually declined through the Terminal Classic. The chronological sequences of Uxbenká and Ix Kuku’il were developed from multiproxy datasets including radiocarbon dates and ceramic analyses, as well as hieroglyphic texts at Uxbenká. Community-based and collaborative archaeology has been a goal of the Uxbenká Archaeological Project (UAP) and resulted in rotational labor programs and Archaeology Days in Santa Cruz and San Jose.
  7. This paper presents the environmental context for Early Holocene cultural developments in southern Belize and describes three archaeological sites that are producing evidence of human activities starting at the end of the last ice age and continuing until the advent of agriculture. It is well known that humans colonized Central America by at least 10,500 BC, and likely earlier (Chatters et al. 2014; Kennett et al. 2017). Central America formed a bottleneck for humans migrating from North to South America, and given its diverse geology, climate, and tropical resources it is not surprising that people successfully exploited this region throughout the Holocene. We focus this discussion primarily on the context for early humans in southern Belize, but also draw broadly on well-documented archaeological accounts from elsewhere in the region.