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Perspectives on the Ancient Maya of Chetumal Bay

Maya Studies

University Press of Florida


Florida A&M University, Tallahassee
Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton
Florida Gulf Coast University, Ft. Myers
Florida International University, Miami
Florida State University, Tallahassee
New College of Florida, Sarasota
University of Central Florida, Orlando
University of Florida, Gainesville
University of North Florida, Jacksonville
University of South Florida, Tampa
University of West Florida, Pensacola

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PERSPECTIVES ON THE

Ancient Maya of Chetumal Bay

Edited by Debra S. Walker


Diane Z. Chase and Arlen F. Chase, series editors

University Press of Florida


Gainesville / Tallahassee / Tampa / Boca Raton
Pensacola / Orlando / Miami / Jacksonville / Ft. Myers / Sarasota

Copyright 2016 by Debra S. Walker


All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
This book may be available in an electronic edition.
21 20 19 18 17 16

6 5 4 3 2 1

A record of cataloging-in-publication data is available from the Library of Congress.


ISBN 978-0-8130-6279-2
The University Press of Florida is the scholarly publishing agency for the State University
System of Florida, comprising Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida
Gulf Coast University, Florida International University, Florida State University, New College
of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of Florida, University of North Florida,
University of South Florida, and University of West Florida.
University Press of Florida
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For the people of Chetumal Bay, then and now

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CONTENTS

List of Figures ix
List of Tables xiii
Foreword xv
Preface xvii
Acknowledgments xxi
PA R T I . C H E T U M A L B AY L A N D S C A P E S

1.

Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction 3


Debra S. Walker

2.

The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay 33


Kathryn Reese-Taylor

3.

Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize 56


Debra S. Walker

4.

Noh Kah: An Archaeological Site in Extreme Southeastern Quintana


Roo 76
Javier Lpez Camacho, Araceli Vzquez Villegas, and Luis A. Torres Daz


5.

6.

Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo: A Remote Sensing


Approach 92
Thomas Guderjan, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, Timothy Beach, Samantha
Krause, and Clifford Brown
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries 107
Maxine Oland

PA R T I I . C H E T U M A L B AY C E R A M I C S

7.

8.

9.

Red Wares, Zapatista, Drinking Vessels, Colonists, and Exchange at


Cerro Maya 125
Robin Robertson
An Expedient Pottery Technology and Its Implications for Ancient Maya
Trade and Interaction 149
James Aimers, Elizabeth Haussner, Dori Farthing, and Satoru Murata
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay: Ceramic Connections between Lamanai
and the Chetumal Bay Area over More than Two Millennia 162
Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

10. Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System in the


Chetumal Bay Area 186

Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker
PA R T I I I . O T H E R C H E T U M A L B AY I N D U S T R I E S

11. Shell Materials from Oxtankah, Quintana Roo 217



Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc
12. Stone Tools and Trade on the Southern End of Chetumal Bay 233

Beverly A. Chiarulli
13. Postclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal: Implications for
Domestic Craft Production and Regional Exchange in Flaked Stone 251

Marc D. Marino, Lucas R. Martindale Johnson, and Nathan J. Meissner
14. Economic Implications of Mano and Metate Use at Cerro Maya, Belize
264

Lisa G. Duffy
PA R T I V. C H E T U M A L B AY I N P E R S P E C T I V E

15. Coastal Economies: Comparing Northern and Southern Belize 279



Heather McKillop
16. Maya at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Chetumal Bay 292

David A. Freidel
References 299
List of Contributors 337
Index 343

FIGURES

1.1. Map of the Yucatn Peninsula 5


1.2. Map of the Chetumal Bay watershed 7
1.3. Monument from Fort San Felipe, Bacalar, with text including Siyan
Kaan Bakhalal, the ancient name for the region 25
2.1. Map of the Chetumal Bay region, locating Preceramic and Preclassic
sites 34
2.2. Burials and accompanying pottery vessels from Santa Rita Corozal
Structure 134 40
2.3. Late Preclassic settlement at Oxtankah, locating population centers and
salt works 43
2.4. Location of Cerro Maya waterfront village 44
2.5. Jade and shell bracelet from Cerro Maya Cache A 45
2.6. Close-up of Cerro Maya site core 48
2.7. Comparison of Eight North House structures at Cerro Maya and
Yaxnohcah 49
2.8. Cerro Maya Cache 1 under excavation in 1975 50
2.9. Comparison of ballcourts at Cerro Maya and Yaxnohcah 51
2.10. Oxtankah site map highlighting Preclassic occupation 53
2.11. Monolithic bannerstone discovered at base of Cerro Maya Structure 6
54
3.1. Map of Cerro Maya settlement within the canal 57
3.2. Ceramic chronology for Cerro Maya 57
3.3. Waterfront village burial locations 59
3.4. Double container Burial 13/14 from Structure 2A-Sub 3-4th 65
3.5. Cross-legged Burial 15 found near Structure 2A-Sub 1-4th 68
3.6. Cross-legged Burial 1 with associated Burial 8 found outside of Structure
2A-Sub 1-3rd 70

3.7. Cross-legged Burial 23, a young adult, found in plaza in front of 2A-Sub
3-1st 71
3.8. Percentage of Late Preclassic burial positions from selected sites in
northern Belize 72
4.1. Map of sites in southeastern Quintana Roo mentioned in text 77
4.2. El Pich Architectural Group 79
4.3. El Corozal Architectural Group 80
4.4. El Pocito Architectural Group 81
4.5. El Paredn Architectural Group 82
4.6. El Veinte Architectural Group 83
4.7. Hop Na Architectural Group 84
4.8. Settlement system at Noh Kah 85
4.9. Dzibanch Structure XIV, Los Captivos 89
5.1. Map of the Rio Hondo Valley, showing sets of ditched fields known as of
November 2014 98
5.2. False infrared multispectral image of Chan Cahal fields 102
6.1. Map of the Yucatn Peninsula and Belize colonial frontier 108
6.2. Maya political organization at contact 109
6.3. Map of Progresso Lagoon, Belize, showing the locations of Caye Coco
and the later west shore community 115
6.4. Small side-notched chert and obsidian projectile points from the west
shore of Progresso Lagoon 118
6.5. Rim profiles and tripod supports from diagnostic ceramic vessels found
on the west shore of Progresso Lagoon 119
6.6. Ground stone fragments found on the west shore of Progresso Lagoon
119
6.7. Heavily worn and reused obsidian blades from the west shore of
Progresso Lagoon 120
6.8. Fragments of Chen Mul Modeled incense burners from the west shore
of Progresso Lagoon 121
7.1. Hukup Dull and Sierra Red small, flaring or vertical necked jars 133
7.2. Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Chiculte Variety vessel 136
7.3. Poknoboy Striped: Poknoboy Variety large, thin-walled, roundbottomed jars 136
7.4. Ciego Washed: Chamah Variety flaring-walled vessel fragments 137
7.5. Yaxnik Through-the-slip Incised bowl from Chultun Tomb 5 at Blue
Creek 139
7.6. Tuk Red-on-red Trickle vessels 141
7.7. Beverage group pairing from Cache 1 142
x

Figures

7.8. Sierra, Cabro, and Hukup group percentage frequencies plotted over
events in Op 34a 145
7.9. Percentage frequencies of Ciego Composite: Chamah Variety plotted
over events in Op 34a 145
7.10. Drinking vessels and Zapatista Trickle-on-cream-brown jars plotted
over events in Op 34a 146
8.1. Coconut Walk Unslipped rim profiles 150
8.2. Cross-polarized image of Tsabak Unslipped sherd 157
8.3. Plane-polarized image of Coconut Walk Unslipped sherd 157
9.1. Geological map of northern Belize 175
10.1. Cerro Maya Structure 4A summit Postclassic ritual activity 189
10.2. Effigy censer comparison 190
10.3. Cerro Maya effigy censer feet sampled for Neutron Activation Analysis
191
10.4. Paired God N effigy censers from Mayapn 197
10.5. Opossum God comparison 198
10.6. Death God comparison 200
10.7. Santa Rita Corozal full-figure censers 201
10.8. Crocodile effigy vessel comparison 202
10.9. Chac comparison 203
10.10. Mayapn Step-eyed Maize God effigy censer 205
10.11. Cerro Maya Diving God comparison 207
10.12. Merchant God comparison 208
10.13. Cerro Maya Deer God effigy censer 210
11.1. Chetumal Bay and its coastal sites 218
11.2. Shell objects from Oxtankah 225
11.3. Garment fashioned with mother-of-pearl, found at Structure VI, Tomb
1, Oxtankah 226
11.4. Comparison between manufacture scars on archaeological artifacts and
experimental reproductions 229
12.1. Possible trade routes from obsidian sources to Belize and Yucatn 236
12.2. Map of obsidian trade zones in Belize 239
12.3. Location of Colha, consumer sites, and chert-bearing zone 243
12.4. Colha chert workshop during excavation 244
12.5. Tranchet tools from Cerro Maya 244
12.6. Oval bifaces from Cerro Maya 246
12.7. Stemmed macroblades from Cerro Maya 247
13.1. Study area: Santa Rita Corozal South Intermediate Sector, Quadrant 8
252
Figures

xi

13.2. Microcrystalline silicate points from Santa Rita Corozal, Belize 258
13.3. Santa Rita Corozal core types 259
14.1. Two-handed mano with overhang end from Cerro Maya 267
14.2. Coral stone mano from Cerro Maya Burial 16 271
14.3. Mano and metate from Cerro Maya Burial 2 272
15.1. Map of the Port Honduras survey area, with insert showing its location
in the Maya area 283
15.2. Trade pottery from the Paynes Creek Salt Works 285
15.3. Trade pottery from Wild Cane Cay 286
15.4. Briquetage from Paynes Creek Salt Works 289
16.1. Map of Yucatn, locating sites described in the text 293

xii

Figures

TA B L E S

1.1. Chetumal Bay chronology 10


1.2. Chetumal Bay sites and known occupation phases 14
2.1. Radiocarbon dates for Preceramic deposits in the Freshwater Creek
drainage 36
2.2. Early Middle Preclassic burial deposits from Santa Rita Corozal 38
3.1. Cerro Maya Late Preclassic burials 62
5.1. Comparison of development processes at Chan Cahal and Birds of
Paradise fields 103
7.1. Comparison between 1980 Cerros type-varieties and current Cerro
Maya type revisions 128
8.1. Type-variety information for the members of the Coconut Walk ceramic
sequence at Witz Cah Akal 152
9.1. Late Preclassic to Terminal Preclassic types and varieties from Lamanai
sampled for petrographic analysis 167
9.2. Petrographic, technological, and provenance characteristics of local
fabric types 173
9.3. Fabrics from Lamanai vessels with compositional characteristics
consistent geologically with the Chetumal Bay area 178
10.1. Calendrical rites with effigy censer use 194
10.2. Comparative list of gods identified at Cerro Maya, Santa Rita Corozal,
and Mayapn 195
11.1. Taxonomic identification of mollusks at Oxtankah 220
11.2. Typology of shell artifacts at Oxtankah and vicinity 224
11.3. Instruments used on shell at the Experimental Archaeology Workshop
227
12.1. Cerro Maya obsidian blade sources 240
12.2. Chert-to-obsidian ratios at sites in northern Belize 242

12.3. Formal tool type distribution to sites in northern Belize and their
distance from Colha 247
12.4. Artifacts used per year during the Late Preclassic from selected sites
249
13.1. Santa Rita Corozal projectile points and source materials 254
13.2. Postclassic lithics from Santa Rita Corozal 256
14.1. Temporal breakdown by grinding type of metates and manos at Cerro
Maya 269
14.2. Metate comparison between Late Preclassic village, Terminal Preclassic
site core, and Terminal Classic resettlement 273

xiv

Tables

FOREWORD

Perspectives on the Ancient Maya of Chetumal Bay focuses on archaeological


investigations at ancient Maya archaeological sites in Mexico and Belize adjacent to Chetumal Bay as well as on the rivers and lagoons to the north and
south of this area. Collaborators in the volume have in common their research
at sites in the region that depended upon waterborne trade; however, even
more than that, the bay formed a central feature in the lives and livelihoods of
local inhabitants at all of the sites discussed in this book. Not only were the bay
and the river systems connecting to it critical for maintaining trade, but the
waterways were essential for all aspects of communication and thus impacted
the ritual, economic, and sociopolitical connections and segmentations of individual sites and polities throughout the region.
The research in this volume spans the geographic boundaries of two modern
countries, successfully bringing together the efforts of researchers that might
otherwise be separated due to differences in language, research permits, and
competing annual conferences afforded by the distinctiveness of working in
either Belize or Mexico. This is fitting since the Maya historic and protohistoric
province of Chetumal also spanned the divisions between the contemporary
countries to form an integrated whole. We have previously suggestedand
hopefully demonstrated through the recovered archaeological datathat the
ancient capital city of Chetumal was actually the Belize site of Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:6568). Thus, the region discussed in this
book is an extremely interesting one; it contains some of the earliest and latest
settlements of lowland Maya civilization. The remains are in many ways both
characteristic of the lowland Maya at large and distinctly variant.
We have a special fondness for Chetumal Bay and particularly the more
southern Corozal Bay region, having conducted our first Belize field investigations in northern Belize at the sites of Santa Rita Corozal (19791985) and the
more inland site of Nohmul (19781979) that is connected to Chetumal Bay by

the Rio Hondo. Ancient Maya occupation of Santa Rita Corozal was located
both directly on the bay and extensively on the bluff above it. While largely
obscured by later historic settlement, ancient Maya occupation at Santa Rita
Corozal provides ample evidence of contact period and earlier settlement
with Swasey-related occupation going back to at least to the Middle Preclassic period. Our investigations in northern Belize demonstrated the value of
investigating low-lying as well as monumental constructions (D. Chase 1990).
The resulting work further showcased the relationship between history and
archaeology as well as the possibility that archaeological investigations could
amplify and/or revise interpretations from history about site settlement as well
as social and ritual organization. Remains from all time periods attest to the
importance of Santa Rita Corozals location and dependence on trade. Our
investigations at Nohmul focused on the Terminal ClassicEarly Postclassic
transition and likewise pointed out the ties that existed both to the northern
and the southern lowlands at the point of the Classic Maya collapse (D. Chase
and A. Chase 1982).
We are pleased to see that the current volume includes researchers at all
stages of their careers, from graduate students to seasoned full professors as
well as researchers from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The volume
benefits from the varied perspectives and voices of the authors. The chapters in
this book provide an overview of the history of excavation and occupation of
the bay area as well as of the relationships of sites and artifactual remains from
the Chetumal Bay region with other parts of the ancient Maya world. In sum,
this volume is an excellent introduction to archaeological investigations from
a key portion of the Maya lowlands and also serves as a window into both the
successes and failures of ancient Maya coastal adaptations.
Diane Z. Chase and Arlen F. Chase
Series editors

xvi

Foreword

PR E FACE

The impetus for this volume began June 26, 2013, at the Ninth Congreso Internacional de Mayistas held in Campeche, Mexico. The subject of one symposium was entitled Chetumal Bay in the cultural and historical context of
Mesoamerica. The group of five papers focused on recent work at Oxtankah
and Ichpaatun. A brief discussion with some of the participants afterward crystalized three points for me: I didnt know enough about ongoing research along
the Quintana Roo, Mexico, coast; the participants didnt know enough about
research along the Corozal District, Belize, coast; and Chetumal Bay was anything but peripheral to our understanding of the ancient Maya, yet the border
had been a de facto barrier to collaboration.
Immediately after the conference, I drove to Belize to attend the annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium (BAAS) held in San Ignacio,
Cayo District, every year in the first week of July. As I drove through Campeche
and southern Quintana Roo, and crossed the border into Belize, I considered
common landscapes associated with the shared border: the coastal plains, rivers, wetlands, and islands that frame Chetumal Bay. At the border I took a
wrong turn; I ended up in the free trade zone and was overwhelmed at the
extent of unrestricted exchange on the border. While I had an intellectual understanding of the long tradition of international exchange on Chetumal Bay, I
had not experienced it myself: the Belizean border is now a booming free trade
zone. Trade and gambling have brought new life, investment, and construction
to Corozal District, Belize. Business is booming in southern Quintana Roo
as well, and coastal towns such as Mahahual are experiencing unprecedented
growth, spillover from the Cancn-Tulum corridors megagrowth. Clearly
Chetumal Bay, an important economic hub in antiquity, is an important trading hub again.
By the time I returned home, I was determined to organize a symposium
on Chetumal Bay archaeology for the next Society for American Archaeology

(SAA) meeting. First, there was new research on the Cerro Maya1 (Cerros)
collections to report, now housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History.2
Several authors in this volume address the Cerro Maya data (Chiarulli, Duffy,
Freidel, Milbrath and Walker, Reese-Taylor, Robertson, Walker). Second, this
work needed to be considered in the context of four decades of excavations at
sites ringing the bay since research began at Cerro Maya in 1974. Several authors
present results of their recent research here as well (Aimers et al.; Guderjan et
al.; Howie et al.; Lpez Camacho et al.; Marino et al.; McKillop; Melgar Tsoc;
Oland). I was fortunate to be able to draw together enough interested researchers to develop an SAA session. Entitled Investigations in the Land of Chocolate
and Honey: Recent Archaeological Research on Chetumal Bay, it took place
April 24, 2014, in Austin, Texas. I was especially pleased that Hortensia de Vega
Alta and Emiliano Melgar Tsoc, who had participated in the Campeche meetings, presented a paper on Oxtankah in the Austin session (de Vega and Melgar
Tsoc 2014), the beginning of our cross-border collaborations.
Most SAA participants are represented in this volume, plus a few additional
authors: Beverly Chiarulli, Maxine Oland, and Javier Lpez Camacho and colleagues. The new research presented here provides much more insight into the
3,000-year history of occupation than I might have imagined in 2013. Far from
peripheral, Chetumal Bay was the hub of an ancient waterborne trade network
for more than two millennia. The chapters in this volume reveal a landscape of
shifting settlement patterns controlled by alternating capitals, all subject to the
whims of weather, piracy, and politics.
I first began thinking about Chetumal Bay when I visited Cerro Maya in
1981 with Tom Hester, Harry Shafer, Fred Valdez, and several other members
of the Colha crew, during what proved to be the final year of the Cerros Project excavations. On the boat ride across the bay, David Freidel described his
research to his visiting mentor, Gordon Willey, but I listened too. In trying to
impress his mentor, he impressed me as well, both with the site and his learned
perspective on Maya archaeology. Two years later I ended up in the graduate
program at Southern Methodist University. As a student of David Freidel and
Robin Robertson, I analyzed a collection of Cerro Maya pottery from Terminal
Classic and Postclassic deposits for my dissertation (Walker 1990). Robertson
had studied the Late Preclassic material previously (Robertson-Freidel 1980);
however, neither of us had been able to work out the ephemeral evidence for
an Early Classic demise. In an attempt to resolve the site collapse question, I
returned to Cerro Maya in 1993 to investigate the Late Preclassic to Classic transition with Cerros Project veteran Beverly Mitchum (Chiarulli) and University
of Texas graduate student Kathryn Reese (Taylor). Our project ran for three
summer sessions (Reese 1996; Reese-Taylor and Walker 2002; Walker 2005).
xviii Preface

Cerro Maya sits on the west side of a small promontory that defines the
eastern perimeter of Corozal Bay, a southern arm of Chetumal Bay. In the
1990s, there was no through road into the site. The only potential field camp
nearby was Blue Heron Cove (also known as Esperanza and Catfish Bight), an
inlet and anchorage on the east side of the same small promontory. The Cerros
crew stayed there and commuted to the site. Each field day, half the archaeologists trekked the 2 km across the small peninsula, and the rest took a Mexican
fishing boat around the point in the morning with the field equipment. Each
group returned by the opposite route at days end.
Over three seasons of work, I made many trips around the point and across
Corozal Bay to do shopping, banking, and other business in Corozal Town.
During those mostly calm, pleasant crossings, I often imagined Maya canoes
on the horizon and how they might have transited the waters of that low-lying
landscape centuries ago. I organized this volume as I imagined one might paddle through Chetumal Bay by canoe: experiencing the entire bay from varying
perspectives and stopping at ports that dot the perimeter to investigate them
in more detail. I have tried to bring that sense of lyrical perspective to this volume. Together, these authors describe a long-lived, vibrant tradition of independence and entrepreneurship based in part on the success of the large-scale
agricultural production of essentially Maya cash crops such as cacao, achiote,
and vanilla (Guderjan et al. chapter 5). From these multiple perspectives, it is
my hope that a clearer view will emerge of regional settlement and interaction
on the shifting sands of Chetumal Bay.
Debra S. Walker

Notes
1. The site is known as Cerros in the literature, the name used by the 1970s National Science
Foundationsponsored Cerros Project by Principal Investigator David Freidel. The Belize
Institute of Archaeology (IOA), a subdivision of the National Institute of Culture and History
(NICH), lists Cerro Maya as the site name.
2. The Cerro Maya collections were transferred from Southern Methodist University in
Dallas to the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2009 by agreement with the IOA and
NICH. Reconstructable vessels and other artifacts are now available for online research at
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cerros/. This website was supported by a University of Florida FEO
Grant, National Endowment for the Humanities Grant #PW-51116-12, and is supported and
maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Preface

xix

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ACKNOWLEDGM ENTS

Thanks are first due to David Freidel for starting me on this journey in 1981. I
would also like to thank members of the first Cerros Project, especially Helen
Sorayya Carr, Beverly Mitchum Chiarulli, Maynard Cliff, Jim Garber, Suzanne
Lewenstein, Robin Robertson, and Vern Scarborough, for providing notes and
illustrations that remain legible today. After my own research at Cerros got under way a decade later, colleagues Beverly Chiarulli and Kathryn Reese-Taylor
shared the return to Cerros in the mid-1990s for a bit more archaeology, beginning what became a series of amazing adventures in the ensuing years. I have
learned a great deal from these women and treasure their lasting friendships.
I am especially grateful that Susan Milbrath saw value in the Cerro Maya
collections and championed their transfer to a permanent home at the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) in 2009. Jaime Awe, then director
of the Institute of Archaeology in Belize, approved and facilitated the move,
making the collections accessible to future researchers. Susan persevered to
ensure funding was available to curate the collection and create the website.
On many occasions, Susan and her husband, Mark Brenner, provided accommodations, dinner, great conversation, and sage counsel during my treks to
Gainesville to curate the collections. While in Gainesville, I enjoyed working
with FLMNH faculty and staff and specifically want to thank Ann Cordell and
Elise LeCompte for being generous and patient with me as I learned the ropes
there. I have also enjoyed collaborating with fellow Mesoamericanists Kitty
Emery, Susan Gillespie, and David Grove during my stays in Gainesville.
My sincere thanks go out to University of Florida graduate students Lucas
Martindale Johnson, Jeffrey Vadala, Ashley Sharpe, Petra Cunningham-Smith,
Lisa Duffy, Carrie Todd, Austin Bell, and Neza Xiuhtecutli for helping to unpack, document, organize, and curate the massive 200,000+ item collection
with dedication, grace, and talent. It was great fun working with such an enthusiastic group of next-generation researchers. Lucas photographed artifacts

for the website and drafted illustrations for this volume, particularly the base
map of Chetumal Bay. Jeffrey worked on curation and 3D illustration and is
now pursuing a Cerro Maya dissertation. Ashley documented receipt of materials from Southern Methodist University and organized the faunal bone and
shell collections, some of which she is including in her dissertation research.
Petra worked on the digital files and took photographs of the collection. Lisa
curated and analyzed the ground stone collection and began residue analysis
on ceramics for her dissertation research. For nearly a year, Carrie digitized
the handwritten and difficult-to-read original catalogs containing over 18,000
lengthy entries, always with good humor and enthusiasm. Austin and Neza
carefully organized and curated much of the collection after renovations at the
FLMNH storage facility. Thanks to these individuals, future researchers will be
able to access and use the materials easily.
Robin Robertson, the original Cerros Project ceramicist, came to work on
the Preclassic pottery again in 2013 when I sent her a letter in the mail telling
her about our work in Gainesville. It has been a whirlwind of activity since, and
the volume is much improved because of her input. Robins collaboration has
been essential to completing the work on the Cerro Maya ceramic sequence,
a puzzle for decades that seems to have sorted itself out now. I am personally
thankful for her continued friendship and insight, as well as her attention to
detail. She is responsible for collating the massive volume bibliography, for
which I am truly grateful.
Robin and I spent two days in the summer of 2013 wandering through the
Institute of Archaeology (IOA) vault in Belmopan, Belize, where thousands of
Maya pots are stored. I would like to thank the IOA staff who granted us access and allowed us to photograph some of the Cerro Maya treasures housed
there, a few of which are illustrated here for the first time. Particularly I would
like to thank current IOA director John Morris and staff members Melissa
Badillo and Antonio Beardall for being so generous with their time and good
humor.
I would like to thank Diane and Arlen Chase for recognizing the relevance
of this volumes topic, Chetumal Bay, and for encouraging the University Press
of Florida (UPF) to tackle the project. Similarly, I would like to thank the volumes authors for agreeing to participate in the venture and for their timely
completion after the April 2014 symposium ended. Armando Anaya Hernndez translated the two Spanish chapters swiftly and efficiently, for which I am
truly grateful. Thanks also to UPF editor Meredith Morris-Babb and project
editor Nevil Parker, who have been responsive and helpful throughout the
process. As a first-time volume editor for some 15 lead authors (28 in total),
I needed substantial assistance on the front end. Several reviewers provided
xxii

Acknowledgments

insightful comments to the first draft of this volume, and it is much improved
as a result. Toward the end of it all, copyeditor Robert Burchfield of Doghouse
Editing and Research Services did a fine job cleaning up the grammar and
punctuation in the manuscript. Of course, the errors and omissions fall to me
as volume editor.
Finally, I thank my husband, Marshall Walker, and my children, Mary and
Daniel, for sharing me with Maya archaeology. Their unquestioning love and
support is a wonderful thing, an anchor for me in the field and at the computer.

Acknowledgments xxiii

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I
C H E T U M A L B AY L A N D S C A P E S

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1
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay
An Introduction

D E B R A S . WA L K E R

Considering how much effort the ancient Maya put into building roads
(sacbeob) to link communities and facilitate trade (Stanton and Freidel 2005;
Tokovinine and Beliaev 2013), they must have considered Chetumal Bay to be
a divine superhighway, as they only had to put a canoe in the water to travel
an extensive network of riverine and maritime waterways to reach neighboring settlements or journey to the edges of Mayab and beyond (Finnamore
2010:148). Viewed from the dock at ancient Cerro Maya, Chetumal Bay must
have loomed large in all aspects of daily life, from food production to commodities procurement and specialty goods acquisition. As canoe traders unloaded new products, ate, drank, and rested for the night, they brought quality
news and fresh ideas directly to the dock, bringing purposeful immediacy to
the business at hand.
To date, however, no work has appeared that foregrounds the bay as a central theme in a narrative on ancient Maya lifeways. In fact, Chetumal Bay
has been considered peripheral to Maya civilization generally, a somewhat
poorly understood backwater with little to tell us about the rise and fall of
ancient kingdoms. This is due in part to its geography. The bay marks a physical boundary split by an international border that complicates archaeological
investigation, compounded by a language barrier between the Spanish and
English literatures. The boundary has substantial time depth, stemming from
Colonial-era Spanish accounts of untamed borderlands that balked at the encomienda model. In addition, the very minimal oversight of English colonial
overlords on the southern side left few documents to discover (Guderjan et al.
Chapter 5).
This volume is meant to remedy that intellectual gap, focusing on recent

work at sites ringing the bay that somehow depended on waterborne trade for a
livelihood. In the following chapters, researchers report on how life on the bay
influenced their data sets. It is clear the ancient Maya knew that Chetumal Bay
was a central place, the nexus of a larger system of waterways that made their
livelihoods possible. The authors of this volume make the case that the river
system affected all aspects of Maya culture, including settlement, food production, special and exotic goods production and exchange, political relationships,
and social organization. Evidence outlined here suggests the Maya living on
the fringes of the bay perceived the entire bay as a single resource procurement zone. Waterborne trade brought the world to them, providing them a
wider horizon than would have been available to inland cities dependent only
on sacbeob for news of the world. In truth, the ancient Maya of Chetumal Bay
cannot be understood absent the bay as a core element, so we begin with a
discussion of its geography.

Chetumal Bay Geography


As their ancestors did before them, modern lowland Maya peoples inhabit the
Yucatn Peninsula, a long, low karst landmass of uplifted Late Tertiary to Holocene sea floors. The peninsula juts northward from the sierras and foothills
that comprise the more complex geology of highland Mesoamerica (Figure
1.1; also see Figure 9.1). The northern portion of Yucatn lacks systematic river
drainage; instead, residents and habitats are sustained by a series of limestone
sinkholes, or cenotes, that dot the landscape, circumscribing habitable space to
some degree. In much of the peninsula, minor elevation gradients also produce
a series of seasonally inundated wetland watersheds known as bajos, as well as
more permanent lakes and aguadas, that formed an integral part of the agricultural and settlement systems.
Chetumal Bay is a 2,560 km2 brackish, shallow lagoon situated on the
eastern side of the peninsula, roughly halfway between the north coast of
Yucatn and the Gulf of Honduras. It is a large bay system that includes an
extensive area of sheltered harborage to the north, fed by a wide passage to the
south that provides several points of access to the Caribbean Sea (Figure 1.2).
The northernmost rivers of eastern Yucatn drain into Chetumal Bay along
a series of northsouth-oriented fault lines (Scarborough 1991:20), creating
a hub for waterborne transport between the interior of Petn and Belize and
points along the Caribbean coast. From west to east, they drain a landscape
of decreasing elevation, so that the rate of flow decreases and saline intrusion
increases. The westernmost drainage is the Rio Hondo, which, together with
its tributary, the Rio Azul, and its origin in the Alacranes Bajo, forms part of
4

Debra S. Walker

Figure 1.1. Map of the Yucatn Peninsula. (Illustration by Lucas Martindale Johnson and Debra Walker.)

the modern boundary between Mexico and Belize (Guderjan et al. Chapter
5). A western tributary, the Rio Escondido, meanders seasonally west to east
through southern Quintana Roo, passing the site of Dzibanch before joining
the Rio Hondo near its mouth. A few kilometers to the east, the New River
parallels the Rio Hondo drainage, providing egress from the expansive New
River Lagoon, location of the long-lived Lamanai polity. The New River flows
into the bay just south of Corozal Town; hence, this southern arm of the bay
is referred to as Corozal Bay.1 A few kilometers farther east, on the other side
of a small peninsula, Freshwater Creek flows into Progresso Lagoon, the location of the island site of Caye Coco, and empties via John Piles Creek into the
Laguna Seca near Copperbank Village. Considerably farther east, along the
coastal wetlands of Belizes eastern margin, lies Shipstern Lagoon, a low-lying
wetland system that parallels the northsouth orientation of the other rivers.
The modern port of Sarteneja and the eponymous archaeology site is situated
on the bay at the north end of the lagoon, while the Classic-era site of Shipstern is located toward the southern end (Sidrys 1983).
To the north of the bay in Quintana Roo, Mexico, the northsouth alignment continues, slightly submerged, between the inland Laguna de Bacalar
and its system of interconnecting wetlands to the west, and the long, narrow
Isla Tamalcab and associated small islets that parallel it in the bay itself (see
Figure 11.1 for a closer view). North of Tamalcab, two rivers empty the wetland
environment, the Rio San Jose to the west and the Rio Kirk at the northernmost point. Protecting the northern arm of Chetumal Bay from the open ocean
is the Xcalak Peninsula, comprised mainly of brackish wetland habitats punctuated by white sand beaches on the Caribbean side. These sparsely populated
coastal wetlands that protect the interior from sporadic windstorms extend far
to the north, encompassing modern nature preserves set on two smaller bays,
Espiritu Santo and Ascencin. The southern tip of Xcalak forms the modern
Mexico-Belize border at Boca Bacalar Chico, a narrow channel separating it
from Ambergris Caye, another northsouth-oriented landform that frames
the entrance to Chetumal Bay. Technically part of Xcalak, the channel that
separates Ambergris Caye from the rest of the peninsula may have been modified by the ancient Maya to facilitate ocean access (Guderjan 1995a:2).
The flat coastal plains and wetlands marking the perimeter of Chetumal
Bay have been altered over the centuries for agricultural purposes as well as
to improve waterborne transport. Remnant canal features permit us to reconstruct navigable waterways that reached far inland seasonally and, with short
portages, once may have spanned the entire peninsula to Laguna de Terminos (Guderjan 1995a:1; Freidel Chapter 16). On the northern arm of Chetumal
Bay, the Laguna de Bacalar provided the entrance to a series of connected
6

Debra S. Walker

Figure 1.2. Map of the Chetumal Bay watershed. (Illustration by Lucas Martindale Johnson and Debra
Walker.)

wetlands and seasonal watersheds to the north and west that extended a substantial distance inland. In sum, the web of navigable waterways that fed into
ancient Chetumal Bay offered access and egress to settlements across much of
the lower portion of the Yucatn Peninsula. In addition, the Xcalak Peninsula
to the north and Ambergris Caye and Belizes extensive barrier reef system to
the south facilitated canoe transport on the bay by protecting travelers from
the open ocean (Guderjan 2005:183184).

Chronology
Chetumal Bay region sites fit within the general chronology already established for the lowland Maya, the major periods being the Archaic, Preclassic,
Classic, and Postclassic (Table 1.1). The naming system, established long ago,
is somewhat arbitrary and confusing and has its challenges for researchers
today; thus, a few words are in order to explain how the terms are used in
this volume.
The earliest secure evidence for a human presence in the region predates the
use of pottery and is referred to as the Preceramic period in northern Belize
(Reese-Taylor Chapter 2). It is coeval with the end of the late Archaic (3400
900 BCE),2 a term used more broadly in Mesoamerica. On the Chetumal Bay
drainage, evidence for the early Archaic (80003400 BCE) and Paleoindian
(before 8000 BCE) eras is poorly known, and includes only a few isolated finds
on the upper reaches of the Rio Hondo drainage (Lohse et al. 2006).
The Preclassic, also referred to as the Formative more broadly in Mesoamerica, is defined by the appearance of pottery and sedentism in the archaeological record. For Mesoamerica as a whole, it is generally divided into three
segments, Early, Middle, and Late. Based on our current understanding, pottery came later to Chetumal Bay, so that the Preceramic period there overlaps
with the Early Preclassic, or Early Formative, in other parts of Mesoamerica,
and thus the first evidence for pottery on Chetumal Bay is associated with
the Middle Preclassic, dated to 900300 BCE (Reese-Taylor Chapter 2). In
the Maya lowlands, the Middle Preclassic has been further divided based on
ceramic evidence into early and late facets. Unfortunately, early facet Middle
Preclassic is sometimes further divided into early and late facets, again based
on ceramic evidence in tandem with radiocarbon dates (Inomata 2011). This
produces such terms as late facet early Middle Preclassic, which seem ridiculous, as one anonymous reviewer of this manuscript noted. Here we follow the
current system for clarity in describing prior work, but recognize the need for
better defining this important foundational era in the future.
8

Debra S. Walker

On Chetumal Bay, the early facet Middle Preclassic (900600 BCE) is represented by the Swasey ceramic sphere, first recognized at the site of Cuello
(Pring 1977; Kosakowsky 1987; Kosakowsky and Pring 1998), and is geographically centered in northern Belize. Late facet Middle Preclassic (600300 BCE)
is part of the larger Mamom ceramic sphere, first described by Edith Ricketson
at Uaxactun, Petn, Guatemala (R. E. Smith 1955:2), and reflects a broader
standardization in ceramic technology throughout the southern Maya lowlands. The entire Uaxactun sequence is the regional standard for comparison
today.
The Late Preclassic period in northern Belize is part of the Chicanel ceramic
sphere and is widely associated with waxy slipped Sierra Red and Polvero Black
ceramics (Robertson Chapter 7). Some researchers extend the Late Preclassic
interval to as long as 800 years, from 400 BCE to 400 CE. On Chetumal Bay,
the Late Preclassic dates to approximately 300 BCE250 CE, based on radiocarbon dates. Although the Late Preclassic is well established archaeologically,
facet names can be confusing. This period is generally divided into Late and
Terminal Preclassic facets, but actual dates for each facet range widely. A major conundrum is how to handle the Preclassic/Classic boundary, as the old
standard term, the Protoclassic, is no longer used (Brady et al. 1998). In this
volume, we use Late Preclassic to refer to the period as a whole, and we follow
Brady and colleagues, using Terminal Preclassic, or its two facets, Terminal
Preclassic I (100 BCE150 CE) and Terminal Preclassic II (150250 CE), to
isolate discussion of a shorter time. Cerro Maya, for example, was settled at the
end of the Late Preclassic, but saw most of its activity during Terminal Preclassic I. On Chetumal Bay, the Terminal Preclassic is defined by the appearance of
Chunox Hard slips such as Cabro Red (Robertson Chapter 7). Like the Middle
Preclassic, this nomenclature has its limitations and perhaps also needs revision in the future.
The Classic era is defined by a wide variety of social and artifactual characteristics, including an accessible written history. In terms of ceramics, archaeologists generally use a tripartite division from Uaxactun, the Early, Late, and
Terminal Classic, these being Tzakol (250550 CE), Tepeu 1/2 (550800 CE),
and Tepeu 3 (8001000 CE). Some researchers further isolate a Middle Classic that dates to Tzakol 3/Tepeu 1 times, but the definition remains unsettled.
More broadly, the Tzakol ceramic sphere marked the wide appearance of polychrome pottery and a very standard set of vessel forms, found primarily but
not exclusively in elite contexts, while Tepeu 1/2 saw a great proliferation in
forms, styles, and production centers, and these were accessible to a broader
range of households. During the Tepeu 3 Terminal Classic, there was some
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

Table 1.1. Chetumal Bay chronology

Period Name

Date Range

Rio Hondo
Drainage

New River
Drainage

Freshwater
Creek
Drainage

Colonial

after 1532

Lamanai

West shore of
Progresso Lagoon
(Chanlacan)

Postclassic

10001532

Lamanai

Caye Coco

North End Southeastern


Shipstern South End of Chetumal
Quintana
Drainage (Corozal Bay)
Bay
Roo

Ambergris
Caye

Santa Rita
Corozal ?

Bacalar

Sarteneja

Santa Rita
Corozal

Ichpaatun

Marco
Gonzalez
Marco
Gonzalez

Terminal Classic

8001000 CE

Blue Creek,
Nohmul

Lamanai

Caye Coco

Sarteneja

Aventura,
Santa Rita
Corozal

Santa Mara
Calderitas

Late Classic

550800 CE

Blue Creek,
Nohmul

Lamanai

San Estevan

Shipstern

Aventura,
Santa Rita
Corozal

Oxtankah

Dzibanch,
Kohunlich

Chac Balam,
San Juan

Early Classic

250550 CE

Blue Creek,
Nohmul

Lamanai

San Estevan

Shipstern

Santa Rita
Corozal

Oxtankah

Dzibanch,
Kohunlich

Chac Balam,
San Juan

Terminal
Preclassic II

150250 CE

Blue Creek,
Nohmul

Lamanai

San Estevan

Santa Rita
Corozal

Oxtankah

Ichkabal

Marco
Gonzalez

Terminal
Preclassic I

100 BCE
150 CE

Blue Creek,
Nohmul

Lamanai

San Estevan

Cerro Maya

Oxtankah

Ichkabal

Marco
Gonzalez

Late Preclassic

300 BCE
250 CE

Blue Creek,
Nohmul

Lamanai

San Estevan

Santa Rita
Corozal

Oxtankah

Ichkabal,
Lagatera, La
Margarita,
Kinichn

Late Middle
Preclassic

600300 BCE

Blue Creek,
Nohmul

Lamanai

San Estevan

Santa Rita
Corozal

Oxtankah

Kohunlich,
Dzibanch,
Ichkabal

Early Middle
Preclassic

900600 BCE

Santa Rita
Corozal

Oxtankah

Ichkabal

Late
Preceramic

2000900 BCE

Early
Preceramic

3400ca.
2000 BCE

Blue Creek

80003400 BCE

Blue Creek

before
8000 BCE

August Pine
Ridge isolated
find

Archaic
Paleoindian

Lamanai
August Pine Pulltrouser Colha, Progresso
Ridge
Swamp
Lagoon
Colha, Cobweb
Swamp

Marco
Gonzalez

balkanization of ceramic production and distribution based on political upheavals in the southern Maya lowlands, a time when Chetumal Bay flourished
as immigrants poured into the region from Petn via the river systems.
Beginning in the Terminal Classic, but continuing into the Postclassic, Chetumal Bay ceramic styles shifted to align with the north, following events at
Chichn Itz and Mayapn (Masson 2000; Masson and Peraza Lope 2014). The
bay ceramics are divided into two prehispanic facets, Early and Late Postclassic,
as well as a partly continuous Contact period during the fifteenth to seventeenth
centuries (Oland Chapter 6), also referred to as the Colonial era. Postclassic ceramics are characterized primarily by modeling and incision rather than polychrome painting (Milbrath and Walker Chapter 10; Oland Chapter 6).

Archaeological Sites
The first residents of Chetumal Bay arrived well over 3,000 years ago, and perhaps much earlier. Whether they traveled by canoe or on foot is not known,
but they camped on waterways and lagoons and exploited a variety of wild
flora and fauna. Recent evidence suggests they frequented Progresso Lagoon
(Rosenswig and Masson 2001), and they ventured south to the chert-bearing
outcrops at Colha even earlier, also experimenting with plant domestication at
this time depth (Hester et al. 1995). By 900 BCE, settled village life was certainly
under way at Cuello (Hammond 1991; Hammond et al. 1995; Kosakowsky 1987;
Kosakowsky and Pring 1991, 1998) and Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase and A.
Chase 2006), and by 800700 BCE other settlements such as Kaxob (McAnany
2004; McAnany and Lpez Varela 1999) and Kohunlich (Nalda 2005) had been
established (Reese-Taylor Chapter 2).
Many archaeological sites have been reported on and around Chetumal
Bay (Table 1.2), but relatively few have been investigated, and a considerable
number have been destroyed by modern development. Along the southern
portion of Quintana Roo, Mexico, Oxtankah and Isla Tamalcab have seen recent research (de Vega Nova 2013a, 2013b; de Vega Nova and Melgar Tsoc
2014; Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11; Reese-Taylor Chapter 2). The nearby sites of
Ichpaatun (Escalona Ramos 1946) and Santa Mara Calderitas (Sanders 1960)
have also been explored. Oxtankah was especially important in the Classic
era while nearby Ichpaatun, now largely destroyed, was a significant fortified
Postclassic center with an extensive defensive wall. It also held the only two
stelae discovered along the bay (Escalona Ramos 1946). One of these retained
a date, 9.8.0.0.0 5 Ahaw 5 Chen (594 CE), which correlates with the reign of
the Kaanul dynasty at Dzibanch. A coastal survey of the Xcalak Peninsula
(A. Andrews et al. 1988; Gallareta Negrn et al. 1991) documented a number
12

Debra S. Walker

of sites in an area now under considerable development stress. Farther inland,


major Classic centers include Dzibanch and Kohunlich (Nalda 2004a, 2005),
as well as the recently discovered site of Ichkabal, which has a substantial Preclassic component (Sandra Balanzario personal communication 2013; Nalda
2005; Reese-Taylor Chapter 2). South of these is Noh Kah, which has significant Early Classic construction. Together, these major centers anchor a dispersed settlement pattern in what was a fairly heavily settled region (Lpez
Camacho et al. Chapter 4).
The nineteenth-century physician and archaeological dilettante Thomas
Gann explored sites in the region, documenting many features now destroyed,
most notably the Postclassic murals from Santa Rita Corozal (T. Gann 1900). He
excavated in large mounds, leaving loot holes at the tops of many pyramids,
but he also provided some of the earliest photographs and illustrations of items
he collected. These comprise a database for ongoing research (T. Gann 1911, 1918;
T. Gann and M. Gann 1939; Milbrath and Walker Chapter 10). Unfortunately,
the destruction of archaeological sites throughout the bay area continues today.
For example, much of the important site center at Nohmul, located near the
Rio Hondo, was bulldozed in May 2013 for road fill. The event created an international sensation when a video documenting the destruction was posted on
YouTube.3
The first modern archaeologists to survey Corozal District, Belize, were
Norman Hammond (1975) and Raymond Sidrys (1976, 1983), both of whom
surveyed and did test excavations at several sites. Hammond eventually settled
on Nohmul (1985) and Cuello (1991) in Orange Walk District, while Sidrys
focused most extensively on Late to Terminal Classic Aventura, situated just
south of Corozal Town. Cerro Maya is the only Late Preclassic trading port
on Corozal Bay, a southern arm of Chetumal Bay. Oxtankah controlled the
contemporary port of Isla Tamalcab to the north. Located immediately across
Corozal Bay, Santa Rita Corozal subsequently usurped control of regional
trade in the Early Classic (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988, 2005), probably allied
with a major inland center such as Dzibanch. Slightly to the south, Aventura
became important in the Late to Terminal Classic, although its initial settlement dated much earlier. To the east on Progresso Lagoon, the upstart colony
at Caye Coco became important during the Terminal Classic and Early Postclassic (Rosenswig and Masson 2002), as did Sarteneja on the northeast coast
(Boxt 1989, 1993), but Santa Rita Corozal was undoubtedly the most important
Late Postclassic site on the southern side of the bay. Based on substantial excavated evidence, Diane Chase and Arlen Chase have proposed that it is the
site of the ancient capital of Chetumal reported by the Spanish (D. Chase 1982,
1985, 1986; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988).
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

13

Table 1.2. Chetumal Bay sites and known occupation phases, with sites organized by river drainage, roughly from origin to river mouth
Site Name

Archaic Preclassic

Classic

Terminal
Classic Postclassic

Colonial Source

NORTHERN ARM (MEXICO)


Bacalar

Fort San
Felipe

Masson 2000:3637, Figs. 2.2, 2.3

Oxtankah

ML

EL

Ichpaatun

Stela 1 9.8.0.0.0
594 CE

EL

de Vega Nova et al. 2003; de Vega Nova and


Melgar Tsoc 2014
Escalona Ramos 1946; Guderjan personal
communication 2014
Con Uribe 2005

EL

Sanders 1960

Xulh
Santa Mara Calderitas
Lakin H

Melgar Tsoc chapter 11

El Estrecho de Isla Tamalcab

Punta Tamalcab Sur

Melgar Tsoc chapter 11

Melgar Tsoc chapter 11; Guderjan personal


communication 2014

Grube 2008:195

RIO HONDO WESTERN TRIBUTARIES


Los Alacranes

EL 9.6.7.3.18
561 CE

Tres Garantas

Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4

La Juventud
Kohunlich
La Union

ML

EL

Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4

EL

Nalda 2005
Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4

Nichols Bravo

EL

Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4

Pol Box

ML

Dzibanch

ML

Kinichn

ML

EL 9.7.0.0.0
573 CE
EL Kaanal seat
before ca.
9.9.0.0.0 621 CE
EL

El Resbaln

ML

EL

Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4

Ichkabal/El Suspiro

ML

EL

Nalda 2005; Sandra Balanzario personal


communication to Walker 2013

ML

EL

Guderjan 2007

Noh Cah

ML

EL

Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4

San Antonio/Albion Island

ML

EL

EL

Ball 1990

Pulltrouser Swamp

ML

EL

Fry 1980

Nohmul

ML

EL

D. Chase 1982; Kosakowsky and Pring 1990

EL

Esparza Olgun and Prez Gutirrez 2009:6

EL

Nalda 2004a, 2005

Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4

RIO HONDO DRAINAGE


Blue Creek

Sabidos
Louisville

Lpez Camacho et al. chapter 4


L

Laguna
Patchchacan

T. Gann and M. Gann 1939; Hammond 1973:13

X
L

EL

Xcanlum

Santa Lucia

Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1

EL

Ball 1983:209210

Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1


Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1
continued

Table 1.2. continued

Site Name

Archaic Preclassic

Santa Rosa

Classic

Terminal
Classic Postclassic Colonial

Chan Chen
Xaman Kiwik (Santa Elena)

ML

EL

EL

Sajomal
Consejo

EL

Source

Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1

Ball 1983:204206
Mitchum and King 1981; Walker 2004

Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1

EL

Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1

NEW RIVER DRAINAGE (DZULUINICOB)


Lamanai

ML

EL

EL

Indian
Church

Pendergast 1981; Graham 1987a

Chau Hiix

ML

EL

EL

Pyburn 2005

El Posito

ML

EL

Eppich 2000

Cuello

ML

Kaxob

ML

ML

EL

Kosakowsky 1987
L

Lpez Varela 2004

Benque Viejo (Santa Cruz)

Bullard 1965; Levi 1993; Rosenswig and


Masson 2001
T. Gann 1911; Hammond 1973:10

Nr 5

Masson 2000:3637 Figs. 2.2, 2.3

San Estevan

Pueblo Nuevo (Mound 20)

Saltillo

EL

ML

EL

Scarborough 1991: 157; Walker field notes


19931995
Ball 1983:213215

Gann 1918; Hammond 1973:12

Caledonia
Libertad (Mounds 2628)

T. Gann 1918; Scarborough 1991


X

Yo Chen
Aventura

X
X

ML

Carolina/Ranchito 2

EL

Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1


X

Santa Rita Corozal


Cerro Maya

EL

Ball 1983:210213; Sidrys 1983

Sidrys 1983:19 Table 1

ML

EL

EL

D. Chase and A. Chase 1988

EL

Robertson-Freidel 1980, Walker 1990

ML

EL

Valdez 1987; Hester et al. 1995

ML

Reese and Valdez 1987; Meskill 1992

Masson 2000:3637 Figs. 2.2, 2.3

FRESHWATER CREEK DRAINAGE


Colha (with short portage)

Kichpanha
Laguna de On

Doubloon Bank Lagoon

Masson 2000:3637 Figs. 2.2, 2.3

Pucte

Masson 2000:3637 Figs. 2.2, 2.3

Patt Work Site

Rosenswig and Masson 2001

Betz Landing

Rosenswig and Masson 2001

Caye Coco

Fred Smith

Rosenswig and Masson 2001

Test Program Sop 7

Rosenswig and Masson 2001

ML

EL

Caye Muerto

Progresso Shore/Avila

Strath Bogue
Hillbank

EL

EL

Rosenswig and Masson 2001, 2002

Rosenswig and Masson 2002


15th16th Oland 2009

Ferguson 2014
19th

Scarborough 1991:157,160
continued

Table 1.2. continued

Site Name

Archaic Preclassic

Classic

Copperbank Caye

Terminal
Classic Postclassic
X

Last Resort/Copperbank

Colonial Source
Walker field notes 19931995

EL

Masson 2000:3637 Figs. 2.2, 2.3

EL

Scarborough 1991:17 Fig. 2.7

Scarborough 1991:17 Fig. 2.7

Esperanza/Catfish Bight/Blue
Heron Cove
Chunox

EL

San Antonio (Freshwater Creek)

Scarborough 1991:17 Fig. 2.7

Ramonal (near Chunox)

EL

Scarborough 1991:17 Fig. 2.7

Point Alegre

Scarborough 1991:17 Fig. 2.7

SHIPSTERN LAGOON DRAINAGE


Condemned Point/Ramonal

Sidrys 1983:188189

Shipstern

Sidrys 1983:192193

Bandera

Sidrys 1983:188

Aragon

Cenote

Sarteneja

Sidrys 1983:166 Table 2


X

Sidrys 1983:184

EL

EL

Boxt 1989, 1993

EL

Valdez et al. 1995:95

San Juan

Valdez et al. 1995:106

Ek Luum

EL

Valdez et al. 1995:104

Valencia

AMBERGRIS CAYE
Chac Balam

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Franco

Burning Water

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Robles Point

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Basil Jones

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Punta Limn
Santa Cruz

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Yalamha

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Los Renegados

Hancock
L

Guerrero

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

San Pedro

X
L

EL

San Pedro Lagoon


Laguna de Cayo Francs

Valdez et al. 1995:112


Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Tres Cocos

Marco Gonzalez

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

EL

15th16th Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

EL

Graham and Pendergast 1989

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

Guderjan 1995b:10 Tbl 1, 12 Fig. 2

XCALAK PENINSULA*
Canch Balm

A. Andrews et al. 1988

Tantamn (Tanpalm)

A. Andrews et al. 1988

San Antonio
Rio Indio

A. Andrews et al. 1988


X

A. Andrews et al. 1988


continued

Table 1.2. continued

Site Name

Archaic Preclassic

Classic

Terminal
Classic Postclassic

Colonial Source

Punta Xocoxh

A. Andrews et al. 1988

La Armada (Majahual)

A. Andrews et al. 1988

Eric Villaneuva

A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.


1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.
1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.
1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988

Rio Hauch
Punta Hobn

L
L

EL

Punta Gaviln

EL

EL

La Curva

EL

EL

Siete Cocos

Laguna Xcalak
Xcalak

EL

EL

Xcalak Cemeterio
Necax

L
E

Notes: *some of these sites have a Postclassic component


Key: X=presence noted; E=Early; M=Middle: L=Late; Blank means undocumented, not necessarily absent

A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.


1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.
1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.
1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.
1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.
1.3
A. Andrews et al. 1988; Con Uribe 2005:20 Fig.
1.3

References to Trading Places on Chetumal Bay


Like the modern Belizean free trade zone on the border, Chetumal Bay has
been a nexus for international economic exchange for more than two millennia. According to ethnohistoric documents, bay settlements maintained a
vibrant market economy in the Late Postclassic, known for a suite of important cash crops grown locally, including cacao and honey (D. Chase 1986), and
probably vanilla and achiote (Guderjan et al. Chapter 5), as well as marine
products such as salt, worked shell, and fish (de Vega Nova 2013a; Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11; Robertson and Walker 2015). Chetumal Bay sites also provided
protected locales that functioned as transshipment stations for long-distance
trade. Durable goods, such as jade and shell jewelry, and obsidian blade cores
are well documented, but it is likely that other perishable commodities were
shipped long distances as well. High-quality chert and chalcedony from the
chert-bearing zone of northern Belize were generally exchanged over shorter
distances, yet trade was facilitated by the waterborne transport network anchored on Chetumal Bay, allowing Colha chert tools to travel quite far from
their production locus (Chiarulli Chapter 12).
The political organization of the region at European contact is poorly
understood, despite considerable recent research (G. Jones 1989, 1998; Masson 2000; Oland 2009, Chapter 6; Sidrys 1983), in part because the region
was peripheral to both Spanish and later British control, and administrative
documentation was minimal compared to rebel centers such as Tipu, which
garnered most of their time and attention (Guderjan et al. Chapter 5). As a
result, both historians and archaeologists have tended to think of the bay area
as peripheral in antiquity, which it clearly was not. Maxine Oland (Chapter
6) notes, for example, that the administrative center at Salamanca de Bacalar
may have been a distant outpost to the Spanish, but it was home to the Maya
who lived there. Several recent researchers (Okoshi-Haradi 2012; Quezeda
2014; Restall 1997, 1998; Williams-Beck et al. 2012) have contested our current understanding of the concept of Maya territory and land tenure, which
comes down to us from Spanish-era documents, and it is becoming clearer
that political networks based on elaborate social ties dominated land tenure
in ways that are tough to interpret from the archaeological and ethnohistoric
record. This is not a particularly new idea. Researchers beginning in the midtwentieth century (cf. Roys 1957) have questioned the fit of the European
province model. Elizabeth Graham, for example, previously noted that we
should consider power as a series of embedded and ever changing relationships that involve society in its entirety in the Maya area (Graham 2002:413).
Within the Maya cuchteel system of political organization, territories were
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

21

comprised of a weblike set of people-driven built spaces, rather than landbased constructs (Williams-Beck et al. 2012:261). Put another way, the spaciality [sic] of the cahob was determined by the extension of occupied or cultivated forestland, including fallow land. In other words, it was about places
where human toil had been invested and was in no way defined by linear
boundaries (Okoshi-Haradi 2012:289). Provinces, then, may not be the best
way to describe Chetumal Bay polities going forward.
Working in the 1980s, Grant Jones (1989:xvixvii) nonetheless suggested
fifteenth-century political boundaries for southeastern Yucatn based on
Spanish documents. As he drew it, four provinces ringed Chetumal Bay. From
north to south these were Uaymil, La Pimienta, Chetumal, and Dzuluinicob.
Chetumal province itself was confined to the bay perimeter and the coastal
islands, although there are no documents indicating the political affiliation of
Ambergris Caye (G. Jones 1989:280). Jones did include a portion of northern
Belize east of the New River in Chetumal province, including the Freshwater
Creek and Shipstern drainages.
To the south and west was a large region termed Dzuluinicob, a name given
to the New River drainage in early documents. In addition to Lamanai, Dzuluinicob included the important colonial settlement at Tipu in what is now
western Belize (but see Graham 2011 for an alternate view), and through there
were routes to rebel settlements in Petn. As the Spanish were concerned with
pacifying these settlements, significant documents exist for this region. The
Dzuluinicob River (tsul winikob) has been translated as river of foreigners
(Barrera-Vasquez 1980:892), a name given to the region in precontact times,
ironically by outsiders, the Itz Maya of northern Yucatn (G. Jones 1989:912).
Documents suggest this was meant in a demeaning sense, as the tsul winikob
were somewhat outside the control of northern hegemony in Postclassic times.
A focal theme of Grant Joness work on Maya resistance is that, during Colonial
times, this land of foreigners became a refuge homeland for escapees from
Spanish resettlement efforts in Yucatn, the north [Yucatn], then, became a
Spanish frontier and the south [Belize], a Maya one (1989:11).
The neighboring regions of Uaymil to the north and La Pimienta to the
west are also part of the Chetumal Bay watershed. Uaymil stretched to the
north, marking the path to the interior and an overland route to Chichn Itz.
It included the Spanish Fort San Felipe at Salamanca de Bacalar and other important sites on the interior. La Pimienta covered the upper reaches of the Rio
Escondido on the border between the modern states of Campeche and Quintana Roo. It is poorly known archaeologically, although it played a role as a
refuge and seat of rebellion in the Colonial era (G. Jones 1989:290291). Grant
Jones suggested political boundaries were fluid, and there are regions between
22

Debra S. Walker

them where no records exist. The Rio Hondo, for example, has no territorial
designation on his 1989 map, but Thomas Guderjan and colleagues (Chapter
5) make a good case for its inclusion within the Dzuluinicob region.
Despite decades of survey and excavation, there is still no secure identification for the actual location of the town of Chetumal described in Spanish
accounts from the 1531 entrada (Oland Chapter 6). The modern capital of the
Mexican state of Quintana Roo has no claim to the locale. It was originally
dubbed Payo Obispo when founded in the late 1800s, only taking the name
Chetumal decades later. Early on, Grant Jones and others thought that Cerro
Maya might be Chetumal, and David Freidel (Chapter 16), straight off a Postclassic research project on Cozumel Island (Freidel and Sabloff 1984; Sabloff
and Rathje 1975), began the Cerros Project with the Postclassic in mind. Cerro
Maya proved to be principally Late Preclassic in date (cf. Freidel 1978; Robertson Chapter 7; Robertson and Freidel 1986).
Rather than Cerro Maya, the two most likely candidates for the Contact
period capital of Chetumal are situated equidistant north and south of the
mouth of the Rio Hondo. The uncertainty lies in Spanish accounts that mark
the distance from the mouth of the river (23 leagues), but not the direction
of travel (G. Jones 1989:280281). North of the river, candidates include the
Oxtankah/Isla Tamalcab region and the walled city of Ichpaatun; south of it,
the likely site was Santa Rita Corozal, which underlies much of modern-day
Corozal Town (D. Chase 1982, 1985, 1986:349; G. Jones 1989:282). As noted
above, excavations at Santa Rita Corozal revealed substantial and compelling
evidence that it was the location of ancient Chetumal (D. Chase and A. Chase
1988:7), yet other potential locales cannot be eliminated entirely.
There is also no commonly agreed upon etymology for Chetumal. Sometimes written Chaktemal (Barrera-Vasquez 1980:91), chak meaning red and te
meaning tree, the name has been translated informally as Place of Red Wood
Houses. Grant Jones noted it was also written as Chetemal or Chitemal in some
early documents (1989:282). He proposed one line of evidence supporting the
northern location for Chetumal based on the linguistic relationship between the
words Chetumal and Isla Tamalcab. He also pointed out that Chetumal disappeared from the records after 1532 at the same time that Isla Tamalcab first
appeared in them, suggesting a settlement shift (G. Jones 1989:282). This was not
borne out by subsequent excavations at the mainland site of Oxtankah, which
documented an apogee in the Classic era (de Vega Nova 2013a, 2013b; Melgar
Tsoc Chapter 11), yet the Postclassic fortress at Ichpaatun, situated only a few
kilometers to the south, is still a possible candidate.
Grant Jones (1989:282) also offered alternative translations for Chetumal.
Tamal kab can be translated as the underworld, whereas tamalkab can be
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

23

broken down into tam (deep) and kab (land) (Barrera-Vasquez 1980:786). Noting that che can be read as tree, Jones combined the two site names, che-tamal-kab, producing tree of the underworld. He also recognized the linguistic
relationship between the syllable -kab and the name for the plentiful wooden
beehives known from the district. Clearly a bee deity can be associated with the
region during the Postclassic era (Milbrath and Walker Chapter 10; Sidrys 1983;
Walker 1990), and the commodity was probably produced in earlier times. In
another perhaps serendipitous parallel on the word deep, the Spanish word
for tam is hondo, the name of the river 2 leagues from Isla Tamalcab. For a region lacking in historical documents, these various translations are interesting
to contemplate, even if somewhat contradictory.
Ethnohistoric sources focus mainly on sixteenth-century eyewitness accounts, but there are Maya histories associated with the founding of Chichn
Itz and Mayapn that come down to us from earlier eras. The various Chilam
Balam accounts include a place called Siyan Kaan Bakhalal, which has been
translated born of heaven, surrounded by reeds, generally thought to be the
name for southern Quintana Roo (Schele and Mathews 1998:203). Bakhalal
was the name adopted by Spanish explorers, referring to Laguna de Bacalar in
original accounts (Figure 1.3; G. Jones 1989:32; Roys 1967:Plt. 2). The meaning
of Bakhalal, surrounded by reeds, is clearly appropriate for Chetumal Bay and
its associated wetland environment.
Siyan Kaan, with various alternate spellings, is translated born of heaven
(Edmonson 1982:5n26) and refers more generally to a holy city of the great cycle, a 256-year katun round termed the may ku (Rice 2007:44). Ideally, a settlement established as a may ku had five designated spaces, a sacred body of water
(cheen), a sacred grove (tzucub te), a sacred tree (yax che), a plaza (hol can be),
and a temple (may ku) (Rice 2007:44). According to the various Chilam Balam
accounts, other cities carried the title for one or more cycles in northern Yucatn, including Chichn Itz, Mayapn, Merida, and Valladolid, and Rice (2007)
makes a strong case that the cycle has more ancient roots in Maya culture. The
documentary reference to Siyan Kaan has an alternate translation because kan
(snake) is roughly homophonous with kaan (sky) (Barrera-Vasquez 1980:291).
The snake emblem glyph was associated with the controlling Kaanul lineage
centered at Dzibanch during the Early Classic (Nalda 2004a). It was subsequently associated with the Calakmul polity from 630 CE to around 735 CE
(Martin and Grube 2000:103); thus, the region name, Siyan Kaan Bakhalal,
may recall an ancient name for the Dzibanch polity when it served as an Early
Classic may ku, perhaps even harkening back to Preclassic Ichkabal situated
amid the reeds even closer to modern-day Bacalar.
A series of Itz migrations from Petn to Yucatn are described in the Chi24

Debra S. Walker

Figure 1.3. Monument from Fort San Felipe, Bacalar, with text including Siyan Kaan Bakhalal, the ancient
name for the region. (Photograph by Debra Walker.)

lam Balam accounts. These began in Katun 8 Ahaw (Schele and Mathews
1998:203), written 9.12.0.0.19.13.0.0.0 in the Maya long count (672692 CE),
and spanned several katunob (20-year periods) at the end of the Classic era.
While most migrants left Petn via a western route (the Great Descent), some
left via an eastern route (the Little Descent) on the river systems that empty
into Chetumal Bay. These migrants settled at Siyan Kaan Bakhalal, where
they stayed for 60 years before moving farther north (Boot 1997:178; Ferguson
2014). Based on the timing, it appears the most likely location for a may ku
around Chetumal Bay at 9.13.0.0.0 would be Aventura, a few kilometers south
of Santa Rita Corozal, as it has a large temple remaining and was at its apogee
in the Late to Terminal Classic (Sidrys 1983).
The 13th katun was the era when Jasaw Chan Kawil came to the throne at
Tikal and the great clash with Calakmul and its allies began in earnest. Wars
continued unabated for several katunob afterward, no doubt forcing many to
flee their homes, essentially commencing the migration to Chichn Itz. Many
migrants exiting Petn via the river systems did not make the complete journey
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

25

to northern Yucatn, for the Chetumal Bay region saw a dramatic influx of new
populations at this time (Ferguson 2014; Rosenswig and Masson 2002; Walker
1990).
At Cerro Maya, for example, Terminal Classic immigrants leveled the tops
of middle-size mounds and laid flagstone floors atop which they built pole and
thatch structures. Based on the manos and metates found in Terminal Classic
contexts, these immigrants depended on maize agriculture for their livelihood
(Duffy Chapter 14). Probably independent initially, these migrants soon became linked to the broader Itz world politically through a system of common
ritual focused on round structures dedicated to the cult of Quetzalcoatl (Bey
III and Ringle 2007; Harrison-Buck 2012; Harrison-Buck and McAnany 2013;
Rosenswig and Masson 2002, Oland Chapter 6; Ringle 2004; Ringle et al. 1998).
Thus integrated, many stayed on Chetumal Bay and saw several centuries of
prosperity before the Spanish appeared.

Organization of the Volume


The chapters in this volume are divided into four parts: landscapes, ceramics,
other industries, and perspectives. Part I deals with landscapes in five chapters
that comprise broader pictures of overall site or regional organization, spanning the temporal range from Preclassic to Classic to Postclassic and Colonial
eras. The reader can navigate time as well as space viewed from landscapes surrounding the bay. These chapters range topically as well, from burial patterns,
to architectural features, to agricultural organization, and finally to settlement
system resilience under the stress of colonialism. Chapter 2, by Kathryn ReeseTaylor, considers how the region was first settled. She reviews evidence from
the Preceramic era through the Preclassic, documenting a long occupation,
framing Chetumal Bay within the larger Preclassic world. In Chapter 3, I look
at the placement of elite dead at Late Preclassic Cerro Maya, and detail how
the burial locations of these ancestral elites secured future control of the waterfront dock for their heirs. In Chapter 4, Javier Lpez Camacho and colleagues
cover the Early Classic dispersed settlement landscape around Noh Kah, on the
western side of the Rio Hondo, positing that some settlement was organized
by solar alignment reflected in sacbeob and building orientation. In Chapter 5,
Thomas Guderjan and colleagues review the evidence for ditched agricultural
fields along the eastern banks of the Rio Hondo. They note that the regions
rich agricultural potential, probably anchored in cacao, vanilla, and achiote,
was best achieved by living in dispersed settlements, a fact apparently known
by the Spanish, who ultimately did not enforce encomienda-style resettlement
there. Maxine Oland covers the Contact period transition in Chapter 6, not26

Debra S. Walker

ing that the flexibility of the prehispanic cuchteel system may have accounted
for the resilience of Maya lifeways on Progresso Lagoon in the face of Spanish
forays into the region, at least for a time.
The next two sections focus on artifacts and the industries that produced
them. Part II is devoted to ceramic research on Chetumal Bay collections.
These chapters include both stylistic analysis of whole pots and technical studies of ceramic materials and the production process, covering the range of eras
from Preclassic to Colonial. In Chapter 7, Robin Robertson reports on recent
revisions to her dissertation research on the Late Preclassic pottery of Cerro
Maya (Robertson-Freidel 1980). Based on new research elsewhere and new
radiocarbon dates for the site (Walker 2005), she asserts the distinctive Cerro
Maya pottery is Terminal Preclassic in date and that much of it is intrusive to
Chetumal Bay, anchored in northern traditions. Jim Aimers and colleagues, in
Chapter 8, discuss the poorly made and equally poorly understood Coconut
Walk Plain unslipped pottery of the bay region. They note that this crude pottery used for salt production has an interesting story to tell. Exchange was so
embedded in the culture of Chetumal Bay that even expedient ceramics were
produced with imported temper. Apparently the whole bay area was considered
a readily accessible resource procurement zone. In Chapter 9, Linda Howie and
colleagues take the long view on waterborne exchange with a discussion of the
longevity of trading relationships between the bay and the site of Lamanai 80
km upstream on the New River, using compositional characteristics of ceramics to document these trading relationships. They find that the intensity and
direction of these connections varied in different periods. Finally, in Chapter
10, Susan Milbrath and I describe the deities represented on Postclassic effigy
censers found at Cerro Maya. Compared with other vessels from the bay area
and contrasted with those of northern Yucatn, the Chetumal Bay materials
reflect both long-distance relationships and province-specific identities.
Part III includes other types of industries represented in the material assemblages of several sites. Shell, chipped stone, and ground stone industries
are reported, covering all Maya time periods. In Chapter 11, Emiliano Melgar Tsoc describes the vibrant shell-working industry discovered in recent
excavations at Oxtankah. He studied shell habitats throughout the bay, and
noted that residents defined their resource zone more broadly than just Chetumal Bay. They included coastal Caribbean exploitation and exchanged local
goods to acquire rare Pacific species. The Oxtankah industry reached its apex
in the Late Classic. In Chapter 12, Beverly Chiarulli discusses the distribution of chert tools outside the principal chert-bearing zone in Late Preclassic
northern Belize. Because waterborne trade facilitated the movement of these
relatively heavy products, chert tools and even obsidian cores were used and
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

27

disposed of in the same way as locally available goods at Late Preclassic Cerro
Maya. Marc Marino and colleagues, in Chapter 13, report on the small-scale
organization of chipped stone production at Postclassic Santa Rita Corozal.
They note that individual craft specialists producing points in specialized
household workshops procured materials more broadly than their ancestors, utilizing a greater variety of chert and obsidian sources, as opposed to
the earlier heavy reliance on the honey brown chert exported from Colha.
In Chapter 14, Lisa Duffy looks at rotary and reciprocal use wear patterns
on manos and metates during all periods of occupation at Cerro Maya. Her
research documents that a broad spectrum of foods were processed during
the Late Preclassic era, using both motions. In contrast, reciprocal maize
grinding predominated during later periods.
Part IV takes a broad view of the ancient Maya living on Chetumal Bay,
synthesizing temporal and spatial connections between bay residents and their
long-distance trading partners. Heather McKillop, in Chapter 15, looks at longdistance trade, comparing Chetumal Bay ports with those of southern Belize,
particularly Wild Cane Cay. She finds a longer-lived tradition in the Chetumal
Bay region. Finally, David Freidel summarizes themes both from the authors
perspectives and from his extended view of research on Chetumal Bay. He considers the lifeways of bay residents living on the edge of greater Mayab, noting
the pan-peninsular scope of their interactions.

Theoretical Landscape
One of the major theoretical perspectives that courses through the volume
is the relationship between land use and social organization, a complex system that has both geographic and political components. Characteristics of the
landforms and watershed around Chetumal Bay delineated a naturally circumscribed territory. Its feeder rivers, for example, produced rich, reliable farmland that sustained very intense use for many generations. A variety of crops
especially favored by the Maya flourished better there than elsewhere, including cacao, vanilla, achiote, nance, and other fruits; perhaps cotton; and surely
the stingless bees that produced honey and wax while fertilizing the crops. A
steady trade in these goods created substantial wealth for local polities including Early Classic Blue Creek (Guderjan 2007; Guderjan et al. Chapter 5). Cacao
plantations in particular seem to have influenced the settlement system, as the
constraints of long-term crop management required settlement to be dispersed
rather than agglomerated (G. Jones 1989:103), yet the system was highly profitable as seen in the densely populated Early Classic landscape. Social order was
maintained in physical space by systematic line-of-sight relationships between
28

Debra S. Walker

pyramidal platforms often separated by several kilometers (Lpez Camacho et


al. Chapter 4).
Based on ethnohistoric sources, these relationships were embodied and reinforced through pilgrimage ritual connected to the calendar that seems to
be associated archaeologically with Yucatec-speaking groups (Milbrath and
Walker Chapter 10). Pilgrimage ritual, in turn, sealed the relationship between
polities and the landscape by defining mutually agreed upon corporate lands,
and maintaining shrines and border markers built at the conclusion of the
pilgrimage. As Craig Hanson (2008:562) noted in documents from Colonial
period Man, these piles of stones laid out along the borders between polities
functioned similarly to Classic-era stelae that marked period endings. In addition, land could be controlled even when a community was essentially abandoned. This is well documented in the literature, as Late Postclassic pilgrims
often left effigy censer fragments at long-abandoned points on the ancient sacred landscape in recognition of their remembered ancestors, or more pragmatically signifying their continued rights to control the land. This practice
was maintained in the region during and after the nineteenth-century caste
wars and into the ethnographic present near Felipe Carrillo Puerto in southern
Quintana Roo (Sullivan 1989).
Clustered dispersed settlement is a concept that has been difficult for researchers to integrate into prior settlement system models because these settlement clusters do not conform to the idealized hexagonal lattices (Marcus
1976) or Thiessen polygons (Mathews 1991:28) associated with prior models
of settlement distribution in the Maya lowlands. Peter Harrison, for example,
who surveyed the region of Uaymil, found that major site cores were situated
too close together to conform to a traditional hexagonal web of relationships
(Harrison 1981). In the same edited volume, David Freidel (1981) made the case
for Maya residential dispersion using the data from Cerro Maya. His assertion
that nucleated highland Mexico was not necessarily more complex than the
dispersed settlements of the lowland Maya has stood the test of time, and with
the advent of LiDAR, we have seen repeatedly that dispersed settlement does
not necessarily mean an unmodified landscape (Awe et al. 2014; A. Chase et al.
2014; Guderjan et al. Chapter 5). Further work by Enrique Nalda (2004a, 2005)
and Javier Lpez Camacho and colleagues (Chapter 4) confirmed Harrisons
preliminary findings in southern Quintana Roo. A similar situation was noted
by Laura Levi (1993) working at San Estevan, northern Belize, where Norman
Hammond had worked previously (1975). Using the hexagonal lattice model,
Hammond envisioned a tight lattice around the principal group at San Estevan. He proposed that nearby Chowacol, Hippolito, and Martinez groups were
each independent polities because, based on that model, each was too large to
Ancient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

29

have been subordinate to San Estevan. Levi, instead, incorporated the satellite
settlements into the larger, more dispersed San Estevan polity (1993:78). What
she recognized was the same pattern her Quintana Roo colleagues discovered
on the other side of the Rio Hondo: a clustered dispersed settlement system.
Just south of the Mexican border in northwestern Belize, settlements in the
Three Rivers region exhibit a similar pattern, where the concept of heterarchy
has been used to address complexities in the political organization there (Scarborough et al. 2003). Heterarchy as a concept permits nonhierarchical organization, or multiple systems of variably related organizational structures that
are not necessarily hierarchical, a clear parallel to Harrisons (1981) dispersed
clustered settlement pattern and analogous to the Maya cuchteel system (Hanson 2008; Oland Chapter 6, Figure 6.2). That a region might not conform to
our Western, romanized perceptions of territory and town spacing has been a
divisive issue for archaeologists working on the Rio Hondo drainage. Enrique
Nalda summarized this situation with some frustration: Hypotheses about
historical development derived from limited evidence are most vulnerable if
they are based upon the ancient history of other regions or assume that ancient
Maya cultural development was homogenous (2005:243).
Other constraints of a tropical maritime landscape, including the wide
availability of waterfront property and the unpredictable windstorms that still
haunt the coast, prompted competition in all eras and may have precipitated
the shifting alliances that seem to have characterized bay life throughout the
sequence. In contrast to the more stable long-term social order at a place such
as Lamanai (Howie et al. Chapter 9), Chetumal Bay polities rose and fell based
on the whims of weather as well as pirates and politics. Maxine Oland (Chapter
6), for example, notes the advantages of the cuchteel system of political organization that is based on personal relationships rather than physical seats of
power. These were more resilient in periods of dramatic change, such as the
time of the Spanish entrada, because they were somewhat independent of specific land-holding units. Alliances could be renegotiated solely based on influence and circumstance. In a sense, the cuchteel system localized governance, as
independent polities could easily realign their political partnerships if the need
arose. This flexibility is clearly an effective survival strategy in a land where one
windstorm can destroy a lifetime of surplus in a single day.
Another major perspective that tracks through this volume concerns political organization in a multiethnic environment. Chetumal Bay marked both
a Siyan Kaan, a watery central place, and a persistent territorial boundary.
Beyond the geographic parameters of a shared watershed and the common
transportation system it provided, Chetumal Bay ports accommodated visitors
from nearby and distant lands even as control of these coastal locales was con30

Debra S. Walker

tested persistently. Beginning with the establishment of the port at Cerro Maya
in the Late Preclassic, there was the opportunity for multiethnic interaction. In
fact, Cerro Maya may have been settled initially by intruders from the north
who sought better control of trade on the river systems of Belize (Robertson
Chapter 7). Variable burial patterns in the region provide evidence that ethnic
diversity was already present on Chetumal Bay when Cerro Maya was first
occupied (Walker Chapter 3), thus control of the functional waterfront along
Chetumal Bay may have been contested politically throughout the occupation
sequence.
The evidence for exterior contact and influence on the social order is more
substantial during the Classic era, found in the royal tombs at Santa Rita Corozal and Oxtankah (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988, 2005; de Vega Nova 2013a,
2013b; Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11). Iconographic analysis of vessels found in the
Santa Rita Corozal tombs suggests formal ties to Early Classic Dzibanch and
the Kaanul dynasty (Bonnafoux 2008:136; Nalda 2004a, 2005; Walker 2015).
In the Late to Terminal Classic, Itz Maya migrations from Petn influenced
lifeways on Progresso Lagoon (Ferguson 2014; Rosenswig and Masson 2002)
and elsewhere in the form of round structures and the new political organization they manifested (Harrison-Buck and McAnany 2013; Ringle 2004; Ringle
et al. 1998). During the Postclassic, clear evidence for sustained interaction
with Mayapn was identified at Santa Rita Corozal as well as on Caye Coco in
Progresso Lagoon (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988; Masson 2000; Milbrath and
Walker Chapter 10; Oland 2009, Chapter 6). During the Contact period and
well into the Colonial era, the region again saw waves of Yucatec-speaking
immigrants, this time fleeing south from the Spanish encomienda system.
Throughout the sequence, the same waterways that brought goods and profit
also brought heightened social tension associated with ongoing multiethnic
encounters. In view of this sustained interaction, an alternate translation of
the Maya name for the New River, Dzuluinicob (tsul winikob), river of foreigners, might be suggested: river for foreigners, that is, a free trade zone
available for international commerce, analogous to Belizes free trade zone at
Santa Elena today.
A related theoretical perspective that traces through this volume is the degree to which trade can be an organizing principle for the social order. Heather
McKillop (Chapter 15) summarizes historical models of trading systems more
broadly, and tackles the east coast of Yucatn in particular. Trade models that
deal with single destination ports, such as Postclassic Cozumel (Sabloff and
Rathje 1975), do not account for the scale of the Chetumal Bay network or its
long-lived success. Serendipitous geography also made the bay the hub of a
watery highway system for population movements and systematic communiAncient Maya Life on the Fringes of Chetumal Bay: An Introduction

31

cation, a primary corridor connecting Petn with the Caribbean. In addition,


Chetumal Bay was not merely a transshipment point on long voyages between
the Gulf of Honduras and the north coast of Yucatn. By virtue of its rich
farmlands, it was also a destination in itself because of the local production of
a variety of highly prized commodities. From the broadest perspective, then,
one might view Chetumal Bay and its associated river systems as a kind of
specialty bread basket of the ancient Maya world. Over the generations, communities on the bay were subjected to more or less oversight by elites based
on political realities outside the region, yet the area remained productive and
integrated into the wider international economy. Rather than a peripheral area,
the Chetumal Bay waterfront was highly desirable real estate consistently contested by elites in local and long-distance exchange networks, property that
was vital to sustaining Maya lifeways. The first populations to claim Chetumal
Bay, establish waterfront settlements, and exploit its many resources arrived
a very long time ago. Kathryn Reese-Taylor describes what we know of these
earliest inhabitants in the next chapter.

Notes
1. Vern Scarborough (1991:21) suggested the mouth of the New River was situated farther
north near Cerro Maya, so that the site fronted a closed, slightly brackish lagoon rather than
an open bay. Emiliano Melgar Tsoc (Chapter 11) notes the range of mollusk species found at
Cerro Maya is the same today as discovered in excavation, supporting the case for an open
bay 2,000 years ago. Rachel Hamilton (1987:116) also proposed the same environment today
as in the past based on the presence of the same shell species today as at Cerro Maya in the
Preclassic and at Santa Rita Corozal in the Postclassic. The postulated trade scenario is unaffected by the specific location of the ancient river mouth; however, a shift in the location of
the river mouth in antiquity clearly could have favored some locations over others.
2. BCE refers to Before the Common Era (BC), and CE refers to the Common Era (AD).
3. Belize: Mayan pyramid bulldozed in NohMul, YouTube, May 16, 2013, https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=2FCaRtP-6TE.

32

Debra S. Walker

2
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

K AT H R Y N R E E S E -TAY L O R

Archaeological research in the Chetumal Bay region has revealed a complex


history of occupation during the prehispanic era beginning in the early Middle Preclassic period, 900600 BCE, and continuing to the Contact period at
about 1532 CE (Table 1.1; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988, 2006; Graham and Pendergast 1989; Guderjan 1995c, 2005; Guderjan and Garber 1995; Robertson and
Freidel 1986; Sidrys 1983; de Vega Nova and Melgar Tsoc 2014; Walker 1990).
As a region, however, the Chetumal Bay area is understudied, with few comprehensive papers on the area. Also, although major investigations at Cerro
Maya have contributed to our understanding of the Preclassic in general (see
Robertson and Freidel 1986), questions remain regarding the relationship that
sites in the Chetumal Bay area had with each other and with surrounding
regions. This chapter presents our current understanding of the Preceramic
through the Preclassic periods (ca. 3400 BCE250 CE) in the Chetumal Bay
region (Figure 2.1), summarizing available data for each period and addressing
the relationships that the inhabitants of Chetumal Bay had with each other, as
well as with people living in the surrounding region.

The Preceramic Period (3400900 BCE)


At present there is no evidence for a Preceramic settlement along the shore of
Chetumal Bay, even though we know early foragers and horticulturalists were
living along the inland lagoons and rivers that drained into the bay (Lohse et
al. 2006). Much of what we do know of the Preceramic period in the Maya
lowlands is based on investigations in northern Belize, specifically along the
waterways that drain into Chetumal Bay, such as the Rio Hondo, the New River,

Figure 2.1. Map of the Chetumal Bay region, locating Preceramic and Preclassic sites. (Illustration by Kathryn Reese-Taylor.)

and Freshwater Creek. Particularly informative were the excavations at the site
of Colha as well as the adjoining Cobweb swamp during the late 1980s and early
1990s (Hester et al. 1996; Iceland and Hester 1996; Kelly 1993; Lohse 1993). Significant work was also conducted at an array of sites throughout the drainages
by Mary Pohl and colleagues (Pohl et al. 1996). Beginning as early as 3400 BCE,
maize and manioc cultivation is evident in the pollen record of Cob Swamp (J.
Jones 1994). Data from coring at Cobweb Swamp suggest that forest clearance
became widespread by 2500 BCE and that maize agriculture was commonplace
by 2400 BCE (Pohl et al. 1996). Mary Pohl and her colleagues (1996:365) suggested that between 2500 and 1300 BCE, swamp forests developed on the edges
of marshlands, resulting in an accumulation of organic soils, which were exploited for agricultural purposes as the water table receded after 1500 BCE.
Lithic assemblages associated with early fields at Colha contained artifacts
diagnostic of the early Preceramic period (34001500 BCE), including macroblades, macroblade cores, and pointed unifaces (Iceland 1997; Lohse et al.
2006). The late Preceramic period (1500900 BCE) coincided with a drop in the
water table and a concomitant exploitation of the swamp forests rich organic
soils for agriculture. Iceland (1997) identified chert tools, such as constricted
unifaces, used during this time period. Although use wear studies show that
some constricted unifaces may have been used to cut trees and clear forests for
agriculture (Gibson 1992; Hudler and Lohse 1994; Lohse et al. 2006:219), others
showed evidence of contact with soft surfaces, indicating they may have been
used to hoe fields. These implements apparently were widespread in northern
Belize, having been recovered from Pulltrouser Swamp/Kaxob, Cob Swamp,
and Cobweb Swamp (Hester et al. 1995; Lohse et al. 2006; Pohl et al. 1996).
Charcoal from associated levels in Pulltrouser Swamp yielded a date of 1275
BCE (Pohl et al. 1996).
Sites dating to the early and late Preceramic periods around Progresso Lagoon, Doubloon Bank Lagoon, and Laguna de On on the Freshwater Creek
drainage are the closest in proximity to Chetumal Bay. Recent investigations
by Robert Rosenswig and Marilyn Masson have revealed a rich history of occupation in this area. Rosenswig and Masson (2001) recovered large patinated
macro flakes and unifacial tools from several sites, including Caye Coco in
Progresso Lagoon, Fred Smith and Betz Landing on the shore of Progresso Lagoon, Doubloon Bank Lagoon, and Laguna de On. Preceramic occupation also
was uncovered at sites farther inland, such as Strath Bogue and the Patt Work
site, situated within 2 km of the water. Both Caye Coco and the Fred Smith
site revealed large horizontal occupations, 150 m2 and 400 m2, respectively.
Features at Caye Coco included two pits and a possible posthole carved into
bedrock, and the material remains of worked oyster shell were also recovered.
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

35

Radiocarbon dates for these occupations (Table 2.1) include two wood samples from a pit feature at Caye Coco that dated to the Early Preceramic period
(34001900 BCE; Lohse et al. 2006; Rosenswig et al. 2014). In addition, three
radiocarbon dates from Betz Landing fall well within the Late Preceramic period (1500900 BCE; Zeitlin 1984). Finally, one sample from another pit feature
at Caye Coco was dated to the early Middle Preclassic period (900600 BCE).
This range of dates demonstrates the long, slow transition from semisedentary
horticulturalists to sedentary village life in the region.
Samples from the following Preceramic era tools have been analyzed for
starch grains and phytoliths: a hammerstone from next to Caye Coco Pit #1; a
plano-convex biface from Caye Coco Pit #2; two bifaces from disturbed surface
contexts at the Fred Smith site; an expedient biface from the Patt Work site,
also from a disturbed context; a heavily used uniface from Laguna de On; and
a constricted uniface from Doubloon Bank Lagoon, which is similar to those
from the Late Archaic elsewhere in northern Belize (Rosenswig et al. 2014). All
tools retained starch grains of maize. Other starch grains identified on some
tools include grains from Capsicum (pepper), manioc, Fabaceae (bean), Cucurbitaceae (squash), and a type of unidentified root or tuber, perhaps macal
(taro). Interestingly, the Caye Coco plano-convex biface revealed the greatest diversity of starch grains, suggesting that broad spectrum horticulture was
practiced during the Early Preceramic period.

Table 2.1. Radiocarbon dates for Preceramic deposits


in the Freshwater Creek drainage (after Rosenswig and Masson 2001)

36

Conventional
14C age (BP) 2 cal BP

Lab No.

Provenience

Material

Reference

I-11900

Betz Landing,
red-brown soil

Charcoal

3230 85

36503260 Zeitlin 1984

I-11901

Betz Landing,
red-brown soil

Charcoal

3275 85

37103340 Zeitlin 1984

UCR-1650

Betz Landing,
dark gray soil

Antler

3790 800 61902310 Zeitlin 1984

UCIAMS-17911 Caye Coco Pit 1

Charcoal

2675 15

27902740 Rosenswig
et al. 2014

UCIAMS-17909 Caye Coco Pit 2

Charcoal

5835 20

67306610 Rosenswig
et al. 2014

UCIAMS-17908 Caye Coco Pit 2

Charcoal

7415 20

83208180 Rosenswig
et al. 2014

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

Preceramic occupations on the Freshwater Creek drainage apparently were


not maintained into the early Middle Preclassic, with the possible exception
of Caye Coco. This may be the result of sampling bias, which is entirely likely
considering the dearth of Preceramic sites identified in the archaeological record. It is also possible that changes in subsistence practices led to the location
of the earliest sedentary villages in different environments.

The Early Middle Preclassic (900600 BCE)


In contrast to the paucity of remains from Paleoindian or Archaic people in
the Chetumal Bay region, the early Middle Preclassic is well represented in the
archaeological record. Investigations at several sites revealed material culture,
particularly ceramics, drawn from secondary deposits. According to Hortensia de Vega Nova (2013a), evidence for early Middle Preclassic settlement at
Oxtankah comes from secondary deposits under Structure VI in the Plaza
of the Columns, but there are no architectural remains associated with the
material recovered. Farther inland, at the large center of Ichkabal, located approximately 40 km west of Lake Bacalar, Sandra Balanzario (personal communication 2015) has recovered small fragments of early Middle Preclassic
ceramics that, while not associated with architecture, demonstrate the widespread nature of previously unknown early Middle Preclassic occupation in
southeastern Quintana Roo.
Excavations at Santa Rita Corozal produced the only primary deposits and
associated architecture dated to the early Middle Preclassic on Chetumal Bay
(D. Chase and A. Chase 2006). Located on the south edge of the bay, Santa
Rita Corozal was the focus of intensive investigation by the Corozal Postclassic Project, directed by Diane Chase and Arlen Chase from 1979 to 1985. Although better known for its later occupations, Santa Rita Corozal had a widespread settlement during the Preclassic period, documented by several early
Middle Preclassic period burials with contemporary ceramics. Evidence for
early Middle Preclassic occupation was concentrated on a platform situated
on a high bluff above Corozal Bay in the southwestern sector of the site. Specifically, Structure 134 sat on the east end of a low platform. The 15 1.5 m
eastwest trench excavated in 1980 (D. Chase 1982) revealed that Structure
134 consisted of five construction episodes labeled earliest to latest, Structure
134-5th to 134-1st (Figure 2.2). The earliest construction episodes (134-4th and
134-5th) yielded three burials accompanied by whole or partial vessels. These
flat-bottomed and concave-bottomed bowls with vertical sides and horizontal
rims can be confidently placed in the early Middle Preclassic based on their
stylistic and morphological traits (Table 2.2). Evidence for an early Middle
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

37

Table 2.2. Early Middle Preclassic burial deposits from Santa Rita Corozal (after D. Chase and A. Chase 2006)
Deposit
Number

Context

Human
Remains

Burial
Position Associated Pottery

Other Artifacts

SD P12B-25

Placed just above bedrock, under


eastern edge of Str. 134-5th

Indeterminate

n/a

n/a

SD P12B-26

Placed directly above and disturbing


SD P12B-25, under eastern edge of Str.
134-5th, disturbed by SD P12B-11

Indeterminate

n/a

One bowl, red to pink slip, flat bottom,


slightly flaring walls, form similar to
Swasey pottery, crudely made

SD P12B-24

Approximately 1 m west of
substructure 2, under plaster floor,
abutting Str. 134-4th on the west

Adult female

Flexed

Single vessel, light red to pink double


slipped, slightly concave bottom,
vertical walls, form similar to Swasey
forms, better made

SD P12B-10

Cut into surface of Str. 134-4th, approximately 2 m from eastern edge, intrudes into the west face of Str. 134-5th

Adult male

Flexed

One bowl, larger, flat bottom, flaring


walls, possibly related to early Ramgoat
Red

SD P12B-11

Cut into surface of Str. 134-4th, on the


eastern edge, intrudes into Str. 1345th, disturbs SD P12B-26

Adult female

Flexed

Unslipped olla, flattened lip, similar to


Copetilla Unslipped

Five jadeite, shell


and other stone
beads, and a
carnivore canine

SD P12B-15

Cut into surface of Str. 134-3rd, to


intrude through the west face of Str.
134-4th.

Adult female

Flexed

One jar, flat bottom, out-curving walls,


restricted shoulders and neck, out-flaring
rim, pink to red to black slip, form similar
to Swasey from Cuello and Mamom for
Uaxactun, inverted over chest

Two shell beads

Shell necklace and


two shell bracelets

SD P12B-18

Placed approximately 1 m east of Str.


134-3rd, -4th, -5th, likely associated
with expansion of platform and
construction of Str. 134-3rd.

Indeterminate

Flexed

SD P12B-19

Placed approximately 2 m east of Str.


134-3rd, -4th, -5th, likely associated
with expansion of platform and
construction of Str. 134-3rd.

Indeterminate

n/a

SD P24A-1

Structure 92, just below the ground


surface

Indeterminate

Flexed

One bowl, light red slip, flat bottom,


slightly out-flaring walls, raised band
on incised chevrons just below rim,
out-curving rim, form similar to Mamom
vessel forms
One jar, Abelino Redlike slip, concave
bottom, out-flaring walls, restricted
shoulders, short vertical neck,
slightly flaring rim, two handles, form
transitional to Mamom
Two large Swasey-like vessels and one
large Joventud Red platter inverted over
the body

Four tubular jade


beads

Figure 2.2. Burials and accompanying pottery vessels from Santa Rita Corozal Structure 134. (Illustration
by Kathryn Reese-Taylor, after D. Chase and A. Chase 2006:87 Fig. 1.)

Preclassic occupation was also recovered from an axial trench excavation in


Structure 92, located in the north-central sector of Santa Rita Corozal.
Two distinct burial subcomplexes appeared at Santa Rita Corozal during the
early Middle Preclassic (A. Chase and D. Chase 1987). The first pattern consisted of one or two vessels placed in the chest area of a flexed individual. Although this pattern continued in use, a second pattern subsequently was introduced that consisted of a single vessel inverted near the head. Both burial styles
included slipped and unslipped Swasey-related and Mamom-related types (A.
Chase and D. Chase 1987). In addition, the jade and shell artifacts recovered
from Santa Rita Corozal burials and at sites farther inland, such as Cuello and
Kaxob, indicate that long-distance trade was established by this time. Based
on these limited excavations, Diane Chase (1990) estimated the population to
have been approximately 150 inhabitants, the size of a small village.
Several ceramicists who have examined other early collections have remarked on the mixed contexts that combine early Middle Preclassic types with
later Mamom (late Middle Preclassic) types (Callaghan 2008; Inomata 2011;
Walker 2016), especially during the late facet (ca. 700600 BCE) of the early
Middle Preclassic. The occupation at Santa Rita Corozal is the first evidence
for this transitional facet on Chetumal Bay. In addition, while the light red to
pink slip of the Santa Rita Corozal material is related to earlier Swasey types,
such as Consejo Red, it is distinctive (D. Chase and A. Chase 2006), suggesting
that the Chetumal Bay region may not have been integrated fully into a Swasey
interaction sphere, or may even represent a separate cultural tradition. Only
40

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

future excavations will determine the relationship between the Chetumal Bay
region and the rest of northern Belize at this time depth.

The Late Middle Preclassic (600300 BCE)


Trade networks that were established during the early Middle Preclassic expanded during the late Middle Preclassic. The settlement pattern of the region and the artifacts recovered from both coastal and inland sites indicate
Chetumal Bay was integral to the movement of goods because of its strategic
location as well as being a production locus for sea salt (McKillop Chapter 15)
and important agricultural products (Guderjan Chapter 5). Along the western
mainland of Chetumal Bay, populations appear to have grown substantially.
Hortensia de Vega Nova (2013a) reported a two-tier settlement hierarchy, with
Oxtankah serving as a primary center and secondary villages emerging at El
Cocal and South Tamalcab Island. Excavation determined that a seaport existed at the southern end of Tamalcab Island by this period. Artifacts, particularly Middle Preclassic ceramics, showed affinities with central Petn and
northern Yucatn. These data point to the integration of the Oxtankah area
into emerging long-distance trade routes along the coast and inland along rivers (de Vega Nova 2013a).
The late Middle Preclassic is difficult to identify at Santa Rita Corozal due
to a lack of radiocarbon dates for the period and a blending of Swasey and Mamom traits in the pottery. According to Diane Chase and Arlen Chase (2006),
no distinct Mamom complex existed at Santa Rita Corozal. Instead, they noted
a smooth transition from early Middle Preclassic Swaseylike ceramics to Late
Preclassic Chicaneltype ceramics. Nonetheless, at Santa Rita Corozal, it appears as though the north-central sector of the site was occupied during the
late Middle Preclassic (D. Chase and A. Chase 2006). Diane Chase (1990) also
suggested that the population remained stable at 150 individuals.
Farther to the north, in Quintana Roo, sites such as La Lagartera and La
Margarita were settled during this period. Based on recent excavations, Ichkabal expanded at this time (Sandra Balanzario personal communication 2015).
The earliest evidence from Dzibanch dates to this era as well (Nalda 2005:236).
In Belize and Guatemala, the large centers of Lamanai and Rio Azul were colonized. Both are situated on river systems that drain into Chetumal Bay. In the
Central Karstic Uplands, the major centers of Yaxnohcah and Nakbe, established during the early Middle Preclassic, saw rapid expansion.
Due to rising inland populations, demand for exotic goods appears to have
increased exponentially during this period. It is likely that the site of Oxtankah,
with its associated seaport on Tamalcab Island, was a major junction for the
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

41

movement of trade items. Evidence for this is implicit in the material culture
of the larger region. Obsidian from the Guatemalan highlands and chert from
Colha, including a T-shaped adze, have been identified in Middle Preclassic
deposits at Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase and A. Chase 1989:25), indicating, as
Thomas Hester and Harry Shafer (1989) have argued, that Colha workshops
were producing formal tools for export over long distances in the Middle Preclassic. Trade in marine shell was widespread at this time as well. Marine shell
has been recovered from burials and caches at Kaxob and Cuello (Aizpura
and McAnany 1999; Hammond 1991; Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11), and marine
shell, especially Strombus spp., has been identified as far inland as Nakbe in
Petn. Finally, jade and greenstone continued to be widely circulated as preferred material for offerings and as markers of increasing social differentiation
(Aizpura and McAnany 1999; Estrada-Belli forthcoming; Freidel et al. 2002;
Hammond 1991; Inomata 2011).

The Late Preclassic (300100 BCE)


During the Late Preclassic period, the population increased dramatically on
the western mainland of Chetumal Bay.1 A dispersed settlement pattern was
established focused on Oxtankah, and archaeologists have recorded over 17
satellite sites, including Nohichmul (de Vega Nova 2013a; Figure 2.3). Specifically, 13 sites specializing in salt production were established, 11 around Lake
Bacalar and 2 closer to the coast. At Oxtankah, the ground level was raised and
Abejas Plaza was built, with Structure I situated on the east side of the plaza
and Structure III situated to the south. De Vega Nova (2013a) also suggested
that there were varying scales of central authority, with higher levels embodied
in masonry civic ceremonial structures.
Santa Rita Corozals Late Preclassic occupation increased in size as well.
Burials dating to this period are found throughout the site. Bodies generally
were accompanied by inverted Sierra Red platters, while the other mortuary
vessels varied in shape or size and included several with incised or painted
designs. Many contained large cracks that had been repaired in antiquity, suggesting the vessels may have been used extensively before being interred (D.
Chase and A. Chase 2006). In addition, Late Preclassic burials were rarely accompanied by shell or jadeite offerings. The lack of precious objects and the use
of older vessels in mortuary contexts stands in contrast to the patterns seen in
earlier periods and may indicate that Santa Rita Corozal was going through a
period of decreased prosperity.
Cerro Maya was founded near the end of the Late Preclassic (ca. 200/150
BCE; Figure 3.2). Initial occupation was confined to a waterfront village of
42

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

Figure 2.3. Late Preclassic settlement at Oxtankah, locating population centers and salt works. (Illustration by Kathryn Reese-Taylor, after de Vega Nova 2013a:35 Fig. 1.)

ground-level perishable buildings with tierra quemada (burned earth) floors


and patios situated adjacent to a monumental public dock (Cliff 1982; Robertson
Chapter 7; Robertson and Walker 2015; Walker Chapter 3). As the village expanded, residential structures with plaster floors were erected on platforms that
were 1060 cm above the surrounding ground surface and patios. At its greatest
extent, Maynard Cliff (1982:503) estimated that the waterfront village would
have covered 156 m2 with roughly 153 structures, and based on an average of 5.6
residents per structure, implied a population between 850 and 900 individuals.
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

43

Figure 2.4. Location of Cerro Maya waterfront village. (CROC Archive photograph modified by Debra
Walker, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)

Inequality developed early along the waterfront, signified by differential


labor and investment in residential architecture. Renovations of residences
next to the dock were accompanied by deposits of broken jade, Spondylus shell
beads, Oliva shell tinklers, and obsidian. Specialized structures for the production of beverages, salt, and storage were constructed nearby (Robertson
and Walker 2015). A few meters to the east at Structure 2A-Sub 3, Cache A
was deposited beneath the floor of a building renovation there. It consisted
of a bracelet of two jadeite, two Spondylus, and nine Strombus (conch shell)
beads (Figure 2.5; Cliff 1982:312; Walker 2013:Tbl. 1). Other caches in domestic
residences included whole or partial vessels, similar in type and vessel form to
the domestic wares recovered from household middens (Robertson Chapter 7;
Walker 2013).
In addition to trade, subsistence practices seemed to focus on exploiting the
44

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

marine resources available locally. Faunal remains from middens in the nucleated village include numerous examples of the whelk species M. melongena,
a type of conch that inhabits coastal lagoons, mangroves, river estuaries, and
other low salinity environments (Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11). In addition, Helen
Sorayya Carr (1986a, 1986b) documented large quantities of marine and riverine fish bones, sea turtle, and blue crab and the remains of a few large mammals, such as peccary, dog, and deer. Maize cupules retrieved through flotation
suggest that corn was consumed regularly (Crane and Carr 1994). In addition,
the hard seed of the nance fruit was identified in almost every lot, suggesting
that it was a staple in the diet then (Cliff 1982), as it is on Chetumal Bay today.
A notable difference in social stratification appeared in the archaeological
record during the Late Preclassic. Some residential structures transformed
from single-room to multiroom buildings. Also, ground-level patios were associated with fewer buildings as the population increased and space became
scarcer. When present, exterior patio floors were made of compacted sascab or
tierra quemada, while interior floors were composed of plaster or compacted
sascab. In addition, burials were accompanied by mortuary offerings of jade,
volcanic hematite, and carved bone ornaments (Walker Chapter 3, Table 3.1).

Figure 2.5. Jade and shell bracelet from Cerro Maya Cache A, deposited in Structure 2A-Sub 12-3rd
in the waterfront village, SF-1965, SF-19671978. (Photograph by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

45

Finally, all structures in the village were oriented or reoriented to the south or
west, toward the area that was to become the civic ceremonial epicenter, suggesting that centralized authority was beginning to be exercised (Cliff 1982).
On the western mainland, construction activity in the monumental core
of Ichkabal increased exponentially. Five major architectural complexes were
erected atop a massive platform to the north of a huge reservoir. The largest of
these is Group C, which measured 200 200 m at the base and rose 46 m from
the surrounding plaza (Banderas News 2009). Directly south of the civic ceremonial core, a large rectangular reservoir (80 70 m) was constructed. This
degree of monumentality is seen at other sites in the Central Karstic Uplands,
where El Mirador is the quintessential example. Structures at that site range in
height from 24 to 72 m, with the two largest being the Danta complex in the
east, with a base of 350 500 m and 72 m in height, and the Tigre complex in
the west, covering an area of 19,600 m2 and measuring 55 m in height (Hansen
1998:76). In addition to these examples, Lamanai, Rio Azul, and Yaxnohcah,
among others, also built increasingly large structures during this time (Pendergast 1981; Reese-Taylor and Anaya Hernndez 2013; Valdez 1992).
The overall character of this epoch is one of increasing social and political
complexity, along with exponential population growth. Several scholars (Aizpura and McAnany 1999; Garber 1983, 1986, 1989; Reese-Taylor and Walker
2002) have argued that long-distance trade controlled by elites was crucial
to this development. Although inland sites located near major bajos, such as
El Mirador and Ichkabal, may have exported large quantities of agricultural
products, their populations would have needed resources that were locally
unavailable, such as salt, basalt, obsidian, and possibly chert, as well as precious commodities, such as jade, shell, and pyrite, that were important markers of prestige among the upper strata (Reese-Taylor and Walker 2002).
Chetumal Bay ports were crucial to the movement of resources and goods
at this time. The port on South Tamalcab Island, like other sites in the region,
had an increasing population (de Vega Nova 2013a). South Tamalcab Island
was ideally located to be a staging area for salt export from the Lake Bacalar
settlements, likely controlled by Oxtankah. Likewise, construction of the Cerro
Maya port provided a significant link between coastal and river trade routes
to the south. The amount of precious goods and other valuable commodities
recovered from excavations in the Chetumal Bay region during this period
indicates that, while local settlements were clearly significant junctions in the
trade routes, local residents were not profiting proportionally from these exchanges, or at least they were not building monumental structures as large
and magnificent as those in the Central Karstic Uplands or on the New River.
It seems likely that these Chetumal Bay port settlements were under the con46

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

trol of larger inland cities, in much the same way that Isla Cerritos was under
the control of Chichn Itz during the Terminal Classic period (Cobos Palma
2004).

Terminal Preclassic I (100 BCE150 CE)


The dynamics of Chetumal Bay changed significantly during the period between 100 BCE and 150 CE. Near the beginning of the Common Era, Cerro
Maya underwent a radical transformation from a waterfront village trading
center to a substantive civic ceremonial center with a large sustaining population. The dock was decommissioned (Robertson and Walker 2015), and a range
of civic ceremonial buildings were constructed at Cerro Maya. These earliest
pyramidal buildings, identified by a series of AMS dates (Walker 2005), included much of the present-day site core (Figure 2.6; see also Figure 3.1), and
the site expanded significantly to the west.
Structure 6, built during this shift in function and expansion at the site,
has been identified as a waxak chaahk naah (Eight North House) by the author (Reese 1996) and has the same architectural design as seen in Fidelia 1 at
Yaxnohcah (Figure 2.7; Flores Esquivel and prajc 2008). A large cache (Cache
1) was uncovered at the apex of Structure 6B. The cache consisted of a lip-to-lip
arrangement of a Chactoc Red and Buff plate inverted over a large Savannah
Bank Usulutan bucket (Figure 2.8). Placed in the bucket were an array of precious commodities, probably originally deposited in a cloth bundle, including
five jade heads arranged in a quincunx pattern, four jade beads, five broken
jade head fragments, six other jade fragments, an elongated bivalve shell, four
drilled Spondylus shells, one Spondylus bead, six shell pendants, and several
shell fragments, as well as 88 hematite fragments. Four drinking vessels, one
triple-lugged jar, five worked sherd lids, and one square flat ceramic piece,
perhaps the backing for a mirror, were arrayed around the lip-to-lip vessels.
This was the richest cache recovered at Cerro Maya.
Structures 3A-1st and 8A were built slightly later, along with modifications
to Structure 4 and several buildings in the settlement, including Structure 29, a
large inline triadic group, and Structure 50, the southern ballcourt (Reese 1996;
Robertson and Freidel 1986; Scarborough 1991; Walker 2005). This ballcourt
and pyramid complex bear a remarkable resemblance to the Carmela Group
at Yaxnohcah (Figure 2.9; Flores Esquivel and prajc 2008).
Santa Rita Corozal also continued to grow. During this period, a variety of
burial complexes were present at Santa Rita Corozal. One mortuary pattern
consisted of placing a large Sierra Red dish near or over the head of a flexed
individual. Another pattern involved covering the entire body with pottery,
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

47

using Sierra Red vessels, generally one or more spouted vessels, with a smaller
florero and a jar with a high rim (A. Chase and D. Chase 1987). This mortuary
pattern, involving the use of multiple pottery vessels to cover a body, stands in
contrast to the generally simpler mortuary patterns found in the Cerro Maya
waterfront village (Walker Chapter 3).
Farther north, Oxtankah, as well as its salt-producing satellite centers, or
salt works, continued to expand as it provided the nearest port for the export
of agricultural products from inland sites, such as Ichkabal and La Lagartera.
On Ambergris Caye, to the east of Chetumal Bay, Elizabeth Graham and David
Pendergast (1989) found Late to Terminal Preclassic sherds underlying construction at Marco Gonzalez, possibly indicating that salt production began
there at this time. At several inland sites in Quintana Roo, large amounts of
construction fill were used to raise and level plazas and patios for the initial
building phase of civic ceremonial structures. Residential construction also increased. Ichkabal reached its apogee at this time. Sandra Balanzario (personal

Figure 2.6. Close-up of Cerro Maya site core. (Illustration by Debra Walker, after Reese 1996:208 Fig.
1.4.)
48

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

Figure 2.7. Comparison of Eight North House structures at Cerro Maya and
Yaxnohcah: (a) Cerro Maya (illustration by Kathryn Reese-Taylor); (b) Yaxnohcah
(illustration by F. C. Atasta Flores Esquivel, courtesy of Ivan prajc).

communication 2015) has identified a settlement spreading over 30 km2 and


consisting of residential groups associated with civic ceremonial buildings that
were connected by sacbeob in a dispersed clustered settlement pattern. Dzibanch continued to grow in this period, especially at the Kinichn acropolis. La
Margarita, by contrast, grew only moderately.
Along the rivers that flow into Chetumal Bay, settlements increased in size
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

49

Figure 2.8. Cerro Maya Cache 1 under excavation in 1975. (CROC Archive Photograph, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)

and complexity. Investigations at Rio Azul, situated above the headwaters of


the Rio Hondo, revealed both specialized lithic tool production and agricultural intensification (R. E. W. Adams 1999; R. E. W. Adams et al. 1988). Several
smaller sites, such as Noh Kah (Lpez Camacho et al. Chapter 4), apparently
were first occupied during this time. Lamanai, like Cerro Maya, was transformed beginning at roughly 100 BCE. The settlement shifted south, and the
massive Structure N10-43 was built. A dedicatory cache was placed consisting
50

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

Figure 2.9. Comparison of ballcourts at Cerro Maya and Yaxnohcah: (a) Cerros Maya (illustration by Kathryn Reese-Taylor, after Scarborough 1991:114 Fig. 5.6); (b) Yaxnohcah (illustration by F. C. Atasta Flores
Esquivel, courtesy of Ivan prajc).

of a lidded vessel containing a Spondylus shell and two small human figures,
one of jadeite and one of shell. This cache is less elaborate than that found on
Cerro Maya Structure 6B, but the patterned use of Spondylus and greenstone
portrait heads in dedicatory caches at this juncture signals a significant shift
in ritual behavior (Aizpura and McAnany 1999; Freidel et al. 2002; MoholyNagy 1989; Reese-Taylor and Walker 2002).
In the Central Karstic Uplands, El Mirador and other sites, such as Yaxnohcah, Tintal, Wakna, and Calakmul, continued to thrive. Further connections
between Cerro Maya and Yaxnohcah can be noted in the ceramic assemblages
of the time (Robertson Chapter 7). Recent excavations at Yaxnohcah have produced glossy, double-slipped red wares dating to this period that are similar to
contemporary Cabro Red materials known from Cerro Maya (Walker 2016).
In sum, trade appears to have been driving the economies of sites around
Chetumal Bay during the Terminal Preclassic period. The organization of trade
at Cerro Maya had become more centralized. As the dock was abandoned,
the location of exchanges moved inland, where they included exotics as well
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

51

as necessities and could be more effectively managed (Robertson and Walker


2015). Cerro Mayas strategic location at the mouth of the New River and near
the mouth of the Rio Hondo made it a natural staging area for river trade to
the south and east. Oxtankah also continued to prosper as a port of trade. This
likely had more to do with its proximity and possible control of the salt works
around Lake Bacalar. Moreover, it also provided the nearest port for the export
of agricultural products from inland sites, such as Ichkabal and La Lagartera.

Terminal Preclassic II (150250 CE)


During the short Terminal Preclassic II period, the inhabitants of Oxtankah
grew even more prosperous. Population density increased, and the surrounding settlement tripled in size then and in the ensuing Early Classic, possibly
due to both trade and economic diversification as well as spillover from the
prosperity of settlements in the interior of Quintana Roo (Figure 2.10; de Vega
Nova 2013a). The region was controlled by rulers from Oxtankah, with secondary political centers at El Cocal, Nohichmul, and Tamalcab-Estrecho (de Vega
Nova 2013a). Salt production continued to dominate the economy, and populations living along the shores of Laguna Guerrero and surrounding channels
specialized in salt making. Maritime activities such as fishing and exploitation
of marine shell resources were also integrated into the economy (Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11). Port communities associated with Oxtankah, including South
Tamalacab Island, thrived into the Early Classic, as trade intensified. Indeed,
as salt production expanded to the coast and the cays during the Terminal Preclassic period and the beginning of the Early Classic period (Guderjan 1995c,
2005), the need for ports of trade as staging areas for the transport of salt inland became even greater.
Santa Rita Corozal remained a small center during the Terminal Preclassic
into the Early Classic period. Diane Chase (1990) estimated the population
to have been approximately 1,400 inhabitants. During the Terminal Preclassic II, extended burials appeared in the archaeological record, but the more
ancient flexed pattern remained in use. Vessels were placed upright with the
bodies. Types included Cabro Red, Guacamallo Red-on-Orange, and Ixcanrio
Polychrome (A. Chase and D. Chase 1987; Robertson Chapter 7). Santa Rita
Corozal prospered during the Early Classic based on the distribution of exotic
materials recovered from the settlement that tied residents into long-distance
trade networks, and particularly to the Dzibanch polity (D. Chase and A.
Chase 2005; Walker 2015).
In contrast, Cerro Maya was in decline during the Terminal Preclassic II.
Public construction projects in the central precinct were greatly reduced at this
52

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

Figure 2.10. Oxtankah site map highlighting Preclassic occupation (shaded in gray). (Illustration by
Kathryn Reese-Taylor after de Vega Nova 2013b:44 Fig. 4.)

time. When buildings were renovated, the poor quality of the construction was
notable. Additionally, there was a reduction in the amount of trade items, such
as jade and Spondylus shell, recovered from the site (Garber 1983, 1986). Archaeological evidence at Cerro Maya points to warfare episodes before 250 CE.
Excavations revealed destructive acts trained on specific and significant targets
(Walker 1995; Reese-Taylor et al. 1996), such as the bannerstone discovered at
the base of Structure 6A (Figure 2.11; Reese 1996) and the facades on Structure
6B (Freidel 1986). Other destructive actions at Cerro Maya included selective
burning episodes in the architecture outside of the northern civic zone, the
most significant of which is the burning noted on Structure 21 (Scarborough
1991), a likely lookout at the sites western edge.
With the exception of Cerro Maya, the Chetumal Bay region weathered the
end of the Preclassic well. This may indicate that Cerro Mayas fortunes were
The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

53

Figure 2.11. Monolithic bannerstone discovered at base of Cerro Maya Structure 6 (Monument 2), excavated in Op 9401. (Photograph by Kathryn Reese-Taylor, CROC Archive, courtesy of the Florida Museum
of Natural History.)

more linked to those sites in the Central Karstic Uplands, where a similar decline has been noted (Hansen 1990). There appear to be strong affinities between Cerro Maya and Yaxnohcah in both architecture and pottery. Although
it was not abandoned at the end of the Preclassic, Yaxnohcah did experience a
loss of population and ceased to control the labor to construct large buildings.
In contrast, Santa Rita Corozal and Oxtankah may have maintained relative
autonomy, despite their positions as trading centers. Oxtankah seems to have
prospered even while Ichkabal, the major center closest to the coastal site, declined, possibly eclipsed by the rise of Dzibanch (Lpez Camacho et al. Chapter 4). It seems the Chetumal Bay region continued to play a preeminent role in
the trade networks of the Terminal Preclassic and Early Classic periods, even
as the earlier, powerful Cerro Maya port declined.

Discussion
The Chetumal Bay region was never peripheral. From its earliest occupation in
the early Middle Preclassic to the end of the Terminal Preclassic, Chetumal Bay
sites were in sync developmentally with sites located inland to the south and to
the west. While Cerro Maya and Oxtankah both became important nodes in
long-distance trade networks during the Late Preclassic, they were significantly
54

Kathryn Reese-Taylor

different. Although Cerro Maya was engaged in salt production and trade, the
quantity and quality of Oxtankahs salt resources and port facilities seem to
have enabled it to grow beyond Cerro Maya.
Until roughly 100 BCE, all settlements in the region were smaller, nucleated
villages. A two-tier settlement hierarchy existed around Oxtankah, but there
were no other large centers. Moreover, even though the settlements were crucial staging areas and ports for the movement of goods in long-distance trade
networks, residents did not have extraordinary access to precious commodities,
and, consequently, a highly stratified social structure did not develop. Both Oxtankah and Cerro Maya experienced a growth spurt from 100 BCE to 150 CE.
While we have more information about the Cerro Maya expansion, the data
from Oxtankah suggest that they were very similar in nature. Both saw the residential populations of nucleated villages move out from the site center as large
civic ceremonial centers were created. Similar and contemporary large civic ceremonial cores were built at Lamanai and other major sites in the region.
Cerro Maya appears to have had much stronger ties to inland cities, especially those in the Central Karstic Uplands. Specific similarities in both architecture and pottery between Cerro Maya and Yaxnohcah are too striking to be
coincidental. This alliance, no doubt, contributed to the success of Cerro Maya
during the Terminal Preclassic I; however, it also made Cerro Maya more vulnerable after 150 CE, when some cities in the Central Karstic Uplands declined
with the fall of El Mirador.
Finally, the demise of Cerro Maya did not have catastrophic consequences
in the Chetumal Bay region. Oxtankah prospered and grew to its greatest extent during the Early Classic. Santa Rita Corozal also continued to be linked
into long-distance trade networks during the Early Classic, probably attached
to the thriving Dzibanch polity. On the whole, the Chetumal Bay region
showed remarkable growth and resilience throughout the Preclassic, perhaps,
as de Vega Nova suggested, because it developed a diversified economy. At the
same time, its pivotal location along coastal and riverine transportation routes
also ensured the regions continued importance as a nexus for long-distance
trade. Having considered the Preclassic period on Chetumal Bay from a broad
perspective, the next chapter offers a close-up view of one Late Preclassic community, Cerro Maya.

Note
1. The entire Late Preclassic is 300 BCE250 CE, but Terminal Preclassic facets are reported separately here (Walker Chapter 1, Table 1.1).

The First Settlers on Chetumal Bay

55

3
Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

D E B R A S . WA L K E R

Late Preclassic Cerro Maya was a focal point for canoe traffic on greater Chetumal Bay (Freidel 1978) between sites on the New River to the south and
regional centers to the north and west, such as the recently discovered site of
Ichkabal west of Bacalar in southern Quintana Roo. Situated on the south end
of the bay, Cerro Maya (Figure 3.1) provided a formal dock and moorings as a
hub connecting established canoe routes through the rivers, lakes, and canals
that ringed the bay (Figure 1.2). The families who operated the port lived out
their lives on the waterfront. In death, some remained there, buried in and
around perishable structures built near the shoreline. These burials and the
grave goods they contained inform us about the lives and afterlives of Tulix
Phase Cerro Maya residents. Excavations revealed that the kin group controlling the waterfront made unique choices in interring family members based on
geographical layout, burial position, and accompanying grave goods. Analysis
of these burial patterns provides new insight on how the port was established
and managed.
Burials discovered in the Tulix Phase (Figure 3.2) waterfront village were
excavated in the 1970s under the direction of Maynard Cliff (1982). His detailed descriptions and illustrations of waterfront burial contexts allowed this
study to go forward decades later. Preliminary analysis of the human remains
was reported by Barbara Butler (1979). Grave goods described by prior researchers include pottery (Robertson Chapter 7; Robertson-Freidel 1980),
chipped stone (Chiarulli Chapter 12; Mitchum 1994), small finds (Garber
1989), and faunal remains (H. S. Carr 1986a). David Freidel provided the
original field notes after transferring the Cerro Maya materials to the Florida
Museum of Natural History through an agreement with the Belize Institute

Figure 3.1. Map of Cerro Maya settlement within the canal. Single buildings are designated with the capital letter A as in Structure 98A; multiple buildings sharing the same platform are given alpha designations, such as Structure 5C. (Illustration by Debra Walker, after Scarborough 1991 and Reese 1996.)

Figure 3.2. Ceramic chronology for Cerro Maya. Revisions are based on recent C-14 studies by Walker
(2005). The Late Preclassic occupation timespan was collapsed from the original three phases (Robertson-Freidel 1980) based on revisions to the ceramic analysis (Robertson Chapter 7).

of Archaeology in 2009. Many of the grave goods described here may be


viewed on the Cerro Maya website.1

Theoretical Perspective
Since the Cerro Maya burials were excavated four decades ago, the cultural
significance of Preclassic Maya mortuary practices has been a focus for researchers in northern Belize (Hammond 1999; McAnany 1995, 2004; McAnany
et al. 1999; Obledo 2011; Robin 1989; Robin and Hammond 1991; Storey 2004;
L. M. Thompson 2005; L. Wright 1991). It is clear from this research that the
corpse itself, items included as grave goods, and the physical location of the
ultimate interment wove a complex web of cultural referents into mortuary
practices. Through sustained use of a burial locale, these rites constructed
powerful places charged with culturally imbued energy. Later Classic lords
targeted such locales during wartime. They fought to conquer, possess, and
display heirlooms of the conquered, such as human bone war trophies. Patterns of systematic tomb reentry and ancestor veneration were documented
in the hieroglyphic record throughout the Maya region during the Classic era
(Stuart 1999:396399).
Patricia McAnany (1995) in particular has discussed these supercharged
structures or ancestor shrines as material representations of powerful local
ancestral land-holding interests. At Late Preclassic Kaxob, richer burials
tended to be associated with renovations of structures, while the poor tended
to be buried without grave goods away from permanent structures (McAnany
et al. 1999:130). Including an ancestor with heirlooms in the construction or
renovation of a building was akin to defining its future ownership, similar to
transferring a property title to the heirs. Over the generations, the wealth of
revered family members buried as ancestors accrued to the heirs. Through
its mortuary practices, therefore, the agrarian community at Kaxob created
culturally unequal parcels of land from undifferentiated farmland.

Geographic Layout of the Waterfront Village Burying Ground


The situation was significantly different at Tulix Phase Cerro Maya, a site chosen for its strategic location for waterborne trade. Rather than undifferentiated
farmland, waterfront property must have been inherently more valuable, especially near the dock where people, merchandise, and canoe traffic commingled.
The 80-m-long dock investigated as Operation (Op) 34 lay to the west of at
least 80 m of residential construction investigated as Ops 1 and 33 (Figure 3.3).
Social action along the waterfront was much more constrained by geography at
Cerro Maya than at an inland village such as Kaxob. Waterfront construction
58

Debra S. Walker

Figure 3.3. Waterfront village burial locations. Approximate modern shoreline indicated by dotted line. Numerals indicate Cerro Maya burial numbers; bold font highlights individuals interred
seated cross-legged. (Composite illustration by Debra Walker, after Cliff 1982.)

was also constrained by the same parameters that limit development at coastal
sites today: dry land and weather. For example, there is evidence that the dock
and adjacent homesteads were inundated with windstorm-driven sand on several occasions (Cliff 1982:399, 420, 484, 500; Robertson and Walker 2015:Tbl.
2). One cannot assume that renovations along the waterfront related solely to
economic success, normal wear, or calendric ritual. Some may have been Tulix
Phase FEMA-style projects resulting from hurricane damage. In fact, there
is evidence that the last monumental construction phase was prompted by a
storm so destructive that the waterfront village was abandoned; a 2-m-high
plaza, Structure 2A, was built over it; and residents moved their homes farther
inland (Cliff 1982:282287).
Despite the wind and water in a tropical hurricane corridor, there is evidence for a hallowed burying ground on the waterfront. What remained of
these burials was effectively preserved by the 2-m-high plaza that buried
them, yet coastal erosion and stone robbing significantly impacted some
burials. The ancient coastline probably ran a few meters north of its curLife and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

59

rent position, but the massive ancient dock nearby makes it unlikely that
the original shoreline was more than 510 m out. Buildings considered here,
then, were situated close to the water if not oriented directly on it.
Late to Terminal Preclassic burials were concentrated near two principal
waterfront buildings, Structure 2A-Sub 1 (Op 1) and Structure 2A-Sub 3 (Op
33). Together, these two operations account for 22 of 32 Tulix Phase burials
(Table 3.1). Six more Tulix burials were recovered eroding along the waterfront,
three between Ops 1 and 33 (Burials 12, 25, 28) and three between Ops 33 and
34 (Burials 21, 22, 34). In addition, two interments (Burials 36, 37) were discovered about 15 m inland during the excavation of 2A-Sub 4 (H. S. Carr field
notes 1981). These were encountered in the plaza in front of an early version
of 2A-Sub 4 and may have been anchoring ancestors for that building. Only
two Tulix burials were excavated outside the village, and both of these were
discovered near the main canal. Burial 27 was recovered 250 m east of Plaza
2A in Structure 112A near the eastern mouth of the main canal. Burial 31 was
discovered in Structure 98A, on the western portion of the canal. No Tulix
burials were recovered in the site core or elsewhere in the settlement zone.
Although it is possible more burials lay undiscovered under Plaza 2A or in
the dispersed settlement, systematic sampling failed to find them (Scarborough 1991). What may have skewed the data is coastal erosion, as excavators
recovered a substantial percentage of the burials visibly eroding along the
seawall. It is clear, nonetheless, that Tulix Phase residents preferred to be
buried near the water. This is not uncommon for coastal sites in the region.
Raymond Sidrys (1983:175183), for example, reported the same phenomenon at nearby Sarteneja, but the 12 burials excavated along the shoreline
there dated to the Postclassic era. There may be a cosmological explanation
for this practice centered on the liminal waterfront context, between dry land
and the watery underworld, but it is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Directly across Corozal Bay, at Santa Rita Corozal, in contrast, Preclassic
burials were found well inland from the modern waterfront (D. Chase and
A. Chase 2006; Reese-Taylor Chapter 2).

Inside and Outside Structures


At a smaller scale, burial patterning in Op 1 revealed a clear preference for interment outside Structure 2A-Sub 1, with 9 of 14 burials clustered in the northeast portion of the excavation outside the approximate building perimeter.
Figure 3.3 is a composite image of all burials interred during four renovations,
with only 2A-Sub 1-3rd illustrated as a reference. Burials that appear to be
inside this structure were interred after the residence was moved farther in60

Debra S. Walker

land (Cliff 1982:267 Fig. 41). They were deposited to the northwest of the latest
renovation, 2A-Sub 1-1st, possibly within living memory of the prior location.
Thus, all 14 burials were interred outside but near an occupied residence. This
is consistent with the pattern at Santa Rita Corozal, where Late Preclassic
burials were often set some distance apart from their building platforms (D.
Chase and A. Chase 2006:91).
In contrast, burial patterning in Op 33 documented a preference for interment inside Structure 2A-Sub 3, a building that remained in the same general
location through multiple renovations. Seven individuals were interred in four
sequential graves buried in a quadripartite arrangement inside 2A-Sub 3-4th.
At least some time passed between each of these interments, but all likely occurred within a single generation because they all were deposited below the
same floor (Floor 1A-3-5), each covered by a plaster patch (Cliff 1982:328). The
composite view (Figure 3.3) also illustrates the position of a subsequent interment outside the building in the adjoining plaza (Burial 23), which was on the
presumed centerline of the last renovation, 2A-Sub 3-1st. This later renovation
had a cut block masonry platform with outset stair, a singular find in the waterfront village.

Burial Position
Besides choosing the waterfront as a burying ground, Tulix Phase residents
made choices about how the dead were oriented for interment. Despite coastal
erosion and the tropical climate, human bone preservation was sufficient to
determine about 80 percent of 32 body positions. These included 11 seated,
seven disarticulated, six flexed, and one extended burial. Seven more were too
fragmentary to classify (Table 3.1). The most common primary burial position
identified was seated cross-legged (n=10). Flexed and disarticulated or secondary interments comprised the balance. There were no extended burials in the
waterfront village. The sole Tulix Phase example, Burial 31, was interred in a
cist in Structure 98A (Figure 3.1) near the western canal.

Container Burials
Seated burials are considered in more detail below, but another type of interment, the container burial, also deserves some discussion. Container burials
are defined here as discrete interments in which the human remains were deposited primarily within pottery vessels. The use of ceramics to hold human
remains is not new in the literature, yet this cluster of very similar burials at
a unique structure requires more explanation. Cerro Maya container burials
Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

61

Table 3.1. Cerro Maya Late Preclassic burials


Associated
Structure

Provenience

2A-Sub 1-3rd

Burial #

Burial Type

Age and Sex

Body Position

Item in Lap

Op 1a-08

Pit

Adult female

Seated cross-legged

SF-123

2A-Sub 1-3rd

Op 1a-24

Pit

Subadult 5 years

Seated cross-legged

SF-104 metate

2A-Sub 1-3rd

Op 1a-25

Pit

Adult male

Seated cross-legged

SF-112

2A-Sub 1-1st

Op 9a-5

Pit

Adult

Indeterminate

2A-Sub 1-3rd

Op 1a-33

Pit

Subadult 8 years

Seated cross-legged

SF-113

2A-Sub 1-3rd

Op 1a-13

Pit

Adult female?

Supine with legs flexed


to left

SF-115 between legs

2A-Sub 1

Op 24a-1

Pit

Adult

Seated cross-legged

too eroded

10

2A-Sub 1-1st

Op 1 j-L-3

Container

Subadult infant

Disarticulated

11

2A-Sub 1-1st

Op 1 j-L-3

Pit

Subadult 23 years

Seated cross-legged

12

2A-Sub 11

Op 26a-1

Pit

Indeterminate

Seated

13

2A-Sub 3-4th-D

Op 28a-2

Container with 14 Subadult 23 years

Tightly flexed inside

14

2A-Sub 3-4th-D

Op 28a-2

Container with 13 Adult male

Disarticulated long bones


only

15

2A-Sub 1-4th

Op 1b-13

Pit

Adult male

Seated cross-legged

SF-507

16

2A-Sub 1-2nd

Op 1c-4

Pit with cenotaph

Adult

Seated cross-legged

SF-4033 mud turtle


carapace; SF-4034
obsidian blade fragment

SF-334

17

2A-Sub 3-4th-B

Op 30a-1

Container with 19 Subadult infant

Disarticulated

19

2A-Sub 3-4th-B

Op 30a-1

Container with 17 Subadult 6 years

Disarticulated

20

2A-Sub 3-4th-C

Op 30a-4

Container with 30 Subadult 23 years

Tightly flexed inside

21

2A-Sub 8

Op 31a

Pit

Indeterminate

22

2A-Sub 5-2nd

Op 32a-1

Cist partly capped Adult

Seated cross-legged

SF-503

23

2A-Sub 3-1st-A

Op 33a-2

Cist at base of
chultun

Adult

Seated cross-legged

SF-755

24

2A-Sub 1-1st

Op 1j-18

Cist

Adult

Semiflexed

25

2A-Sub 11-9th-C

Op 38a-5

Pit

Subadult 56 years

Tightly flexed underneath


vessel

26

2A-Sub 3-4th-A

Op 33a-112

Container

Subadult neonate

Disarticulated

27

Str. 112A

Op 117a-9

Pit

Adult

Semi flexed

28

2A-Sub 11-4th-D

Op 38a-33

Pit

Subadult neonate

Disarticulated

30

2A-Sub 3-4th-C

Op 30a-4

Container with 20 Subadult 8 years

Disarticulated

31

Str. 98A

Op 141a-2/3

Cist

Adult

Extended fragmentary

32

2A-Sub 1-3rd

Surf-002

Pit

Indeterminate

Indeterminate

33

2A-Sub 1-1st

Surf-041/2

Pit

Indeterminate

Indeterminate

34

2A-Sub 5

Op 34a-172

Pit

Indeterminate

Indeterminate

36

2A-Sub 4

Op 41z-21/23/26 Pit

Adult

Extended fragmentary

37

2A-Sub 4

Op 41z-21/23/26 Pit with 36

Indeterminate

Indeterminate

Adult

were comprised of the tightly flexed or disarticulated remains of infants and


children buried singly or in pairs within large vessels covered by an inverted
bowl fragment smashed in place as a lid. Grave goods associated with container
burials were restricted to the pottery vessels themselves and food remains and
food-processing equipment such as manos. No other durable grave goods were
discovered in container burials. Tulix Phase lacks a funerary subcomplex; the
same pottery used in cooking and serving contexts was deposited with human
remains.
Structure 2A-Sub 3-4th was built of perishable materials, but it had a plaster
floor and palisaded enclosure, effectively walling it off from public access (Cliff
1982:328). Four container burials were placed in a rough cruciform pattern near
the center, probably sequentially during a single generation. Each interment was
covered by a plaster patch that resealed the floor, but no other building modifications were noted. The first burial apparently dedicated the completely new
building after a series of windstorms battered the coastline, leaving sand lenses
in the eroded seawall profile. This structure does not seem to have been used as
a residence. It may have functioned as an early ancestor shrine or bundle house
(Acua 2013), similar to the multiple-use masonry burial chambers that were
built beginning in the Terminal Preclassic period (Reese-Taylor and Walker
2002) at sites such as Nohmul in northern Belize (Anderson and Cook 1944;
Pring 2000) and Holmul in Petn, Guatemala (Callaghan 2008, 2013; Merwin
and Vaillant 1932). A large patio to the west of 2A-Sub 3 provided a likely venue
for public ritual associated with ancestor veneration, such as a festival involving
food and beverages, the remains of which were interred within the container
burials themselves.
The first interment was double Burial 13/14, which illustrates the organization of container burials (Figure 3.4). Burial 13 consisted of the remains of a
two-to-three-year-old child tightly flexed within a large Cabro Red: Groove Incised bucket (SF-515). Fill within the bucket included food remains such as reef
and lagoon fish, shell, mammal bone, and charcoal (H. S. Carr 1986a:359). Situated next to the infant inside the bucket was a Tuk Red-on-red Trickle drinking vase (SF-519) with a graffito. The graffito was a cross within a circle with
multiple lines radiating from it. Similar quadripartite images appeared in Late
to Terminal Preclassic burial contexts at Kaxob (McAnany et al. 1999:137 Fig.
8, 139140) and Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase and A. Chase 2006:96), where
they were linked to representations of lineal descent groups and household
ownership. Burial 13 was capped with a large Cabro Red: Composite platter
(SF-1964) inverted over the bucket and then smashed in place. Burial 14 consisted of the eroded long bones of an adult placed in a cross pattern on top
of the smashed lid (Cliff 1982:331 Fig. 60). These likely constitute the curated
64

Debra S. Walker

Figure 3.4. Double container Burial 13/14 from Structure 2A-Sub 3-4th: (a) SF-1964 Cabro Red:
Groove Incised bowl inverted and smashed as lid (photograph by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History); (b) SF-519 Tuk Red-on-red Trickle drinking vase found
tipped over inside bucket with burial (photograph by Debra Walker, courtesy of Florida Museum of
Natural History) and decorated with graffito highlighted in inset (illustration by Lucas Martindale
Johnson); (c) view inside bucket with Burial 13, showing a two-to-three-year-old child, adjacent to
SF-519 (after Cliff 1982:331); (d) SF-515 Cabro Red: Groove Incised bucket containing remains (photograph by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History). Not illustrated, Burial 14 consisted of secondary burial of adult limb bone fragments found crossed on top
of upended lid, probably representing the curated remains of a revered ancestor.

remains of a revered ancestor associated with the same lineage. The crossed
long bones, through partibility, probably represented the entire body of an
anchoring ancestor and permitted the living to engage with and venerate their
ancestors (Gellar 2014:16).
The vertical stack of two sets of remains, one an heirloom, marked the approximate medial axis of 2A-Sub 3-4th. It was followed by container Burial
20/30 immediately to the west. Burial 20 was the primary interment of a flexed
infant held in a bucket (SF-508), and Burial 30 comprised the secondary remains of an eight-year-old found in surrounding pit fill (Cliff 1982:333). In the
subsequent Burial 17/19 to the north, the disarticulated remains of an infant
and a six-year-old were found together within a vessel (SF-516) in a complex
deposit that may have been left open for an extended time (Cliff 1982:337).
To the south, Burial 26 consisted of a newborn interred in a large carinated
restricted bowl (SF-1363; Cliff 1982:341 Fig. 64). Together, the four container
burials formed a cruciform shape, with northsouth and eastwest directional
association when viewed from above.
Another container burial was discovered in the waterfront village, interred east of the bundle house, in Op 1, adjacent to structure 2A-Sub 1-1st.
Burial 10 consisted of the disarticulated remains of an infant held in a bucket
(SF-287). Like other container burials, it lacked grave goods but contained a
substantial range of foods. Sorayya Carr (1986a:465467) reported that this
and similar deposits typically included Marginella shells, blue crab, shark,
bonefish, catfish, pompano, mullet, yellowfin tuna, mojarra (chihua or xihua
in Maya; Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11), barracuda, parrotfish, surgeonfish, and
mammal bone.
In sum, five container burials held the remains of seven infants and children
and the crossed curated long bones of an adult. The containers themselves were
wholly reconstructable, although none were found entirely complete. Four of
the interments had lids, all inverted, smashed in place, and fragmentary. Three
double burials also contained small jars or vases probably used to hold food
or beverage offerings. Food remains were discovered within the container or
in the pit surrounding it. Sorayya Carr (1986a:361) noted it is difficult to tell
whether food remains found in burials stem from ritual meals or the use of
midden as fill. A ritual meal seems more likely, because food remains were
not as extensive in nearby noncontainer burials, nor were they so densely concentrated elsewhere as inside the pottery vessels accompanying the dead. This
is particularly obvious in the case of the anchoring burial for 2A-Sub 3-4th,
Burial 13. As Carr noted, it was tightly packed with food remains (1986a:651n1).
The four container burials that formed a cross pattern in Structure 2A-Sub
3-4th reflect a series of events repeated within living memory of most partici66

Debra S. Walker

pants. The combination of unique circumstances and consistent burial furniture suggests a mortuary practice perhaps associated with calendared public
events. After the children died, they may have been bundled for burial and
then curated in the bundle house until an appropriate time for interment.
Structure 2A-Sub 3-4th clearly had a ritual rather than residential function,
a role that may have continued throughout the Tulix Phase, for it was later
refurbished and rededicated, becoming the only masonry structure, complete
with an outset staircase, in the waterfront village (Cliff 1982:353 Fig. 71).

Burials Seated in the Cross-Legged Position


About 15 m east of 2A-Sub 3, excavators located 2A-Sub 1, a presumed elite
residence and significant burying ground. Interments in Op 1 were found in
two coastal clusters, one to the northeast, the other to the more eroded northwest corner (Figure 3.3). One additional interment, Burial 9, was discovered
eroding out of the seawall 8 m east of the Op 1 pit line. Its connection with 2ASub 1 is tenuous. Eight of 14 interments associated with 2A-Sub 1 were found
seated cross-legged (Figure 3.3 in bold). Of the rest, two were flexed, three were
indeterminate due to erosion, and one was container Burial 10. Two crosslegged burials were discovered farther west. Burial 23 was interred in a cist in
front of 2A-Sub 3 (Op 33), and Burial 22 was encountered during excavation of
the dock (Op 34). The ten cross-legged burials were probably bundled before
interment as several researchers have suggested (Bachand and Bachand 2005;
Buttles 2002; Guernsey 2012; Headrick 1999; McAnany 1995, 2004; McAnany
et al. 1999).
Another unique aspect of these cross-legged burials is that nine of ten were
interred with an object held in the lap (Table 3.1), possibly placed inside when
the bundle was created. The tenth cross-legged interment, Burial 9, was quite
eroded. If any grave goods had been interred with the body, they were not
recovered in the salvage excavation. In seven of the cross-legged burials, individuals held a serving vessel in the lap. The five-year-old in Burial 2, however,
held a mano (SF-012) and metate fragment (SF-104), objects that were too large
and heavy to have been part of a bundle (Duffy Chapter 14, Figure 14.3); however, two drinking vessels found below them in the crook of the left leg may
have been included within the original bundle (SF-027, SF-029). SF-029 was
sampled for residue analysis by Lisa Duffy, and preliminary results suggest it
held a cacao-based beverage (Duffy and Walker 2014). Burial 16 was interred
with a smashed mud turtle carapace (SF-4033) and obsidian blade (SF-4034)
in the lap, objects perhaps used in bloodletting rites. Although the grave itself
lacked pottery, a cenotaph placed adjacent to it (Feature 1A-8) held five vessels,
Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

67

Figure 3.5. Cross-legged Burial 15 found near Structure 2A-Sub 1-4th; this individual was probably
an anchoring ancestor for the lineage that controlled the Cerro Maya port: (a) SF-484 Richardson
Peak Unslipped small ovoid jar; (b) SF-489 Hukup Dull small jar with broken neck; (c) SF-499 Pahote
Punctated small carinated jar; (d) SF-507 Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Chiculte Variety widemouthed
jar (photographs ad by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History);
(e) Burial 15 and grave goods in situ (after Cliff 1982:238); (f) Burial 15, an adult, probably male, with
occipital flattening on skull, seated cross-legged with SF-507 in lap, other vessels stacked nearby
(CROC Archive photograph courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History).

a chert biface pick (SF-395), two Oliva shell tinklers (SF-512AB), and a bone
whistle (SF-524; Cliff 1982:260265).
The earliest cross-legged burial to be interred at Cerro Maya was Burial 15
(Figure 3.5). The individual was identified as a middle-aged adult, probably
male, exhibiting evidence of occipital flattening on the skull (Butler 1979). This
is consistent with an ascribed status elite, making Burial 15 a likely candidate
for an anchoring ancestor for the lineage. As in most cross-legged burials, the
skull had fallen forward from its original position, perhaps indicating that it
68

Debra S. Walker

was not encased in the cloth bundle at interment, evidence that the head may
have been removed before bundling and curated, perhaps masked, for separate
display. A small Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Chiculte drinking vessel (SF-507)
was situated in the lap under the fallen skull, and three other vessels were
stacked nearby. Other grave goods included a hammerstone (SF-407), perforator (SF-426), and net weight used on a fish net (Garber 1989:78 Figure 27b).
Another cross-legged example is Burial 1, a middle-aged female. Her grave
was disrupted during the subsequent deposition of Burial 8, a young adult,
probably female, who was interred with legs flexed to the side (Figure 3.6).
Both individuals had a drinking vessel in direct association. In Burial 1, a small
Pahote Punctated jar was found in her lap (SF-122), and in Burial 8, a Cabro
Red collared jar (SF-115) was upended and placed between flexed legs (Cliff
1982:243). Grave goods associated with Burial 1 included a necklace of jade,
coral, and shell beads (SF-013, SF-071A-G). In addition, a Pahote Punctated:
Zoned Groove Incised jar (SF-123) had partly eroded along the seawall. Originally it had been filled with Colha-like honey brown secondary chert debitage.
As cortex flakes were absent, these may have been produced from blanks or
reworked tools shipped to Cerro Maya in canoes (Chiarulli Chapter 12). Several Colha-like honey brown chert tools (SF-024, SF-028, SF-108, SF-109, SF118) and a black chert core (CM1-05611) discovered in the joint grave may have
been from Burial 1 originally (Cliff 1982:249). The young adult in Burial 8 was
interred with a second vessel, a Matamore Dichrome: Modeled Variety widemouthed jar (SF-037), which was filled with crystalline salt. Both jars found
in Burial 8 (SF-037, SF-115) were equipped with lids made from pottery sherds
(SF-041, SF-078), and an inverted and smashed Chactoc Red and Buff plate
(SF-110) served as a lid for the grave.
Cross-legged Burial 23, from Op 33, was a cist burial deposited in an abandoned chultun in the plaza 6 m west of 2A-Sub 3-1st (Figure 3.7). It is one of
the latest Tulix burials, associated with the final masonry building platform of
2A-Sub 3. A young adult of indeterminate sex was found seated cross-legged
atop broken segments of a Society Hall Red basin (SF-897). The basin had
been shattered and was incomplete. The deceased cradled a Savannah Bank
Usulutan: Composite bowl (SF-755). Tipped over sideways nearby was a Tuk
Red-on-red Trickle collared jar (SF-954), probably a personal drinking vessel.
The cist did not have a ceramic lid, although it was capped with flat laid limestone blocks before the chultun was filled. Grave goods associated with Burial
23 included a ceramic whistle (SF-694) and an oval biface (SF-712). A flake
struck from the oval biface was discovered near the bowl, indicative of a ritual
action during interment, analogous to knocking out a kill hole in a vessel base.
The tip of an antler tine (SF-695) found near the same bowl implied the antler
Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

69

Figure 3.6. Cross-legged Burial 1 with associated Burial 8 found outside of Structure 2A-Sub 1-3rd: (a)
SF-110 Chactoc Red and Buff bowl inverted and smashed as lid; (b) SF-108 stemmed macroblade found
inside SF-037; (c) SF-109 straight perforator; (d) SF-078 sherd lid; (e) SF-037 Matamore Dichrome: Modeled
Variety widemouthed jar found filled with salt crystals; (f ) SF-041 sherd lid; (g) SF-115 Cabro Red collared
jar inverted and placed between legs of Burial 8; (h) SF-122 Pahote Punctated: Groove Incised carinated
jar found smashed in lap of Burial 1; (i) SF-123 Pahote Punctated: Zoned Groove Incised jar with unique
zig-zag design on neck found eroding from seawall but still holding secondary chert chipping debris;
(j) SF-120 bone ear flare; (k) Burial 1, an adult female, seated cross-legged (after Cliff 1982:246). Not illustrated, Burial 8, young adult, probably female, interred flexed but hidden under SF-110, and necklace
of shell and coral beads associated with Burial 1. (Photographs a, h, and i by Lucas Martindale Johnson,
courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History; photographs bg by Debra Walker, courtesy of NICH,
Belmopan, Belize.)

tool may have been used to strike the flake off before it, too, was broken and
placed in the grave (Cliff 1982:366). The only example of chert working during
burial rites at Cerro Maya, it may relate to the profession of the deceased.

Container and Cross-Legged Comparison


Cross-legged burials at Cerro Maya can be distinguished from container burials in several ways. First, most container burials were deposited inside one
building, but most cross-legged burials were interred in open spaces outside
buildings. Second, all cross-legged burials were single, while some container
graves were doubled. Third, most container burials held the flexed and dis70

Debra S. Walker

Figure 3.7. Cross-legged Burial 23, a young adult, found in plaza in front of 2A-Sub 3-1st (after Cliff
1982:367). Grave goods include: (a) SF-694 ceramic whistle; (b) SF-695 antler tine tool tip; (c) SF954 Tuk Red-on-red Trickle widemouthed jar tipped over north of body; (d) SF-755 Savannah Bank
Usulutan: Composite bowl held in lap; (e) SF-897 Society Hall Red bowl fragments found under remains; (f ) SF-712 biface celt north of skull; (g) flake from SF-712. (Photographs by Lucas Martindale
Johnson, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)

articulated remains of infants and children, yet all ages and both sexes were
represented in cross-legged graves. Fourth, the only grave goods associated
with container burials were pottery vessels, food preparation equipment, and
food remains. In contrast, the deceased in cross-legged burials were interred
with valuable commodities produced or traded at Cerro Maya, including jade,
shell, Colha-like chert, obsidian, and salt.

Cross-Legged Regional Comparison


A preponderance of seated burials is uncommon in northern Belize. During
the Middle Preclassic, extended burials predominated south of Chetumal Bay.
In the Late Preclassic, seated, flexed, and disarticulated interments became
more common, yet extended burials remained in use (McAnany et al. 1999:136
Tbl. 2; Obledo 2011:547548; Robin 1989:55 Tbl. 10). Patricia McAnany has
Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

71

argued that the shift to seated (bundled) burials in the Late Preclassic can be
associated with the rise of inequality at Kaxob. She further suggested that important family members were bundled for display after death, then interred in
new construction where they embodied revered ancestors who secured continued landholding rights for the lineage (McAnany et al. 1999:133).
In actuality, Late Preclassic burial orientation seems quite variable around
Chetumal Bay (Figure 3.8). Cerro Maya waterfront village residents favored
the seated position, yet across Corozal Bay at Santa Rita Corozal, flexed burials predominated throughout the Middle and Late Preclassic (D. Chase and A.
Chase 2006; Reese-Taylor Chapter 2). Burial patterns at Kaxob, Cuello, and
Colha show a mix of orientations in the Late Preclassic. In contrast, extended
burials predominated in the small Late Preclassic sample (n=8) reported from
Lamanai (Powis 2002). No seated burials were encountered at either Santa Rita
Corozal or Lamanai (Arlen Chase personal communication 2014; David Pendergast personal communication 2014), despite the fact that Lamanai residents
constructed a massive Late Preclassic pyramid (N10-43) clearly associated with
social complexity and the control of substantial amounts of surplus labor. Although the absence of seated burials at Santa Rita Corozal and Lamanai could

Figure 3.8. Percentage of Late Preclassic burial positions from selected sites in northern Belize.
Burials with unknown orientation are included in sample counts but omitted from this graph; thus,
the percentages do not reach 100 percent.
72

Debra S. Walker

be related to sample bias, it is also possible that this variation in mortuary practices reflected variation in cultural affiliation. In addition, the theory of elder
ancestor veneration is difficult to verify at Cerro Maya because cross-legged
bundles included both sexes and all ages, from toddler (Burial 11 is probably
cross-legged) and child (Burial 5 is clearly cross-legged) to mature adult (Table
3.1). An alternative hypothesis, once again, might be variability in social custom, implying cultural heterogeneity existed on Chetumal Bay during the Late
Preclassic period.

Grave Goods and Economic Industries


Grave goods associated with Tulix Phase burials likely reflect the surplus generated by a thriving trade economy. For example, recent analysis of the distribution of Ciego Composite: Chamah Variety bowls suggests that salt was
produced in sufficient quantities at Cerro Maya for sale in the port (Robertson
Chapter 7; Robertson and Walker 2015). Interring a jar of salt crystals with
Burial 8 made a statement about both the importance of salt and the surplus
capacity to bury a substantial quantity of this necessary mineral. Perishable
commodities traded in the port are more difficult to identify archaeologically, a
topic Lisa Duffy is currently exploring (Duffy and Walker 2014; Duffy Chapter
14). Foodstuffs likely traded at Cerro Maya included salted fish, smoked meat,
tree crops such as cacao, achiote, vanilla, nance, and other fruits, as well as
honey, wax, and fermented beverages (H. S. Carr 1986a; Crane 1986).
Durable goods found in mortuary contexts are easier to track, including
Colha-like chert tools. Colha chert circulated throughout northern Belize in
the Late Preclassic and probably moved farther north into Mexico by canoe
(Chiarulli Chapter 12). The chert debitage and tools found in Burial 1, as well
as the evidence for chert working at the graveside of Burial 23, suggest that local flint knappers may have been attached to the port, charged with finishing
blanks or resharpening dulled adzes, macroblade knives, and oval bifaces for
traders and local milperos.
Although chert was traded shorter distances within and around Chetumal
Bay, there is evidence for a well-established long-distance trade network in
the grave goods. The single obsidian blade reported from Burial 16, for example, probably originated at El Chayal in the Guatemalan highlands (Chiarulli
Chapter 12; Glasscock 1996; Nelson 1985). In addition, jade jewelry is present
in Burial 1. Though infrequent in caches and burials at Cerro Maya, jade debris was found in concentration on the dock, implying a storage facility once
existed there (Robertson and Walker 2015). The Cerro Maya jade has not been
sourced, but clearly stems from the Central American highlands. A vibrant
Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

73

Late to Terminal Preclassic marine shell jewelry industry is documented in


Burial 1 and elsewhere, at least some of which originated in the Pacific Ocean
(Aizpura 2004; Garber 1989; Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11). In sum, the concentration of well-appointed cross-legged burials near 2A-Sub 1 supports the interpretation of an elite family residence, probably for the kin group that controlled production and exchange of these commodities on the dock.

Discussion
The Cerro Maya waterfront burying ground has little parallel on Chetumal Bay
or its feeder networks, although further work is needed on the northern side
of the bay. The well-appointed cross-legged burials at 2A-Sub 1 reflect a concentration of wealth associated with lineage control of the port facility. Besides
initial construction costs, dock maintenance and port management required
constant oversight to control the flow of goods and traders in and out of the
port. Living on the waterfront was the best way to oversee the entire process.
Literally surrounding the outside of 2A-Sub 1 with revered ancestors who once
controlled the port, then, may have given lineage heirs authority to control the
waterfront going forward.
If the family group controlling the port resided at 2A-Sub 1, how might 2ASub 3 have functioned? Perhaps it was a bundle house or ancestor shrine used
to display ancestor bundles temporarily before interment. If this is the case,
the bundle house may have been dedicated originally with container Burial
13/14, combining a child burial with the curated long bones of a lineage ancestor, which were laid out in a cross pattern to mark the buildings central axis.
Burial 15, the earliest cross-legged (bundle) burial discovered at Cerro Maya, is
roughly contemporary with this interment (Cliff 1982:446 Fig. 100). The ancestor shrine may have been built specifically to display this first ancestral bundle.
After being on display, Burial 15 was interred outside 2A-Sub 1, thus dedicating the outside burying ground of the lineage. Over the next generation, other
container burials were interred at 2A-Sub 3 in a cruciform pattern, probably in
the context of calendared public events involving ritual eating and drinking.
Thus, ancestors were first revered inside the shrine, then later interred outside
the residence, embodying lineage control of the waterfront at both locales.
Unlike the Kaxob evidence, Cerro Mayas cross-legged burials included not
just anchoring ancestors but all ages and both sexes. As mortuary practices
tend to be conservative, this suggests they brought the tradition of bundling
the dead with them when they established Cerro Maya between 200 and 150
BCE. In tandem with the extended burial tradition noted in northern Belize
and the flexed burial pattern found at Santa Rita Corozal, this suggests cul74

Debra S. Walker

tural heterogeneity was present on Chetumal Bay at that time. Information on


Preclassic burials to the north is poorly known, but future investigations there
could improve our understanding of this seemingly complex pattern.
Recent revisions to the Terminal Preclassic Tulix Phase ceramic complex
(Robertson Chapter 7) revealed strong ties to the double-slipped (Cabro Red)
ceramic tradition more common to Yucatn, including Quintana Roo, and
rarely identified in northern Belize. It may be that Cerro Mayas unique mortuary practices stem from the same cultural connection to Quintana Roo. Traders from the massive Late Preclassic site of Ichkabal, for example, who likely
controlled Oxtankah and its contemporary port on Isla Tamalcab (Reese-Taylor Chapter 2), may have chosen to found a port facility on the south side of
the bay to gain control over the lucrative canoe trade from river systems on
the interior. A vibrant Late to Terminal Preclassic era is already in evidence at
Ichkabal (Sandra Balanzario personal communication 2013), although comparative burial information has not yet been reported. If Cerro Mayas original
settlers were culturally distinct from Santa Rita Corozal residents, who had
lived across the bay for at least 400 years, then establishing Cerro Maya may
have been a competitive strategic maneuver. Claiming the waterfront and constructing a substantial masonry dock, these settlers invested in a successful
port facility and lived out their lives on the waterfront; some also spent their
afterlives there, embodying their lineage as revered ancestors. By the Early
Classic, the port at Cerro Maya had ceased to function, and Santa Rita Corozal gained the upper hand. Either by alliance or conquest, Santa Rita Corozal
probably rose to power on Chetumal Bay by affiliation with a related Early
Classic powerhouse to the north, Dzibanch, a topic to be addressed in the
next chapter.

Note
1. http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cerros. Artifact curation and website preparation were supported by National Endowment for the Humanities Grant #PW-51116-12, a University of
Florida Faculty Enhancement Grant (20112012), and the Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville.

Life and Afterlife at Cerro Maya, Belize

75

4
Noh Kah
An Archaeological Site in Extreme Southeastern Quintana Roo

J AV I E R L P E Z C A M A C H O , A R A C E L I V ZQ U E Z V I L L E G A S ,
AND LUIS A. TORRES DAZ

During the 1970s, Peter Harrison identified a very peculiar pattern in the
spatial organization of archaeological sites located in a broad zone that corresponded to the province of Uaymil in pre-Columbian times. These sites
do not have a single monumental core as is common in Petn sites; rather,
they have multiple monumental cores arranged in clusters across a more dispersed landscape. Despite apparent differences between settlement patterns
in Petn and Uaymil, research documents that both regions have comparable
demographic densities when considered within their respective landscapes
(Harrison 1981).
When work began at Dzibanch and Kinichn in the 1990s, the same pattern
was recognized. Subsequent research has documented other clustered settlement cores, and most proved to be contemporary, dating to the Early Classic.
Research suggests that different nodes in the dispersed clustered settlement
pattern played complementary roles in population management by integrating urban and rural landscapes (Nalda and Campaa 1998). More recently, the
Instituto Nacional de Antropologa e Historia (INAH), Quintana Roo, and
the Escuela Nacional de Antropologa e Historia (ENAH) have partnered to
compile new regional maps as part of their archaeological site inventory of
southeastern Quintana Roo. During this process, they located similar settlement patterns near Dzibanch. These new dispersed clustered centers include
El Resbaln (Tsukamoto 2005), Pol Box (Prez and Esparza 2008), and Nicols
Bravo (Lpez Camacho 2010), among others (Figure 4.1).
Recent research at the archaeological site of Noh Kah, located near the Rio

Figure 4.1. Map of sites in southeastern Quintana Roo mentioned in text. (Illustration by Luis A.
Torres.)

Hondo, identified similar structure clusters. This chapter reports on the structural groups that comprise Noh Kah, focusing on its Early Classic occupation
and how the groups interrelate. The Noh Kah settlement cluster is then compared to contemporary sites that share similar patterns. Finally, a hypothesis
that explains observed regional regularities will be proposed.
Noh Kah: An Archaeological Site in Southeastern Quintana Roo

77

Description of the Settlement System at Noh Kah


Noh Kah is located within the ejido of Botes-Rovirosa, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
It lies on a hilly ridge, today overlooking lowland sugarcane plantations. Noh
Kah probably once governed a vast territory, although to date there is not a
single carved monument reported, stelae or altar, that can confirm this hierarchy in writing. We will have to wait for new finds in future excavations.
The settlement system at Noh Kah is typical of southern Quintana Roo, with
a continuous landscape of residential structures spread over a broad area. It is
dotted with widely separated clusters of monumental structures, referred to as
groups here. Groups are comprised of structure complexes that form plazas
and/or patios, mostly located on and around hilltops. To date we have mapped
six such groups, but here we focus on the four that best illustrate the dispersed
settlement system, dubbed El Pich, El Corozal, El Pocito, and El Veinte. We will
touch briefly on the other two, El Paredn and Hop Na.

El Pich
El Pich is located on a ridge at the eastern edge of the bajo. It has seen the most
work to date and has the most monumental architecture of the groups studied.
El Pich residents modified a large hilltop plaza, around which building groups
were constructed. Structures are arranged around the plaza so that they provide access to it from all directions while simultaneously defining the rough
northsouth axis (Figure 4.2).
The North Complex is the largest at El Pich. The map clearly reveals that
the higher northern platform was a hill modification. To the south, a series
of terraces were constructed that provide access to the hilltop plaza. A central pyramid of note is 8 m high. The South Complex is formed by a series
of structures laid out on a northsouth axis around and atop an elongated
hill, whose modified slopes exhibit a rectangular shape. This architectural
arrangement constitutes an acropolis, since it functions to restrict public access on ascent as described by George Andrews (1977). The acropolis was
arranged around a central high structure that divides the complex in two. To
the north there are three levels, and to the south there are two. Just southeast of the main plaza lies a rectangular pyramidal structure that rises 9.6 m
above the plaza. The East Complex comprises the largest structure at El Pich,
measuring 100 m on its main northsouth axis, oriented 8 east of north,
similar to the orientation of structures on the west side. This construction
rises 20 m above the plaza level, with edges sloping down to 15 m to the
south end and 10 m to the north. The West Complex sits across the main
plaza, measuring 50 m long and 11 m high. A few steps of a Terminal Classic
78

Javier Lpez Camacho, Araceli Vzquez Villegas, and Luis A. Torres Daz

Figure 4.2. El Pich Architectural Group. (Illustration by Araceli Vzquez.)

stairway addition remain in place, made of slabs set vertically on the stair.
The north and south ends of this structure provide ample access to the main
plaza.

El Corozal
El Corozal is situated on the west bank of the same bajo 2 km west of El Pich,
in a well-drained plain dominated by corozo palms, generally associated with
very fertile soils. This group consists of two complexes connected by a causeway that tracks the topography (Figure 4.3). The South Complex was conNoh Kah: An Archaeological Site in Southeastern Quintana Roo

79

Figure 4.3. El Corozal Architectural Group. (Illustration by Araceli Vzquez.)

structed on top of a modified hill, consisting of a patio surrounded by several


structures that limit access to the interior. The complex is dominated by a
central pyramid that rises 6.5 m above the patio. Located just west of center,
this structure also divides the main plaza in two. The pyramid is oriented to
the east, facing El Pich. The North Complex is comprised of a rectangular
plaza oriented eastwest. The only pyramid in this complex is situated on
the east end. At 7.9 m high, it dominates the plaza. A looters trench on the
south side of this pyramid exposed a Petn-style apron molding, dating this
structure to the Early Classic.
80

Javier Lpez Camacho, Araceli Vzquez Villegas, and Luis A. Torres Daz

Figure 4.4. El Pocito Architectural Group. (Illustration by Araceli Vzquez.)

El Pocito
El Pocito is located directly east of El Pich on what is essentially the next ridge.
The Central Complex at El Pocito has the largest cluster of buildings and occupies the highest point of the elongated hill (Figure 4.4). The plaza measures
45 m northsouth, providing ample space for public ritual for people living in
the residential clusters scattered around the hill. The west face of the plaza is
completely open, perhaps to facilitate communication with El Pich to the west.
Based on its shape, the structure situated to the north must have been a temple.
The eastern temple face provided visibility for communication with El Paredn
to the southeast. The large masonry blocks remaining from building collapse,
as well as the absence of a Rio Becstyle mosaic veneer, date this temple to the
Early Classic. At the North Complex, in contrast, a looters trench revealed a Rio
Becstyle mosaic veneer, which would date usage of this part of the hill to the
Noh Kah: An Archaeological Site in Southeastern Quintana Roo

81

Late Classic. The majority of residential units lining the foothills of the North
Complex probably date to the Late Classic as well, as they are situated at about
the same elevation as the Central Complex plaza.

El Paredn
El Paredn is located immediately southeast of El Pocito on the next ridge
line. It is comprised of two complexes oriented in a northsouth relationship,
connected by a corridor that provides a single point of access (Figure 4.5). The
South Complex sits on a rectangular plateau oriented to the east. The architecture follows the landscape at about the same elevation. These structures are organized around three open spaces, with the largest cluster situated to the north.
On the back facade of one of these buildings is a Rio Becstyle mosaic veneer.
The east, west, and south sides are steeply sloped as if fortified. In contrast, the
North Complex was set on the highest part of the plateau. Clusters of struc-

Figure 4.5. El Paredn Architectural Group. (Illustration by Araceli Vzquez.)


82

Javier Lpez Camacho, Araceli Vzquez Villegas, and Luis A. Torres Daz

tures ring the rising plateau from south to north, and the highest structure
dominated a patio arrangement. Unlike the orientation of the South Complex,
this architectural cluster is oriented more to the east.

El Veinte
El Veinte is comprised of two complexes located in the southern part of the
survey area due south of El Pich (Figure 4.6). The North Complex was placed
on and around an elongated hill that follows a general northsouth orientation. The lower portion of the south slope was terraced and modified for residential units. The hilltop itself may have provided a means for communication

Figure 4.6. El Veinte Architectural Group. (Illustration by Araceli Vzquez.)


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with El Pich, El Pocito, and El Paredn. A squared pyramidal structure 8 m


high is located in front of the southern end of this hill. The largest building in
this complex is 50 m long and 14 m high. It is oriented northsouth, generally
aligning with the elongated hill. The South Complex at El Veinte rests on a hill
approximately 32 m high, which is terraced on its east, west, and north slopes.
A patio divided this hill into three terraces caps this hill, with a squared pyramidal structure 6 m high crowning the north side. The natural elevation of the
hill gives this architectural complex a dominating appearance.

Hop Na
Hop Na is located on a hill southwest of El Pich (Figure 4.7). Based on the
orientation of its residential units, there are two sectors, one to the south oriented 4045 west of grid north, and one to the north oriented 510 west
of grid north. Hop Na is divided into five complexes, with the north cluster
exhibiting the tallest structures on the highest part of the hill. Apparently these
residences are not arranged around a common open area, but they can be associated based on their common directional orientation.

Figure 4.7. Hop Na Architectural Group. (Illustration by Araceli Vzquez.)


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Javier Lpez Camacho, Araceli Vzquez Villegas, and Luis A. Torres Daz

Relationship Between Noh Kah Groups


Considered separately, the Noh Kah groups do not seem to be related; however,
if they are plotted on a map, the orientation of some of their major structures
becomes significant. In addition, traces of a causeway linking El Corozal and
El Pich appear in aerial photographs (Figure 4.8), evidenced by a shading difference dividing the Noh Kah bajo into two sections. The shadow forms a line
that terminates at the center of each architectural group. In addition, the orientation of the line is similar to the bearing of the construction axes of most El
Pich structures. A path traced from south to north toward the aguada in the
Noh Kah bajo confirms the association between the south (higher) ridge and
corozo palm (Orbignya cohune) and guano kum (Crysophila argentea) habitat, while the presence of logwood (Haematoxylum campechianum) is associated with the lowest seasonally inundated bajo elevations to the north. The
observed alignment corresponds to the top of the slope toward the bajo; that is,
the causeway was built at the edge of the seasonally flooded terrain, providing

Figure 4.8. Settlement system at Noh Kah. (Illustration by Javier Lpez Camacho over an aerial
photograph courtesy of INEGI 1984.)
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85

year-round access between the two groups. Finally, templelike structures, one
in each group, face each other at a distance of 2 km, more evidence for a link
between the groups.
A similar long-distance structural association can be observed between the
major building alignments at El Pocito to the northeast and the pyramidal
structure that crowns the highest hill at El Veinte to the southwest. The relational bearing is 9 east of north, which is similar to the direction of the
probable causeway that links El Corozal and El Pich groups. This is also close
to the dominant orientation in these structure clusters, suggesting an overall
declination pattern for the Early Classic of 810 east of north.

Preliminary Chronology of Noh Kah


The ceramic sample from Noh Kah is limited to four stratigraphic test pits
excavated at the base and center of each of the monumental structures of El
Pich, El Corozal, El Veinte, and El Paredn. These were supplemented by a
few controlled surface collections recovered from survey at the same groups.
In general terms, ceramic analysis revealed an occupation that dated from
the Middle Preclassic through the Terminal Classic. Preclassic ceramics were
found only in preconstruction paleosols or in secondary contexts as construction fill of mainly Early Classic date. In contrast, Late and Terminal Classic
ceramics were found primarily in surface contexts. One test pit excavated at El
Paredn revealed a sealed floor dating to the Late to Terminal Classic. In the
remaining three test pits, the earliest floors were Early Classic.
The test pit at the base of the principal structure at El Pich revealed a sealed
Early Classic floor at the base, associated primarily with Aguila and Dos Arroyos group ceramics. Several successive floor renovations also dated to the
Early Classic. Although the test pitting program was limited, judging from
the scale of the plaza and its association with the surrounding structures, the
entire group can be dated to the Early Classic. Architectural elements exposed
by looting at the top of the principal structure correspond with Early Classic
Petn style. In contrast, ceramics recovered from fill covering this architecture
are largely Late Classic, including Tinaja and Infierno groups, with very few
Terminal Classic Thin Slates included, marking the latest occupation at the
group.
The test pit excavated at the base of the major structure of the North Complex at El Corozal yielded very few ceramics, yet it did reveal an Early Classic
floor as well as a small portion of a structure that retained fragments of an
apron molding. Surface collections from outside the mapped area at El Corozal
included some fragments of vases with straight flaring walls as well as basal
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flanges representing the Early Classic types Aguila Orange and Dos Arroyos
Orange Polychrome. Hence, two lines of evidence, ceramics and architecture
at El Corozal and El Pich, allow us to propose that Noh Kah was a functionally
integrated settlement by the Early Classic.
At El Veinte, an excavation unit was set in front of the largest structure,
where we encountered Early Classic ceramics below a sealed floor. In addition,
a large number of contemporary ceramics were recovered from the backdirt of
a looters trench associated with a pyramidal structure north of the principal
structure. These ceramics include Aguila, Balanza, and Dos Arroyos groups and
date to the Early Classic. In future research, we expect to find evidence of Early
Classic occupation in the structure located on the summit of the highest hill.
Ceramics recovered from prior looting events date primarily to the Early
Classic, although a substantial Late Classic occupation is also in evidence,
noted primarily in Tinaja (Red) and Infierno (Black) ceramic groups. Terminal Classic diagnostics were recovered, but in smaller quantities, mostly represented in Tinaja and Achote groups, as well as Muna and Ticul slates.
Even though the ceramic sample documents sustained occupation at Noh
Kah, the Early Classic period is the most interesting because of the series of political events that took place at Dzibanch and other sites in the region. Because
the regional settlement pattern noted between Dzibanch and Noh Kah seems
to originate in the Early Classic, contemporary with these unique regional political events, a discussion about how these two phenomena are linked follows.

Sites with Dispersed Groups in Southern Quintana Roo


Two characteristics of the dispersed settlement model proposed for Dzibanch
distinguish it from other sites: the relatively short distance between distinct
major architectural groups, and the fact that this short distance does not inhibit the development of large centers (Nalda and Campaa 1998). These two
characteristics are shared with sites near Dzibanch as well (Figure 4.1). El
Resbaln is located 12 km north of Dzibanch. One of its groups, El Castillo,
is situated half a kilometer to the south at the end of the settlement. Its major
structure faces north toward the Principal Group, where the major structures
are concentrated. Similarly, Xaman Group is oriented half a kilometer north
of the Principal Group, and to the northwest lies La Iglesia group. In addition,
the axis between El Castillo and La Iglesia intersects the Principal Group at a
declination of 24 south of the eastwest axis. This marks the extreme points
of sunrise and sunset during the solstices.
South of Dzibanch, the site of Pol Box is connected with dispersed groups,
although in this case the separation between them is 1 km on average, set on
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87

an eastwest axis. At Pol Box, the Central Group is located on the highest hill,
where a temple structure is located that faces toward the West Group. Unlike at
El Resbaln, causeways that connect the groups were detected at Pol Box.
Twelve kilometers to the southwest of Pol Box is the site of Nicolas Bravo,
which consists of three groups arranged on a southeastnorthwest axis. The
Principal Group is located at the center, while Las Palmas Group is found 1 km
to the southeast, connected by a causeway. Three kilometers northwest of the
Central Group, the Cerro Culebras Group is situated on a geologic fault line.
Although there is no evidence for a causeway, the orientation of the enormous
acropolis-like structure at the Principal Group faces Cerro Culebras (Lpez
Camacho 2010). Viewshed analysis at Nicolas Bravo enabled us to determine
how the architectural groups were related.
In sum, survey in the Dzibanch region has revealed a pattern of large sites
distributed at similar distances across the landscape, suggesting that these relatively short distances did not inhibit site size. At a smaller scale, each regional
site maintained its own dispersed groups at an average distance of between 0.5
and 3 km. Another similarity noted in these nested groups is that the primary
eastwest axis linking them does not go beyond the limits of sunrise and sunset during the solstices. The eastwest axis at Dzibanch, linking the Principal
and Tutil groups, falls within this range as well.
According to epigraphic research on regional texts, Dzibanch, El Resbaln,
and Pol Box were contemporaries during the final part of the Early Classic. As
for Nicolas Bravo, to date there are no inscribed monuments that could corroborate its contemporaneity; nevertheless, it has Early Classic architecture. Noh
Kah is similar to sites immediately to the north, both in terms of its dispersed
settlement pattern as well as its Early Classic florescence. To understand Early
Classic Noh Kah, then, it is important to review the Early Classic epigraphic
record documented at Dzibanch, El Resbaln, and Pol Box.

References to the Kaanul Dynasty in the Region


One of the most important texts at Dzibanch is found on a group of large
cut blocks that form part of the staircase of Structure XIV (Figure 4.9). Each
step depicts a bound captive situated above his name and, according to Simon
Martin (2005), the name of his captor, which in all cases is the same person
belonging to the Kaanul dynasty. According to Erik Velsquez (2008), these
captures took place between 438 and 490 CE. This likely coincides with Dzibanchs expanding regional influence, including its initial influence on the
settlement system.
The inscription on the Temple VI wooden lintel records that in 551 CE a
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Javier Lpez Camacho, Araceli Vzquez Villegas, and Luis A. Torres Daz

Figure 4.9. Dzibanch Structure XIV, Los Captivos, with cut blocks shown under canopy illustrating fifthcentury captives of the Kaanul dynasty. (Photograph by Debra Walker.)

high-status individual ascended to the throne in Dzibanch. This king inaugurated a new architectural style, distinct from the Petn style that had
prevailed previously. The appearance of this new style documents that the
Early Classic was a period of integration during which the dispersed settlement model of the Dzibanch, Tutil, Kinichn, and Lamay groups became
associated with the Kaanul dynasty. The Early Classic substructures located
during tests of T1 suggest that the principal plaza at Tutil Group is Early
Classic, and that the wide sacbe that connects this plaza with the Kinichn
Acropolis is also from the same era (Nalda and Balanzario 2004:311).1
The Early Classic is the period during which events involving the Kaanul
dynasty at Dzibanch are reported. At El Resbaln, for example, Kaanul dynastic dominance was established by about 529 CE (Martin and Grube 2000:103
104). At Pol Box, epigraphic texts make reference to a local lord who acceded
to the throne in 565 CE and celebrated important ceremonies there. A list of
personages associated with the snake head glyph is also included in the text,
but it probably marked an ongoing relationship between the Kaanul dynasty
and the rulers of Pol Box. The latest date recorded at this site corresponds to
the year 593 CE, and refers to a stela dedication date (Prez and Esparza 2008).
Another mention of an individual from the Kaanul dynasty was discovered
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89

at the archaeological site of Los Alacranes, located in Campeche close to the


boundary with Quintana Roo. This inscription records a local lords 561 CE
accession to the throne, under the auspices of Dzibanch Lord Sky Witness
(Martin and Grube 2000:104).
Epigraphic references to the Kaanul dynasty in the fifth and sixth centuries suggest that this powerful political force may have impacted the regional
settlement system throughout southern Quintana Roo. Despite the absence
of inscribed monuments at Noh Kah and the lack of archaeological reconnaissance in the surrounding region, the systematic appearance of dispersed
clustered groups across the landscape and the regular distances that separate
major sites may be a function of expanding political forces under the control of
Kaanul elites. No doubt this expansion was fueled by a strong economy based
on the commercial-scale production of cacao and other agricultural specialties, a system that flourished in such a dispersed settlement pattern (Guderjan
et al. Chapter 5).

Discussion
The spatial organization of Early Classic Noh Kah is not an isolated case;
rather, it correlates with the known Early Classic settlement system to the
north at sites in the vicinity of Dzibanch. The lack of systematic settlement
survey in the southernmost portion of Quintana Roo makes any conclusion
preliminary, but initial assessment suggests the same pattern is continuous
throughout the region. For example, mapping at Rancho La Juventud, 20 km
north of Noh Kah, revealed a similar dispersed pattern, as well as Petn-style
Early Classic architecture. In the future, more work is needed at other sites
in the Caobas ejido, such as La Union, Nueva Esperanza, and El Mirador, to
discover if settlement systems there show similarities with the patterns discussed here. If the dispersed clustered settlement plan is indeed found to be
continuous over the region, one could then begin to define the perimeter of
Kaanul dynastic influence in the Early Classic. Kaanul influence may, in fact,
be the reason a unique, homogenous settlement system existed in the region.
To understand why this settlement pattern arose in the Early Classic as is
proposed for the specific case of Dzibanch (Nalda and Campaa 1998), we
await the discovery of further data regarding sociopolitical readjustments
after the Terminal Preclassic collapse of El Mirador (Hansen 1998). The practice of establishing monumental groups on hilltops and following the cardinal directions to align settlement systems may be an indication that the
rulers took advantage of concepts related to sacred geography to legitimate
their right to rule.
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We are not arguing that all sites in southern Quintana Roo must show this
type of settlement. What must be explained, however, is why so many Early
Classic sites with a certain degree of monumentality are distributed across
an extensive area in dispersed clusters, while at the same time maintaining their connections to a central monumental core. Future research and
new epigraphic data will enable us to better determine the function of these
sites within the political and economic framework of the region, particularly the relationships that Noh Kah maintained with communities along the
Rio Hondo basin and in Belize, such as Blue Creek, considered in the next
chapter. In the meantime, archaeological reconnaissance permits us to seek
certain similarities in spatial organization, using the Dzibanch settlement
system as a frame of reference, where the pattern may have originated.

Acknowledgments
Thanks to archaeologist Adriana Velzquez Morlet, director of Centro INAH
Quintana Roo, for her support in carrying out the work at the site of Noh
Kah. In addition, thanks are due to the people of Botes-Rovirosa ejido. Finally,
thanks to the ENAH students who participated in the 2013 field season, Renato
J. Zamudio Gutirrez, Maleny Aparicio Hernndez, Esperanza Lugo Miranda,
Karen Cabrera Hernndez, and A. Priscila Gutirrez Gachuz, for completing
the topographic maps of El Pocito and HopNa.

Note
1. Las subestructuras del Clsico temprano, encontradas en los sondeos de T1, sugieren
que la plaza principal de Tutil es del Clsico temprano y que el ancho sacb que conecta esa
plaza con la Acrpolis de Kinichn es tambin de esa misma poca (Nalda and Balanzario
2004:311).

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91

5
Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo
A Remote Sensing Approach

THOM A S GU D ER JA N , SH ERY L LUZ Z A D D ER- B E ACH , TI M OTH Y


B E ACH , SA M A NTH A KR AUSE , A N D CLI FFORD B ROW N

Chetumal Bay is many things, but one of the most critical for archaeologists
seeking to better understand ancient Maya polities is that it is a nexus of ancient riverine and coastal trade routes. Along the shores of Chetumal Bay,
several centers functioned as ports in various periods, likely with busy markets (see Walker Chapter 1, Table 1.2). In this chapter, we attempt to visualize
ancient Maya settlements as well as commercial agricultural production and
trade along the Rio Hondo, which today forms the boundary between Mexico
and Belize. Our emphasis is to provide context for our colleagues who are
working to understand the dynamics of the ancient Maya of Chetumal Bay.

Ethnohistoric Data
The Rio Hondo drainage is poorly known ethnohistorically. Our ignorance
derives from a paucity of source material that stems from a late, imperfect,
impermanent Spanish conquest. As a result, what we do know is probably an
underrepresentation of the actual situation in Colonial times and offers merely
a vague window into the Classic Maya. We know, for example, that the Maya
fought back with a passionate ferocity that delayed the Spanish conquest and
that materially weakened Spanish colonial control (Oland Chapter 6). Maya
resistance eventually prompted extremely brutal Spanish attacks that undoubtedly contributed to depopulation. Since the feudal Spanish encomienda system relied on natives paying tribute, fewer natives meant fewer Spaniards. The
enmity born of those conflicts sparked successful Maya revolts in the seventeenth century. Moreover, for part of the Colonial era, the area constituted an

administrative boundary between the audiencias of Mexico and Guatemala,


which caused confusion about responsibilities for pacification and oversight
and provided easy excuses for shirking those responsibilities. The weakness
of Spanish political and military control facilitated the infiltration of English
logwood cutters, privateers, and maroons, as well as Maya runaways from the
encomiendas of Yucatn. This population grew so firmly established that by the
latter half of the seventeenth century, the region was permanently outside of
Spanish imperial control. Indeed, de facto control was ceded to Britain in the
1919 Treaty of Versailles, though the European powers continued to scrimmage
over the area for decades.
The paucity of Spanish records thus derives from the rarity of Spanish contact with the region, while the lack of British records from the early period can
probably be accounted for by the irregular, isolated nature of the settlement
as well as by a smaller and less bureaucratic colonial administration than the
Spanish one, which was formidable, ponderous, and intrusive. Ironically, it is
precisely that immense and obsessive Spanish bureaucracy that created and
preserved the extraordinary historical record on which we so often rely. Thus,
historical information relating to the Rio Hondo drainage in particular is limited, scattered, and fragmentary, and it therefore requires prodigious effort to
assemble and analyze. Fortunately, Grant Jones has already undertaken this
task, and although his focus was a little south (1989) and southwest (1998) of
the region considered in this volume, his studies cover northern Belize thoroughly.
Ralph Roys (1943, 1957) reconstructed two polities in this area, Chetumal
and Uaymil, but Grant Jones (1989:9, 9798) found evidence for three, adding
the Dzuluinicob region. Chetumal itself may have consisted of 2,000 houses
(Roys 1957) and perhaps 10,000 persons. The Chetumal province was understood by Roys to be large and productive, extending south from the southern
tip of Lake Bacalar almost to the latitude of Belize City, also encompassing the
southeastern corner of Quintana Roo (Roys 1957:159160). Roys described cacao cultivation in the alluvial bottoms of numerous rivers (1943:40, 5354). He
also recalled that an unusual quantity of gold (2,000 pesos) was found by the
conquistadors at Chetumal, implying it was a wealthy province (Roys 1943:54).
He outlined Uaymil province, to the north, as a large but vaguely defined area
occupying most of southern Quintana Roo and politically subordinate to Chetumal (Roys 1957:157158).
Eric Thompson (1977) subsequently suggested that the Rio Hondo drainage could be considered part of a large cultural and linguistic region, not a
political province, which he called Chan. In his view, the population was most
closely related to speakers of Mopn, and affiliated with Yucatec, languages
Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo

93

that differed sharply from that of Cholan speakers from the southern Maya
lowlands. Current scholars show little interest in elaborating on this suggestion, but Grant Jones, a protg of Thompsons, investigated the ethnohistoric
record of the region quite closely. Based on his research, Jones revised province
boundaries, reducing the size of Chetumal province, noting it was confined
primarily, it appears, to the mainland coastline of Chetumal Bay opposite Lake
Bacalar (1989:97). He also reduced Royss boundaries for Uaymil to the north,
noting that it was a small region directly inland from Chetumal, confined to
the area around Lake Bacalar to the Ro Hondo on the south and to Yumpetn
on Lake Nohbec on the north. There is little indication in the early accounts
that it extended a significant distance to the west (G. Jones 1989:97). Much of
the lands Roys attributed to Chetumal, Jones placed within a large new province that he called Dzuluinicob. The northern half of Belize, which under the
Spanish became the greater part of Bacalar province, was indigenously a province of Yucatec speakers known as Dzuluinicob. This identity was retained
throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which clarifies why Maya
resistance retained its effectiveness over such a long sweep of history. Earlier
writers were unaware of the existence of Dzuluinicob and attributed far more
influence to the province of Chetumal than it now appears to have had (G.
Jones 1989:98).
The name Jones assigned to the province is unusual. Dzuluinicob can be
translated from Yucatec as foreign people (G. Jones 1989:10). Roys suggested
the foreigners might have been Nahuatl speaking, while Eric Thompson
thought they might have been early English logwood cutters (Roys 1957:163).
In modern Yucatec, the best gloss for Dzul is not foreigner but gentleman
(V. Bricker et al. 1998:56), with connotations of wealth, education, and power;
thus the name could mean the province of the genteel, wealthy, or powerful.
In Yucatn, however, most province names were not descriptive but instead
derived from their principal towns, such as Man, Hocaba, and Sotuta. Perhaps
there was a settlement named Dzul in the province, but if so, it has not been
reported. Dzul is also a common patronymic, so the name of the province
could mean, in effect, land of the Dzul lineage. One could object that that
would have been written Ah Dzulilcab, or something similar, but such names
are rarely so literally expressed. The Cehpech province, for example, was not
literally the land of deer ticks. Presumably the province was named after the
people who lived and ruled there (Roys 1957:41). We believe this hypothesis,
that the provinces name comes from the patronymic, is at least as likely as the
traditional interpretation (also see Walker Chapter 1).
The documentary evidence for agriculture and trade in agricultural goods
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is limited, particularly for the earliest period, which is of greatest interest to us


because it is a window through which we can view earlier times. The earliest
eyewitness account of the region comes from Alonso de Lujn, who accompanied Alonso Dvilas 1528 expedition under the command of Francisco de
Montejo. Dvila also commanded the first attempt to colonize the area (Dvila
1870 [1533]). Lujn later recounted their travails to Fernndez de Oviedo, a
fifteenth-century historian who most likely embellished them, as was his wont
(Fernndez de Oviedo 1959 3:400406). In his account, Dvila remarked that
he decided to establish his first headquarters at Chetumal because of its numerous cornfields and groves of fruit trees (1870:101). In another place, Dvila
(1870:107) mentioned an Indian merchant who had traveled all over the region
and knew secret paths that helped the Spanish escape from ambush. Of course,
we know from many accounts, not the least that of Cortes himself, that merchants knew in detail both land and sea routes from Tabasco to Honduras and
beyond. At one moment while in Chetumal, Dvila sent men to seize canoes
that were waiting in the river to depart for Ula, in Honduras. From this we
gather that people from the land of Ula actively traded with the inhabitants
of Chetumal, as they did with Mayapn and Acalan. Jones concluded that although we can presume that Chetumal must have been an important trading
center for goods moving up and down the coast and to and from points inland,
both north and south, the early records provide us with little information on
these activities (1989:97). In fact, he even suggested that Chetumal may have
secured much of its food through exchange (G. Jones 1989:101).
Perhaps more important, Jones inferred that the river valleys of northern
Belize were used for cacao cultivation, mainly for export to karst uplands,
probably Petn (G. Jones 1989:102103) and Yucatn (Roys 1943:40, 54), where
the trees did not grow well. Even in the late sixteenth century, merchants from
the province of Man came to Ukum, presumably at or near the modern town
of that name in Quintana Roo, to buy cacao (Roys 1957:164).
The towns of Dzuluinicob province also must have been suppliers of cacao
to central Petn, just as they served as a central node for long-distance trade
in other items. The most distinctive feature of Dzuluinicob province during
Colonial times was its riverine environment and the fact that nearly all of its
Maya settlements were located on the banks of rivers and streams; the riverine towns were themselves in an excellent position to engage in independent
trade between Petn and Bacalar and between the upper Belize River area, La
Pimienta, and from there on to northern Yucatan (G. Jones 1989:103).
Besides the production of cultivated cacao, the environmental circumstances of the small riverine towns of Dzuluinicob province encouraged them
Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo

95

to engage in the collection of wild vanilla, which flavored the chocolate drink,
and the cultivation of achiote, referred to as anatto [sic], the fleshy coating of a
red seed ground for flavoring various foods. The sources for riverine cacao production were many, but as early as 1582 the bishop of Yucatn, Fray Gregorio de
Montalvo, noted that though the towns of the Bacalar province were tiny, each
with four or six vecinos, and widely scattered, he recommended against reducing them to central communities because such an action would force them to
abandon their cacao plantings (G. Jones 1989:103).
Furthermore, achiote from the region was reputed to be of the highest quality. Referring to the town of Lucu on the Belize River, Lpez de Cogolludo
reported that Fray Bartolom de Fuensalida saw there in 1618 much achiote,
which is the best to be found in New Spain, much thick cacao that turns reddish brown and tastes good by itself, and vanilla beans that they call cizbiques,
which are very good and fragrant for the chocolate. It was a very pleasant town
and was blessed with cacao orchards along the river bank (G. Jones 1989:103
104). Recently, Eleanor Harrison-Buck has documented that commercial cacao
production in the Belize Valley was of far greater scale than previously known
and that production in the prehispanic period was also likely greater than previously known (Harrison-Buck 2016). It is every bit as likely that production
in the Rio Hondo zone was equally great.
Achiote is an indispensable spice in Yucatec Maya cooking and is a main
ingredient in most recados (xak in Yucatec), which are used to flavor dishes
(Hamman 1998). It is difficult to imagine the cuisine without it. Vanilla was
also an important condiment, the use of which was not limited to chocolate.
Laura Caso Barrera and Mario Aliphat Fernndez (2006a, 2006b, 2012) have
suggested that cacao, vanilla, and achiote were all grown together in a single
agricultural system in southern Petn, the Verapaz, and southern Belize by
the Kekchi and Manche Chol. The three products were exchanged widely for
quetzal plumes, salt, chili peppers, cotton, copal, and European metalwork.
The evidence just cited suggests that this agricultural system probably existed
in the provinces of Dzuluinicob and Chetumal as well.
Thus, the ethnohistoric record, however stingy, implies that the Maya not
only practiced their commonplace long swidden agricultural system in the
fluvial region of northern Belize, but they also most likely exploited the alluvial soils of the river valleys to grow cacao, achiote, and possibly vanilla.
These three products may have formed a distinctive agrosystem. Trade in these
important cash crops would have been economically significant to the region,
if the apparent wealth of Chetumal is any indication. The relationship between
this agrosystem and the ditched fields of the area remains tantalizing.
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Archaeological and Geographic Database


In contrast to the well-investigated Chetumal Bay area, the Rio Hondo is one of
the poorest archaeological databases in the region. The Maya center of Nohmul
was located during Norman Hammonds 1970s surveys of northern Belize
(Hammond 1975), and long-term investigations were then conducted there.
First Dennis Puleston, and later Mary Pohl and her associates, conducted
studies of ditched field agriculture at Albion Island (Pohl 1990) and associated
Maya settlement (Lewenstein and Dahlin 1990). This was followed by a survey
of Albion Island focused on ancient settlement (Pyburn et al. 1998). While
the senior author and numerous colleagues have been investigating the site
of Blue Creek and its neighbors for more than two decades (Guderjan 2007),
most of this work has been conducted above the headwaters of the Rio Hondo.
Most recently, the site of Noh Kah has been mapped and is now being studied
on the western side of the river in Mexico, just upstream from Albion Island
(Lpez Camacho et al. Chapter 4). One hindrance to research along the Rio
Hondo is the Mexico-Belize border. It is regarded by both sides as a frontera.
Both perceived and pragmatic issues exist when developing fieldwork in such
a situation.
The headwaters of the Rio Hondo are often misunderstood. Most maps correctly show the Rio Azul and Rio Bravo confluence at the Mexican village of La
Union. However, the Rio Azul is usually shown as originating well into Guatemala, passing by the Maya site of Rio Azul, then passing through the Alacranes
Bajo and becoming the stream that forms the Mexico-Belize boundary before
merging with the Rio Bravo. Most of that impression is not correct. The Rio
Azul that passes by the Maya site of the same name empties at the Alacranes
Bajo into a large alluvial fan, which surely provided extraordinary agricultural
opportunities (Figure 5.1). In the dry season and likely most of the wet season,
the Rio Azul goes no further.
The actual headwaters of the Rio Hondo are only about 4 km from its confluence with the Rio Bravo, where springs in a 100-m-deep canyon feed the
drainage throughout the dry season. At the point upstream where the river
ceases to be navigable, we have located an ancient dock and dam complex (Barrett and Guderjan 2006). During the wet season, the first drainage to empty
water into the Rio Hondo is Xnoha Creek, which is normally dry but drains
a large basin in Mexico. Eventually, if rains persist, wetlands on the eastern
side of the Alacranes Bajo, still disconnected from the Rio Azul in Guatemala,
contribute water to the stream near the Maya site of Gray Fox. The canyon is
extremely steep with numerous sheer limestone cliffs, 50 to 100 m high. About

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Figure 5.1. Map of the Rio Hondo Valley, showing sets of ditched fields known as of November 2014. (Illustration by Samantha Krause.)

3 km downstream from the dock and dam complex, the stream exits the canyon. About 1 km farther on is the confluence with the Rio Bravo.
Downstream from the confluence, the Rio Hondo becomes a slow, sluggish,
wide and deep stream following the base of the Bravo Escarpment generally
running from southwest to northeast. On the north side of the river, landforms
rise 75 to 100 m along the escarpment, though in some places the river has meandered as much as a kilometer from the escarpment, leaving distinct meander
scars and disconnected wetlands. From there downstream, the floodplain is
generally at least 1 km wide but is often as wide as 3 km. The southern side of
the floodplain is generally marked by a bluff approximately 10 m high.
We divide the Rio Hondo below the Rio Bravo confluence into three sections: upper, middle, and lower. In this discussion, we refer primarily to the
middle section. The upper segment is difficult to access and under nearly complete forest coverage, while the lower section has seen significant modern impact, including possible salinization due to sea level rise and tropical storms.
Deforestation in the upper section has begun and is expected to be rapid. The
one small advantage to this is that it will soon give archaeologists better visibility and access.
The most significant feature in the middle section of the river is Albion Island, where the river runs on the north side of the island but a still, quiet tributary flows on the south side. Unlike most of the floodplain, Albion Island consists largely of an erosional remnant that has forced the river to flow between it
and the escarpment. It was in the wetlands on the south side of the island that
Mary Pohl excavated two sets of ditched fields (Pohl 1990), Susan Lewenstein
and Bruce Dahlin mapped a transect of settlement across the island (1990), and
Anne Pyburn led a project designed to test sociopolitical hypotheses about the
prehistoric settlement (Pyburn et al. 1998).
The three known large centers along the river are Blue Creek, Noh Kah, and
Nohmul. Each of these is a significant center at least the size of Blue Creek,
where a population estimate in the range of 25,000 has been calculated (Guderjan 2007). Population densities may have been highest, however, on Albion
Island. The transect survey across Albion Island revealed very high density occupation (Lewenstein and Dahlin 1990), estimated by Peter Harrison (1996) to
be more than 44 persons per square kilometer, which is in the range of dense
urban populations in Petn.
There is substantial direct evidence for long-distance trade on the Rio
Hondo in prehispanic times. During the Terminal Classic, for example, round
structures were built at both Nohmul and Blue Creek. These are linked to a
pan-Yucatecan trading and communications network that extended at least
Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo

99

into southern Belize (Bey III and Ringle 2007; Harrison-Buck 2007, 2012;
Oland Chapter 6). A round structure was excavated more than three decades
ago in the site core at Nohmul (D. Chase and A. Chase 1982), and several contemporary round buildings have been reported on Chetumal Bay since (see
Harrison-Buck and McAnany 2013 for a summary). During the Terminal Classic at Blue Creek, residents of the Rosita group razed a building and built a
small round structure there. They also rededicated several buildings with summit caches of Daylight Orange: Darknight Variety ceramics (Guderjan et al.
2010). This possibly marked a realignment of Rosita with Nohmul as well as its
participation in the larger Terminal Classic world. Only 1 km north of Rosita
was the Maya dock and dam facility that marked the terminus of the navigable
portion of the Rio Hondo (Barrett and Guderjan 2006).
To understand the scale of commercial agriculture on the Rio Hondo drainage at the Terminal Classic and before, we have undertaken research into the
extent and purposes of the ditched agricultural field systems associated with it
(Guderjan and Krause 2011), first by repeated flyovers with light aircraft, then
with additional tools including Google Earth and hyperspectral imagery provided by Geo-Eye. Through this process, we have identified more than 40 sets
of ditched fields along the Rio Hondo floodplain (Figure 5.1). Some of these
include fields studied by Puleston (see Pohl 1990), and Harrison and Turner
(1978), and a few have been published in non-geo-referenced photos even as
early as a flight by Charles Lindbergh in the early part of the twentieth century.
However, the vast majority were previously unrecorded. We are not including
others that are only tentatively identified at this time.
Currently, we do not have a good estimate of the area covered by these
ditches. We do know, however, that they range in size from only a few hectares
to one that covers at least several square kilometers. Ditches are commonly
located as follows: surrounding low-lying areas on plains; surrounding wetlands (swamps) adjacent to the Rio Hondo; or at the foot of slopes along the
base of terraces above the Rio Hondo floodplain. As at the Chan Cahal fields
in Blue Creek, these locations are at the margins of soils with high agricultural potential that do not need to be ditched to be farmed (Beach et al. 2015).
Consequently, we see the ditched sectors as only a small portion of the entire
agricultural system.
Nearly all investigators agree on the agricultural purpose of these ditched
fields. We are far from agreement, however, on when and under what circumstances they were built. Harrison viewed their construction as a consequence
of Late Classic population rise and therefore assumed construction correlated
with peak population (Harrison 1996). Radiocarbon dates from Albion Island,
however, indicate that construction may have predated the population peak by
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millennia. Our best information to date relating to the history of ditched fields
stems from the Chan Cahal and Birds of Paradise fields at Blue Creek (Beach
et al. 2009; Guderjan et al. 2016).

Ditched Fields at Blue Creek


Blue Creek is a Maya center located on top of the Bravo Escarpment overlooking the Belize Coastal Plain. It sits above the confluence of the Rio Azul and
Rio Bravo, where they form the Rio Hondo that slowly makes its way to Chetumal Bay. While the Rio Hondo does not flow along the base of the escarpment as it does for most of the Belize-Mexico border, it is geophysically very
similar. At the base of the escarpment below the Blue Creek central precinct are
lowlands crossed by two sacbeob that provided access to and from the base of
the escarpment immediately below the central precinct. Approximately 2 km
north of the central precinct at the base of the escarpment is the Chan Cahal
residential area and its related ditched fields. About 5 km south of the central
precinct are the Birds of Paradise fields, which lie approximately midway between the Blue Creek central precinct and the site of Gran Cacao. These offer
somewhat different construction histories that illustrate the variability in the
Rio Hondo fields.
Chan Cahal is a residential group consisting of at least 50 known structures,
most of which were built of pole and thatch and are known only from small
house mounds without masonry architecture. A set of ditched wetland fields is
situated between the Chan Cahal residential area and the base of the Bravo Escarpment. The founding dates for many of the houses at Chan Cahal are in the
Terminal Preclassic/Early Classic range, contemporary with initial ditch construction (Beach et al. 2015). The Chan Cahal ditches were highly organized,
structurally integrated, and engineered to remove water from a wetland at the
base of the Bravo Escarpment and drain the wetland into a reservoir before it
was moved away toward the Rio Hondo. Figure 5.2 is a false infrared image of
the Chan Cahal fields based on multispectral data. The left side of the image
shows the forested escarpment and a wetland at its base. North and east of this
wetland are long, linear, interconnected ditches that merge to drain water to a
reservoir in the upper center of the image.
Timothy Beach and Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach and their colleagues have
been studying the Chan Cahal fields for more than a decade (Beach et al.
2009; Beach et al. 2015) and have constructed a five-stage model for the development of these fields. This model is based in part on the understanding that
while Classic period agricultural practices taxed productivity in the uplands
due to erosion and nutrient depletion, lowland fields such as Chan Cahal
Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo

101

Figure 5.2. False infrared multispectral image of Chan Cahal fields. (Photograph courtesy of Katarina Doctor.)

experienced the converse problem. In this case, fields experienced the deposition of large amounts of sedimentary alluvium that had eroded from the
watershed, and evaporate formation from the extremely hard groundwater.
Stage 1 of the Chan Cahal Model (Table 5.1) represents a period with relatively stable ground surfaces on which Maya agriculture began with a water
table approximately 2 m lower than today (Beach et al. 2009; Beach et al.
2015). Samples from charred plant material in the upper part of the paleosol
date from as early as 2890 BCE to as late as 150 BCE, or late Archaic to Late
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Table 5.1. Comparison of development processes at Chan Cahal and Birds of Paradise
fields
Stage

Dates

Depth

Sedimentary Action

Comments

CHAN CAHAL FIELDS


5

8701010 CE

300700 CE

120700 CE

350 BCE80 CE

2890150 BCE

Sedimentary infilling of
ditches
Massive ditches cut into
Stage 3 materials
Aggradation rate increases; About 2 meters of
gypsum precipitates
deposits
Aggradation of eroded
upland soils
Stable ground surfaces
Water table 2 meters
below current level

BIRDS OF PAR ADISE FIELDS


3

after 990 CE

Abandonment of the
ditches
Paleosol development
and ditch digging

7801090 CE

13090 cm

1801000 CE

230130 cm Rapid aggradation of the


floodplain

Aggradation rate in
ditches 2 times that of
Chan Cahal
Aggradation rate 3 times
that of Chan Cahal

Preclassic. The oldest dates derive from the lowest and earliest submerged
paleosols (Ab2 horizons) and provide a more narrow chronological range of
2850810 BCE.
Stage 2 represents aggradation of eroded soils from the uplands. Our dates
for this period stem from basal and terminal samples framing this aggradation
between 350 BCE and 80 CE. Stage 3, at 120700 CE, represents the increasingly rapid aggradation from upland erosion and especially gypsum precipitation. This material is as much as 2 m thick, covering as many as 1015 km2.
Stage 4 marks the construction of a massive network of ditches into the Stage
3 materials. We frame the date of this construction as being more recent than
the sediments it intruded into (300700 CE) and later than the earliest dates
from the sedimentary infilling of these ditches (Stage 5: 8701010 CE).
Despite a decade of investigation, it was not until we obtained new hyperspectral imagery in 2012 that we were able to fully appreciate the degree to
which the Chan Cahal fields were planned, engineered, and integrated. Figure
Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo

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5.2 shows an area of approximately a quarter of a square kilometer in which


there are more than 4 linear km of identifiable infilled ditches. On the lefthand side of the image are the forested slopes of the Bravo Escarpment, and
on the right-hand side is a cattle ranch. The distinct northsouth line on the
right is an improved road. The less distinct eastwest line in the middle of the
image is a regularly used ranch road. Immediately above the north arrow is a
wetland area. Immediately to the right of that is a set of linear ditches, generally running south to north with various visible cross canals connecting them.
Immediately north of the wetland area is another set, generally running west
to east. All of these converge on Reservoir A in the upper center of the image.
From there, other canals move water to the northeast to Reservoir B.
The Birds of Paradise fields were named after the frequent occurrence of the
endemic false bird of paradise plant (Heliconia latispatha) in the fields. The soil
and geomorphic history of the Birds of Paradise fields in the floodplain of the
Rio Bravo contrasts sharply with Chan Cahal. The fields lie in an active floodplain near the confluence of three rivers in the Programme for Belize Conservation Area, which limits modern disturbance. They incorporate at least 1 km2,
and the array of ditches is surprisingly rectilinear. Based on ten excavations in
probes below 3 m, the Birds of Paradise fields developed over three more recent
stages and without a basal paleosol.
Stage 1 constitutes the rapid aggradation of the floodplain from 230 to 130
cm in depth, which dates from 180 to 1000 CE, Early Classic to Terminal Classic. The landscape was actively aggrading, burying little decomposed plant
matter in sediments composed of clay (90 percent) and moderate quantities
of gypsum (50 percent), carbonate (14 percent), and organic matter (313 percent). The aggradation rate ranged from 1.72 to 2.44 m per thousand years,
about three times the rate at Chan Cahal. This stage continued up to a paleosol,
darkened by increased charcoal and organic matter, from 130 to 90 cm.
Stage 2 is the period of the paleosol development and ditch digging. The
paleosol in the fields ranges from 130 to 90 cm and is highly mixed, with
dates from 780 to 1090 CE. The canals are datable by the sediments that predate them and the fill that postdates them. First, the ditches extend through
Classic period sediments to a depth of 120150 cm, and second, the lower
canal sediments date to 9901200 CE. Excavations found only two ceramics
from the canal field interface, one identifiable to the Classic period. Moreover, the paleosol links stratigraphically with the ceramics and lower canals.
Hence, with a Classic sherd, Late Classic to Early Postclassic field radiocarbon dates, and Early Postclassic ditch fills, the ditches must date to the Maya
Late Classic to Early Postclassic. Considering these 900-m-long, generally
northsouth- and eastwest-running ditches that cross the confluence zone
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of two streams, ditching was a large-scale and apparently preplanned endeavor.


Stage 3 represents the abandonment of the ditches, deduced from the their
steady fill from as early as 990 CE to the present with sediment that had consistently moderate quantities of gypsum and carbonate, decreasing amounts
of clay, and increasing sand, silt, and organic matter. Aggradation rates were
1.72 m per thousand years in the ditches and 1.21.5 m per thousand years
in the upper fields, about twice the rate of Chan Cahal. Energy of deposition,
based on the increases in coarse particles, has risen since abandonment, perhaps aided by the channelized water flow and trap efficiency of the ditches.

Visualizing Ancient Maya Agriculture in the Rio Hondo Valley


With these data in hand, how can we visualize the Rio Hondo Valley during
the Maya Classic period? Clearly the data illustrate that, although ditched field
construction may have begun earlier, the massive scale of these engineered
fields was best maintained in the Classic era. Furthermore, it appears that after
the Classic collapse, these fields were modified to serve a new Terminal Classic
market that may have operated with more independence. For the Classic era,
we envision a valley full of agricultural fields, the wetland margins of which
were ditched to expand the agricultural systems, such as those at Chan Cahal.
Maya populations were high on the southern side of the floodplain and in situations such as Albion Island, similar to Tibbat adjacent to Pulltrouser Swamp
(Walling 1991). The only major center yet identified on the southeast bank of
the river is Nohmul, but others may lay undiscovered in forested sections of
the riverbank. It is more likely, however, that more centers will be found on
top of the escarpment to the northwest of the river in settings such as Noh Kah
(Lpez Camacho et al. Chapter 4).
Not only was the valley teeming in agriculture and people, canoes would
have carried goods to Classic-era markets on Chetumal Bay such as Santa Rita
Corozal or Oxtankah. It is only a three-day canoe trip from Blue Creek to
Chetumal Bay and half that from Nohmul or Albion Island. Goods that would
be bound for the coastal trade network would need to be offloaded at these
ports and then loaded onto larger oceangoing canoes for transport to the next
transshipment points on Ambergris Caye and beyond.
The people who worked these fields were likely similar to residents of Chan
Cahal. They did not hold wealth, power, authority, or land tenure; rather, the
fields were controlled and managed by others. Land tenure was a very complex
issue, as recently pointed out by T. M. Cain and Richard Leventhal (2016).
Research on prehispanic land tenure indicates land belonged to the collective
Visualizing Maya Agriculture along the Rio Hondo

105

group, such as an ejido, and was allocated on a regulated basis, sometimes using
the katun cycle of the calendar, at least in Colonial times (Hanson 2008; Oland
Chapter 6; Restall 1997). We are uncertain how that model compares with the
Classic-era experience of Rio Hondo farmers. Nevertheless, it is likely that elites
residing in the central precinct of Blue Creek controlled the Chan Cahal fields.
Similarly, elites at Noh Kah and Nohmul controlled the fields downstream.
Despite their lack of power and authority, local farmers were sometimes rewarded for their efforts with small gifts of jade or shell jewelry, evidenced in
occasional finds in household debris. Surely residents kept kitchen gardens and
family milpas, but they also had access to cash crops such as cacao, vanilla, and
achiote, in the fields where they labored. The massive fields at Chan Cahal and
the Birds of Paradise fields, however, mostly provided food and other crops for
the elite to consume and sell through a market-based economy. Clearly this
view is still incomplete. Although elite exclusionary practices prevented most
farmers from holding power, there was internal stratification among lineages,
with some holding more multigenerational authority than others. No doubt
there were well-defined central places for farmers to congregate and possibly
even small markets for local use (Van den Notelaer 2016).
Although the pace of research in the Rio Hondo area is increasing, the
archaeology of the region is still poorly understood. This brief visualization
will surely be revised dramatically in future years, a prospect we anticipate
with some enthusiasm. Clearly the long-lived settlements on the Rio Hondo
drainage saw substantial resilience over the millennia. Farther east, on the New
River and Freshwater Creek drainages, other communities experienced various levels of resilience in the Postclassic and Contact periods. Their responses
are the topic of the next chapter.

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6
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth
to Seventeenth Centuries

MAXINE OLAND

Chetumal appears to have been a political unit during the Postclassic period,
and Spanish accounts suggest that the capital region was thriving at the time
of conquest. Spanish documents also imply that the region acted as a unified
force to resist European colonization (G. Jones 1989), yet archaeological data
suggest that the experience of the fifteenth-to-seventeenth-century Maya was
highly localized. At least some communities on Chetumal Bay were in a state of
unstable transition when the Spanish appeared. Their arrival elicited a variety
of actions and reactions as local communities attempted to adapt to indirect
colonial rule, and these settlements experienced differential rates of colonial
control and conversion.
In this chapter, I focus on archaeological evidence from three sites in the
Chetumal Bay region: Santa Rita Corozal, Lamanai, and the west shore of
Progresso Lagoon (Figure 6.1). Santa Rita Corozal is generally believed to be
the sixteenth-century capital of Chetumal province, but it was abandoned in
1531 after attempts to conquer the region (D. Chase 1982, 1986). Lamanai had
been occupied for over 2,000 years at contact, and is known for extensive
sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Colonial period remains (Graham 2011;
Pendergast 1986, 1991). A diachronic perspective on Progresso Lagoon illustrates that the community experienced significant changes in the fifteenth
century, prior to the Spanish entrada, and struggled with Indigenous leadership in the sixteenth century. Together, these sites reflect the diversity of the
experience in the Chetumal region between the fifteenth and seventeenth
centuries.

Figure 6.1. Map of the Yucatn Peninsula and Belize colonial frontier, showing sites mentioned in the text and bearing both contemporary and historic period names.

Chetumals Spanish and Maya Transitions


In both the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Chetumal Bay was an important
center from which Maya overlords and Spanish conquistadors sought to centralize power and tribute. Chetumal is often referred to as a province, as Ralph
Roys (1957) modeled Maya territories at contact on European kingdoms or
polities. More recent research has stressed that political units were not territorial, but were based on personal relationships of hierarchical subordination (Okoshi-Haradi 2012; Quezada 2014). At the base of the hierarchy was the
cuchteel, sometimes translated as neighborhood, which would be represented
by an ah cuch cab, or neighborhood leader. A batab, often translated as lord,
would gain the allegiance of several neighborhood leaders, thus forming a batabil over which he ruled. The batab, in turn, might ally with other batabob to
form a cuchcabal, under the rule of a halach uinic (Figure 6.2).
Twice during the Postclassic period, the webs of hierarchical relationships
in Yucatn intersected with a major political capital, first at Chichn Itz and
later at Mayapn. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries, power coalesced
around Chichn Itz (Bey III and Ringle 2007; Ringle 2004; Ringle and Bey
III 2001). Archaeologists have recovered round temple structures dedicated
to Chichn Itzs cult of Quetzalcoatl throughout the Maya lowlands, including a round structure at the highest elevation on Caye Coco, an island in the
middle of Progresso Lagoon (Harrison-Buck and McAnany 2013; McAnany

Figure 6.2. Maya political organization at contact. (Based on Okoshi-Haradi 2012; Quezada 2014.)
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

109

2007; Rosenswig and Masson 2002). Ringle (2004) suggested that this cult was
actually a set of practices and rituals dedicated to an ideology of leadership,
mirrored at each of these round structures by the investiture of local elites.
Centralization occurred again under the authority of Mayapn between
the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the result of carefully built relationships
based in corporate identity groups usually referred to as lineages (Quezada
2014). Leaders from four prominent lineages ruled over Mayapn together
in an idealistic power-sharing agreement called multepal (Restall 2001; Roys
1962). Although communities in the Chetumal region were not ruled over directly by Mayapns leaders, these layers of hierarchical relationships extended
to Chetumal Bay. Local elite leaders on Progresso Lagoon engaged with the
Mayapn culture style, employing symbolic references to Mayapn in public
rituals and feasting events (Masson 2003a). This took the form of the Chen Mul
Modeled censer cult; Mayapn-style pottery, particularly red slipped serving
ware; and the rotation of political offices according to the Maya calendar (G.
Jones 1998, 2005; Milbrath and Walker Chapter 10).
After the fall of Mayapn, Mayan documents suggest that the web of personal hierarchical relationships collapsed. Halach uinicob lost power over individual batabob, and the peninsula entered a prolonged period of instability
and political confusion (Quezada 2014:21). Matthew Restall (1998, 2001) referred to this period as the segmented century, and argued that it was characterized by local politics in which Maya communities struggled for rights to
tribute and a place in the political hierarchy. Attempts at consolidation after
Mayapn resulted in new cuchcabalob, each now associated with a capital city
in which the halach uinic resided, and from which he attempted to rebuild his
network of relationships (Quezada 2014:23).
The Maya chronicles thus suggest that when the Spanish attempted colonization, they met with a very disjointed and dispersed political landscape. Some
areas were consolidated cuchcabalob, while others were independent batabilob.
Chetumal appears to have been a consolidated cuchcabal at this time, with a
halach uinic operating from a capital city on Chetumal Bay, most likely located
at Santa Rita Corozal in present-day Corozal Town, where archaeology has
revealed a large and prosperous settlement dating from the fourteenth to the
sixteenth centuries (D. Chase 1982; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988; Marino et al.
Chapter 13).
Spanish colonists led by Francisco de Montejo first arrived in Chetumal Bay
in 1528. Chetumals leaders tricked and attacked the Spaniards before sending
the diminished crew on their way with supplies and food (G. Jones 1989:28). In
1531, Alonso Dvila returned to Chetumal Bay and attempted to impose a Spanish settlement over the capital of Chetumal. The Spanish settlement, called Villa
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Maxine Oland

Real, was located at the large abandoned town of Chetumal because of its secure
location, orchards of fruit trees, and fields of corn (G. Jones 1989:3132). The
Spaniards lasted little more than a year at Villa Real, as they found themselves
under siege from local populations. Dvila left the settlement after great losses,
and the region gained a reputation for rebellious Indians (G. Jones 1989:3338).
In 1544 another group of colonists led by cousins Melchor and Alonso Pacheco attempted the conquest of the region. Armed with the knowledge of the
failed 1531 conquest, and out of view of other Spanish colonists, the Pachecos
used uncharacteristic violence to subdue the Maya residents of the region and
establish encomiendas, grants of native tribute and labor owed to a Spanish encomendero (Chamberlain 1948; G. Jones 1989:42). The colonists were based at
Salamanca de Bacalar, a small outpost on a major lagoon close to Chetumal Bay,
which allowed them waterborne access to the Maya populations gathered along
lagoons and rivers. It also facilitated interactions with other European colonists,
and Grant Jones (1989:69) suggested that the Spaniards at Bacalar may have
earned more income from trade with Europeans, some of which was illegal,
than they did from Maya tribute. Most Spaniards were disinterested in local
populations, relying on indirect rule via local leaders and on a few Franciscan
clergy for control (G. Jones 1989:5964). Interactions with Maya populations
were structured by lack of supervision, mutual hostility, and lack of interest.
Most historical records from the Belize region focus on Maya rebellions,
in which Maya communities killed Spaniards, burned churches, and erected
Maya idolos, and the Spanish attempts to suppress them. Grant Jones (1989:14
17) was able to discern that Maya rebellions regularly occurred at the midpoint
of the katun cycle, a period of the Maya calendar of approximately 20 years
that was important for the rotation of political power. He hypothesized that
local Maya elites were manipulating the prophecies to foment an anticolonial
resistance movement. His later work, however, noted that emissaries from the
independent Petn Itz Maya kingdom encouraged these rebellions (G. Jones
1998, 2005). The Petn Itz threatened to attack Belize Maya communities if
they did not rebel against the Spaniards, and may have even committed some
acts of rebellion themselves.
As Grant Jones (1989:1011) argued, Belize was a frontier within the colonial
world for both Spaniards and Maya. For Spaniards, it was an uncomfortable
and untamed jungle full of rebellious natives. For Maya from northern Yucatn, it was a place to flee the tight control of priests and congregacin settlements. For the Maya that lived in this region, however, it was a homeland.
Despite interventions from the Spaniards, new arrivals from the north, waves
of epidemic disease, and threats from the Petn Itz Maya, it remained a place
deeply rooted in political, economic, and social history. Archaeology provides
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

111

a way to look at Colonial period interactions, worldviews, and desires through


the lens of long-term historical process (Oland et al. 2012).

The Archaeological Record of the Fifteenth to Seventeenth


Centuries on Chetumal Bay
It is typical for archaeologists to conceptually separate the Late Postclassic
and Colonial periods in the Maya area. I refer to the fifteenth-to-seventeenthcentury period as a single phase for several reasons. First, these transitions
often occurred archaeologically in the same contiguous and shallow horizontal
stratum, making it difficult to separate a distinct pre-Colonial fifteenth-century level from a sixteenth-century one. Second, the archaeological research
described below has shown that Maya material culture did not, for the most
part, change due to the arrival of the Spaniards. Colonial period deposits are
distinguished primarily by the presence of Spanish artifacts, which were rare
in frontier contexts, and were often restricted to elite contexts (Oland 2014;
Pendergast et al. 1993). Third, the lack of supervision on the frontier, and the
reliance on indirect rule by local leaders, meant that Maya communities and
leaders continued to focus on issues of Indigenous political, economic, and
ritual importance, even after the arrival of the Spaniards.
Finally, the Maya of the Yucatn peninsula did not view the arrival of Europeans as the start of a new phase of history, but situated the arrival of the
Spaniards along a deep local and conceptual Maya timeline, and within a long
history of Maya calamity (Restall 1997). In Maya chronicles from northern
Yucatn, colonial interactions were recorded according to 20-year periods
(katunob) of the Maya calendar, each of which repeated every 256 years (Edmonson 1982, 1986; Rice 2004; Taube 1988). According to the Maya calendar,
the Spaniards arrived close to the midpoint of the 256-year cycle.
The Chetumal Bay region was home to three sites that illustrate the varied
Maya responses to events of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Santa Rita
Corozal, Lamanai, and Progresso Lagoon all shared similar material culture, as
well as ritual, economic, and political practices, yet their colonial experiences
were shaped by their position in the Postclassic hierarchy and their geographic
positioning in the colonial world. Together, they tell different pieces of the
story of the Chetumal Bay region in the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.

Santa Rita Corozal


Santa Rita Corozal was the subject of extensive excavations by Diane Chase
and Arlen Chase between 1979 and 1985 (D. Chase 1982; D. Chase and A. Chase
1988). This research was instrumental in challenging prevailing ideas about
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Maxine Oland

the Postclassic as a time of decadence and decline. Their research was able to
demonstrate that ritual organization was used to integrate the community at
Santa Rita Corozal, in contrast to earlier models of dissipated individual worship (e.g., Proskouriakoff 1955). Analyses of caches and censers from the site
indicate that ritual was regulated, directional, and closely tied to calendrical
celebrations (D. Chase 1985, 1986, 1988).
Using the direct historical approach, Diane Chase and Arlen Chase have
argued that the site was the capital of Chetumal province during the Spanish
conquest (D. Chase 1982; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988). Based on ethnohistoric
descriptions and on the relative paucity of Spanish artifacts, they assumed that
the site was abandoned by 1532, shortly after the arrival of Dvila and the formation of Villa Real. Radiocarbon dates support a single Late Postclassic phase
of occupation, dating from 1300 to 1550 CE (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:11).
Thus, while research at Santa Rita Corozal created a baseline for Postclassic
material culture in northern Belize, the chronology conflicts slightly with that
of Progresso Lagoon and Lamanai, where there is a change in the ceramic sequence in the mid-fifteenth century (see Graham 1987a; Oland 2009).

Lamanai
Lamanai has been the subject of archaeological investigation by Elizabeth Graham and David Pendergast since the 1970s. Lamanai was part of Dzuluinicob
province according to the reconstruction in Grant Jones (1989), but ceramic
styles and other material evidence suggest that it had significant interaction
with the larger Chetumal Bay economy (Howie et al. Chapter 9). Lamanais fifteenth-to-seventeenth-century remains are marked by a shift to Yglesias Phase
ceramics, very similar in style and form to the Xabalxab ceramic phase from
Santa Rita Corozal (Graham 1987a). Data from the fifteenth-century transition, however, are often overwhelmed by the evidence of colonial interaction,
and it is impossible to distinguish whether changes occurred in the fifteenthor sixteenth-century transitions (Graham 2011:50).
As it lay along the riverine route to the interior, Lamanai was the subject
of significant Christian conversion efforts. Yglesias Phase Lamanai has ruins from two Spanish colonial churches as well as their associated graveyards
where Maya residents were buried in a Christian fashion (Graham 2011; Pendergast 1986, 1991). Maya ritual deposits were recovered from the floors of both
churches, however, suggesting that the building and use of the churches were
either contested or syncretically combined with Maya ritual beliefs (Graham
2011:213223; Pendergast 1991:346347). The burning of the second church and
the erection of two Maya stelae in the nave have been interpreted as acts of
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

113

resistance, although Grant Jones (2005) suggests that these acts may have been
encouraged or even perpetrated by the Petn Itz.
Most Spanish artifacts at Lamanai were clustered at the primary elite residence, N11-18, also called the caciques house (Pendergast 1991), and in the
church zone (Graham 2011). They were largely absent from burials. Some of the
Spanish artifacts at Lamanais elite residence appear to have been deposited in
a Maya ritual fashion (Pendergast and Graham 1993:345351; M. T. Smith et al.
1994:23), a pattern that is also seen at Progresso Lagoon (Oland 2014 and see
below), and in Petn (Pugh 2009; Pugh et al. 2012). Residents of the caciques
house were also producers of copper alloy artifacts (Simmons et al. 2009) and
may be the source of the copper alloy artifacts found at the primary elite residence at Progresso Lagoon.

Progresso Lagoon
Progresso Lagoon presents an interesting link between Santa Rita Corozal and
Lamanai. All three sites had an established Postclassic occupation before the fifteenth century, and all were occupied in the century before the Spanish conquest.
They also shared similar ceramic styles and ritual programs, and were tied to
Chetumal Bay for access to economic exchange and political centralization.
Differences in the experience of colonialism are, in part, due to geography.
Santa Rita Corozal appears to have been abandoned after the Spaniards chose
this site as their base of operations in the 1530s. Lamanai was located on the
New River, an important waterway leading to the interior, and therefore had
extensive contact with the Spaniards. Material evidence suggests that Progresso Lagoon had far less contact with the Spaniards than Lamanai (Oland
2014). Progresso Lagoon is a semibrackish lake, with access to Chetumal Bay
via John Piles Creek and Laguna Seca (Figure 6.3). It was neither very close
to the Spanish settlement nor on the way to major interior settlements. This
allowed it to maintain a low profile for most of the Colonial period.
Grant Jones (1989:284) has speculated that the lagoon was the location of
the colonial Maya encomienda of Chanlacan. Chanlacan is known as the community to which the Chetumal elites fled when Dvila settled at the capital,
possibly Santa Rita Corozal, and for its role in the early Maya rebellion against
the Spanish colonial authority. In 1546, residents of Chanlacan killed their
Spanish encomendero in an uprising that stretched across the Maya lowlands
(G. Jones 1989:46). After the rebellion was pacified, there are few references
to the town in the Spanish records. It appears on the 1584 list of towns (Scholes et al. 1938), suggesting that it would have hosted a visita mission church,
although no such structure has yet been found.
114

Maxine Oland

Figure 6.3. Map of Progresso Lagoon, Belize, showing the locations of Caye Coco
and the later west shore community. (Illustration by Maxine Oland.)

Material remains indicating contact with the Spaniards were first located
on the west shore of Progresso Lagoon as part of a larger testing program of
the Belize Postclassic Project, directed by Marilyn Masson (West 1999). The
project was focused on Caye Coco, the largest island in the lagoon, and a thriving second-order Late Postclassic site (Masson 1999, 2002, 2003b, 2003c). My
own survey work showed that a later community was spread along the bluff on
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

115

the west shore of the lagoon. Radiocarbon samples taken from sealed features
dated these deposits to between the mid-fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries
(Oland 2009:357).
The shore site was approximately 11 ha, organized into clusters of settlement
that resembled neighborhoods (Oland 2009). The center of the settlement was
located on the shoreline, on present-day elite properties where there had been
significant disturbance. The center consisted of a large intact elite residential
mound, an associated ritual shrine structure, and at least one other ritual structure that had been partially bulldozed. Community elders remembered that
this destroyed structure had once supported a stone doorway. Excavations
consisted of test pits on and around 43 different residential and ritual structures. Large-scale horizontal excavations were conducted on six of these.
In over 700 m2 of excavations, Spanish artifacts were found only at the site
center, in the elite residence and its associated shrine. In fact, most of the households seemed relatively unaffected by colonialism. There was no sudden change
that would indicate a shift in political, economic, or social conditions at the
onset of colonial rule. Instead, excavations indicated that the greatest change
had occurred in the fifteenth century, when the shore of the lagoon was settled.
Excavations from the west shore of the lagoon suggest that when the shore
was settled, the community was going through a period of political and economic decentralization (Oland 2009, 2012). A close comparison with material
patterns at Caye Coco reveals that the shore community was less engaged with
the networks of political and ritual power sharing that had defined the previous period.
Leaders at Caye Coco were actively engaged in interregional political and
economic affairs, and embraced political and ritual power sharing at the local
and regional levels (Masson 1999, 2000). As described for Santa Rita Corozal,
ritual at Caye Coco was calendrical, controlled by elites, and used as an integrating device. Within the community, elites shared power at a lineage council
house and shared the responsibility for sponsoring ritual objects, such as a turtle cache sculpture found in one households shrine room (Masson 1999:290).
Elites engaged with the symbolism of the northwest capital of Mayapn, particularly the censer cult. On Caye Coco, Chen Mul Modeled censers evidently
ruled over a period of the Maya calendar, and then were broken and carefully
discarded on the neighboring island of Caye Muerto at the end of their period
of use (Masson 1999:296298). This pattern of censer disposal differs from that
at Santa Rita Corozal, where Chen Mul censers were found in a number of different kinds of deposits within the community (D. Chase 1986, 1988).
Within the region, elites from Caye Coco engaged with other communities
at rotating community festivals. These events were based around important
116

Maxine Oland

period endings of the Maya calendar, and provided opportunities for elite competition as well as market exchange, social engagement, and feasting (Freidel
1981). Masson and Rosenswig (2005) have argued that regular gathering at
community festivals accounts for the highly standardized ceramic red ware
bowls and plates recovered from Caye Coco, which closely emulate ceramics
from Mayapn but were made of local clays. Regular gatherings allowed Caye
Coco to engage in coastal mercantile trade during the Postclassic. Caye Coco
was a producer of shell, cloth, and agricultural products for the market, and a
consumer of long-distance utilitarian products, such as obsidian blades, granite, and basalt (Masson 2002, 2003b, 2003c).
The move to the shore of the lagoon was accompanied by several material changes indicating a decreasing regional focus. The prevalence of small
side-notched projectile points (n=207; Figure 6.4) and a knappers bag point
to a production context, indicating increased political tension during this period. Ethnohistoric evidence suggests the Maya of this region regularly used
bows and arrows in raids against the Spaniards (Simmons 1995, 2002). I have
suggested that, rather than anti-Spanish violence, these points represent an
increase in violence or intimidation between Maya communities of the period
(Oland 2009, 2013). Both Spanish and Maya documents reference violent conflicts in the period leading up to the Spanish conquest (G. Jones 1989:41; see
also Chamberlain 1948; Quezada 2014; Restall 1997), and small side-notched
projectile points are widely found at sites occupied just before and during
Spanish contact in the southern Maya lowlands (Marino 2014; Marino et al.
Chapter 13; Meissner 2014; Oland 2013; Shafer and Hester 1988; Simmons 1995,
2002; Yacubic 2014).
Ceramic styles and production techniques changed subtly in the fifteenth
to seventeenth centuries at Progresso Lagoon, consistent with Yglesias Phase
ceramics from Lamanai, and similar to Xabalxab Phase ceramics at Santa Rita
Corozal (Figure 6.5; Oland 2009). Similarities in the pottery across these sites
indicate continued social and economic contact. It is not, however, as uniform
or high quality as the pottery on Caye Coco. Masson and Rosenswigs (2005)
study of redware dishes from Caye Coco argued that standardization in pottery style was the result of interregional interaction and competitive feasting
by elites at ritual festivals. I attribute the lack of ceramic uniformity and quality
in the later shore community to the unstable political climate of the post-Mayapn era, resulting in fewer ritual festivals among neighboring communities
(Oland 2009). No doubt these political tensions were only exacerbated with the
stresses of conquest.
Economic data support the hypothesis that residents of the shore community had more limited access to the market economy (Oland 2009). There was
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

117

Figure 6.4. Small side-notched chert and obsidian projectile points from the west
shore of Progresso Lagoon. (Illustration by Peter Vamosy and Faith Oland.)

less craft production on the shore, and residents there had diminished access to
long-distance products such as ground stone and obsidian (Oland 2009; Duffy
Chapter 14). Households on the shore reused and recycled pieces of manos and
metates (Figure 6.6), and obsidian blades were heavily worn, retouched, and
reused after breaking (Figure 6.7). Without a source for new obsidian blades,
shore residents utilized the cutting edges of local chert and chalcedony flakes
in far greater numbers than they had on Caye Coco (Oland 2013).
Finally, changes in the distribution of Chen Mul Modeled censers on the
shore of Progresso Lagoon suggest a shift to a less-centralized and communityfocused ritual practice (Figure 6.8). Sherds of Chen Mul incense burners were
118

Maxine Oland

Figure 6.5. Rim profiles and


tripod supports from diagnostic
ceramic vessels found on the
west shore of Progresso Lagoon.
(Illustration by Maxine Oland
and Peter Vamosy.)

Figure 6.6. Ground stone fragments found on the west shore of Progresso Lagoon. (Illustration by
Peter Vamosy.)

Figure 6.7. Heavily worn and reused obsidian blades from the west shore
of Progresso Lagoon. (Illustration by Peter Vamosy.)

found deliberately deposited in non-elite contexts, on top of household and


lineage shrines, and above subfloor burials (Oland 2009). They were also found
on top of nearly every house structure tested, suggesting that they were scattered as part of a sitewide community termination. This is a marked change
from the controlled use of censers on Caye Coco, where Chen Mul censers
were carefully removed from the community.

Discussion: Chetumal on the Edge of the Colonial World


My data from the shore of Progresso Lagoon indicate a change in political and
economic stability after the fifteenth century. The collapse of carefully constructed hierarchical relationships following the collapse of Mayapn resulted
in an increase in tension, decreasing interregional interaction, and a subse120

Maxine Oland

Figure 6.8. Fragments of Chen Mul Modeled incense burners from


the west shore of Progresso Lagoon. (Illustration by Peter Vamosy.)

quent decrease in market production and consumption. Documents suggest


that a halach uinic based at Chetumal attempted to rebuild political alliances
before the Spaniards reached the area, and Progresso Lagoon was almost certainly part of consolidation attempts. Compared with the stability and prosperity of Caye Coco, however, it is clear the shore community, and its elite leadership, struggled to regain its footing in subsequent centuries.
It was in this climate that the Spaniards attempted colonization. The ethnohistoric literature suggests that Progresso Lagoon was caught between Indigenous and Spanish forces at this time, pushed by the Spaniards for conversion
and tribute, and threatened by Petn Itz Maya forces to rebel and reject the
yoke of colonialism (G. Jones 1989, 1998, 2005). Indeed, the participation of
Chetumal Bay in the Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

121

Chanlacan in the 1546 rebellion, and then subsequent cooperation, would support the idea that the community vacillated between affiliations.
The archaeological evidence, based in 500 years of lagoon history, tells a
different story. While colonialism exacerbated the strained conditions of the
fifteenth century, it did not radically change life for most of Progresso Lagoons
residents. The only household with Spanish material culture was the elite residence at the center of the shore community. Spanish artifacts there were used
as status markers, alongside exotic Maya material culture, and amid feasts
hosted for followers (Oland 2009, 2012, 2014). Spanish artifacts were also used
in Maya rituals as new exotics accessible only to elite practitioners, illustrating
the desire of local elites to find new ways to justify elite status and to attract and
support followers. It is my interpretation that this period is marked by attempts
to regain and maintain Maya hierarchical relationships of power and tribute,
even within the Spanish colonial world. Indeed, Spanish colonization did not
end the concerns of local leaders and polities, but directed them in new ways.
The communities of Progresso Lagoon, Santa Rita Corozal, and Lamanai had
different experiences of colonial rule, and thus reflect the diversity of experience
that I believe most accurately defines the transitional period on Chetumal Bay.
Directly in the path of Spanish settlement, the leaders of Santa Rita Corozal fled
to a more remote locale. Progresso Lagoon was just such a place, where life out
of the constant gaze of the Spaniards allowed leaders to incorporate Spanish
artifacts into existing Maya practices and to continue to seek relevance within
the Maya world. As a convenient waypoint on the path to the interior, Lamanai
found itself under frequent scrutiny and subject to a dramatic shift in religious
practices. Yet even there, the pattern of Spanish artifacts at the caciques residence
and the caching of Maya ritual objects below church floors suggest that local
leaders wrapped new Spanish customs and objects into existing local politics.
The colonial frontier allowed Maya leaders to interpret Spanish material
culture creatively, in a way that would not be possible if the Spaniards lived
among or truly supervised these communities. Because the Spaniards relied
on indirect rule by local Maya leaders, these leaders continued the process of
rebuilding the networks of hierarchical relationships that had collapsed in the
fifteenth century. I see the creative appropriation of Spanish material culture
and blending of Maya and Spanish religious ideas not merely as syncretic practices but as political moves based in long-term local history, a history in which
ritual and exotic material culture were always used to justify political power.
This tradition of material culture manipulation that undergirds Maya lifeways
on Chetumal Bay, including the production of ceramics, shell, and chipped and
ground stone, is considered in more detail in the next few chapters.
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Maxine Oland

II
C H E T U M A L B AY C E R A M I C S

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7
Red Wares, Zapatista, Drinking Vessels,
Colonists, and Exchange at Cerro Maya

ROBIN ROBERTSON

Cerro Maya was excavated in the 1970s by David Freidel (Robertson and Freidel 1986) and in the 1990s by Debra Walker (2005). The final Terminal Preclassic layout of the site consisted of public buildings covering some 5.5 ha and
a dispersed settlement that included two ballcourts and a canal (Figure 3.1).
The original ceramic sequence was developed in the 1970s based on a series of
excavations, particularly Operations (Ops) 1 and 33 in the waterfront village
and Op 34 in the dock area (Robertson-Freidel 1980:3; Robertson 1986:96).
As originally defined, it had three phases, Ixtabai, Coh, and Tulix. The Ixtabai
Phase (300200 BCE) was dominated by the thick waxy slips of the Paso Caballo Waxy Wares, such as Sierra Red. The intermediate Coh Phase (20050
BCE) was marked by transitional slips that were slightly less waxy and eventually developed into the hard, glossy, double-slipped Cabro Red of Tulix Phase
(50 BCE150 CE). The Tulix Phase encompassed the construction of public
architecture on the coast and movement away from the waterfront village into
dispersed house mounds surrounding the site core. The absence of ceramic
types such as Aguacate or Iberia Orange, Gavilan Black-on-orange, Guacamallo Red-on-orange, Ixcanrio Orange Polychrome, and the mammiform
tetrapod mode in most of these deposits indicated an end prior to what was
then called the Protoclassic, but is now referred to as the Terminal Preclassic
period (see Chapter 1). At the time, the sequence fit nicely into the prevailing
Petn-centric model of waxy wares becoming less waxy as they gradually developed into the gloss wares of the Early Classic.
Recent work has produced a shortened timeline (Figure 3.2) and a new
scenario (Robertson and Walker 2015) proposing that the site was intention-

ally colonized as a port to control access to interior riverine sites in northern


Belize. Over a brief period, initial individual exchanges of surplus domestic
production developed into centrally managed trade in a wide array of products and services, prompting growth from the waterfront village of perishable
structures next to a monumental dock into a small but important center with
elaborate monumental architecture and stucco facades.
Both new research and reanalysis of prior work undergird the revised sequence presented here. Reanalysis of a column of deposits from the dock (Op
34), covering the initial occupation and construction of the monumental architecture, documented the co-occurrence of waxy Sierra Red with harder
glossy Cabro Red slips in contexts throughout the stratigraphic sequence. As
a result, the three-phase sequence has been collapsed into a single phase that
dates principally to the Terminal Preclassic period (100 BCE150 CE). Only the
Tulix Phase name has been retained.
This chapter presents revisions to the Cerro Maya typology and, within the
limits of ceramic analysis, explores connections in northern Belize and farther afield in the literature and type collections. It further proposes an origin
for the Cerro Maya colonists and briefly outlines their subsequent participation in regional and long-distance trade. Table 7.1 summarizes changes to the
Cerro Maya type-variety names and includes a baseline for comparison.1 To
save space, the principal ceramic reports referenced for comparative purposes
unless otherwise indicated are Aguacatal (Matheny 1970), Altar de Sacrifios (R.
E. W. Adams 1971), Barton Ramie (Gifford 1965, 1976), Becan (Ball 1977), Cob
(Robles Castellanos 1990), Colha (Valdez 1987), Cuello (Kosakowsky 1987),
Edzna (Forsyth 1983), Komchen (E. W. Andrews V 2014), Lamanai (Powis
2002), El Mirador (Forsyth 1989), Tikal (Culbert 1993, 2014), Ceibal (Seibal;
Sabloff 1975), and Uaxactun (R. E. Smith 1955).

Late Preclassic Red Monochromes


Besides the well-known Paso Caballo Waxy Wares, such as Sierra Red, the
Tulix Phase is characterized by hard, glossy double slips on sherds that clink
when tapped on a hard surface. These Chunox Hard Wares embody production techniques different from Paso Caballo Waxy Wares, seen in often vitrified and fire-clouded material that indicates higher firing temperatures but less
control over the firing atmosphere. Chunox Hard pastes are generally denser
than the waxy wares but have the same iron nodules, mica spicules, and calcite
inclusions, suggesting local production for both wares. Cabro Red slips tend
toward orange-red rather than the red or red-brown of Sierra Red. Similarly,
waxy Flor Cream slips contrast with the buff to olive buff hues of Chunox Hard
126

Robin Robertson

Wares. Another common component of the Tulix inventory is a cluster of thin,


dull, red and orange slipped types that share a fabric with the waxy wares,
but are sufficiently distinct from Sierra and Cabro to merit separation. These
include Hukup Dull, Sangre Red, Kuxche Red-orange, and Ciego Composite.
A wide variety of decorative modes deployed singly or in combination on
Cabro Group vessels include trickle, painted, and resist decoration; plastic alterations such as groove incision, punctation, and appliques; and the use of two
slips. Strict adherence to type-variety nomenclature would produce a plethora
of new type names for the Cabro Group. Except in instances where the quantity
of sherds indicates consistent use of a decorative mode, the undecorated type
name has been assigned a descriptive variety name. For example, Tuk Redon-red Trickle with a circumferential groove-incised line on the interior of
the rim has been designated Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: Groove Incised Variety.
In instances where types have already been defined by other researchers using
decorative modes, such as Laguna Verde Incised (Sierra Group), the type name
has been retained.
The relatively soft, thick, waxy Sierra Red slip dominates most Late Preclassic
complexes throughout the Maya area. While most ceramic reports affirm that
Sierra slips become harder and less waxy toward the end of the Late Preclassic,
the type has generally been treated as a homogenous whole2 covering a long
time span. Barton Ramie is a notable exception, where James Gifford sorted and
Carol Gifford described five varieties of Sierra Red, including Society Hall Variety (Gifford 1976:8590). Duncan Pring and Laura Kosakowsky continued Giffords efforts in northern Belize with the identification of Big Pond Variety and
Xaibe Variety. Xaibe Variety has subsequently been changed to Society Hall Red:
Society Hall Variety (Kosakowsky and Pring 1998).
Reanalysis of the red wares continued in northern Belize with the establishment of Cabro Red as a separate type3 that coexisted with Sierra Red at
Cerro Maya. Other researchers have reported it from Colha and Cuello, where
Kosakowsky recently redesignated Sierra Red: Big Pond Variety as Cabro Red
(Laura Kosakowsky personal communication 2014). A recent examination by
the author of the Santa Rita Corozal material at the University of Central Florida indicates that 5 of the 12 whole vessels there and approximately one-half
of the slipped sherd material from the Late Preclassic deposits belong to the
Cabro Group.
Cabro vessels are double slipped, often with the same slip, and have a hard,
glossy upper slip that, in contrast with Sierra Red, cannot be scratched easily with a fingernail. When uneroded, the color is remarkably homogeneous,
centering on 2.5YR 4/6-8.4 However, sherds are often root marked and eroded,
revealing a somewhat dull, soft, powdery slip above the paste surface. The high
Ceramics, Colonists, and Exchange at Cerro Maya

127

Table 7.1. Comparison between 1980 Cerros type-varieties and current Cerro Maya type revisions,
including general frequencies (after Ball 1977) and comparative data
Original Type: Variety (RobertsonFreidel 1980)

2014 Type: Variety (italics


indicate name change)

Decorative Modes within Type


Followed by Frequencies of the
Type (after Ball 1977:4)
Comparative Information

T YPES LINKED TO NORTHERN PLAINS


Pokonoboy Striped: Poknoboy
Teabox Unslipped: Teabox

Poknoboy Striped

Abundant

Almeja Gray (Ball pers. com. 2015)

Crabboe Washed: Crabboe


Chamah Washed: Chamah

Ciego Composite: Chamah

Abundant

Ciego Composite at Becan, Komchen, Ek


Balam, Yaxuna, and Cob

Sierra Red: Society Hall


Sierra Red: Xaibe

Society Hall: Society Hall

Common

Overlap with Xanaba Red from the


Northern Plains

Bribri Black Incised and Unslipped:


Bribri

Bribri Black Composite: Bribri

Very rare

Composite black-slipped and unslippedincised at Becan (Ball pers. com. 1978);


Dzalpach Composite at Komchen;
Imported

Hole Dull: Hole


Hole Dull: Hukup
Hokab Impressed: Hokab

Hukup Dull: Hukup

Impression (formerly Hokab


Impressed), trichrome; common

Overlap with Tipikal Preslip-striated Red,


Xanaba Red and Sierra Red: Engobe
Claro on Northern Plains

Unspecified Incised Red

Unspecified Incised Red

Very rare

Import from coastal Yucatn

Cabro Red: Cabro


Liscanal Groove Incised: Liscanal

Cabro Red: Cabro

Sierra Red: Sierra at Komchen, some


Impression, groove incision
(formerly Liscanal Groove Incised); sherds at Yaxuna and Calakmul;
northern Belize
abundant

Cabro Red: Unspecified (Thick


Walled)

None; uncommon

None Noted

Nictaa Buff: Nictaa

Nictaa Buff: Nictaa

Munequita Composite: Munequita


Munequita Appliqued: Munequita
Unnamed Slipped and Unslipped
Appliqued
Unnamed Composite Applique
and Punctated

Groove incision; common

Beclum Blanco at Cob

Multiline slipped decoration on


unslipped, punctation, incision;
very rare

Unnamed Composite Applique and


Punctated at Dzibilchaltun (Ball pers.
com. 1976)

T YPES LINKED TO THE CENTRAL KARSTIC UPLANDS


Zapatista Trickle on Cream Brown:
Zoon

Zapatista Trickle-on-cream-brown:
Zapatista

None; common

Central Karstic Uplands

Unnamed Black on Orange

Sacluc Black-on-orange:
Unspecified

None; very rare

Central Petn, Central Karstic Uplands,


northern Belize, 14 Tolok Negro Encima
de Naranja at Coba

Applique; very rare

Highland Import

T YPES LINKED TO THE SOUTHERN MAYA HIGHLANDS


Special: Verbena Ivory Usulutan

Special Verbena Ivory Usulutan

T YPES FOUND IN NORTHERN BELIZE


Paila Unslipped: Unspecified

Richardson Peak Unslipped:


Unspecified

Common

Northern Belize

Union Appliqued: Unspecified

Union Appliqued: Unspecified

Rare

Northern Belize

Chiculte Slipped Rim Striated:


Chiculte

Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Puletan Applique; very common


Puletan Red and Unslipped:
Chiculte

Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: Tuk


Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: Tuk
Conop Red-on-red Trickle: Conop

Groove incision, impression on


lower body; common

Northern Belize

Northern Belize and Yucatn with


isolated examples in Petn
continued

Table 7.1. continued

Original Type: Variety (RobertsonFreidel 1980)

2014 Type: Variety (italics


indicate change)

Decorative Modes within Type


Followed by Frequencies of the
Type (after Ball 1977:4)
Comparative Information

Chactoc Dichrome: Chactoc

Chactoc Red and Buff: Chactoc

Fluting; common

Northern Belize

Unnamed Positively Painted

Unnamed Positively Painted

Rare

Colha (Valdez 1987:Fig. 33)

Yaxnik Through-the-slip Incised:


Yaxnik

Yaxnik Through-the-slip Incised:


Yaxnik

Common if incised basal sherds


are included

Colha and Blue Creek

Pahote Punctated: Pahote

Pahote Punctated: Pahote

Punctation, groove incision; rare

Colha

Kuxche Orange: Kuxche


Remax Punctated: Remax

Kuxche Red-orange: Kuxche

Punctation, black rim bands,


fluting, chamfering, gadrooning;
common

Colha

Not described

Cayman Modeled: Cayman

Very common

Lamanai and Blue Creek

T YPES T YPICAL OF THE MAYA LOWLANDS


Sierra Red: Sierra
Canxun Red: Canxun

Sierra Red: Sierra

Laguna Verde Incised: Groove Incised Laguna Verde Incised: Groove


Lanillo Groove Incised: Lanillo
Incised

Impression, punctation (Lagartos Chicanel Ceramic Sphere


Punctated); very common
Common

Chicanel Ceramic Sphere

Cockscomb Buff: Coxcomb

Flor Cream: Unspecified

Punctation, groove incision;


common

Chicanel Ceramic Sphere

Iguana Creek White: Iguana Creek

Iguana Creek White: Iguana Creek

None; very rare

Chicanel Ceramic Sphere

Matamore Dichrome: Matamore


Matamore Dichrome: Shipyard

Matamore Dichrome: Matamore


(after Kosakowsky 1987:80)

Trickle; common

Chicanel Ceramic Sphere

Zorra Black-on-red: Zorra

Repasto Black-on-red: Unspecified

Groove incision; Common

Chicanel Ceramic Sphere

TO BE DETERMINED
Sapote Striated: Chacah
Sapote Striated: Chichem

Sapote Striated: Unspecified

Abundant

To be determined (see text)

Tinta Usulutan: Tinta

Tinta Usulutan: Tinta

Impression; uncommon

To be determined after redefinition of


techniques and design categories

Pixoy Usulutan: Pixoy

Pixoy Usulutan: Pixoy

Fluting, punctation; common

To be determined

Savannah Bank Usulutan: Unspecified Savannah Bank Usulutan:


Unspecified

Notches and tabs on flanges,


groove incision; common

To be determined

Unnamed Red-on-red Usulutan with


Red Rim

Very rare

To be determined

Unnamed Black-on-orange with


Purple Rim

Very rare

To be determined

Unnamed Buff Impressed and Incised

Very rare

To be determined
To be determined

Unnamed Incised Dichrome

Correlo Incised Dichrome:


Unspecified

Cabro (not Sierra) slip; very rare

Not described

Caramba Red-on-orange:
Unspecified

Black rim bands on lip or interior To be determined


of rim, groove incision; uncommon

Cassada Red over Black: Cassada

Margay Black-trickle-on-red:
Margay

Groove incision; common

Bobche Smudged: Bobche

Boche Smudged: Bobche

None; very common

Sangre Red: Sangre

Sangre Red: Sangre

None; common

Taciste Washed: Taciste

Taciste Washed: Taciste

None; common

UNIDENTIFIED ELSEWHERE

gloss is similar to Petn Gloss Ware, and the sherds clink when tapped against
a hard surface.
Turning north, Joseph Ball (1978) noted that several varieties of Sierra Red
are doubtless represented in the collections made by Jack Eaton during his archaeological reconnaissance of the coast of Yucatn, citing Red Paste and Very
Pale Brown Variants. At Cob , Fernando Robles Castellanos established the
Engobe Claro Variety and an Unspecified (Black or Burned Paste) Variety. At
Edzna, Donald Forsyth established the Chon Variety based on differences in
form and an Unslipped Exterior Variety not identified elsewhere.
Of most significance, E. Wyllys Andrews V defined seven varieties of Sierra
Red at Late Preclassic (Late Nabanche Phase) Komchen, the most frequent
of which he called Sierra Red: Sierra Variety. He describes his Sierra Variety
as combining hard, usually opaque, and rarely waxy, even colored but often
rootlet marked or discolored slips with hard, compact pastes. When well preserved, Komchens Sierra Variety sherds produce a sharp, high sound when
tapped against a hard object. In other words, they clink. Cerro Mayas Cabro
Red and Komchens Sierra Variety are indistinguishable in terms of slip and
paste characteristics,5 but Komchens Sierra forms generally lack the medial
angles and flanges typical of Cerro Mayas Cabro, suggesting the Cerro Maya
material is later. Those forms do occur in Komchens Xanaba Red, which eventually replaced Sierra Variety in the Terminal Preclassic Xculul Phase. Travis
Stanton has confirmed the presence of a clinky variety of Sierra Red at Yaxuna,
and some of the Sierra Red at Calakmul is hard and glossy, and clinks (Travis
Stanton personal communication 2014; Robin Robertson personal observation
INAH Ceramoteca, Merida 2014).
If Cerro Maya had extensive connections to the north, Xanaba Red and
Tipikal Preslip-striated Red should be present in the inventory. Tipikal Preslipstriated Red has been tentatively identified and, along with Xanaba Red, may
be present in moderate frequencies as either Society Hall Red or Hukup Dull,
based on the descriptions of Fernando Robles Castellanos and E. W. Andrews
V, and an examination of the type collections. The dull to slightly lustrous,
poorly applied thin slips of Xanaba Red are often streaky and tend to flake off
when eroded, making the comparison to Society Hall Red more secure. Pending further examination of the type collections, Hukup Dull has been retained
as the type name. By far the most common Hukup Group forms are small
(6.510 cm diameter), thick-walled (0.81.4 cm), vertical or flaring necked
jars or slightly recurving walled drinking vessels, both of which were found in
burials and ceremonial deposits at Cerro Maya (Figure 7.1). The jars may have
contained an imported substance needed in ceremonial events that had more
value than the jars themselves.
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In Aejo Complex at Cob , Sierra Red: Engobe Claro Variety has a semiwaxy, easily eroded thin slip that varies widely in color and probably includes
the variation in slip characteristics found in Hukup Dull. Robles Castellanos
identified it in the Cerro Maya collections during the 1970s excavations. It is
the only Aejo Complex type that includes iron nodules in the fabric, a characteristic of almost all the Cerro Maya pastes.
Little Polvero Black was identified at Cerro Maya because I typically classified black sherds with mottled red areas as burned red wares, as Arthur Demarest did at El Mirador (1984:72). An exception is Bribri Black Composite

Figure 7.1. Hukup Dull and Sierra Red small, flaring or vertical necked jars from household caches
and burials, 7.012.5 cm high with ad necks intentionally removed and ei pieces removed or
smashed in situ: (a) SF-503; (b) SF-027; (c) SF-1612; (d) SF-800; (e) SF-290; (f ) SF-485; (g) SF-501 is
Sierra Red; (h) SF-489; (i) SF-920. Vessel i is similar to Tipikal Pre-slip Striated Red at Komchen. (Photographs by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)
Ceramics, Colonists, and Exchange at Cerro Maya

133

(formerly Bribri Black-and-unslipped), a rare type limited to bowls with a


black slip on the interior that extends over the rim. The unslipped exterior
areas, decorated with groove incision in a crisscross or rhomboid pattern, often
retained traces of ocher or red slip in the deeper grooves. These sherds resemble Composite black-slipped and unslipped-incised at Becan (Joseph Ball
personal communication 1978) and Dzalpach Composite (E. W. Andrews V
2014) and appear to be imports to Cerro Maya with angular calcite and sherd
temper rather than the almost ubiquitous iron nodules and mica spicules of
the local pastes. Distribution of these sherds at Cerro Maya correlates with the
painted facades on several buildings, indicating artists may have used them as
paint pots (Robertson-Freidel 1980:9293).
Cream and buff slips occur in low frequencies in northern Belize. Pring
originally established Cockscomb Buff as a local variant of Flor Cream with
an olive-tinged, waxy buff rather than cream slip. Kosakowsky eliminated that
type in favor of Flor Cream because of the color overlap, and Fred Valdez, noting that the commonly crazed, thin, lustrous slip was cream-colored at Colha,
followed suit. Flor Cream is a minority type at Cerro Maya, Cuello, Colha, and
Lamanai and at most sites in the Southern Lowlands.
In contrast, Nictaa Buff has a hard, glossy, thin, greenish-tinged buff to light
brown slip that occurs more frequently than Flor Cream. This double-slipped
clinky pottery also occurs at Colha along with Flor Cream (Valdez 1987), but
was not reported from Lamanai. On the Northern Plains of Yucatn, Robles
Castellanos established Beclum Blanco with a shiny cream slip that may be
comparable to Nictaa, although Beclum is more friable. He also reported a
Special Unnamed Red-on-cream with a glossy slip and consistent color in the
range of Nictaa. Shallow vertical grooves or striations on the exterior and the
red slip differentiate the two. Flor Cream occurred on one sherd as Mateo Redand-cream at Cob , in contrast to substantial amounts of both types at Edzna
across the peninsula.
Finally, Kuxche Red-orange has a moderately thin, uniformly rich reddishorange, hard slip. It lacks the pink paste surface and gloss typical of the Aguacate
Group in northern Belize (Pring 1977:306307) and on the Northern Plains,6 as
well as the light-colored underslip of the generally later Iberia Orange at Ceibal
and El Mirador. Orange slips are not reported from Colha or Lamanai in this
period, but I identified a Kuxche spouted vessel (chocolate pot) at Santa Rita
Corozal. Kuxche does bear some similarity to Chicago Orange: Chucun Variety at Cuello and, surprisingly, to Baclam Orange at Tikal. Because the orange
wares are notoriously fraught with typological difficulties (cf. Forsyth 1989:52
53), the original type designation has been retained pending an examination of
comparative material.
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Robin Robertson

Utility Types
Five of the six utility types at Cerro Maya have a one-to-one correspondence
between surface treatment and vessel form, suggesting functional specialization. These include Sapote Striated, Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Chiculte Variety, Poknoboy Striped, Bobche Smudged, and Ciego Composite: Chamah
Variety. All coexist with the catchall type Richardson Peak Unslipped established by Pring (1977) but vary in frequency depending upon context. The large
purported fermentation vessels designated Bobche Smudged have not been securely identified elsewhere; the others have a wider distribution. Pring divided
Sapote Striated into early and late varieties, both of which had striation on the
neck, arguably a regionally significant attribute for northern Belize. Pending
compilation of new information on the distributions of unstriated and striated
necks, and of the overall patterns of striation across the Maya area (cf. Rastro
Variety at Becan and Edzna), the Cerro Maya material is now designated Unspecified Variety.
Originally, Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Chiculte Variety was defined as
Chiculte Slipped Rim Striated because of its consistent occurrence as thinwalled jars with red-slipped rims and neck interiors that had unslipped exteriors decorated with brush striation (Figure 7.2). However, the presence of other
material related to Puletan Red-and-unslipped (Pring 1977:263) at Cerro Maya
indicates segregation at the variety level is more appropriate.
Despite their frequencies at Cerro Maya, the large cooking vessels of
Poknoboy Striped (Figure 7.3) have only been identified at Santa Rita Corozal
(Robin Robertson personal observation 2014) in northern Belize. Joseph Ball,
however, recently confirmed the authors observation that Poknoboy Striped
is similar to Almeja Gray, a type originally identified at Komchen by E. Wyllys
Andrews V (1988:53). While the specific chronological placement of Almeja
Gray has been controversial (E. W. Andrews V and Bey III 2011; Ceballos Gallareta and Robles Castellanos 2012), it is generally regarded as an early type.
At Cerro Maya, however, Poknoboy Striped is clearly associated with the Tulix
Phase, its longevity perhaps explained by its function as stationary cooking
vessels, most likely for seafood.
Ciego Composite: Chamah Variety (Figure 7.4) was originally designated
Crabboe Washed and Chamah Washed, one early and the other late. The
poorly made, friable, low dish forms with flaring walls, flat bases, and direct
rounded rims have a thin interior wash or slip. Exteriors are unslipped and
poorly smoothed, with drag marks inevitably present. The material is similar
to Ciego Composite, defined at Becan and found at Komchen, where, although
uncommon at both sites, it invariably occurs in flaring walled dishes 612 cm
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135

Figure 7.2. Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Chiculte Variety vessel SF-498 from the cenotaph probably associated with Burial 16. (Photograph by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of the Florida
Museum of Natural History.)

Figure 7.3. Poknoboy Striped: Poknoboy Variety large, thin-walled, round-bottomed jars with thick,
out-flaring necks and direct, rounded rims. Rims have a median diameter of 32 cm; (a) and (b) are
body sherds; (c) is SF-1360, a small version of this type from Household Cache C. (cf. Walker 2013).
(Photographs a and b by Debra Walker and c by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of the Florida
Museum of Natural History.)

high with rim diameters of 1848 cm. A red slip or wash on the interiors contrasts with the unslipped, poorly smoothed exteriors that have fine, closely
spaced vertical or horizontal striations, or what could be described as groups of
fine line incision. Ball (1977:114) cites an identity with Xculul Red-on-naturalincised at Dzibilchaltun. Ciego Composite occurs in somewhat higher frequencies and includes groove-incised rims often with tabs at Edzna; when the wash
is black, the material is called Koben Composite. However, much of the striation
at Edzna is quite heavy, possibly indicating the inclusion of other material. In all
cases, regardless of designation, the types are friable, reinforcing the similarity
to Chamah Variety. Because the Cerro Maya material does not have the vertical or horizontal fine line incision, it has been designated a variety of Ciego
Composite.
Chamah Variety is significant because it appears to have been used to produce salt by evaporation (Heather McKillop personal communication 2014).
Thousands of sherds occurred in domestic contexts and in the coastal storage
and salt production facility at Cerro Maya (Robertson and Walker 2015). A few
body sherds were identified in 2015 by the author in a scan of the Santa Rita

Figure 7.4. Ciego Washed: Chamah Variety flaring-walled vessel fragments. Walls are 57 cm high,
with rim diameters of 3843 cm. Probably used in salt production. (Photograph by Debra Walker,
courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)
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137

Corozal Late Preclassic collections at the University of Central Florida, suggesting a more thorough analysis would likely reveal a stronger presence. Terry
Powis identified a Chamah Washed vessel and 11 sherds at Lamanai in the Late
Zotz P8-2 Chultun Chamber 1. All had a thick, unidentified incrustation on the
interior surface. Valdez, in contrast, called similar material Ciego Composite
at Colha.
The presence of Ciego Composite or Xculul Red-on-natural-incised on the
Northern Plains and at Becan in small frequencies may suggest salt from the
south had value as an exotic alternative to local production in areas with easy
access to local salt, much like salt from le de R or sea salt from the Mediterranean has in twenty-first-century America. The higher frequencies of the
material in northern Belize may indicate salt production for local consumption
that was exchanged for chert and other things at Colha and for things yet to be
identified at Lamanai.

Usulutan Technique
As Donald Forsyth (1989:36) forcefully observed, the methods used to create
usulutan-like designs require more definition, and, this author would add, so
do the designs. While Arthur Demarest (1986) summarized characteristics differentiating pseudo-usulutan design from actual usulutan resist technique in
the Maya lowlands and Highlands, he did not consider through-the-slip incision, in contrast to wiped-off designs, as a means of producing resist-like design motifs. Until the various designs are classified and production techniques
are reflected in the nomenclature, a consideration of this material is beyond
the scope of this chapter. Cerro Maya has large quantities of pseudo-usulutan
vessels and sherds, and at least ten sherds were identified as Highland imports
by Arthur Demarest in 1980.
One class of usulutan-related vessels displaying a consistent set of attributes from Cerro Maya merit discussion. These medium-size (2632 cm
diameter), medially flanged Yaxnik Through-the-slip Incised vessels have a
reddish orange slip on the interior and a red-over-orange slip on the exterior. Occasionally the interior has a dark orange slip over a lighter orange.
The medial flange is horizontal, scalloped with regularly spaced impressions
( 2.0 cm wide), and decorated with purple paint pigmented with ground
specular hematite. Vertical lines are incised through the upper slip on the
walls of the interior, while the interior base is incised with undulating sets of
multiple fine lines. Usually, but not always, fins are attached at intervals to
the undulating lines. Similar vessels have been identified at Colha and Blue
Creek (Figure 7.5; Guderjan et al. 2014:Fig. 3). The purple painted rim bands
138

Robin Robertson

are similar to those found on Providencia Purple-on-fine-red: Providencia


Variety (Ronald Wetherington personal communication 1980) at Kaminaljuyu, dated to 400100 BCE by Arthur Demarest and Robert Sharer (1982).
The rarity of purple painted rims in the lowlands makes these later vessels
from northern Belize extraordinary.
The through-the-slip undulating multiple line design,7 in contrast to vertical or wavy multiple line designs, also occurs without the faceted flange or purple rim at Cerro Maya on whole vessels (Robertson-Freidel 1980:Fig. 34) and
some 150 sherd interiors. At Nohmul, Pring (2000:Fig. 43) noted the design
was associated with a swollen leg tetrapod. The design is found throughout the
lowlands in types that include Laguna Verde Incised: Usulutan at Tikal (Culbert 1993:Figs. 8b2, 9a1, 12d, and 13d), Laguna Verde Incised: Laguna Verde at
Ceibal (Sabloff 1975:Fig. 140), Correlo Incised Dichrome at Altar de Sacrificios8
and El Mirador,9 and Polvero Black at El Mirador (Forsyth 1989:Fig. 15q). If
this through-the-slip incision design occurs on the Northern Plains, as a single
Unnamed Negative Dichrome sherd at Edzna indicates it might, the design is
extremely rare there.

Figure 7.5. Yaxnik Through-the-slip Incised bowl from Chultun Tomb 5 at Blue Creek. Vessel BC#5703
with scalloped medial flange and specular hematite paint on the flange and up to the rim on the
exterior. On the interior, through-the-slip incision is used to create a modified snake motif. (Photograph by William Collins, courtesy of Thomas Guderjan.)
Ceramics, Colonists, and Exchange at Cerro Maya

139

Trickle Decorative Technique


Four types with trickle decoration occur at Cerro Maya, two of which are
significant for this discussion, Tuk Red-on-red Trickle and Zapatista Trickleon-cream-brown. The common Tuk Red-on-red Trickle has a Cabro Red slip
decorated with often faint vertical lines with irregular boundaries created by a
substance trickled down from the rim (Figure 7.6). At the rim, the lines tend
to merge together. They are wide (415 mm), dull, and slightly lighter than the
glossy red slip, making the lines difficult to see without tilting the vessel or
sherd back and forth in indirect light. Powis identified six Cabro Red: Trickle
Variety vessels at Lamanai in the Late Zotz Phase.10 Pring (2000) identified two
pots as Tuk Red-on-red Trickle in the Anderson and Cook Collection from
Nohmul, and 12 of the 27 vessels in Tomb 5 at Blue Creek are Tuk Red-on-red
Trickle, as are at least two of the vessels included in the Late Preclassic burials
at Santa Rita Corozal (Robin Robertson personal observation 2014). While the
type has not been reported from Cuello or Colha, Fred Valdez (personal communication 2014) suspects it may have been present at Colha, given the prolific
connections between the two sites.
Trickle decoration is rare in Petn, but occurs on a cylinder and a spouted
jar from Altar de Sacrificios (R. E. W. Adams 1971:Fig. 20d, e) and on a blackon-red trickle dish from the possible redeposited burial PD-87 in the North
Acropolis at Tikal that dates to the later Cimi Phase (Culbert 1993:Fig. 140a).
Along with a number of other vessels, the Tikal trickle dish was accompanied
by two dishes with a matte red finish on the exterior (Culbert 1993:Fig. 140g, j)
and an Unnamed Red Striated dish with diagonal striations on the unslipped
exterior (Culbert 1993:Fig 140k). These four Terminal Preclassic vessels may
have been imported from the Northern Plains at a time when Tikal was struggling to supplant El Mirador as the dominant political force in the region (Reese-Taylor and Walker 2002).
In the north, Caucel Trickle-on-red, formerly Caucel Black-on-red Trickle,
was a minority type at Xculul Phase Komchen and Aejo Phase Cob . At both
sites, the material was placed in the Xanaba Group rather than identified as a
variant of the Cabro-like Komchen Sierra Variety (E. W. Andrews V 2014). This
issue cannot be resolved without an examination of the type collections.
A second trickle technique type, Zapatista Trickle-on-cream-brown, has a
distribution that is presently limited to the Central Karstic Uplands, Becan,11 a
few sherds at Santa Rita Corozal (Robin Robertson personal observation 2014),
and a large number of sherds and vessels at Cerro Maya. Not reported in the
Komchen type list (E. W. Andrews V 1988) or manuscript (E. W. Andrews V
2014), Zapatista is also missing from Cob and coastal Yucatn. At Becan,
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Robin Robertson

Figure 7.6. Tuk Red-on-red Trickle vessels, showing greater width driplines at rim, driplike appearance, irregular borders, and thickness of trickle lines: (a) SF-051 from Burial 3; (b) SF-799 from
Household Cache G; (c) SF-334 from Burial 11; (d) SF-516 from Burial 17. (Photographs by Lucas Martindale Johnson, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)

the type takes a variety of forms, including bowls, dishes, and widemouthed
jars, but at Cerro Maya it occurs only in high-necked (67 cm) jars with three
asymmetrical strap handles, a form not found at Becan. At El Mirador, Forsyth
and Hansen identified two varieties of Zapatista Trickled Dichrome that differ only in the color of the base slip and similarly occur only in jars. Demarest
(1984:8083) describes a third Zapatista variety at El Mirador with black lines
over an unslipped tan surface that is also present but unnamed at Cerro Maya
in small quantities. Yaxnohcah may have Zapatista in small quantities as well
(Walker 2016).

Vessel Form Comparisons


While Cerro Maya vessel forms fall well within the range of other Terminal
Preclassic forms throughout the Maya lowlands, two are unusual. One of these
is the high-necked jar with three asymmetrical strap handles described above.
A slightly shorter necked jar also occurs in Cabro Red, Hukup Dull, and Kuxche
Red-orange, and isolated strap handles are fairly common in contrast to most
other sites (Figure 7.7a, SF-150). The second unusual form is a small vase with
a low medial angle and recurving walls (Figure 3.4b, Figure 7.7b). Some 128 of
these small vases, interpreted as drinking vessels (Robertson 1983:135), were
recovered from the dock area along with another 60 associated with burials
Ceramics, Colonists, and Exchange at Cerro Maya

141

and termination rituals. Despite postings on Facebook by Debra Walker and


my extensive searches, only seven examples have been tentatively identified
outside Cerro Maya. Six of these are from El Mirador (Forsyth 1989:Figs. 8fh,
10e; Hansen 1990:247 Fig. 95a, q). The seventh example, BC5726 from Tomb
5 at Blue Creek, is the right size for a drinking vessel but lacks the low medial
angle. BC5726 held 56 jade beads and a single shell bead with a possible censer
dish as a lid. It appears to have been reused as a burial offering associated with
Blue Creek Burial 35 (Guderjan et al. 2014:350), much like a number of the
drinking vessels from Cerro Maya (Walker Chapter 3).
To date only a small number of vessel spouts have been recovered from
Cerro Maya despite their frequency at Santa Rita Corozal across the bay (A.
Chase and D. Chase 1987). Terry Powis and colleagues (2002) have suggested
that these spouted vessels were designed to froth chocolate, but they also illustrate an image from the Colonial-era Tudela Codex (Powis et al. 2002:Fig.
8b) depicting a woman pouring chocolate from a narrow-necked jar held at
chin level into a widemouthed vase at her feet. Cerro Maya was located in a
known cacao-producing region (D. Chase 1986; Guderjan et al. Chapter 5), and
residue analysis has produced preliminary evidence for a cacao-based beverage in a drinking vessel, SF-029, from Burial 2 (Duffy and Walker 2014; Walker

Figure 7.7. Beverage group pairing from Cache 1: (a) SF-150 Hukup Dull three-handled jar; (b) SF-154 Chactoc Red and Buff drinking vessel. (Photographs by Debra Walker, courtesy of NICH, Belmopan, Belize.)
142

Robin Robertson

Chapter 3). Assuming the larger drinking vessels at Cerro Maya were receptacles for frothing chocolate poured from some height, the paucity of spouted
vessels affirms that a different frothing technique dominated the preparation
of chocolate beverages at Cerro Maya.

Discussion
Beyond northern Belize, the strongest ceramic parallels to Cerro Maya lie to
the north, primarily in the similarities among the Late Nabanche Sierra Variety at Komchen and the clinky redwares at Yaxuna. Although the presence of
Cabro Red at Yaxnohcah and Calakmul may suggest a wider distribution obscured by taxonomy, neither the Cabro Group nor trickle decoration at these
two sites appears to approach the frequencies in the north or at Cerro Maya.
In addition, characteristics shared with the north include red-on-red trickle
decoration, which is virtually absent in the southern lowlands, and Ciego
Composite, as well as others (Table 7.1). Komchens Sierra Variety forms, however, are more typical of early facet Late Preclassic (300100 BCE), and the
fine line incision on the northern Ciego Composite is not present in Ciego
Composite: Chamah Variety despite the otherwise near identity of the two
types. Xculul Phase Caucel Trickle-on-red and Xanaba slips are closely related
to Society Hall Red, and possibly to Hukup Dull, and the ridges and flanges in
Caucel and Xanaba are comparable to Cabro forms. The relationship between
Terminal Preclassic Xculul types and those in Late Nabanche Phase (E. W.
Andrews V and Bey III 2011) intimates that colonists arriving at Cerro Maya
from the north on the cusp of the two phases around 200/150 BCE would have
had elements of both complexes in their ceramic inventory. Unlike those on
the Northern Plains, the potters at Cerro Maya continued to produce Cabro
Group slips on later forms along with small quantities of Xanaba and Sierra
Red and most likely efficiently abandoned incision on Ciego Composite: Chamah Variety as larger quantities were required to meet increased local demand
for salt.
Huachinango Incised, Valladolid Incised Bichrome, and Dzilam Green Incised are contemporary northern types not identified at Cerro Maya. In the
increasingly diverse ceramic assemblages in the north around 150 BCE, these
types are rare on the east coast of Yucatn and even more unusual at Komchen,
perhaps indicating the northern connections were with the east coast and the
Komchen area rather than with the peninsula more generally.
In excavations of the Cerro Maya dock, the Sierra Group is absent until an
omankil12 facility and a nearby perishable residence were built in the waterfront
village, and Sierra comprises less than 10 percent of the inventory throughCeramics, Colonists, and Exchange at Cerro Maya

143

out the Op 34a sequence (Figure 7.8). The concurrent appearance of Sierra
Red and the shift in fermented beverage production for thirsty traders from
a household-level activity to a kin-group-managed specialized facility affirms
the integration of Cerro Maya into the northern Belize arena (Robertson and
Walker 2015). Simultaneously, the increasing frequency of exotics confirms the
sites growing participation in extraregional exchange.
Following the conversion of the omankil center to a salt production and
storage facility (Figure 7.9), the low frequencies of Ciego Composite: Chamah
Variety at Lamanai, Santa Rita Corozal, Colha, and probably Cuello13 signal
regional exchange of this Cerro Maya commodity. At the same time, these sites
and others in northern Belize adopted Chunux Hard Wares. Absent technical studies of pastes (Howie et al. Chapter 9), Cerro Mayas location suggests
that the northern ceramic technology spread quickly along with salt and other
trade items via rivers and seasonally inundated wetland canoe routes.
Zapatista Trickle-on-cream-brown, present in the Central Karstic Uplands
and Cerro Maya but virtually absent at other sites, may evince a shift in alliance
following the salt facility construction as differences in accumulated wealth
increased among the Cerro Maya residents. Zapatista jugs and drinking vessels
first appeared at Cerro Maya in a rich deposit of exotics and tools associated
with the second renovation of the residence next to the salt facility (Figure
7.10). Subsequently, they both became a consistent part of renovation rituals in
the waterfront village and eventually in caches and termination rituals for the
monumental architecture. Although not documented as such at El Mirador,
Zapatista jugs and their accompanying drinking vessels occupied sacred space
at Cerro Maya. Their use in ceremonial contexts was likely politically charged,
signifying and asserting the relationship between newly minted Cerro Maya
elites and their counterparts at El Mirador and its satellite sites.
A connection between El Mirador and Cerro Maya has long been contemplated (Freidel Chapter 16; Reese-Taylor Chapter 2; Reese-Taylor and Walker
2002). Here, it is tentatively proposed that as the development of an in situ
elite resulted from increasing control over both local and long-distance trade
passing through Chetumal Bay, Cerro Maya attracted attention from El Mirador, initially signified in the ceramic inventory by the incorporation of drinking vessels and Zapatista jugs into renovation rituals at Cerro Maya. Through
time, the relationship was consolidated and perhaps brought with it additional
resources for the eventual construction of monumental architecture reflecting
ideological and institutional ties to the Central Karstic Uplands. Determining
when and if Cerro Maya became a salient entrept of El Mirador in the Chetumal Bay area, as proposed by David Freidel and Mary Jane Acua (2014),
requires more data. It is clear, however, that when the hegemony of El Mira144

Robin Robertson

Figure 7.8. Sierra, Cabro, and Hukup group percentage frequencies plotted over events in Op 34a, illustrating the appearance of Sierra Red in Structure 2A-Sub 24-3rd and the low percentage of Sierra Red when
compared to Cabro throughout the deposits near the dock.

Figure 7.9. Percentage frequencies of Ciego Composite: Chamah Variety plotted over events in Op 34a,
illustrating the high frequency associated with the salt-production and storage facility (Floor 1A-14-1) as
compared to other Op 34a contexts.

dor ended at about 150 CE, just before the introduction of several Terminal
Preclassic ceramic markers, including polychromy and mammiform supports,
the Cerro Maya port also came to an end, except as a place of pilgrimage. Although people moved to new locations on Chetumal Bay, they brought their
pottery-making traditions and resource procurement strategies with them, as
evidenced in the expedient pottery technology described in the next chapter.

Acknowledgments
My thanks to Debra Walker, Laura Kosakowsky, David Freidel, Will Andrews,
Fernando Robles Castellanos, Teresa Ceballos Gallareta, Fred Valdez, Thomas
Guderjan, and Travis Stanton for generously sharing data, good questions, and
informed perspectives as well as encouragement throughout this comparative study. Arlen and Diane Chase graciously granted me access to the Santa
Rita Corozal collections. John Morris, Antonio Beardall, and Melissa Badillo
opened the collections from a number of sites in northern Belize. My thanks go

Figure 7.10. Drinking vessels (thick line) and Zapatista Trickle-on-cream-brown jars (thin line) plotted over
events in Op 34a. Graph illustrates the initial appearance of their pairing in the renovation ritual associated
with the residence 2A-Sub 24-2nd, adjacent to the salt-production and storage facility, and their increasing
frequencies through time with respect to other ritual events in Op 34a.
146

Robin Robertson

to Arthur Demarest, Duncan Pring, and Joe Ball for insights many years ago,
and to Serge Kappler and my daughters, Alayne and Lara, for their patience
and support then and now.

Notes
1. The Cerros Research Online Catalogue (CROC) is a valuable source for photographs and
more detailed information.
2. Kosakowsky at Cuello (Cocos Complex) and Valdez at Colha (Onecimo Complex) also
identified the Ahuacan Variety based on its similarity to a variety defined at Tikal that has
now been placed in the Mamom Tzec Phase by Culbert. In addition, Culbert retained Society
Hall as a variety of Sierra Red and confined it to the early facet Chuen Phase.
3. Duncan Pring (1977:478) initially assigned the type name Cabro to three slightly weathered vessels in the Anderson and Cook Collection from Nohmul, two of which have since
been designated as Tuk Red-on-red Trickle (Pring 2000:75). Pring and the author looked at
the pots and a large sample of the Cerro Maya sherds in the late 1970s and agreed those vessels
were like the hard, glossy, slipped pottery at Cerro Maya. The author subsequently adopted
his name for the Cerro Maya materials and provided the type description (Robertson-Freidel
1980:158171).
4. Although 2.5YR 4/6-8 is within the color range for Sierra Red at Becan, Cuello, Yaxuna,
and Mirador, the glossy, hard, double slip clearly distinguishes it. Cabro is outside the color
range of Sierra Red for Altar de Sacrificios and Tikal and most likely Calakmul, where the type
is a very dark red (Robin Robertson personal observation 2014, INAH Ceramoteca, Merida).
5. Andrews describes Sierra Red: Sierra Variety at Komchen as having a hard, usually
opaque and rarely waxy, even-colored slip often with rootlet marking and darker discolorations and notes that well-preserved Sierra Red sherds produce a sharp, high sound when
tapped against a hard object. He also says the surface generally has a shiny, painted appearance, often called opaque, rather than the dull lustrous look of a waxy ware or the glossy look
of an early polychrome. The author personally observed the similarity to Cabro Red: Cabro
Variety in the sample of Komchen Sierra Variety sherds from M-3011 used in Andrewss 2014
type description at the INAH Ceramoteca in Merida.
6. E. W. Andrews V identified 23 sherds as Aguacate Orange at Komchen, and Robles
Castellanos had an almost equal number at Cob .
7. The undulating design without the fins was also produced in various usulutan types such
as Savannah Bank Usulutan and Caramba Red-on-orange, as well as in positively painted
types such as Sacluc Black-on-orange and Cayetano Trichrome. The distribution is generally
the same as that created with through-the-slip incision.
8. At Altar de Sacrificios, the undulating design appears on the walls, rather than on the
base of a flaring walled vessel (R. E. W. Adams 1971:Fig. 18k). Like Correlo Incised Dichrome
at El Mirador, the type also includes vertical and wavy line decoration.
9. The 38 sherds include other designs and forms (Forsyth 1989:3436). Of interest here is
Fig. 18h, m, and n.
10. See Howie et al. Chapter 9, Table 9.1, for a listing of the Cabro Red: Trickle Variety materials from Lamanai. To retain consistency with Powiss dissertation (2002), the prior type
Ceramics, Colonists, and Exchange at Cerro Maya

147

name is included in Table 9.1, and the new designation is listed in brackets, although Powis
(personal communication 2015) agrees the material is the same.
11. Ball (1977:52) says it is equivalent to Black-on-orange-red at Dzibilchaltun, but then
notes the Dzibilchaltun material appears to differ at least at the variety and possibly at the
type level.
12. Omankil is sixteenth-century Yucatec Maya for fermentation (Barrera-Vasquez
1980:605), used here for the place where fermented beverages were prepared. The identification is based on the unusually high frequency (25 percent) of Bobche Smudged and three
strap handle jars along with the large cooking vessels of Poknoboy Striped in the earliest
structure near the dock with a stone, albeit crude, foundation (Robertson and Walker 2015).
13. Pring (1977) does not document the presence of Ciego Composite at sites investigated
as part of the Corozal Project, but it may have been subsumed in the Sierra Group as Sierra
Variety or, more likely, Xaibe Variety. Alternatively, there are dishes included in Puletan Redand-unslipped, but they have additional decorative modes that are never present in Ciego
Composite.

148

Robin Robertson

8
An Expedient Pottery Technology and Its Implications
for Ancient Maya Trade and Interaction

JAM ES AI M ERS, ELIZ AB ETH HAUSSN ER , DORI FARTH I NG,


A N D S AT O R U M U R ATA

Coconut Walk Plain is a coarse, fragile, and inconsistently shaped pottery that
is found in large quantities at sites on Ambergris Caye, especially at Marco
Gonzalez and San Juan (Figure 1.2). The type is most commonly found in Terminal Classic contexts along coasts and rivers, but has antecedents from at
least the Early Classic. In this chapter, we report on stylistic, functional, and
petrographic analysis of this pottery type and the implications of these findings
for interpretations of coastal trade and interaction relevant to research around
Chetumal Bay and beyond.

History and Distribution


The pottery we are discussing here is, formally, one of the crudest types of
pottery ever produced by the ancient Maya (Figure 8.1; Graham 1994:Fig. 5.8;
Murata 2011:Fig. 4.6). Shapes are dominated by globular bowls that appear to
have been very irregular, and it would be hard to take diameters from these
rims. We know of no extant full vessels, and the remaining coarsely tempered sherds are weak and break easily. Even when not eroded they are barely
smoothed at all. The surface color is generally consistent with the paste, which
is predominantly orange but varies greatly to tan, gray, and black, sometimes
on the same sherd.
Elizabeth Graham (1994:153156) first identified Coconut Walk Unslipped
in Tzakol 3/Tepeu 1 Middle Classic contexts in the Stann Creek area, where
she called it Coconut Walk Unslipped Ware. Fred Valdez recognized Grahams
ware identification in the type name Coconut Walk Plain for a type found in

Figure 8.1. Coconut Walk Unslipped rim profiles. (Illustration by Jenna Anderson.)

Late to Terminal Classic period contexts at San Juan, Ambergris Caye (Valdez
et al. 1995:9799). He did not give the type a group or ware designation but
noted that the San Juan sherds were virtually identical to sherds from Marco
Gonzalez. Based on her recent work at Marco Gonzalez, Graham placed Coconut Walk Unslipped in the Late Classic period.
Valdez cited a personal communication with Anthony Andrews (Valdez
et al. 1995:97) about the presence of what they called Coconut Walk Plain
northward along the Caribbean coast, and this pottery seems to represent a
long-lived tradition on the east coast of Belize. We are currently exploring the
similarity of this pottery to Punta Ycacos Unslipped, a type connected with salt
150

James Aimers, Elizabeth Haussner, Dori Farthing, and Satoru Murata

production in southern Belize (McKillop 2002, Chapter 15). Here we focus on


the origin of this pottery tradition, its currently known distribution, and some
of the cultural implications of its apparent spread from the coast to inland
areas.
Aimers became intrigued by this pottery tradition in his work with coauthor Murata at the site of Wits Cah Akal, previously called Mile 12, just south
of Belize City (Figure 1.2), where unslipped plates, platters, and shallow dishes
exclusively tempered with quartz emerged in the Late Preclassic and were classified as Straight Lagoon Unslipped. This is, to our knowledge, the earliest recognizable type within Calabash Unslipped Ware (but see Robertson Chapter
7 for a contemporary type, Ciego Composite: Chamah Variety, from Cerro
Maya), a ware that was originally created for Rio Juan Unslipped pottery in the
Postclassic era New Town Ceramic Complex at Barton Ramie (Gifford 1976)
and is also found at Lamanai (Aimers personal observation). Three sequential
types of Calabash Unslipped Ware, including Rio Juan Unslipped, were seriated based on form and temporal placement at Wits Cah Akal (Murata 2011).
We suggest that Coconut Walk Unslipped be placed in this ware, for reasons we
address below. Table 8.1 gives type-variety information for the three types that
we created at Wits Cah Akal based on temporal context and formal qualities.
These three types are part of a pottery tradition or, in standard type-variety
terms, a sequence:
A ceramic sequence is composed of pottery types similar to each other
in decorative style or manner of surface treatment (members of a single
type-class) which can be shown to have developed one to another from
early to late times. The types involved in a ceramic sequence, as indicators of developmental continuity involving a considerable length of time,
usually transcend wares and may include type elements from any number of different ceramic systems. (Gifford 1976:12)
Graham (1994:xvii, 140) identified plates, platters, and shallow dishes similar to
Straight Lagoon Unslipped in Terminal Preclassic to Early Classic contexts in
the Stann Creek area, but noted that she did not assign type names due to reservations about the standard type-variety method, the size of her sample, and
the preliminary nature of her research. Graham called these vessels Kakalche
Crude Orange Ware. In standard type-variety nomenclature, the platters could
be designated as a type called Kakalche Unslipped within a Kakalche Group of
Calabash Unslipped Ware. Issues of nomenclature aside, the closest correspondences noted by Graham (1994:144) for Kakalche Crude Orange Ware platters
are to shell-tempered Jilon Plain: Early Variety in the Early Classic at Aguacatal, a site on the southwest coast of Campeche that had trade connections with
An Expedient Pottery Technology and Ancient Maya Trade

151

Table 8.1. Type-variety information for the members of the Coconut Walk
ceramic sequence at Witz Cah Akal

Period

Late Preclassic
Early Classic (includes
Terminal Preclassic)

Late-Terminal
Classic

Terminal Classic
Early Postclassic

Ware

Calabash Unslipped Ware


(Willey et al. 1965:384) or
Coconut Walk Unslipped
Ware (Graham 1994)

Calabash Unslipped
Ware (Willey et al.
1965:384) or Coconut
Walk Unslipped
Ware (Graham 1994)

Calabash Unslipped
Ware (Willey et al.
1965:384) or Coconut
Walk Unslipped Ware
(Graham 1994)

Group

Straight Lagoon Group

Hector Creek Group

Rio Juan Group

Type

Straight Lagoon
Unslipped

Hector Creek
Unslipped

Rio Juan Unslipped

Varieties Straight Lagoon Variety

Hector Creek Variety;


HCU-2 Variety

Rio Juan Variety;Variety


Unspecified

System

Coconut Walk
Unslipped Ceramic
System

No system designation
since we know of
no analogous types
with different names
elsewhere

Kakalche Unslipped
Ceramic System due to
similarities to Grahams
(1994: 1404) Kakalche
Crude Orange Ware

Belize and Petn (Matheny 1970). We have put the analogous type at Wits Cah
Akal, Straight Lagoon Unslipped, in the Kakalche Unslipped Ceramic System
(Table 8.1) to highlight its stylistic similarity to the Stann Creek pottery.
In Tzakol 3/Tepeu 1 Middle Classic contexts at the Colsons Point sites, Graham documented the presence of Coconut Walk Unslipped Ware bowls, incurving bowls, and rare plates or platters (Graham 1994:153156). In standard
type-variety classification, Grahams vessels should probably be renamed the
Coconut Walk Unslipped type and placed in a Coconut Walk Group of Calabash Unslipped Ware. Informally, this has already happened in discussions of
the type among archaeologists. We are retaining the name Coconut Walk Unslipped rather than Coconut Walk Plain (Valdez et al. 1995) because the former
name is closer to Grahams original designation and is used more often (e.g., A.
Andrews and Mock 2002).
For Wits Cah Akal, Murata (2011) described a variety of the type Hector
Creek Unslipped (Table 8.1), which has the same surface finish and paste as
the Hector Creek Variety, but with a form that closely resembles Postclassic
period Rio Juan Unslipped jars. Murata called this variety HCU-2. It was found
in association with both Late and Terminal Classic type vessels in excavations
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James Aimers, Elizabeth Haussner, Dori Farthing, and Satoru Murata

at Operation 72, and alongside Rio Juan Unslipped at Operation 75. Murata
suggested that the HCU-2 variety may be transitional between Hector Creek
Unslipped: Hector Creek Variety and Rio Juan Unslipped: Rio Juan Variety.
Thus, the collared jar form used to define the type Rio Juan Unslipped in the
Early Postclassic at Barton Ramie (Op 75 Zone 9; Gifford 1976:307310) may
have emerged in the Late Classic at Wits Cah Akal and therefore may be earlier
on the coast than at inland sites such as Barton Ramie in the Belize River valley
and Lamanai on the New River Lagoon.
This is reasonable given the lack of Classic period antecedents to Rio Juan
Unslipped in the Belize Valley and the fact that no well-accepted Terminal
Classic diagnostics appear anywhere at Wits Cah Akal, with the possible exception of Roaring Creek Red dishes that also may have emerged in the Late
Classic. Nevertheless, the distinctive collared rim mode of the Rio Juan jars is
very characteristic of Postclassic period pottery across the peninsula and so
rare in the Classic period that Aimers was initially hesitant to accept a date for
the Rio Juan Unslipped at Mile 12 prior to the Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic transition. Whatever its exact temporal origin, this quartz-tempered
technostylistic tradition appears to have spread inland rapidly somewhere near
the beginning of the Postclassic. The presence of Rio Juan Unslipped at Lamanai, the upper Belize Valley, and the Petn Lakes without clear antecedents in
any of these areas demonstrates how far this style moved in a relatively brief
period.

Functions
Due to the thin, fragile nature of the vessels, lack of sooting, and lime incrustations on the interiors, Graham (1994:153156) suggested Coconut Walk Unslipped may have been used for soaking, perhaps to make lime from shells
or to soak corn in a lime solution. Graham has also argued that some of the
pottery in this ceramic system was used in salt production based on analogies
to salt-production pottery in the Maya highlands. Given the similarities to
the well-known salt-production type Punta Ycacos Unslipped, we concur with
Grahams assessment (A. Andrews and Mock 2002:314315). Among the contributors to a volume on Ambergris Caye excavations (Guderjan and Garber
1995) there was disagreement. Valdez believed that, Coconut Walk is part of
an evaporative salt-production complex in coastal northern Belize (Valdez and
Mock 1989) which was defined in the south by MacKinnon and Kepecs (1989)
and also found at the Northern River Lagoon site (Valdez et al. 1995:97).
Tom Guderjan and Jim Garber were not convinced because the sherds were
not associated with the lugs typically used in salt making:
An Expedient Pottery Technology and Ancient Maya Trade

153

The Ambergris sites have direct access to large salt-producing lagoons


([A.] Andrews 1983) that were productive enough in colonial times for
attempts at commercial exploitation to have probably occurred (Guderjan 1988). Some of the contexts of materials from Ek Luum and Chac
Balam, as discussed in Chapter 3 of this volume [Guderjan and Garber
1995], also open the likelihood of other functions.
However, if this ceramic type functioned in salt production, it may
then be conservatism that retains the ceramic form and composition.
This conservatism may account for the longevity of a ceramic type in
terms of its description, that is, form, paste composition, breakage patterns, etc. (Valdez et al. 1995:99)
At Wits Cah Akal, the plate, platter, and shallow bowl forms diagnostic of
Straight Lagoon Unslipped gave way around the start of the Late Classic to the
bowls, some with incurved rims, and outcurving-rimmed jars that we have
called Hector Creek Unslipped. Graham (1994:155) noted that similar shallow
bowls at Late Preclassic Cerro Maya have been called Ciego Composite (Chamah Washed in Robertson-Freidel 1980; reevaluated in Robertson Chapter 7).
Graham (1994:155156) speculated that given the coastal locations of many
analogous vessels, they may have been used for evaporating brine to produce
salt, but she was initially skeptical due to vessel shapes, a lack of fire blackening, and the inappropriateness of solar evaporation in the wet Stann Creek
environment:
The Tzakol 3-Tepeu 1 Coconut Walk unslipped ware from Watsons Island
tells another story, for it was clearly made at or very near Watsons Island
for a specific use, though I have played down the possibility of its use in
salt production until more data are collected. The striking similarity of
Coconut Walk unslipped ware bowls to the cajetes used in salt making
in Sacapulas, Guatemala (Reina and Monaghan 1981) suggests that the
ware was used by the Maya at Watsons Island in the same mannerif
not to produce the same product, then perhaps in a way related to the
production of lime that took place in Tzakol 3Tepeu 1 times. (Graham
1994:247)
Murata reached a slightly different conclusion:
It seems almost certain that both the jars and HCU [Hector Creek Unslipped] were deeply related to the sal cocida process. Perhaps, as both
ethnographic examples (Reina and Monaghan 1981) and logic dictate,
multiple vessel types were utilized in the processfor example, vessels
for storing the brine, for pouring the brine into boiling vessels, and for
154

James Aimers, Elizabeth Haussner, Dori Farthing, and Satoru Murata

the boiling process itself. Considering the friable nature of HCU, they
may have been better suited for storing and pouring, while the jars were
used for boiling. (2011:232)
We are still exploring the nature of the probable connection of members of
the Coconut Walk Unslipped ceramic system to salt production (Aimers et al.
2015), but space limitations here require us to leave that discussion for now.

Petrography
For this study, 15 representative samples of Coconut Walk Unslipped and macroscopically similar ceramic types from the Ambergris Caye sites of San Juan,
Ek Luum, and Chac Balam (Guderjan and Garber 1995) were selected for petrographic analysis. The petrographic slides were prepared by Linda Howie of
HD Analytical Solutions in London, Ontario (see also Howie et al. Chapter 9).
Sherds for analysis were selected to reflect the range of macroscopic variation
across the samples, including a sherd that may represent a very thin walled
variety of Coconut Walk Unslipped and two sherds with red washes. Two
samples from the Pozo Ceramic System and one sample of Tsabak Unslipped
(Figure 8.2) were included because their paste and surface resemble Coconut Walk Unslipped although they came from larger and better-made vessels.
Tsabak Unslipped was defined at Cerro Maya (Walker 1990:9195), and Aimers
has identified it at Lamanai.
The samples were studied in thin section by Elizabeth Haussner, then an
undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo, under the supervision of Dori Farthing of
Geneseos Department of Geological Sciences. The sections were described
based on a technique outlined by Whitbread (1986, 1989, 1995). This technique
combines aspects and terminology from sedimentary and soil petrography to
comprehensively describe characteristics of ceramic thin sections, including
voids, micromass (also known as groundmass), inclusions, and concentration/
depletion features (Whitbread 1995).
The analysis revealed that all samples contained aligned, elongated voids.
Three sherds, including one Coconut Walk Unslipped sherd, one sherd from
the Pozo system, and the Tsabak Unslipped sherd (Figure 8.2), contained additional larger, more rounded, vuggy voids, which shared an alignment with
the elongated voids. Also in alignment were the inclusions in each sherd. These
inclusions proved to be the most striking result of the study (Figure 8.3).
Ambergris Caye is a reef-rimmed carbonate platform that was maintained
through most of the Holocene by alternating periods of barrier reef growth
and karstification (Mazullo 2006). This geological setting creates a local liAn Expedient Pottery Technology and Ancient Maya Trade

155

thology on and around the cay that is entirely carbonate in nature without the
presence of siliciclastic sediments, such as quartz (Mazullo 2006). However,
the inclusions in 14 out of the 15 ceramic sherds in this study were quartz
dominated, indicating that these sherds were made with material not found
on Ambergris Caye (Figure 8.2). This contradicted our initial assumptions
about Coconut Walk Unslipped pottery. The one sherd not dominated by
quartz contained more angular inclusions (Figure 8.3) and was one of two
Coconut Walk Unslipped sherds in the sample with a red wash. Given its
macroscopic and microscopic variation from standard Coconut Walk Unslipped, it may be reasonable to create a new variety designation, as Valdez
and colleagues (1995) did, but currently we do not have a sample large enough
to justify this. Furthermore, it is important to note that this sherd did contain
quartz inclusions, although these were smaller and a minor constituent of the
sherd. In addition to the mineral grain inclusions, two samples of Coconut
Walk Unslipped contained inclusions that could be interpreted as shell material.
In numerous sherds, micrite and sparry calcite were visible rimming the
inside of voids or capping mineral grains within the samples. Most likely, the
crystals rimming the inside of voids were secondary features that formed in
the void space after the pottery was made. In two samples, concentrations of
sparry calcite crystals formed isolated features within the micromass. Also
present in numerous sherds was a dark brown amorphous concentration or
depletion feature. A few samples also presented a textural concentration feature that appeared to be a different type of clay mixed into the micromass of
the sherd.
The fabrics of the micromass of samples in this study varied widely. Some
samples had a stronger fabric, other samples had a weak fabric, and others
had no discernible fabric. However, although micromass fabric is included in
Whitbreads descriptive method for the characterization of ceramic thin sections, it does not reveal any clues about the mineralogy of the material. This is
one of the limits of thin section petrography. Therefore, additional analysis of
these sherds, such as x-ray diffraction, would be the next step in petrographic
analysis of Coconut Walk Unslipped.
These findings surprised us because we assumed that pottery on a cay covered in sand would be tempered with that local sand. When we conveyed
the findings to Elizabeth Graham, she shared with us an unpublished paper
describing ceramics from the Marco Gonzalez site on Ambergris Caye (Teal
1994). In commenting on the quartz temper found in some of the pottery types
from Marco Gonzalez, including Coconut Walk Unslipped, Chellie Teal concluded:
156

James Aimers, Elizabeth Haussner, Dori Farthing, and Satoru Murata

Figure 8.2. Cross-polarized image of Tsabak Unslipped sherd, sample SJTS-15 from San Juan
with large inclusions of quartz grains. (Photograph courtesy of Dori Farthing.)

Figure 8.3. Plane-polarized image of Coconut Walk Unslipped sherd, sample SJTS-09 from San
Juan with angular nonquartz inclusions. This was one of two sherds in the sample with a red
wash. (Photograph courtesy of Dori Farthing.)

Based on hundreds of core samples taken over the years by S. J. Mazzullo


(personal communication 1994), quartz (detrital or authigenic) is either
nonexistent or present only in trace amounts (1%) in the modern sediments on and around Ambergris Caye. It would therefore have been impossible for any Mayan potter to concentrate the volume of quartz necessary for tempering the Marco Gonzalez pottery from any source on or
around Ambergris Caye. In contrast, quartz is very abundant and could
have been easily obtained near the granitic intrusions and associated
metamorphic rocks of the Maya Mountains in southern Belize. Also,
detrital quartz and feldspar, together with micas and pyroxene eroded
from the Maya Mountains, compose the bulk of river and coastal sediments in southern Belize (Krueger 1963) and along most of the mainland coast northward from Belize city to Bennetts Lagoon directly opposite Ambergris Caye (S. J. Mazzullo, personal communication 1994).
These are the most likely sources of the quartz (and associated feldspar,
mica and pyroxene) found in the Marco Gonzalez pottery.
Petrographic examination of the thin sections indicates that the
quartz in the pottery is predominantly monocrystalline, with moderate
to strongly undulose extinction and lacking any inclusions or vacuoles.
This type of quartz is characteristic of derivation from igneous and/or
metamorphic sources (Folk 1968). The Maya Mountains are composed
of such rocks (Ower 1928; Dixon 1956). These observations are therefore consistent with the interpretation that quartz used as temper in the
Marco Gonzalez pottery likely was derived from inland, possibly the
Maya Mountains, or coastal mainland Belize, but not from Ambergris
Caye. (Graham 1994:2627)

Cultural Significance
As is often the case with ordinary pottery, there has not been much research
on types such as Coconut Walk Unslipped, so we bring many assumptions
to the analysis. Ethnoarchaeological research suggests that utilitarian pottery was made using local materials in small household or community workshops. Potters commonly circulate their wares within a 15 to 50 km radius
of their homes, with a tendency toward the lower end of the range (Stark
2003:209). Murdock and Provost (1973) found that in 76 percent of 105 pottery-producing societies, household pottery production was undertaken entirely or mainly by women.
Investigators rarely point out that cooking pots are often harder to pro158

James Aimers, Elizabeth Haussner, Dori Farthing, and Satoru Murata

duce than serving vessels due to how they are used. The heavy temper of these
pots would increase performance in cooking, and sand temper in particular
provides better heating effectiveness than comparable untempered vessels
(Skibo and Schiffer 1995:83). Rough-textured surfaces do not increase heating
effectiveness but do prevent spalling and cracking since heat and stream can
escape more easily. Globular shapes also are better for cooking than ones with
sharp changes in curvature. Together, these characteristics define a technological style (Lechtman 1977; Lemonier 1986). The sudden appearance of this
pottery tradition is without precedent far inland at Lamanai and in the Belize
Valley in the Early Postclassic. Elsewhere, one of us (Aimers 2012) has argued
that the tradition moved inland via rivers as part of the intense population
movement around the Maya lowlands during the turbulence of the Terminal Classic collapse (Aimers 2004). This hypothesis is supported by data from
other ordinary cooking traditions that entered the Belize Valley simultaneously, including griddles for tortillas, suggesting migration.
When Rio Juan Unslipped appeared in the Belize Valley and at Lamanai in
the Postclassic, there appears to have been two different recipes. The Rio Juan
Variety had quartz without calcite, whereas the Unspecified Variety contained
calcite as well as quartz (Gifford 1976). There are at least two ways to explain
this diversity. In one scenario, the two recipes may represent different groups of
potters. Perhaps an immigrant group brought the quartz-tempered tradition,
and then local groups modified the recipe by adding calcite as they had done
for centuries with other unslipped types. Another explanation could be that
the noncalcite-tempered Rio Juan Unslipped: Rio Juan Variety was traded into
the Belize Valley and northern Belize, where it was copied in a paste that included calcite. It is also interesting that Robert Sharer and Arlen Chase (1976),
in their discussion of the Barton Ramie collections, note vague Yucatecan
similarities for the calcite-tempered Variety Unspecified, probably in reference to the effigy lugs found in this variety (see R. E. Smith 1971:Fig. 28a).
The combination of distinctive modal attributes and a distinctive technological style may say something about the sociopolitical affiliations of the potters
making the calcite-tempered Variety Unspecified; that is, they were northern
rather than coastal.
None of the Hector Creek Unslipped types that were thin sectioned and examined with instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis for Muratas dissertation
had calcite inclusions; rather, they are entirely quartz tempered. It appears that
an early facet of the Hector Creek Unslipped jars had curved rims (Operation
75 below Zone 2) that gradually transformed into Rio Juan Unslipped: Rio Juan
Variety collared jars. The two facets can be separated only by formal modes.
An Expedient Pottery Technology and Ancient Maya Trade

159

Discussion
The fact that Barton Ramies Rio Juan Unslipped appears suddenly in the Belize
Valley in the Postclassic period with no discernible precursor suggests that it
was an introduction. In that light, it is informative to consider the impression
that Calabash Unslipped Ware made on Gifford, who referred to the ceramics
of the New Town phase as follows: the relative decline in ceramic standards
is one of the sharpest witnessed anywhere (Gifford 1965:384). Rio Juan Unslipped was part of a rag-tag of crudely fashioned unslipped odds and ends
very difficult to classify in any orderly way (Gifford 1965:384). When compiling descriptions of the New Town complex, Sharer and Chase tentatively
suggested that this supposed decline represented economic devolution: a reversion to single household as opposed to mass or specialized, pottery production may be seen in the overall ceramic variability. They further concluded
that Giffords . . . sociopolitical analysis of the situation, in which the collapse
of a technically specialized society yields to the basic family unit with an associated lack of technical know-how, appears to be upheld (Sharer and Chase
1976:288289). They do take issue with the degree of decline represented by the
More Force, Rio Juan, and Maskall Unslipped Groups, but the fact that they
later suggest that Rio Juan Unslipped represents a late facet of New Town at
least implies that they saw standards as deteriorating throughout the Postclassic. More Force Unslipped was tentatively placed in Uaxactun Unslipped Ware
and does more closely resemble the Classic period unslipped types.
In any case, the fact that the members of the Coconut Walk Unslipped Ceramic Sequence coexist with a sophisticated ceramic technology represented
by very well made red-lipped and red-rimmed jars for over 1,000 years at Wits
Cah Akal suggests that, in fact, Rio Juan Unslipped does not represent a radical change in production overall, but the introduction of an expedient ceramic
technology that had been used by coastal people for about a millennium. In
other words, Rio Juan Unslipped in the Belize Valley may represent immigration rather than degeneration. An expedient technology is just that; it need
not indicate sociopolitical decline. A contemporary analogy for an expedient
technology is paper plates, which were introduced well after porcelain and
stoneware but do not track a decline in sociopolitical complexity. In fact, they
reflect an increase in sociopolitical complexity.

Conclusion
Many questions remain about Coconut Walk Unslipped and related types. The
evidence we have presented here is that it was developed first by coastal people,
160

James Aimers, Elizabeth Haussner, Dori Farthing, and Satoru Murata

perhaps in relation to salt production, for ordinary household use, or for multiple purposes. The presence of imported quartz temper in the sherds from Ambergris Caye discussed here and by Teal (1994) suggests that the temper was
very important to the performance of the pottery. We hope that others working
on the coast of the Caribbean, including those working around Chetumal Bay,
will take a closer look at this visually unappealing but culturally important
pottery. Clearly, waterborne trade made this pottery production system possible, as Linda Howie and colleagues discovered by examining routine pottery
exchange in the Lamanai region, the topic considered in the next chapter.

An Expedient Pottery Technology and Ancient Maya Trade

161

9
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the
Chetumal Bay Area over More than Two Millennia

LINDA HOWIE, TERRY G. POWIS,


AND ELIZABETH GRAHAM

Based on their work on Cozumel Island, David Freidel and Jeremy Sabloff
(1984:185193) painted a vivid picture of everyday trading and market activities
in the Postclassic northern Maya lowlands, where villages and urban centers
situated on riverine highways and shorelines were connected to distant regions
of the Caribbean coast and various parts of the interior. They invoked images
of canoes laden with goods destined for market being unloaded on docks just
as others pushed off, provisioned and headed for home or additional destinations along a well-known route. Merchants, middlemen, artisans, tradesmen,
consumers, dignitaries, festival goers, pilgrims, and visiting relatives departed
and arrived, attending to their business and conducting their affairs in seamless daily routines in bustling waterfront communities.
Finding jadeite, marine shell, obsidian, igneous rocks, and metal objects
at lowland Maya sites up to several hundred kilometers from their natural
sources provides direct evidence that exotic commodities circulated over long
distances. This activity has been documented in multiple areas from at least the
time of the earliest settled villages. It was pan-regional in scope, and required
long-term maintenance of social relationships that facilitated access to distant
desirable materials.
The image of coastal communities as busy interconnected hubs of commercial activities also illuminates more qualitative characteristics of trade, such
as the integrative character of exchange and the potential vastness and interconnectedness of the network of localities through which goods and people
moved. These characteristics are challenging to investigate, as the material

record offers only static and piecemeal evidence of a complex, fluid, and dynamic constellation of actions, interactions, and ways of doing. Movement
of nonperishable goods and associated raw materials is seen archaeologically
through points of origin in the natural world, or geologic source areas, versus
terminus points in the cultural world, that is, at archaeological sites. What
went on as the distance between the two was traveled, such as the choice of
paths taken, directionality, speed, and constancy of movement, leaves little
trace. The iconographic and epigraphic record suggests that Classic Maya
elites, together with a sometimes sizable retinue, traveled considerable distances to meet other elites, and that materials were transported and changed
hands on these occasions (Tokovinine and Beliaev 2013).
Ethnohistoric descriptions of Spanish colonial commercial activity in the
northern Maya lowlands provide abundant evidence of lively market economies, where merchants traveled specific routes that included stops at multiple
communities and moved with groups of other people who were visiting neighboring and distant settlements for other reasons (Freidel and Sabloff 1984).
Whether they were one-way, roundtrip, or multiple-stop voyages, these economic pursuits likely involved overnight stays along the way, given the logistical constraints of travel in ancient Mesoamerica and the time needed to complete the journey. These stops would have presented opportunities to engage
with residents of other communities, and it is difficult to imagine that such
opportunities were not planned in advance.
In this chapter, we examine interregional exchange networks that structured
the flow of exotic goods and investigate how these networks changed through
time. We focus on the movement of pottery across short distances between
Chetumal Bay and our study site, Lamanai. The large, long-lived urban center
is situated 80 km inland on the New River Lagoon, part of a major river system
that linked inland areas to the Caribbean coast (Walker Chapter 1, Figure 1.2).
Rather than exotic goods, we isolate the movement of redundant material
goods (Masson and Freidel 2013), which are presumed to have had less intrinsic and social value since they were produced locally in abundance. These can
be examined across comparatively short distances to measure the connectedness of neighboring communities participating in the same interregional networks that facilitated the flow of exotics.
A focus on redundant materials provides insight into the regularity of
intercommunity interaction on a microregional scale. Changes in these interactions can be productively investigated during ceramic transitions, that is,
when patterns of pottery production and demand are in flux. Specifically, we
compare evidence for the movement of pottery between Chetumal Bay and
Lamanai during three transitional periods when changes were most evident:
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

163

the Late Preclassic to Terminal Preclassic, Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic,


and Late Postclassic to Spanish Colonial periods. Investigation of the factors
that contributed to changes in the material record during these transitions has
been a main focus of research at Lamanai. Consequently, the related ceramic
inventories are particularly well studied. Additionally, this diachronic view of
the evidence for the movement of material objects across short distances enabled us to explore how patterns of socioeconomic interaction between nearby
communities changed over the 2,000 years Lamanai was occupied.

The Long and the Short of Exchange and Interaction


between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area
Lamanai and sites in the Chetumal Bay area were hubs in an exchange network that circulated materials from distant natural sources to various communities throughout the Maya lowlands. These goods ultimately derive from
geological formations in Mexico, the Guatemalan Highlands, Honduras, and
both inland and coastal areas of the southern and northern Maya lowlands.
Waterborne travel between the Caribbean coast and southern interior regions
would have brought travelers to Lamanai. Travelers in the opposite direction
would have passed by river and bay fronting communities on Chetumal Bay
on their way to the Caribbean coast and offshore cays. The participation of Lamanai and Chetumal Bay communities in long-distance exchange networks
is evident in the presence of artifacts made from a broad range of geological
materials that do not occur naturally in the limestone-dominated landscape
of northern Belize.
Potential source areas for many exotic materials are located several hundred
kilometers away, and derive from the igneous, metamorphic, and metasedimentary rock formations of the Maya Mountains and Sierra Madres (Graham
1987b; Shipley and Graham 1987). These geologically nonlocal raw materials
include, but are not limited to, granite, basalt, vesicular basalt, obsidian and
other volcanic rock types, quartzite, slate, jadeite and other metamorphic rock
types, and precious metals such as copper, silver and related metal alloys, native mercury, and cinnabar (for Lamanai, see Graham 2004, 2011; Pendergast
1981, 1982a, 1982b, 1984, 1985, 1986; Simmons et al. 2009). As several researchers interested in the movement of exotic goods have pointed out (Graham
1987b; Shipley and Graham 1987), the determination and discrimination of
raw materials sources require detailed microscopic and/or chemical analysis,
and few such studies have been conducted at sites in northern Belize. Possible
exceptions to this are provenance studies of true jadeite (Hammond et al.
1977) and obsidian, which have been shown to have a very specific and limited
164

Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

geologic distribution and whose identifying characteristics are comparatively


well defined.
Objects made of geologically exotic raw materials have a widespread and
lengthy history of use at Lamanai and sites on Chetumal Bay. They constitute
a comparatively rare category of artifacts during all eras, however, even when
taken together as total assemblages. Their rarity would seem to imply that either access to or distribution of these items was fairly restricted, or that interregional exchange connections operated on a relatively limited scale.
By contrast, nonlocal material goods deriving from less-distant source areas
appear to have circulated freely through regional exchange networks. For example, marine shell occurred in significant quantities during all time periods at
Lamanai, located 80 km from the Caribbean coast. Similarly, chert implements
from inland source areas near Colha (Chiarulli Chapter 12) are also abundant
at Lamanai. Regionally specific architectural similarities among sites in northern Belize provide additional evidence for the exchange and flow of ideas between communities, and further suggest that interaction and communication
between at least some settlements were fairly regular. Indeed, stylistic similarities between ceremonial buildings at Lamanai and Cerro Maya during the
Late Preclassic period suggest a shared set of aesthetic ideas and preferences
concerning material culture developed during early occupational periods.
The ceramic record offers additional evidence of shared preferences, norms,
and values at the regional level and supraregional scales. Despite discontinuities in the occupational histories of individual sites in northern Belize, temporally equivalent site assemblages are often strikingly similar. Stylistic commonalities among the ceramic assemblages at Lamanai and sites on Chetumal
Bay are apparent from at least Late Preclassic times and continue through to
the Spanish Colonial period (Robertson et al. 2015), although Lamanai is the
only site in the area with an uninterrupted history of occupation.
Sustained stylistic similarities across the region suggest several straightforward inferences about the flow and exchange of information among geographically separated communities. They suggest that information and ideas flowed
between communities as a result of interactions, and that ideas and values
circulated widely enough that both producers and consumers shared them.
Nonetheless, the widespread geographic distribution of vessel styles, especially
those numerically predominant in local assemblages, has meant that such pottery is often viewed as constituting a category of redundant materials that
likely did not circulate widely due to an abundance of locally made equivalents.
As a consequence, pottery conforming to regionally shared stylistic conventions has seldom been the focus of studies seeking to quantify the movement of
material goods among geographically separated communities to characterize
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

165

patterns and networks of socioeconomic interaction and exchange. As with


other material goods made from geological resources, however, pottery fabric
can be linked to broad geographic source locations, which allows its origins to
be discriminated and its movement quantified. Since pottery often forms the
most abundant category of the materials characteristic of particular periods of
occupation, it offers different and complimentary information about socioeconomic interaction, particularly among communities in the same region.

Trends and Connections in Pottery Styles


The Late Preclassic to Terminal Preclassic Transition
As with sites on Chetumal Bay, Lamanais Late Preclassic ceramic inventory
is dominated by Chicanel wares (Powis 2002, 2004; Powis et al. 2006). These
table and service wares, which exhibit remarkable stylistic homogeneity on
the regional level, are characterized by waxy-textured monochrome slips applied to a restricted suite of vessel forms, which include flat-based, flaringsided dishes, bowls, plates, and buckets with horizontal everted rims and labial
flanges. At Lamanai, over 70 percent belong to the Sierra Group (Table 9.1).1 By
the onset of the Terminal Preclassic period at 10050 BCE, this ceramic uniformity began to break down with the appearance of a broad series of ceramic
attributes including true red-on-orange dichromes, polychromes, high-gloss
orange wares, usulutan wares, trickle line decoration, mammiform feet, bridge
spout jars, and ring bases. This period of increasing stylistic heterogeneity is
considered to mark an interval of significant technological experimentation
and innovation in artistic expression.

The Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic Transition


The Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic ceramic inventory at Lamanai is
characterized by a striking shift in stylistic tendencies (Graham 1987a; Howie
2006, 2012). Like the Late Classic, the Terminal Classic inventory comprises
a range of visually distinct vessel styles including polychrome, dichrome, and
monochrome serving wares with a variety of bowl, jar, dish, and vase forms
represented. Prevalent type-variety designations include, for example, Achote
Black, Daylight Orange, Roaring Creek Red, and Kik Red. By Early Postclassic times, orange to reddish-orange slipped vessels with or without post-slip
incised decoration predominated. The transition to exclusively orange slipped
vessels (Zakpah Group, Walker 1990:8086) is accompanied by the introduction of a range of new vessel forms, including pedestal-based jars, drums,
chili grinders, and frying pan censers, and vessels are often embellished with
166

Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

Table 9.1. Late Preclassic to Terminal Preclassic types and varieties from Lamanai
sampled for petrographic analysis, including quantity of each form.
Vessel
Form

Number

Bowl

Richardson Peak Unslipped: Richardson Peak Variety

Jar

Richardson Peak Unslipped: Richardson Peak Variety

Plate

Sierra Red: Ahuacan Variety

Bowl

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety

Bowl

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety

Dish

13

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety

Plate

16

Sierra Red: Variety Unspecified (Red-and-black)

Dish

Sierra Red: Variety Unspecified (Red-double slip)

Dish

Sierra Red: Variety Unspecified

Dish

Sierra Red: Variety Unspecified

Jar

Sierra Red: Variety Unspecified

Plate

Sierra Red: Variety Unspecified

Bowl

Sierra Red: Black-Rimmed Variety (dichrome)

Plate

Society Hall Red: Society Hall Variety

Bowl

Society Hall Red: Society Hall Variety

Dish

Society Hall Red: Variety Unspecified

Dish

Laguna Verde Incised: Groove Incised Variety

Bowl

Laguna Verde Incised: Groove Incised Variety

Dish

Laguna Verde Incised: Groove Incised Variety

Plate

Laguna Verde Incised: Variety Unspecified

Bowl

Lagartos Punctated: Lagartos Variety

Bowl

Alta Mira Fluted: Horizontally Fluted Variety

Bowl

Alta Mira Fluted: Variety Unspecified

Bowl

Alta Mira Fluted: Variety Unspecified

Bucket

Alta Mira Fluted: Variety Unspecified

Dish

Chamah Washed: Chamah Variety [Ciego Composite:


Chamah Variety]

Dish

Group Type
CONSE JO
Consejo Red

RICHARDSON PEAK

SIERRA

continued

Table 9.1. continued


Ciego Composite: Dawson Creek Variety

Dish

Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Puletan Variety

Dish

Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Puletan Variety

Jar

Puletan Red-and-unslipped: Composite Variety

Bowl

Polvero Black: Polvero Variety

Plate

Polvero Black: Polvero Variety

Vase

Polvero Black: Variety Unspecified

Dish

Lechugal Incised: Gouge Incised Variety

Bowl

Lechugal Incised: Gouge Incised Variety

Dish

Lechugal Incised: Groove Incised Variety

Bowl

Lechugal Incised: Groove Incised Variety

Dish

Lechugal Incised: Groove Incised Variety

Jar

Flor Cream: Indian Church Variety

Dish

Flor Cream: Variety Unspecified

Plate

Accordian Incised: Variety Unspecified

Bowl

Matamore Dichrome: Matamore Variety

Dish

Cabro Red: Cabro Variety

Bowl

Cabro Red: Cabro Variety

Dish

Cabro Red: Trickle Variety [Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: Variety


Unspecified]
Cabro Red: Trickle Variety [Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: Variety
Unspecified]
Cabro Red: Trickle Variety [Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: Variety
Unspecified]
Cabro Red: Variety Unspecified

Bowl

Dish

Jar

Jar

Liscanal Groove Incised: Liscanal Variety [Cabro Red:


Groove Incised Variety]
Liscanal Groove Incised: Trickle Variety [Tuk Red-on-red
Trickle: Groove Incised Variety]
Liscanal Groove Incised: Trickle Variety [Tuk Red-on-red
Trickle: Groove Incised Variety]
Liscanal Groove Incised: Trickle Variety [Tuk Red-on-red
Trickle: Groove Incised Variety]
Pahote Punctated: Pahote Variety

Dish

Bowl

Dish

Jar

Jar

POLVERO

FLOR

MATAMORE
CABRO

MONKEY FALLS
Monkey Falls Striated: Variety Unspecified

Jar

Guacamollo Red-on-orange: Groove Incised Variety

Dish

Ixcanrio Orange Polychrome: Ixcanrio Variety

Jar

Unnamed Black, Punctuated, and Unslipped

Bowl

Unnamed Black-on-red and Groove Incised

Bowl

Unnamed Black-on-red and Groove Incised

Bowl

Unnamed Black-on-red

Bowl

Unnamed Buff-and-plain

Dish

Unnamed Cream

Dish

Unnamed Cream-and-modeled

Vase

Unnamed Cream-polychrome

Bowl

Unnamed Red-on-cream

Dish

Unnamed Red-on-orange

Bowl

Unnamed Red-rimmed Orange and Trickle

Bowl

IXCANRIO

UNDESIGNATED

TOTAL SAMPLES

127

Original type names after Powis (2002); revised names in brackets, following Robertson et al. (2015);
and see Robertson Chapter 7.

hand-modeled appliques, effigy handles and feet, segmented basal flanges, and
high pedestal bases. The loss of stylistic diversity that accompanied the onset
of the Postclassic period at Lamanai is consistent with a general trend toward
stylistic uniformity observed at contemporary sites (Colha, Valdez 1987; Cerro
Maya, Walker 1990; see also Aimers 2007; Masson 2000:4357; Masson and
Mock 2004). A shift toward more standardized production, perhaps due to a
reduction in the number of operating pottery producers, has been proposed
as a contributing factor, although the petrographic evidence indicates this is
not the case at Lamanai (Howie 2006, 2012). Rather, multiple local producers
who made very different looking pottery during the Terminal Classic period
started to make pottery that looked exactly the same by Early Postclassic times.

The Late Postclassic to Spanish Colonial Transition


The Late Postclassic to Spanish Colonial ceramic inventory, which has been
described in detail by Elizabeth Graham (1987a, 2011; Wiewall and Howie 2010),
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

169

is dominated by Yglesias Phase pottery, with a number of slipped, unslipped,


and washed vessel forms represented. The pottery styles at sites in northern
Belize with equivalent periods of occupation overlap with Lamanai. A regional
style of pottery that has a particularly widespread distribution during this era is
the Chen Mul Modeled system censer (Howie et al. 2014; Milbrath 2007; Milbrath and Walker Chapter 10; Milbrath et al. 2008). This style of censer, which
can be described as a large pedestal-based vase with an elaborately costumed
humanoid figure attached to its side, was used in public and private calendrical
and ancestor veneration rituals (D. Chase 1982, 1986; D. Chase and A. Chase
1988). These vessels are generally found in a fragmentary state scattered on or
near previously abandoned ceremonial structures, where they are interpreted
as having been used in pilgrimage activities.

Ceramic Petrography in a Mineralogically


Homogeneous Landscape
Before turning to the petrographic evidence for the movement of pottery
from Chetumal Bay to Lamanai, it is necessary to comment on the geological
characteristics of the local region and intraregional variation in raw material
resources for pottery production, such as the clayey soils and tempering materials, that make such distinctions possible. From a purely mineralogical perspective, raw materials are relatively homogenous, predominated by a limited
range of carbonate rock, particularly calcite and dolomite, and the siliceous
minerals quartz and chert. This reality has led to a misconception that compositional studies of pottery are of limited value. There is, however, considerable
intraregional variation in the compositional characteristics of the clayey soils,
rock formations, and sedimentary deposits found at specific geographic locations within the region despite the mineralogically homogeneous character of
this area (Angelini 1998; Bartlett et al. 2000; Howie 2006, 2012). These local
differences not only reflect events that happened during specific geological
eras but also the different conditions and processes at work in specific environmental contexts.
We can add to this variation potters choices of the kinds of clayey soils and
tempering materials they habitually used, the identification of which was undoubtedly based on learned knowledge of sources and appropriate physical and
sensory characteristics. For example, ancient potters likely did not know that
finely and coarsely crystalline calcite are the same mineral and could be used
interchangeably as a temper to achieve similar results. They could have differentiated, however, between a transparent, colorless, coarsely textured tempering
170

Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

material, coarsely crystalline calcite, and a white, sugary textured one, finely crystalline calcite, and made a choice based on learned knowledge. In fact, the petrographic evidence for the development of pottery traditions at Lamanai from the
Preclassic to the Spanish Colonial periods indicates that local potters operating
within the same tradition of pot making did make specific choices. They did not
use these mineralogically equivalent but visually different tempers interchangeably, even though both types of calcite were available locally and were used by
other potters working in the area (Howie 2012). Perhaps most significant, these
specific choices are identifiable, and they remained consistent over a 2,000-year
period, even though pottery styles changed constantly, sometimes quite radically. It is also evident that potters working near other communities made the
same choices and distinctions as Lamanai potters with regard to raw material selection. However, geological differences reflecting the specific geographic source
of particular raw materials still permit important distinctions in provenance or
origin of manufacture.
Petrographic discrimination of the pottery produced using raw materials
deriving from different geological sources, both at some distance and in close
proximity, requires us to look beyond basic mineralogy and consider a wider
range of physical, compositional, and morphological characteristics of rocks
and soils. As we demonstrate below, there is considerable interregional and
even local variation in the raw materials available to potters working in the area
encompassing Lamanai and Chetumal Bay.
The method of petrographic analysis and description employed in the
analysis of the pottery assemblage at Lamanai follows the descriptive system
developed by Whitbread (1986, 1989, 1995:365396, 1996) specifically for the
examination and characterization of ceramic fabrics. As used by Whitbread
(1995:368), the term ceramic fabric refers to the arrangement, size, shape,
frequency and composition of components of a ceramic material, and therefore encompasses both microstructural and compositional characteristics of
ceramic bodies. This conceptual approach represents a significant methodological advancement in ceramic petrography, expanding the focus of analysis
and characterization beyond a basic description of the rock and mineral content of a ceramic body based on a statistical estimate of the relative frequencies
of the different rock and mineral inclusions present, also called point count
analysis. Whitbreads analytical framework considers a broader range of physical criteria that not only characterize inclusion content but also examine the
nature of the clay matrix; the character, spatial distribution, and frequency
of voids and pedofeatures, that is, features of the clay matrix distinguishable
from adjacent material by a difference in concentration in one or more of their
components; and the interrelationships of these different components.
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

171

This holistic approach to the examination, characterization, and description


of ceramic bodies acknowledges their inherent compositional complexity and
composite nature. Fabric properties not only reflect geological characteristics
of the raw materials used to create them but also reflect distinctions in the
fabrication process. The strength of Whitbreads framework is that it enables
a simultaneous assessment of provenance, that is, the source of raw material
ingredients, and technological characteristics specific to how the pot was made.
Another important advantage of the system is that it permits examination and
comparison of multiple aspects of technology, including the selection and treatment of raw materials, paste recipes (the choice and proportions of raw material
ingredients), forming techniques, and firing strategies (Freestone 1991; Whitbread 1989, 1995, 1996). Another advantage is that it permits examination of the
association of rock and mineral inclusions and textural criteria, which enables
fabrics to be subdivided or discriminated based on their geological characteristics even when they are mineralogically similar.
Our research on the technological and provenance characteristics of Lamanai pottery also incorporated a detailed systematic study of local raw materials
available for pottery manufacture. This comparative baseline for identifying
locally produced pottery includes over 40 clays from different geological and
environmental contexts and over 20 mineral, rock, sascab, and sand samples
(Howie 2012). This detailed level of geological information has enabled the
following: the discrimination of pottery manufactured using local raw materials from pottery produced elsewhere, the discrimination of local pottery produced using different sets of raw material ingredients, and the identification
and characterization of local traditions of pottery manufacture, particularly as
concerns their first appearance within the ceramic sequence and their developmental history. The distinguishing characteristics of the local fabric types at
Lamanai that span multiple time periods encompassing the Preclassic through
the Spanish Colonial period are summarized in Table 9.2.

The Regional Geology


The geology of northern Belize, extending into adjacent inland and coastal
areas of the Yucatn Peninsula of Mexico, is characterized by a series of limestone formations and overlying sediments that decrease in age from the Cretaceous formations of dense marine limestone, which occur immediately to the
north of the Maya Mountains and at a few specific locations in the central part
of northern Belize, to the Pleistocene-Holocene formations of the northeast
coast and offshore cays (Figure 9.1). Apart from the specific localities where
the older Cretaceous Formations crop out, the central part of northern Belize
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Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

Table 9.2. Petrographic, technological, and provenance characteristics of local fabric types
previously identified at Lamanai that span the Late Preclassic to Spanish Colonial period

Fabric Group

Inclusions
(in order of
abundance)

Distinguishing
Features

Paste
Technology

Associated
Provenance

Coarsely Crystalline Calcite


Tempered (Calcite A in Howie
2006, 2012)

Calcite, quartz,
cc-fc calcite
mosaics
R-VR = micrite,
pqtz, chalcedony,
chert

Angular, rhombic to irregularshaped calcite


fragments
Rare to very rare
micrite and calcite
mosaics

A calcareous
clay, containing
few siliceous
inclusions
tempered
with colorless,
coarsely crystalline calcite

Similarities to clays that


form directly below
ground surface at Lamanai

Finely Crystalline Calcite


Tempered (Calcite C in Howie
2006, 2012)

Calcite, fc-cc calcite mosaics, qtz,


micrite
R-VR = pqtz,
chal, chert

Bimodal (calcite
predominates
lower mode)
Grainy
appearance
(discrete calcite
grains dominate
the matrix)
Common
mosaics of finely to
coarsely crystalline
calcite; very few to
rare micrite lumps

A calcareous
clay containing
discrete calcite
grains and
lesser quantities
of other minerals, tempered
with finely to
coarsely crystalline calcite

Similarities to clays at
the site that are associated with weathering
limestone

Sascab Tempered (SascabQuartz A in


Howie 2006,
2012)

Quartz, micrite,
calcite, pquartz
R-VR = chert,
chalcedony,
feldspar (alkali
and plagioclase),
amphibole, clinopyroxene, shell,
oolites

Dominant to
common rounded
quartz inclusions
Frequent to few
lumps of micrite
Very rare
amphibole,
clinopyroxene, and
feldspar

A sandy calcareous clay,


tempered with
sascab

Similarities to clay associated with wash deposits


of Pleistocene alluvium
situated north of the site
adjacent to Barber Creek
(Filipe Subsuite). The
sascab temper is compositionally and visually
identical to Cretaceous
limestonerelated deposits southwest of Lamanai

Connections to specific soil suites and soil subsuites are based on descriptions in King et al. (1992).
Abbreviations used refer to the following: abundance,
R = rare,
fc = finely crystalline,
VR = very rare; calcite modifiers (following Folk 1974),
mc = microcrystalline; inclusions,
cc = coarsely crystalline,
pqtz = polycrystalline quartz, frags = fragments.

is underlain by Early Tertiary (Paleocene to Eocene) limestones of the Cayo


and Dubloon Bank groups (Flores 1952; R. B. King et al. 1992; A. C. S. Wright
et al. 1959). The older Cayo Group contains limestone and dolomite and is the
common rock type found west of the New River drainage system. Both the
Cretaceous and Cayo Group limestones are overlain by a horizon containing
limestone at various stages of weathering and ferromanganiferous concretions,
and often deep deposits of calcareous clay (R. B. King et al. 1992:222). The
Dubloon Bank group, which contains limestone with chert, is more typical
of land areas east of the New River drainage system. Subsurface, the Dubloon
Bank limestones are soft and interbed with clays, whereas the outcropping
limestones are hard, suggesting that the group may have had a thick carapace.
Chert is ubiquitous in both the limestone and the overlying sandy clays (R.
B. King et al. 1992:28, 244247), and is therefore commonly referred to as the
chert-bearing zone (Chiarulli Chapter 12, Figure 12.3).
By contrast, the geology of the northeast coast and offshore cays is characterized by younger Pleistocene-Recent limestones and dolomitic limestones.
These are dense coral limestones formed through reef-building processes that
are consequently rich in bioclasts (Flores 1952; R. B. King et al. 1992:29). Around
Chetumal Bay, these bioclastic limestones are often gypsiferous (contain a significant quantity of gypsum) and are overlain by either shallow, fine-textured
calcareous deposits rich in sodium and magnesium (R. B. King et al. 1992:188)
or calcareous sand, that is, sand consisting of calcium-rich carbonate rock and
mineral grains. Calcareous sand from the Chetumal Bay area consists mainly
of cryptocrystalline grains composed dominantly of micrite (microcrystalline
calcite), which were produced through a variety of processes (High 1975; Pusey
1975; Reid et al. 1992). The specific composition of the sandy deposits that have
accumulated at the mouths of drainage systems, including the Rio Hondo, New
River, and Northern Lagoon, that outlet into Chetumal Bay varies, reflecting
the contribution of transported materials deriving from formations and deposits farther inland, as well as mollusk populations that flourished in specific environmental conditions (High 1975; Melgar Tsoc Chapter 11; Pusey 1975; Reid
et al. 1992). By contrast, the coral limestones of the offshore cays are overlain
by fossiliferous sand (Purdy et al. 1975; Pusey 1975).
Regardless of their different ages and geological characteristics, the limestones and dolomitic limestones of the mainland are commonly overlain by deposits of unconsolidated calcareous material that have been termed variously
as chalky marls (Flores 1952; Ower 1926, 1928), unconsolidated chalky rubble
(A. C. S. Wright et al. 1959), sandy chalks (Versey 1972), and sascab (Darch
1981; Darch and Furley 1983; Pusey 1975). It is generally agreed that these deposits formed through in situ deep weathering of the underlying limestone
174

Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

Figure 9.1. Geological map of northern Belize, showing the location of Lamanai. (After Howie 2006, 2012.)

bedrock (Cornec 1985; Darch 1981; Darch and Furley 1983). Consequently, the
lithological and compositional characteristics of these deposits vary regionally
and reflect those of associated bedrock formations. Terrigenous sand deposits
(siliceous sand consisting mainly of quartz) are confined to specific areas of
northern Belize and constitute highly conspicuous geological features in an
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

175

otherwise carbonate dominated landscape. The position and alignment of the


main deposits, which are situated between the New River and Northern Lagoon, on the Freshwater Creek drainage, suggest that this transported material
was brought down by north-trending rivers that once drained the upland area
(A. C. S. Wright et al. 1959:25). As with the unconsolidated calcareous deposits
described above, the composition of the terrigenous sand deposits varies locally and includes contributions from underlying limestone formations and recently transported material. The transportation of material along the principal
north-trending drainage systems contributes ultimately to the compositional
characteristics of the sedimentary deposits that occur where these rivers outlet
into Chetumal Bay, producing localized differences in the composition and
relative frequency of clast (inclusion) types.
In the analysis of the pottery assemblage from Lamanai, the four main petrographic markers of pottery deriving from Chetumal Bay clays that clearly
distinguish it from pottery made near Lamanai are the following: presence of
bioclastic limestone (containing bioclasts and/or fibrous calcite) either as naturally occurring inclusions in the clay component or as an additive (temper);
presence of sascab deriving from bioclastic limestone as a naturally occurring
constituent of the clay component or as an additive (temper); presence of carbonate sand (rounded to well-rounded inclusions predominantly of calcite,
microcrystalline calcite), either occurring naturally in the clay component or
as an additive (temper); and an abundance of chert in combination with any of
the above markers.

The Petrographic Evidence of Pottery from the Chetumal Bay Area


at Lamanai
Pottery vessels displaying petrographic markers of raw material resources
that can be linked to formations and deposits that occur near Chetumal Bay
were identified in all three occupational periods examined. Among the Late
Preclassic to Terminal Preclassic pottery sample (n=127), ceramic bodies
made from Chetumal Bay area materials comprised approximately one-third
of the assemblage (47/127). In contrast, Chetumal Bay vessels are comparatively rare in the Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic assemblage (18/646).
Although not as rare as in the prior period, vessels consistent with a Chetumal Bay provenance are also comparatively infrequent in the Late Postclassic to Spanish Colonial pottery assemblage (23/258), although they represent
nearly half (19/43) of the Chen Mul system censer fragments examined by
Howie and colleagues (2014).
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The Late Preclassic to Terminal Preclassic Transition


Vessels dating to this era that were assigned a Chetumal Bay area provenance
form a highly variable group of fabrics, with many examples of petrographically distinctive fabric types represented by three or fewer specimens (Table
9.3; see also Powis et al. 2006). The vessels linked to Chetumal Bay display a
broad range of individual and combined petrographic markers. Some of this
variation is due to differences in tempering practices, with examples of tempering with fossiliferous limestone, crystalline calcite, grog, grog in combination
with limestone or calcite, and perhaps, in some instances, a small amount of
sand. In fabrics where the choice of temper is the same, differences in the nature, abundance, and types of naturally occurring inclusions, as well as features
relating to soil formation processes, strongly suggest different clay sources.
For example, quartz, crystalline calcite, and cryptocrystalline grains occur in
distinctive relative frequencies in different fabrics. Similarly, while chert and
chalcedony inclusions are completely absent in some fabrics, they are present
in varying frequencies in others. Elsewhere, the clay components of fabrics
containing different tempers appear to be highly similar, suggesting the use
of geologically similar clay in combination with a different choice of tempering material. Alteration in raw material processing, particularly of clays, also
could have contributed to some of this variability. Each of these variations
could be interpreted as reflecting the activities of potters, who chose different raw material ingredients or processing techniques. When compositionally
distinct clays appear to be represented, different and perhaps geographically
separated production localities within the greater Chetumal Bay area might be
inferred. In fabrics with sandy textured clays containing abundant rounded to
well-rounded inclusions, differences in this sand component might relate to
the geographic location of the clay source within the Chetumal Bay area, and
may reflect compositionally distinct sand resulting from the incorporation of
transported material in drainage systems.
The compositional variation present among Chetumal Bay area vessels is
mirrored in the range of stylistic and functional categories of vessels represented. Vessels deriving from this area include both serving and utilitarian vessels with a broad range of stylistically distinct types represented. Significantly,
stylistic and functional equivalents of these vessels were also produced locally
at Lamanai.

The Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic Transition


Chetumal Bay area vessels were comparatively rare during this transitional
period, and only slipped serving vessels were present. There are at least three
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

177

Table 9.3. Fabrics from Lamanai vessels with compositional characteristics consistent
geologically with the Chetumal Bay area. (Field of view = 3 mm).
L AT E P R E C L A S S I C TO TER MINAL P R ECL AS S IC
Fabrics containing fossiliferous limestone (naturally occurring in clay or as temper): Bioclasts and
fibrous calcite indicate a limestone formed through reef-building processes, linking the course
fraction (temper) of these fabrics to Pleistocene to Recent formations that occur exclusively along
the coast. Mineralogical and other compositional differences in the fine fraction (clay component)
indicate links to different areas within this region.

Cabro Red: Cabro Variety/bowl.


Clay containing carbonate sand
with rare quartz; fossiliferous
limestone is coarsely crystalline
and is a temper (note shell and
angular inclusions).

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety/plate.


Clay containing abundant
carbonate sand, a small
quantity of quartz and rounded
fossiliferous limestone; angular
crystalline calcite is temper.

Lechugal Incised: Gougedincised Variety/dish. Calcareous


clay containing abundant fine
calcite grains, carbonate sand
with fossiliferous limestone, little
quartz; carbonate sand temper.

Grog-tempered fabrics: Differences in the mineralogy and composition of naturally occurring


inclusions in the clay indicate distinct and most likely geographically separated source localities.

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety/bowl.


Matrix-rich clay containing
rounded carbonate and quartz
inclusions (sand); chert and
chalcedony are common and
often angular.

Unnamed Cream-andmodeled/vase. Clay containing


abundant rounded carbonate
inclusions (a variety) and a
small quantity of quartz and
chert (comparatively angular).

Consejo Red/bowl. Calcareous


clay rich in micrite containing
calcite, finely crystalline calcite
mosaics, and a small quantity
of quartz; also contains sascab
temper.

Sandy Fabrics: These fabrics all contain abundant rounded carbonate inclusions (carbonate sand),
which are a naturally component of the clay, linking these fabrics to sandy coastal deposits. Differences in the mineralogical composition of the sand, including sorting and other textural differences,
indicate different specific clay source localities within the region.

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety/plate.


Calcareous, sandy-textured
clay containing abundant fine
calcite grains, related mosaics,
rounded crystalline calcite, and
quartz; no temper.

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety/plate.


Clay containing carbonate sand
(predominantly crystalline
calcite); quartz in rare cases;
distinctive iron nodules (red);
crystalline calcite temper
(angular).

Sierra Red: Sierra Variety/plate.


Coarse, sandy-textured clay
contains carbonate sand rich
in quartz; crystalline calcite
temper (angular).

T E R M IN A L C L A S S I C TO EAR LY P O S TCL AS S IC (in order mentioned in the text)


Calcitic-dolomitic Marl-based Fabrics (n=7): These fabrics are connected geologically to fine-textured
calcitic to magnesium-rich deposits formed above Pleistocene to Recent limestones and dolomitic
limestones that occur along the coast. The predominance of rounded rock and mineral fragments,
as well as cryptocrystalline grains, reinforces the connection to a sandy coastal environment. The
uniform texture and the abundance and even distribution of the aplastic inclusions may suggest
that these are untempered clays.

A sandy calcareous marl containing distinctive cryptocrystalline


grains composed of micrite,
quartz, chert, and chalcedony
(Marl B in Howie 2006, 2012).

Grog-tempered variant of the


fabric to the left containing
cryptocrystalline grains (grogtempered variant of Marl B in
Howie 2006, 2012).
continued

Table 9.3. continued


Crystalline calcite tempered fabric (n=8): A significant characteristic of this fabric is the presence of
both rounded and angular inclusions of calcite. The rounded carbonate inclusions, together with
rounded siliceous inclusions, are a naturally occurring component of this sandy-textured clay. The
overall abundance of calcite inclusions, together with the uneven distribution of the angular ones
and the presence of calcite mosaics and related terminal grades, suggests the presence of temper.
A sandy clay containing rounded
inclusions of crystalline calcite,
micrite, quartz, chert, chalcedony,
and distinctive polycrystalline quartz
(Calcite F in Howie 2006, 2012).

Limestone tempered fabric (n=1): The presence of silicified limestone/mudstone suggests a connection to the Orange Walk Group formation prevalent in areas north of the New River Lagoon, which
characteristically contain a lithified carapace.
This fabric contains angular inclusions of crystalline
calcite and lumps of micrite, occurring alongside fragments of silicified limestone/mudstone, in a clay matrix
containing quartz inclusions and a small quantity of
calcite and micrite. The bimodal size distribution of
inclusions, with angular inclusions of crystalline calcite,
micrite lumps, and limestone fragments dominating
the upper size mode, together with the abundance of
the calcite and micrite inclusions, suggests that these inclusions represent tempering materials added to the clay component (Calcite J in Howie 2006, 2012).

L AT E P O S TC L A S S I C TO S PANIS H CO LO NIAL (in order mentioned in the text)


Fossiliferous limestone tempered fabrics (n=13): Bioclasts and fibrous calcite indicate a limestone
formed through reef-building processes, linking the course fraction (temper) of these fabrics to
Pleistocene to Recent formations that occur exclusively along the coast of northern Belize and
extending northward. Mineralogical and other compositional differences in the fine fraction (clay
component) indicate links to different specific localities within this region.

Clay containing carbonate


sand and very rare rounded
anhydrite.

Clay containing predominantly


angular quartz and common
fine iron nodules.

Highly calcareous clay containing predominantly fine calcite


grains and rounded quartz
inclusions.

Fabrics also containing grog temper (n=6)

Unimodal size distribution of


inclusions, high inclusion content, dominant angular crystalline calcite including fragments
and mosaics(possibly added),
rounded common quartz inclusions.

Tempered with grog (rare) and


fossiliferous limestone.

Rare grog temper; fossiliferous


limestone fragments (possibly
added); clay containing
carbonate sand, chert, and
chalcedony.

Sascab tempered fabric (n=7): Provenance associations are based primarily on the compositional
characteristics of the sascab temper, although rounded carbonate inclusions are also present.

Fossiliferous sascab containing


dolomite inclusions and mosaics;
clay containing common rounded
quartz and carbonate inclusions.

Untempered Fabric made with a sandy-textured clay containing carbonate sand

Sandy clay with common


rounded quartz inclusions.

petrographically distinct fabric types represented in the assemblage, but only


two of them include multiple examples (Table 9.3). One of the predominant
fabric types, represented by seven examples, can be characterized as a sandy
textured, highly calcareous marl, likely untempered and perhaps highly processed to achieve a uniform fine texture. A distinctive characteristic of this
fabric is the abundance of cryptocrystalline grains composed dominantly of
micrite, which are consistent with sand deposits typical of the Chetumal Bay
area. This fabric type also contains a grog-tempered variant. The majority of
vessels with this fabric type are red and orange slipped jars, but it also occurs
in an orange slipped bowl, a tripod dish, and a stand or raised base cake plate
with incised decoration.
A second predominant fabric type, represented by eight vessels, can be characterized as a calcareous clay containing carbonate sand (rounded inclusions of
calcite and micrite) tempered with a medium-textured crystalline calcite. The
majority of vessels containing this fabric type are monochrome black bowls
and dishes comparable to the Achote Group, but an orange slipped bowl, a red
slipped jar, and a polychrome vase also contain it.
A final fabric type, represented by just one red slipped jar, can be characterized as a calcareous clay containing quartz and tempered with limestone. This
fabric is distinguished by a large amount of iron oxides in the form of nodules,
staining, and segregations, in addition to the presence of silicified limestone.
These inclusions suggest a connection to the Orange Walk Group formation
prevalent in areas north of the New River Lagoon and just inland from the
coast, which characteristically contains a lithified carapace. With the exception
of the monochrome black pottery, stylistic equivalents of the Chetumal Bay
area pottery were produced locally at Lamanai.

The Late Postclassic to Spanish Colonial Transition


Chetumal Bay area vessels during the final period examined are represented
by at least eight petrographically distinguishable fabric types (Table 9.2). Six
of these fabric types contain fossiliferous limestone inclusions, which can be
interpreted as a tempering material based on roundness (subangular to very
angular), the uneven distribution of the rock fragments, and the occurrence
of polycrystalline mosaics and their terminal grades. Two of these limestonetempered fabric types also contain grog temper. The compositional and textual
characteristics of the clay component, including variation in naturally occurring inclusions, are distinct in each case, suggesting they represent discrete
clay sources and are the products of different potters. Another fabric type can
be characterized as a sandy clay containing abundant rounded carbonate and
quartz inclusions, tempered with fossiliferous sascab. A final fabric type also
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Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

comprises a sandy clay containing a mixture of carbonate and quartz inclusions, although the carbonate inclusions are comparatively abundant and it
appears to be untempered.
The majority of Chetumal Bayrelated fabrics are Chen Mul system censers
(n=19) that contained two predominant fabric types. One of these types, identified in five examples, can be characterized as a clay containing carbonate sand
that was tempered with fossiliferous limestone. The second fabric type, represented by seven samples, comprises a sandy clay tempered with sascab that contains grains of dolomite. This fabric type also contains fragments of fossiliferous
limestone. Differences in the nature and prevalence of inclusion types present
in the clay component of the Chen Mul system censer fabric suggest that they
represent geographically separated production localities. As with the other time
periods examined, this style of vessel was also locally produced at Lamanai by
multiple local potters (Howie et al. 2014).

Discussion
Petrographic evidence for pottery excavated at Lamanai that derives from Chetumal Bay, and differences in the abundance and kinds of pottery from this
area across time, permits several observations regarding the nature of interaction and exchange in northern Belize. Vessels deriving from sites on Chetumal
Bay are more numerous during the Late to Terminal Preclassic than in later
eras. This may be a function of population size around the bay at that time.
Some bay sites do not have occupational histories that extend much beyond
the Early Postclassic, and all but a very few (Santa Rita Corozal, Caye Coco)
were not occupied into Spanish Colonial times. Nonetheless, the high proportion (33 percent) of Preclassic pottery at Lamanai that derives from this area
is significant. This pottery includes a range of functionally and stylistically diverse vessels that represent the products of many different potters, as indicated
by a range of petrographically distinctive fabric types. It is also significant that
local equivalents existed. This evidence suggests that socioeconomic interactions between Lamanai and Chetumal Bay communities were more intensive
during the Preclassic than they were later on. The compositional variability
that characterizes the Chetumal Bay component suggests connections to multiple different production localities. The picture that emerges during this transitional period is therefore one of highly interconnected communities engaging
in fluid socioeconomic interactions involving many participants. The influx of
bay area vessels could also reflect a directional influence from cultural and political activities at sites on the bay, such as Cerro Maya, associated with maintaining control of major Late Preclassic trading routes on the river systems of
Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

183

northern Belize (Chiarulli Chapter 12; Robertson Chapter 7; Robertson et al.


2015; Walker Chapter 3).
Frequencies of Chetumal Bay area vessels decrease dramatically at Lamanai
during the Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic transition, when they comprise only 3 percent of the assemblage and are exclusively identified with serving ware vessels. The prevalent fabric type associated with monochrome black
pottery (Achote Group) represents a style of serving vessel that was not produced regularly by Lamanai potters (Howie 2012:139178; Howie et al. 2010),
although the red and orange slipped jar, bowl, and tripod forms are similar to
vessels produced in abundance by local potters. The contrasting pattern that
emerged for this era suggests that socioeconomic interaction between Lamanai
and Chetumal Bay communities was less intense and comparatively infrequent
in comparison to earlier times. Another factor, however, might have been that
socioeconomic interaction became less fluid or more regulated, perhaps as a result of a greater concern for the maintenance of both geographic and economic
boundaries. In addition, it may be that the direction of influence was reversed,
and that Lamanai-related materials were more commonly traded at bay area
sites. This would require further testing at Chetumal Bay sites to confirm.
The majority of Chetumal Bay area vessels dating to the Late Postclassic
to Spanish Colonial transition that have been identified in the Lamanai assemblage are Chen Mul Modeled effigy censers. Many of these vessel fragments derive from scatter deposits associated with previously abandoned
ceremonial structures, and have been interpreted as relating to pilgrimage
activities based on petrographic evidence for multiple nonlocal manufacturing locales. The occurrence of multiple examples of two distinct fabric types
indicates the use of several vessels deriving from specific production localities in these activities. The presence at Lamanai of a range of compositionally
distinct censers deriving from the Chetumal Bay area might be due equally
to pilgrimage or the widespread circulation of censers through trade, market
systems, or some other mechanism of exchange. The Late Postclassic political seat at Santa Rita Corozal may have influenced pilgrimage along the river
systems as far south as Lamanai. Whatever their nature, Lamanais ties with
the Chetumal Bay area in later Postclassic and Colonial times were strong,
and it appears Lamanai was allied more with settlements on the coast to
the north than with those in the interior to the south, such as Tipu.2 What
is clear, however, is that by the Spanish Colonial period, the quantity and
kinds of pottery originating on Chetumal Bay had changed dramatically. In
the next chapter, the Late Postclassic censer material discovered at sites on
Chetumal Bay is considered in more detail.
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Linda Howie, Terry G. Powis, and Elizabeth Graham

Notes
1. Powis (2002) refers to Cabro Group trickle wares as Cabro Group: Trickle Variety, while
Robertson (Robertson Chapter 7; Robertson-Freidel 1980:198207) uses Tuk Red-on-red
Trickle: Tuk Variety for the same material. Similarly, Powis refers to groove incised materials
from the same group as Liscanal Groove Incised: Trickle Variety, while Robertson (Chapter
7) uses Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: Groove Incised Variety.
2. Grant Jones (1989:xvii) included the Colonial settlement at Tipu as the southwestern
boundary of Dzuluinicob province (see Guderjan et al. Chapter 5; Oland Chapter 6; Walker
Chapter 1), but see Elizabeth Graham (2011), who argued that Lamanai was not closely associated with Tipu in this era.

Ceramic Connections between Lamanai and the Chetumal Bay Area

185

10
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy
Censer System in the Chetumal Bay Area

S U S A N M I L B R AT H A N D D E B R A S . WA L K E R

When David Freidel first visited Cerro Maya, he was shown crates of effigy
censer fragments collected by the site owner. Although the site proved to be
largely Late Preclassic in date, it had clearly been a rich repository for Late
Postclassic censing rituals, one of several important locations on Chetumal Bay
still in use at least through the mid-sixteenth century.1
The massive scale of effigy censer manufacture, a Late Postclassic phenomenon centered at the northern Yucatecan capital of Mayapn, reflected
changes in religious practices associated with the decline of divine kingship
(Milbrath et al. 2011; Walker 1990:398409). The effigy censer cult originated
in Tases Phase Mayapn in the first decades of the thirteenth century2 and
spread as far south as Santa Rita Corozal and the lake regions of Petn. Effigy
censer distribution seems to correlate with areas where Yucatecan languages
were spoken (Yucatec, Lacandn, Itz, and Mopn), presenting intriguing
overlaps between language and cultural traditions (Milbrath and Peraza
Lope 2013:205; Milbrath et al. 2011:Fig. 9). This suggests the cult was spread
by Yucatec Maya speakers, whose religious practices are well documented in
Friar Diego de Landas early Colonial period account and in the three surviving codices believed to be from Yucatn. Nonetheless, Yucatec speakers do
not represent a homogenous group. Cultural distinctions led Eric Thompson
(1977:3, 36) to argue that the Yucatec Maya under the control of Mayapn
as far south as the province of Uaymil in Quintana Roo should be distinguished from the Mopn in Belize, the Petn Itz, and the Lacandn in the
west, all groups that lacked formalized central governments like that seen at
Mayapn. Certainly the effigy censer tradition seems to reflect local styles

(Milbrath et al. 2008), even though the original inspiration most likely came
from Mayapn.
The introduction of effigy censers at Mayapn reflected a major change in
ritual practice because the large censers, characterized by a deep bucket with
pedestal base and a full-figure portrayal of a standing individual attached to
the front, were worshipped as idolos that received and consumed offerings
of copal incense (Milbrath and Peraza Lope 2003a, 2009:590, 2013:205; Rice
1999:2527; Tozzer 1941:110111n504). These vessels generally were vented at
the base or in the side wall, and the rising smoke was a medium to communicate with gods and ancestors. Traces of copal are occasionally found in rings
on the interior bucket base, and most examples exhibit evidence of burning
somewhere on the vessel. At Mayapn, censers averaged 50 cm in height, but
at other sites they tended to be smaller, with the exception of Champotn,
which has some very large examples (Milbrath et al. 2008:106).

The Chen Mul Modeled System


Effigy censers were first analyzed using the type-variety/mode system by
Robert Smith (1971:24), who named the type Chen Mul Modeled at Mayapn.
Because of the complexity of design, most researchers first presumed that
Chen Mul Modeled effigy censers were made at the site and distributed to
other sites, so the Mayapn type name was applied to similar censers found
at distant locations. Subsequently, trace element analysis has identified multiple production centers (Bishop et al. 2006), and studies of pastes and forms
also suggested local centers of manufacture, as in the case of Kol Modeled
effigy censers from Santa Rita Corozal and counterparts from Cerro Maya
(D. Chase and A. Chase 1988; Walker 1990:108110). Today these regional
expressions of effigy censer manufacture are referred to as part of the Chen
Mul Modeled system regardless of which type name is used (Milbrath et al.
2008; Milbrath and Peraza Lope 2013:215; Noble and Forsyth 2009).
Effigy censers in the Chen Mul Modeled system have been discovered
far from Mayapn at sites such as Dzibanch and Tulum in Quintana Roo,
Zacpetn in Guatemala, and a great number of sites in Belize (Milbrath et
al. 2008; Nalda 2005; Nielsen and Andersen 2004; Rice 1987, 2009:281285;
Russell 2000; Vail 1988:127). Sites most heavily occupied in the Late Postclassic were clearly centers of local manufacture, but even sites that had passed
their apogee, such as Chichn Itz, Champotn, Dzibanch, and Zacpetn,
had small resident populations producing effigy censers. Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) of trace elements in pottery from Mayapn, the Central
Petn region, and Laguna de On and Caye Coco from Belize indicates that
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

187

there was little ceramic exchange between these areas (Cecil 2011); thus, effigy censers are probably of local manufacture there as well. Similarly, effigy
censers from southern Chetumal Bay were made in local Santa Rita Corozal
workshops, as is evident in studies of iconography, style, and trace element
analysis outlined below.
Social memory served to lend some cohesion to the Postclassic world of
Yucatec Maya speakers. Pilgrimages to visit revered places such as Cozumel Island are well documented in colonial literature, and the importance of Classic
period traditions of pilgrimage has been revealed through analysis of archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic data (Patel 2012). Revisiting ancient sites
was part of this tradition. Cerro Maya, for example, was largely abandoned
during the Late Postclassic, yet it was integrated into the Santa Rita Corozal
pilgrimage circuit (Milbrath et al. 2011; Walker 1990:319). At some sites, the
evidence for Postclassic visitation goes beyond censer fragment scatters to include temporary altars or more substantial plastered floors or stone structures
added to Preclassic pyramids, as at Champotn (Folan et al. 2003), Xunantunich (Brown 2011:130; Howie et al. 2014), Cerro Maya (Walker 1990), and Cob
(Navarrete et al. 1979:78). Although these Preclassic structures were more than
1,000 years old when Postclassic altars were added, their construction implies a
deep social memory revealing a direct connection to their Preclassic ancestors,
sometimes through pilgrimage visits to ancient sites, as at Cerro Maya, or even
through reoccupation of the site, as at Dzibanch. Excavation often revealed
multiple smashed effigy censers, and there were so few complete censers at
sites such as Mayapn (Milbrath and Peraza Lope 2013), Lamanai (Howie et
al. 2014), and Cerro Maya (Walker 1990) that it is presumed some fragments
belong to censers smashed at another location.
Although effigy censers marked patterns of similar ritual expression far
beyond the walls of Mayapn, the area under its actual political control is
uncertain. Mayapns domain may have extended as far south as Petn, where
ceramics and architecture show specific overlaps (A. Andrews 1984; Pugh
2003); however, based on ethnohistorical evidence, Eric Thompson (1977)
argued for a degree of independence at the sites in Petn and Belize. Santa
Rita Corozal was clearly independent in its economic and political relationships, most likely serving as the capital of Chetumal province (D. Chase and
A. Chase 1988:6568). The extent of Santa Rita Corozals domain is also uncertain, but obviously included Cerro Maya, and Santa Rita Corozal clearly
survived the fifteenth-century collapse of Mayapn (Oland Chapter 6).
At Cerro Maya, Late Postclassic Kanan Phase censer deposits and caches
were recovered from several major buildings, including Structures 4, 6, 9, and
11, but most came from Structure 4, the largest pyramid at the site (Figure 3.1).
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

Figure 10.1. Cerro Maya Structure 4A summit Postclassic ritual activity. Op 25daef trench excavated
on medial axis highlighting location of caches, child burial, censer concentrations, and altar platform associated with Kanan Phase ritual activity. (Illustration by Debra Walker.)

A crude platform, presumably supporting a wooden altar, was constructed


during the Late Postclassic on the central axis of the Structure 4A summit
(Figure 10.1). The altar was the focus of ritual activity for the deposition
of three caches (Caches 3, 6, and 7) and a child burial, Burial 35 (Walker
1990:299302). These Kanan Phase deposits were left by pilgrims from Santa
Rita Corozal as part of a ritual procession delineating lands under provincial
control. Comparison of censer fragments between the two sites illustrates
that some are virtually identical (Figure 10.2 and see below). Well-preserved
effigy vessels also depict shared themes, such as the Cao Modeled crocodilian
effigies from Cerro Maya and Santa Rita Corozal described below.
When comparing elements of effigy design such as fingers, feet, looped ropes,
and braids, it is difficult to distinguish Cerro Maya or Santa Rita Corozal samples
from those found at Mayapn, but the taller Mayapn figures do have different
proportions than the squat figures from Santa Rita Corozal. Only two full-figure
examples survive from Cerro Maya, and neither one of these is comparable to
Mayapn censers. There are censer fragments from Cerro Maya with features
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

189

Figure 10.2. Effigy censer comparison: (a) Cerro Maya censer head SF-4169 (photograph by Debra
Walker, courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History); (b) Santa Rita Corozal effigy censer
1938.1021.314.Q1997Am.96 (photograph by Susan Milbrath, courtesy of the British Museum).

closely linked to Mayapn, but the majority look like Santa Rita Corozal materials. These similarities led Walker to collect samples from Santa Rita Corozal,
Colha, and Cerro Maya effigy censers for trace element analysis (Figure 10.3).
The results indicate that effigy censers sampled for NAA were produced at Santa
Rita Corozal. As Ron Bishop (personal communication 2013) noted:
The censer fragments from Santa Rita (113), Cerros (1627), and Colha
(14, 15) that were analyzed by neutron activation, constitute a single,
compact compositional group. That group, when compared against the
database of more than 35,000 analyses of Maya pottery, finds no other
pottery within a 95 percent confidence level that has been calculated to
compensate for relatively small sample size. In other words, they are all
similar and distinct from all other analyzed pottery. Some direct imports
from Mayapn probably made their way to Cerro Maya, but those sampled for study were all from Belize.
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

Figure 10.3. Cerro Maya effigy censer feet sampled for Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA): (a) Cerro
Maya effigy censer sample card DSW 16; (b) Cerro Maya effigy censer feet showing drilling for NAA.
(Photographs by Susan Milbrath, courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History.)

Context and Use of Effigy Censers


The Relaciones de Yucatn recount that at the top of pyramids the Maya placed
clay idols filled with copal incense, and these were no doubt considered to be
gods, for the text notes that indios made petitions for health and good weather
to idols of clay, wood, and stone (Garza 1983 1:164; J. E. S. Thompson 1957).
Contexts for effigy censers at Mayapn include pyramid temples but also ceremonial middens, ritual caches, and civic and religious structures such as colonnaded halls, shrines, round structures, and burial cists (Milbrath and Peraza
Lope 2013:213). Archaeological context indicates effigy censers were still in use
when the site collapsed, as seen in a virtually intact censer depicting the Monkey Scribe excavated near the surface, apparently thrown off the top of a pyramid (Structure Q58) during the fifteenth-century revolt (Milbrath and Peraza
Lope 2003b; Peraza Lope and Milbrath 2010).
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

191

Groups of effigy censers associated with altars at Mayapn probably represent deity effigies in active use, but since many of these are missing pieces,
they may have been partially destroyed and moved to their final location in
altars and burials (Milbrath and Peraza Lope 2013:209210; J. E. S. Thompson 1957:602). Effigy censers were sometimes left on display and periodically
destroyed during renovation ceremonies, as evidenced in large deposits of
smashed censers. In these contexts, sherds tend to be so fragmentary that they
probably were smashed at another location and subsequently dumped in the
midden (R. W. Adams 1953:146; Masson and Peraza Lope 2014; R. E. Smith
1971:111112 Tbl. 22). Ceremonial deposits such as these are found at Dzibanch
and at some sites in Belize (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:7175; Nalda 2005;
Russell 2000). Disposal of ritually charged censers was surely conducted with
reverence once the censers were no longer in use, a practice still seen today
among the Lacandn (McGee 1998:4245). Landa notes that effigy censers
were renewed in an annual festival (Tozzer 1941:161). If new censers were made
at this time, the old ones may have been repurposed. Smashing censers could
also have been part of the fabrication process for new effigies, for one Colonial
period source notes that censers were ground up for use in making new censer
images (Chuchiak 2008:146).
At Cerro Maya, the more complete examples of effigy censers were found
in surface debris and caches associated with Preclassic pyramids, but since
landowners had collected surface finds we cannot know whether some active
censers remained in place. At Santa Rita Corozal, the contexts were more varied, being found smashed and discarded over a large area or broken in situ in
burials, architectural caches, and altars (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:51, 72, Fig.
26). If some were still in use in the sixteenth century, they were carried away
long ago because the site is virtually covered by modern Corozal Town. Active
collecting of effigy censers at the sites of Santa Rita Corozal and Lamanai has
been documented as early as the 1860s (Nielsen and Andersen 2004:85).
A number of researchers have noted archaeological evidence for the ancient manipulation of broken censers as part of ritual circuits within cities
and pilgrimages between cities (D. Chase 1985; Freidel 1981; Freidel et al. 1986;
Milbrath et al. 2008; Rice 1999; Walker 1990). During these rites, censers were
broken and portions systematically deposited at various locations along the
route, activities that could have distributed a small number of effigy censer
sherds from Mayapn. Such processions evoked a shared social memory of
the ancient sacred landscape (Gillespie 2010; Walker 1990:1819). This social
memory extends even to modern times, for the Lacandn Maya continue to
make offerings using censers in Classic Maya buildings (Hammond 1994:28; J.
E. S. Thompson 1977).
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

Calendrics and Effigy Censers


Landa provides considerable insight about the renovation of effigy censers, and
the role clay effigies played as representatives of the gods (Tozzer 1941:110111).
Eric Thompson (1957) recognized that the clay idols mentioned by Landa were
effigy censers representing deities, but he discounted Landas statement that
the idols of clay and the braziers were renewed in the annual festival of Ch en
or Yax (Tozzer 1941:161). Thompson proposed instead that they were renewed
every 260 days on the date 1 Imix, which happened to fall in Ch en when Landa
collected his data. Nonetheless, in Landa the worship of idolos representing
gods is attested to throughout the annual cycle of 18 festivals and year-end
ceremonies (Uayeb),3 part of yearbearer rituals comprising a cycle of 52 years
(13 4 years).
The annual renewal of idols and their braziers in January described by
Landa (Tozzer 1941:161n840) may be because idols were believed to gather
negative energy throughout the year, and at year-end they were disposed of in
ritual dumps (D. Chase 1985:119 Fig. 8; Russell 2000:5455). During the fiveday year-end Uayeb period, effigy censers may have played a role in ushering
in the New Year (D. Chase 1986; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:72; Milbrath and
Peraza Lope 2013; Russell 2008).
Year-end ceremonies and the first month or festival of the New Year are
also known from Maya codices. Eric Thompson (1972:8990) noted that on
Dresden 2528, the top third of the yearbearer pages represent the Uayeb, with
the patron of the incoming year perched on a tumpline carried by an opossum,
and in the middle section the presiding god of the incoming year is seated in
the temple, in two instances shown with copal offerings in a spiked censer.4 He
noted these temple gods and the lower scenes correspond to the New Year rites
described by Landa. Subsequently, researchers have proposed that all three
scenes probably relate to the year-end ceremonies known as the Uayeb (H.
Bricker and V. Bricker 2011:136137, Tbl. 6.2; Love 1994:7375).
Landas discussion of yearbearers and their attendant ceremonies is especially relevant to deity images shown in the yearbearer pages of the codices.
Each yearbearer was associated with a different set of deities, most often defined by color and directional associations (Table 10.1). The four yearbearers
rotated around the four directions, and each yearbearer in the 52-year cycle
was designated with a number ranging from 1 to 13 (4 13 = 52). Uayeb ceremonies directly link the yearbearer cycle to the year-end in the annual festivals
of the 365-day year, or Haab.
The correspondence between descriptions of Landas Uayeb and the Madrid
yearbearer pages (3437) is noteworthy (H. Bricker and V. Bricker 2011:137
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

193

Table 10.1. Calendrical rites with effigy censer use


Madrid 34

Madrid 35

Madrid 36

Madrid 37

Cauac

Kan

Muluc

Ix

Black

Yellow

Red

White

West

South

East

North

Black Pauahtun
wears jaguar helmet
and olive shell
necklace

Pauahtun wears
winged headdress and
olive shell necklace

Pauahtun wears
entire jaguar pelt

Pauahtun wears
cross-banded
headdress and
oyohualli pendant;
dog drums with
other musicians

Winged diving god

Cloth cape, blue


feet, stilt dance

Fire ritual, stargazer


Man thrown off
temple
God A holds God Bs
head, faces God E
with black bird

Spotted dog faces


God E with black bird

Possum faces fire


dog, quetzal, God E
with black bird and
spotted dog

Death God E faces


mammal and
different birds,
God D/God G with
spotted dog

(Landa Uayeb
[Tozzer 1941:138,
148149])

(Landa Uayeb
[Tozzer 1941:136137,
139142])

(Landa Uayeb
[Tozzer 1941:138,
144145])

(Landa Uayeb
[Tozzer 1941:138,
145147])

Very evil year, high


mortality, hot suns
(drought), ants and
birds devour seeds

Good year

Good year but when


maize sprouts little
rainfall

Good year for


cotton but bad for
maize, drought,
locusts, famine, war,
slavery

Cauac

Kan

Muluc

Ix

Black

Yellow

[Red]

White

West

South

East

North

Omen = Hozan Ek, Ek


Xib Chac (God B?)

Omen = Hobnil, Kan


Xib Chac (God B?)

Omen = Can Sicnal,


Chac Xib Chac
(God B)

Omen = Sac Cimi


(God A), Sac Xib
Chac (God B?)

Uac Mitun Ahau


(God A) in House

In temple 4 idols: Chi
Chac Chob, Ek Balam
Chac, Ah Canuol Cab,
and Ah Buluc Balam

Bolon Dzacab (God K)


in House then carried
to temple

Kinich Ahau (God


G) in House then
carried to temple?

Itzamna (God D) in
house then carried
to temple

In temple Yax Cocah


Mut (God D?)

In temple Kinich
Ahau Itzamna (God
G combined with
God D)

In temple Itzamna
Kauil (God D with
God K)

Carried kuch
standard

Carried kante standard


(water)

Carried chacte
standard (red wood)

Carried sac ye
standard (white
zapote)

Bloodletting anoints
idol Sac Acantun

Bloodletting anoints
idol Ekel Acantun

Xibalba okot dance

Bloodletting anoints
idol Kanal Acantun

Bloodletting anoints
idol Chac Acantun

Leg of deer offered

Stilt dance, sacrificed


dog and deer heart

Turkey decapitated

Burned sticks on
wooden arch

Dog or man sacrificed

Clay idol Ek u
Uayeyab at west
rotates south at New
Year, remains there
for year

Clay idol Kan u


Uayeyab at south
rotates east at New
Year, remains there for
year

Clay idol Chac u


Uayeyab at east
rotates north at New
Year, remains there
for year

Clay idol Sac u


Uayebab at north
rotates west at New
Year, remains there
for year

Table 10.2. Comparative list of gods identified at Cerro Maya, Santa Rita Corozal,
and Mayapn
God
Identification

Seler ID

Landas Name

Old God??

God N

4 directional
Pauahtuns

Death God

God A

Sac Cimi

Old God

God D

Itzamna

Mayapn

Crocodile Effigy
Rain God

God B

Maize God

God E

Diving GodBee
God M

Deer God

God Y

Ek Chuah

SF-663

Cache 17

SF-481 and
Cache 17

X (mural)

SF-566

X (mural)

SF-831

Hobnil

Merchant God

in situ Paired Effigy


Censers

4 directional
Chacs

Santa Rita
Corozal Cerro Maya

142, Tbl. 6.2; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:7374; Vail 2013). For example, the
color white, associated with Ix years in Landas account, is featured as a glyph
in Ix years on Madrid 37, and the old bearded god on this page represents either Kinich Ahau (God G) or Itzamna (God D), both of whom are mentioned
in Landas account of the Uayeb in Ix years (Table 10.1). Nonetheless, it has
also been suggested that the Madrid Codex yearbearer pages correspond more
specifically to the new year that began in the month of Pop (July 16August 4
in Landas Julian calendar, add ten days for Gregorian dates), when the priest
prepared incense balls and burned copal in an incense burner (Tozzer 1941:151
153). In fact, the dates represented on the Madrid yearbearer pages may allude
to events spanning the entire year (H. Bricker and V. Bricker 2011:137142; Vail
and V. Bricker 2004:Tbl. 7.1).

Postclassic Deities on Effigy Censers at Cerro Maya,


Santa Rita Corozal, and Mayapn
In this section, we explore the corpus of effigy censer gods from Mayapn,
noting their counterparts in Belize and possible relationships with ceremonies represented in the codices and Landas account. At least ten Maya deities
from the codices are represented in Mayapns effigy censers (Milbrath and
Peraza Lope 2013:217; J. E. S. Thompson 1957), but relatively few are known
from Santa Rita Corozal and Cerro Maya (Table 10.2).5 Among the deities
represented in the effigy censers of Mayapn, here designated with alphabetical letters established for Postclassic gods in the codices (Taube 1992), the
most common are the rain god Chac (God B), the Death God (God A), the
Maize God (God E), the Merchant God (God M), and Itzamna (God D). Eric
Thompson (1957) identified a number of old gods in the Mayapn corpus as
Itzamna (God D), but some of these are actually the Central Mexican Old
Fire God, Huehueteotl (Taube 1992:Fig. 66a). Also, other old gods known
from the codices have been recognized, such as God N (Figure 10.4), whose
role as an effigy censer god is shown on Madrid 63c64c. In this scene, a
group of six gods, including God A, God N, and God D, all have vessels attached to their bodies (Milbrath and Peraza Lope 2013:219220).

Pauahtuns and God N


One of the Mayapn effigy censers representing God N actually has a fragmentary duplicate (Figure 10.4a, b). Paired censers are associated with Katun
rituals (D. Chase 1985:119121; Tozzer 1941:168169). Pairs also might be part
of the sets of four gods mentioned in the Uayeb ceremonies, where four directional aspects of the Bacabs and Pauahtuns are linked with the four different
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

Figure 10.4. Paired God N effigy censers from


Mayapn. (Photographs by Susan Milbrath,
courtesy of INAH Centro Regional de Yucatn.)

yearbearers (Tozzer 1941:135137). Censers representing old gods such as God


N suggest comparison with Landas Pauahtuns. One of the paired Mayapn effigy censers portrays God N wearing a carved mussel shell, called an oyohualli
in Central Mexico, with a braided breast plate (Figure 10.4a), a combination
that also appears on the opossum god in the yearbearer imagery on Dresden
26a (Figure 10.5b). The Mayapn effigy censer depicting God N (Figure 10.4a)
even seems to have opossum feet, suggesting the God N effigy could be a counterpart for the opossum god represented in Uayeb ceremonies. Although Eric
Thompson (1972) referred to the opossums in the Dresden Codex yearbearer
pages as Bacabs, they are actually comparable to the Pauahtuns in Landas account of Uayeb ceremonies (Milbrath and Peraza Lope 2013:217). Madrid Codex 37, representing the yearbearer Ix, shows a planting scene with a Pauahtun
who wears a pectoral that seems to be an oyohualli (for the identification of the
seed planters as Pauahtuns, see Vail and Hernndez 2013:357).
The Dresden opossums are closely related to Landas Pauahtuns and the
Mams described in contemporary Maya accounts. Mam effigies are buried as
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

197

Figure 10.5. Opossum God


comparison: (a) breastplate
fragment of possible Opossum
God from Cerro Maya (photograph
by Debra Walker, courtesy of the
Florida Museum of Natural History);
(b) Dresden Codex 26, showing
Opossum God with oyohualli (after
Foestemann facsimile, public
domain).

representatives of the outgoing year among the Quiche (Kich) Maya today
(Milbrath 1999:16, 150). Since the Quiche also refer to all four yearbearers as
the Mam, and there are four different aspects of the Pauahtuns (especially
evident in reliefs at Chichn Itz), the distinction between opossums, Mams,
and Pauahtuns may be relatively minor (see also Taube 1989, 1992:9299).
Although the Mams are sometimes referred to as mountain gods, God N as
a Pauahtun is often seen in the sky or as a sky-bearer in Classic Maya iconography, and a celestial role in the Postclassic seems to be evident on Dresden
Codex 48 and Paris Codex 22 (Milbrath 1999:149,175; Taube 1992:94).
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

The braided rope pectoral found on the opossum yearbearer (Mam?) on


Dresden Codex 26a is fairly common throughout the corpus of Postclassic effigy censers. The oyohualli appears on the opossum in Etznab years on
Dresden Codex 26a and relief images of God N from Chichn Itz (Taube
1992:Fig. 46f), but it is by no means confined to imagery of God N or the
opossum gods. For example, the murals of Santa Rita Corozal show the Merchant God (God M) wearing an oyohualli pendant (Taube 1992:Fig. 45b), and
a censer from Dzibanch does not seem to be an elderly god, but he wears
the oyohualli on a braided breastplate and a headdress with skeletal heads,
more typical of the Death God (Nalda 2004b:Fig. 20). An effigy censer from
Lamanai depicts Tlaloc-Chac wearing a braided breastplate without the oyohualli, illustrating the varied contexts for this costume element (Milbrath et
al. 2008:Fig. 5). Incomplete images of a braided breastplate from Cerro Maya
Structure 4A, Op 25h (Figure 10.5a), can be compared with the Lamanai
example of the Rain God, but it is equally possible that the breastplate could
have been part of imagery of an old god, like the examples from Santa Rita
Corozal, some of which have the oyohualli pendant (D. Chase and A. Chase
1988:Fig. 26a). None of these old gods from Santa Rita Corozal can be easily
identified as representations of a specific deity, but most likely they represent
God D or God N, the most common identification of elderly gods in the codices.6

Death God
The Death God (God A) is another deity known from Uayeb imagery that appears in the corpus of effigy censers from Mayapn and Chetumal Bay (Figure
10.6). The Death God at Mayapn sometimes wears small skeletal heads as
adornment on his headdress (J. E. S. Thompson 1957:Fig. 4c), and some fullfigure representations of the Death God have a skeletal torso and jaws (Figure
10.6b). Small skeletal heads that may have been part of the Death Gods headdress are also known from Cerro Maya (Figure 10.6a). Comparable examples
do not appear in the published record of Santa Rita Corozal, but most likely the
Death God was represented in censers from this site as well.
God A appears in Cauac years in the Madrid Codex, just as the Death God
is featured in Landas account of Cauac years (Table 10.1; Tozzer 1941:148149).
Gabrielle Vail (2004:224) pointed out that God A appearing with the Cauac
(Kawak) yearbearers may be related to Landas account of high mortality in
Cauac years (Tozzer 1941:146148). Landa notes that the omen of Ix years was
another Death God, Sac Cimi, white death, and the Maya made an image
of Sac u Uayeyab to be placed on a heap of stones on the northern side of
the town, and at the year-end they carried the same image to the west side
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

199

Figure 10.6. Death God comparison:


(a) skull decoration from Cerro
Maya (photograph by Debra Walker,
courtesy of the Florida Museum of
Natural History); (b) Mayapn effigy
censer of Death God (photograph
by Susan Milbrath, courtesy of INAH
Centro Regional de Yucatn).

to leave him there so as to go to receive him in the next year (Table 10.1;
Tozzer 1941:145147). This suggests a counterclockwise rotation at the end of
the Uayeb.

Itzamna, the Creator God


In Colonial period accounts, Itzamna is said to be the supreme ruler of the sky,
and scholarly research has linked him to God D of the codices, who is invariably an aged, snaggletoothed man, even though earlier counterparts in the
Classic period are usually represented by a bird (Taube 1992:3140). A possible
reference to Itzamnas avian aspect is seen on an effigy censer from Santa Rita
Corozal representing an old god with feathered wings (Figure 10.7b). Itzamna
is well represented in effigy censers of Mayapn and Chetumal Bay. In fact,
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

most old gods from the Belize corpus have been interpreted as Itzamna, the
counterpart of God D in the codices (Neilsen and Andersen 2004:84, 8992).
These effigy censers depict a snaggletoothed old man, sometimes bearing a
flowerlike element in the headband. Aquatic creatures have also been linked
with Itzamna in the censers from Belize (Nielsen and Andersen 2004:9092),
but some of these may actually depict God N, who often wears a snail shell or
conch shell.
Effigy figures at Santa Rita Corozal and Cerro Maya represent a caiman with
an old god in its jaws (Figure 10.8). Another example from Lamanai shows an
old god in the jaws of a horned crocodilian, interpreted as Itzamna portraying the earth caiman (Gallenkamp and Johnson 1985:Cat. No. 205). In the
codices, a caiman holding God Ds head in its jaws is believed to be the counterpart for Itzam Cab Ain, the earth caiman in the Santa Rita Corozal cache
figures, but Taube (1992:3637) also notes that God D (Itzamna) has a celestial
aspect as the Principal Bird Deity in Classic Maya times. Dresden Codex 74
shows a crocodilian with deer hooves and a skyband body, clearly indicating a
celestial aspect in some contexts. In Classic period times, the Cosmic Monster
is a starry deer crocodile that has a connection with the Milky Way, which

Figure 10.7. Santa Rita Corozal full-figure censers. (After Gann 1900: Pl. XXXII.)
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

201

Figure 10.8. Crocodile effigy vessel comparison: (a) Santa Rita Corozol crocodile effigy (after Gann
1918:64 Fig. 18; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988); (b) Cerro Maya crocodile effigy SF-663 from Cache 3
(illustration by Kathy Roemer in Walker 1990).

seems to rotate around the earth from the sky into the underworld (Milbrath
1999:283291).
In the Uayeb ceremonies, following the rotational patterns suggested by
Landa, Itzamnas idol, initially placed in the rulers house, was carried to the
temple at the end of the festivities, possibly corresponding to a shift in direction
(Table 10.1). In Landas account, Itzamna is prominent in the Uayeb of the north
and south, so either direction could be considered to be parallel with Dresden
2728, both featuring God D. On Dresden Codex 27 showing Akbal yearbearers, God D sits in a temple in the middle section of the page, while God A offers
a decapitated bird at the bottom of the page associated with the west, but on
Dresden 28 it is God D who offers a decapitated bird in the Lamat years, and
another aspect of the Death God (God A) sits in a temple in the middle section.7

Rain God
A full-figure example of the rain god from Mayapn closely parallels the imagery of Chac (God B) in the codices (R. E. Smith 1971:Fig. 67d). The fragmentary
faces of Chac from Santa Rita Corozal and Cerro Maya (Figure 10.9; see also
D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:Fig. 11n, o) seem fairly close in style but are quite
different from the Mayapn Chac censer published by Eric Thompson (1957).
A full-figure Chac effigy at Lamanai holds a pose similar to the Chac figure
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

Figure 10.9. Chac comparison: (a) Santa Rita Corozol Chac effigy censer 1938.1021.316 (photograph by
Susan Milbrath, courtesy of the British Museum); (b) Cerro Maya Chac effigy censer flange fragment
from Op 9401 (photograph by Debra Walker, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History).

from Mayapn, but has features more closely related to the Central Mexican
rain god, Tlaloc, known only from effigy vessels at Mayapn (Milbrath et al.
2008:Figs. 5, 7; Taube 1992:73bd).
Effigy censers of Chac were used no doubt in rituals like those described by
Landa. His account of the Uayeb festivals mentions four Chacs, one for each
of the associated yearbearers and cardinal directions. The closest counterpart
for God B of the codices is Chac Xib Chac (Taube 1992:17), one of the omens
of Muluc years assigned to the east in Landas account, the direction assigned
to Chac u Uayeyab, an idol rotated to the north when the Uayeb ended (Table
10.1; Tozzer 1941:137138). On Dresden Codex 25, God B is the burden carried
by the possum god of the Uayeb ushering in the Ben years in the east, according to Eric Thompson (1972:93; but see Vail and Hernandez 2013:Tbl. 10.3, who
identify this burden as God K, or Kawil). If page 25 does depict God B as the
counterpart of Chac Xib Chac, it would represent an overlap with Landas account because both are linked with the east (Table 10.1). In the Madrid Codex,
the only image of God B is a decapitated head held by God A associated with
the west in Cauac years (Vail 2013:97). The decapitation of the rain god on Madrid 34 could relate to drought associated with Cauac years in Landas Relacin
(Tozzer 1941:148149).
Chac or his quadripartite aspect appears frequently in Landas account of
the annual festivals (Table 10.1). During Pop, the first month of the year, the
office of Chac was held by four individuals chosen to help the priest. The four
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

203

Chacs were assigned to stretch a cord to the four corners, burning incense to
the idol with new fire, which Landa notes was the time of their new year and
a service very acceptable to their idols (Tozzer 1941:150153). Even though the
idol is unnamed, it could represent Chac, who plays such a prominent role in
Pop (July 16August 4 in Landas Julian calendar, add ten days for Gregorian).
During Zip in September, the Chacs smeared blue bitumen on idols that were
probably representations of the goddess of medicine known as Ix Chel (Tozzer
1941:154156). In October, during the festival of Tzec, the four Chacs received
offerings of incense shaped like honeycombs (Tozzer 1941:156157). During
Yax in January, the temple of Chac was renovated. Mac (March 23April 11
Gregorian) also featured the Chacs, who poured water to put out a ceremonial
fire to bring rainfall and drive away evil (Tozzer 1941:161164). At this time,
they honored the Chacs, Itzamna, and the Maize God, the god of the grains,
and renewed the idols of clay and their braziers, for it was the custom that
each idol should have its little brazier. Chacs role as Rain God was especially
important in the next month, Muan, which coincided with the planting season
in May. During Muan, Chac was offered the heart of a spotted dog, and the
Maya burned incense in the effigy censers and offered them iguanas (Tozzer
1941:164166). All of these seasonal festivals may have involved the use of effigy
censers representing Chac.

Maize God
Landa does not mention the Maize God among the deity images in the yearend ceremonies, but maize prognostications were clearly important during the Uayeb in late July when the crops were maturing and a second crop
was planted in some locations. Kan years are said to be favorable for maize,
whereas Ix years were associated with a lack of rain (hot suns) and a plague
of locusts (Table 10.1; Tozzer 1941:142, 146147). Cauac years were also negative because ants and birds devoured the maize seeds (Tozzer 1941:148149).
Landa also mentions a negative outcome for maize in Muluc years (eastern
direction) because there was little rainfall after the maize sprouted (Tozzer
1941:137, 145).
The Maize God (God E) appears with all four yearbearers on Paris Codex
1920, making it clear that maize was of central concern for the New Year
prognostications, and an eviscerated Maize God suggests misfortune for maize
in Ben years, associated with the eastern direction on page 19, also noted to
be negative for maize in Landas account (Table 10.1). The Maize God appears
repeatedly in the yearbearer pages of the Madrid Codex with variations in
his imagery on pages 3437 probably linked with the different fortunes of the
crops over the yearbearer cycle (V. Bricker and Milbrath 2011). For example, a
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

death aspect of God E featured with the Ix yearbearers (northern direction) on


Madrid 37 suggests a negative forecast like Landas account of Ix years (Table
10.1). The yearbearer pages of the Dresden Codex show God E only once (Dresden 27), where he is the burden of the opposum Pauahtun in the Uayeb ushering in Akbal years (western direction).
According to Landa, the Maize God was honored in Mac, and possible parallels for this annual festival can be found in representations of God E in the
codices. Maize almanacs in the codices featuring God E are integrated with the
Haab cycle of 365 days, and with the fate of the crops, evident in different images of God E on Madrid 2431 (V. Bricker 1998; V. Bricker and Milbrath 2011).
Some of these almanacs can be related to representations of the Maize God
who is also depicted among the effigy censers from Mayapn. A magnificent

Figure 10.10. Mayapn Step-eyed


Maize God effigy censer. (Photograph
by Susan Milbrath, courtesy of INAH
Centro Regional de Yucatn.)

Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

205

effigy censer representing the step-eyed Maize God (Figure 10.10) relates to
God E, represented with a stepped design running from the cheek up through
the eye in the Madrid Codex (27a28a, 73a74a; Milbrath and Peraza Lope
2013:220221 Fig. 12.6).
Maize imagery frequently appears in the corpus of effigy censers at Mayapn, judging from the number of fragments representing maize foliation.
Similar fragments were found at Cerro Maya on the central axis of Structure
4A. The same type of maize foliation is seen on more complete examples found
at Mayapn (R. E. Smith 1971:71a.1; J. E. S. Thompson 1957). Nonetheless, one
of the Mayapn effigy censers representing Quetzalcoatl also wears maize foliation on his headdress, so maize foliation can be an attribute added to other
gods (Gallenkamp and Johnson 1985:Cat. No. 179; R. E. Smith 1971:Fig. 67a).8 A
similar pattern is seen in the codices (Gabrielle Vail personal communication
2014).

Diving God
Representations of inverted deities seemingly descending from the sky recovered from Late Postclassic contexts are referred to collectively as diving
or descending gods. Some of these can be identified with the god of beekeeping, often associated with Venus (Milbrath 1999:Fig. 5.1c, d). Diving gods are
found on effigy censers and effigy vessels from Tulum, Cozumel Island, Dzibilchaltun, and Dzibanch (Batn Apuche 2009; Nalda 2004b:Fig. 19), as well
as other sites in Belize, such as Cerro Maya (Figure 10.11; Masson 2000:Fig.
6.8a). Several diving gods appear on effigy vessels from Santa Rita Corozal (D.
Chase and A. Chase 1988:Figs. 1617), but none of the published examples are
effigy censers. Similarly, no effigy censers with diving god images are reported
from Mayapn, although several effigy vessels represent diving figures (Masson 2009:568, 594; R. E. Smith 1971:Figs. 64e, f, 75b, e). Perhaps these were
containers for honey.
Ethnohistoric accounts of Chetumal province as the land of cacao and honey
support identifying the effigies of the diving god in Belize as the Bee God (D.
Chase 1986; Walker 1990:437, 441). An effigy censer with a diving figure of the
Bee God accompanied by log-shaped hives was attributed to Mayapn (Milbrath 1999:Fig. 5.1c), but most likely comes from Cozumel Island, an important
beekeeping community where archaeologists have discovered numerous stone
disks that are the caps to log bee hives (Batn Apuche 2009; Sidrys 1983:298).
The presence of similar limestone disks at Cerro Maya implies that the Postclassic Maya there also kept apiaries.
The full-figure example of the Diving God (Figure 10.11b), found in the
humus lens of Cerro Maya Structure 6E in Cache 17, has outstretched arms,
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

Figure 10.11. Cerro Maya Diving God comparison: (a) Cerro Maya Diving God effigy censer fragment
SF-481; (b) Cerro Maya Diving God effigy censer from Op 9401 Cache 17. (Photographs by Debra
Walker, courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History.)

a young face, and punched eyes typical of the Belizean style, in contrast to
Mayapn effigies that usually have painted eyes (Milbrath and Peraza Lope
2013:205, 215; Milbrath et al. 2011; Sidrys 1983). In addition, a fragmentary effigy censer found in Cache 3 at the summit of Structure 4A includes a portion
of the bees wings (Figure 10.11a; Walker 1990:437, 441).
A calendric role for the diving deities seems possible because a diving
god appears prominently in the Madrid Codex in Kan years (Table 10.1). In
Landas account, the omen of Kan years was represented by Hobnil, which
he identifies as a hollow figure of clay, most probably representing the god
of beekeeping (Tozzer 1941:139, 157). The festival of Muan in May probably
featured beekeeping ceremonies because this festival honored Hobnil, along
with Chac and Itzamna (Tozzer 1941:164). Beekeepers were also honored in
Tzec during October (Tozzer 1941:156157), probably coinciding with the
honey harvest near the end of the rainy season (Milbrath 1999:145). Another
rite for beekeepers took place in Mol during December, described as a festival to provide flowers for the bees (Tozzer 1941:159160). Any one of these
festivals could be associated with the Bee God in the form of effigy vessels or
effigy censers.
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

207

Merchant God
Effigy censers may also have played a role in the annual festival honoring Ek
Chuah in the month of Muan (Tozzer 1941:164). This festival took place in May,
coinciding with the beginning of the rainy season when merchants returned
from long-distance trading expeditions. The merchant god Ek Chuah is related
to God M in the codices, who is often depicted with a long nose and black
coloration in the Madrid Codex (Taube 1992:90).
Eric Thompson (1957:Fig. 1e; R. E. Smith 1971:Fig. 68b9) identified a Mayapn effigy censer figure with dark body paint and a long nose as Ek Chuah,
the counterpart of God M. He also identified a black god wearing a necklace of
Oliva shells as the merchant god, based on face paint rather than a prominent
nose. This figure and another with similar face paint both wear beaded headdresses representing trade beads of shell or jade (J. E. S. Thompson 1957:Fig.
1f, h). One of these also has elongated pods on top of the headdress, possibly
cacao, the coin of the realm among merchants. Since then, many other figures
of God M have been identified among the effigy censers at Mayapn (Masson
and Peraza Lope 2014).
At Cerro Maya, Ek Chuah (God M) may be represented by an effigy censer
head from Structure 4A that has a prominent nose and a beaded headdress
with elongated pods (Figure 10.12b). Lamanai has a good example of Ek Chuah with a very exaggerated long nose and a beard (Gallenkamp and Johnson
1985:Cat. No. 207). An old god with a beaked nose at Santa Rita Corozal
also wears a headdress similar to the one from Cerro Maya (D. Chase and
A. Chase 1988:Fig. 26a), and even though elderly could represent the Mer-

Figure 10.12. Merchant God comparison: (a) Santa Rita Corozol Merchant God effigy censer fragment Q1997Am.961 (photograph by Susan Milbrath, courtesy of the British Museum); (b) Cerro
Maya Merchant God effigy censer fragment SF-566 (photograph by Debra Walker, courtesy of
Florida Museum of Natural History).
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

chant God, who might be a counterpart for the elderly God L in his role as a
merchant (Taube 1992:92 Figs. 39e, 41a). The beaked form of nose is found on
many of the effigy censer faces at Santa Rita Corozal (Figure 10.12a; D. Chase
and A. Chase 1988:Figs. 21b, 22a, 26b), and examples of God M may be among
the Santa Rita Corozal sample, as Eric Thompson (1977:36) suggested long ago.
Indeed, the murals of Santa Rita Corozal depict God M playing a rattle and
drum (Taube 1992:Fig. 45b). Here he appeared in a set of 13 different gods that
are part of a calendar sequence with Tun ending dates, at least one of which
may also be a Katun ending (Masson 2000:Fig. 6.18; Milbrath 1999:230).

Deer God
A fairly well preserved full-figure effigy censer (SF-831) representing the Deer
God was found in Cache 7 associated with child Burial 35 at the top of Cerro
Maya Structure 4A (Figure 10.13; see also Figure 10.1). The effigy was constructed in two parts with a large hollow in the midsection of the body that
corresponds to the bulge in the attached bucket. Based on the vessels found in
association with this unusual censer, Maxine Oland (2009) proposed that it
dates to the fifteenth-to-seventeenth-century Postclassic/Colonial transition,
and we agree. This is plausible because the continued use of effigy censers is evident in early Colonial period records (Oland Chapter 6). In the mid-sixteenth
century, Landa reported that copal was burned in abandoned temples when
the Spaniards arrived, presumably in effigy censers that he called clay idols,
described as abundant long after the fall of Mayapn (Tozzer 1941:110111).
To date, the Cerro Maya effigy is unique, representing the only known example of the god of deer hunting. Although the Deer God censer was likely
made during the Postclassic/Colonial transition, it represents a god known
from prehispanic times. According to Landas description of Postclassic rituals
(Tozzer 1941:154156, 162), hunters and the deities of the hunt were honored in
the month of Zip (September 423 Gregorian) and again in month Zac (February 11March 2 Gregorian). Landas description of the next month (Ceh) has
no text, but he noted that hunting festivals continued in the following month,
Mac (March 23April 11 Gregorian). These hunting festivals clustered around
the two equinoxes.
In view of this seasonal association, it is noteworthy that Structure 4 embodies an equinox alignment that remains visible today, even though the pyramid was constructed in the late Preclassic and abandoned by the Early Classic
(Vadala and Milbrath 2014). It is likely that the pyramid was rededicated in the
Postclassic by the deposition of caches, and continued in use into the early Colonial period. Perhaps its equinox alignment was rediscovered in the Postclassic, and the Deer God effigy represents a link with annual calendar ceremonies
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

209

Figure 10.13. Cerro Maya Deer God


effigy censer SF-831. (Illustration by
Kathy Roemer, in Walker 1990.)

in Landas account that honored hunters and the hunting god in March and
September.
The Madrid Codex shows abundant images of the Deer God (sometimes
called God Y) bearing the glyphic name 7-Zip (Uc Zip; Taube 2003:475; Vail
and Hernndez 2013:411413; Vail 2013). Hunting rituals with a black god wearing a deer headdress on Madrid 50b and 51c have been compared to the festival
of Zip celebrated in September (Vail 2004:216). The Deer God is one of the 20
gods listed in the Dresden Codex Venus tables, and he is named with his wife,
the Moon Goddess, on Dresden 19 and on Paris Codex 10 as the lord of Katun
12 Ahau, where he appears wearing a deer headdress (Grube 2012:139140).
The Cerro Maya Deer God seems related to the god wearing a deer head210

Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

dress in the scaffold sacrifice scene in the Santa Rita Corozal murals (Walker
1990:388397). The god with a deer headdress appears with Tun 2 Ahau on
the west side of the north wall at Santa Rita Corozal, adjacent to Tun 11 Ahau,
falling 360 days earlier (Masson 2000:Fig. 6.18 #18). Another section of the
north wall shows a sequence of Ahau dates (12, 8, 4, 13, 9) designating five
Tuns of 360 days each and a possible Katun 1 Ahau date (Masson 2000:Fig.
6.16; Milbrath 1999:230). Since several of the effigy censers discussed here are
also represented in the Santa Rita Corozal murals, it is possible that the effigies
were used in rituals that dedicated the close of the 360-day Tun, or the larger
cycle of 20 Tuns that comprise one Katun.

Censers in the Context of the Katun Cycle


Some of the activities involving censers may be linked to the Katun cycle,
which spans 13 Katuns (13 20 360 days), or about 257 years (Rice 2004:76
77). Such a pattern has been proposed for the Classic Maya composite censers at Palenque (Cuevas Garca and Bernal Romero 2002:30). Diane Chase
(1985:119121) suggested that different deities represented on the Postclassic
effigy censers may be the lords of the Katuns. Paired effigy censers would seem
to follow patterns described by Landa, where one idol replaced another in the
Katun ceremonies (Tozzer 1941:166169). Landa notes that during the Katun
(20 360 days), idols were used in pairs, with a new one brought in halfway
through the Katun. At Santa Rita Corozal, paired effigy censers found in varying states of completion have been reported in five different structures (2, 5, 6,
17, and 81; D. Chase 1985:121; D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:72, 85), and another
effigy censer pair has been documented at Mayapn, where an almost complete
example was recovered in Structure Q-152a and a more fragmentary duplicate
was found buried nearby between Q-151 and Q-152a (Figure 10.4; Milbrath and
Peraza Lope 2013:217).
The Paris Codex Katun pages show a number of deities that can be recognized from the censer corpus, including multiple images of God E wearing
maize foliation and God N on page 6, God K on page 7, God D on page 11,
and a god with a deer headdress identified as 7 Zip on page 10 (Taube 1992:Fig.
28h). Some of these are among the roster of effigy censer deities, and the ones
found in pairs, as at Mayapn and Santa Rita Corozal, most likely are linked
with Katun ceremonies.
Ceremonies associated with the end of each Katun have been linked to
boundary maintenance practices that involved political leaders walking the
perimeter of their territories, renewing land claims, marking boundaries with
piles of stones, and settling boundary disputes with neighboring communities
Regional Expressions of the Postclassic Effigy Censer System

211

(Hanson 2008:561562; Quezeda 2014; Rice 1999, 2004; Roys 1943). Censer
materials made at Santa Rita Corozal and deposited by pilgrims at Cerro Maya
Structure 4, the most imposing pyramid visible from across the bay, also served
to mark the landscape as part of the Santa Rita Corozal polity, asserting control
there despite its minimal population.

Discussion
Most effigy censers were probably part of Haab festivals and year-end Uayeb
ceremonies, as noted above. This may be true because so many were broken,
most likely in January, the month for renewal of effigy censers, or in July during termination rituals at year-end (D. Chase 1985:119121). Effigy censers were
important in the year-end ceremonies involving both the Uayeb and New Year.
These ceremonies may have originated at Mayapn and spread south to Belize
and Petn with the effigy censer cult. The cast of characters in the deity complex at Mayapn is certainly much broader than found at sites to the south,
where deities linked with Central Mexico are virtually absent. Some of the
most commonly represented deities in the effigy censer corpus at Mayapn
are also found as far south as Santa Rita Corozal and Cerro Maya. One unique
example from Cerro Maya representing the Deer God suggests some independence or innovation, but even this image can be related to Landas descriptions
of the annual festivals.
The distribution of Postclassic effigy censers is fairly wide, and there are
multiple centers of manufacture at major cities such as Mayapn, Tulum, and
Santa Rita Corozal, and sites with small Late Postclassic occupations, including
Chichn Itz, Dzibanch, and Champotn. All of these sites were independent
centers of production, and their effigy censers all seem distinctive (Milbrath
and Peraza Lope 2013; Milbrath et al. 2008). In the case of Cerro Maya, there
is evidence that it was an extension of the Santa Rita Corozal polity, and trace
element analysis reported here for the first time indicates that the likely source
of most of the effigy censers in the Cerro Maya sample is Santa Rita Corozal.
The caching of a small number of censers in ancient structures at Cerro
Maya reflects a different practice than at Santa Rita Corozal and Mayapn,
sites that were heavily occupied in the Postclassic. At Cerro Maya, there was
no extensive resident population, suggesting that pilgrims from nearby Santa
Rita Corozal made offerings of effigy censers to form a bond with their Maya
ancestors and claim the territory for the Chetumal Bay polity. The fact that
Postclassic effigy censers are found at so many Maya sites occupied at earlier
times has interesting implications for outlining a larger theme of shared traditions that linked Yucatec-speaking peoples throughout the Maya area. Similar
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Susan Milbrath and Debra S. Walker

shared traditions in the production and use of other durable materials, including shell and stone, are detailed in the next four chapters.

Notes
1. We would like to thank Gabrielle Vail, who commented on this chapter; the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI), for providing funding
for the original study of Mayapn censers; Carlos Perazolope and the Instituto Nacional de
Antropologa e Historia Centro Regionale de Yucatn for facilitating the study of Mayapn
censers; and National Endowment of the Humanities Grant #PW-51116-12, for funding the
photography of the Cerros censers as part of a larger online catalogue searchable at http://
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cerros.
2. New radiocarbon samples from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologa e Historia excavations at Mayapn suggest the earliest possible introduction of Chen Mul Modeled would be
between AD 1220 and 1240 (Peraza et al. 2006). Historic accounts date the fall of the city in the
mid-1400s, but there is evidence that effigy censer production and use continued elsewhere
into the Colonial era (Oland 2009:85; and see Oland Chapter 6).
3. Because it deals with historical documents and the codices, this chapter follows Tozzers
orthography for transcribing Yucatec words such as Uayeb.
4. The Dresden may be a twelfth-century document, dating to the Early Postclassic before
Chen Mul Modeled effigy censers were produced (Milbrath and Peraza Lope 2003). Hocaba
Phase Cehac-Hunacti Composite censers from Mayapn correlate with illustrations of a
spiked censer on Dresden 26.
5. It is also significant that Central Mexican gods are represented at Mayapn but not at
Santa Rita Corozal. Most noteworthy are the Central Mexican deities known as Quetzalcoatl,
Xipe Totec, Tlazoleotl, and the Venus god, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (J. E. S. Thompson 1957).
Although it has been proposed that Xipe is represented among the effigy censers from Belize,
these examples have open eyes with pupils, unlike the examples from Mayapn (Nielsen and
Andersen 2004:Fig. 4).
6. God G also sometimes has an elderly aspect, as on the Codex Madrid page 108b (Taube
1992:Fig. 22b), and possibly page 37b, as noted above.
7. The directional glyph here on Dresden 28 should be south, but the glyph for north was
written instead, and south appears on page 26.
8. Taube (1992:Fig. 18ac) identifies an image of a diving god at Tulum as God E, based
on the headdresses with maize foliation, but it could also be a wasp or bee god, representing
Venus as the Evening Star associated with maize fertility (Milbrath 1999:162 Fig. 5.1b).

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III
O T H E R C H E T U M A L B AY I N D U S T R I E S

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11
Shell Materials from Oxtankah, Quintana Roo

EMILIANO RICARDO MELGAR TSOC

Gathering mollusks was one of the most ancient activities pursued on the
shores of the Yucatn Peninsula. It is therefore no surprise that the earliest
evidence for Maya utilization of malacological resources in the region dates
to the Preclassic period. Archaeological explorations of a shell midden on
Cancn Island revealed a great diversity and abundance of mollusks at this
early date, as did surface surveys of middens located farther south between
Mahahual and Xkalak on the fringes of the Chetumal Bay region (E. W. Andrews IV et al. 1974).
Research on coastal and marine resource procurement among the ancient
Maya is sparse, mainly because greater attention has been paid to commercial
seafaring enterprises (Barrera Rubio 1980:27) based on Eric Thompsons (1975)
view that the Maya were the Phoenicians of the New World; thus, interest in
the exploitation and utilization of shell resources in such a fascinating aquatic
environment has been largely overlooked. This chapter describes the general
characteristics of shell artifacts found during several seasons of work, both
surface survey and excavation, at Oxtankah, Quintana Roo, a coastal settlement located on the northwestern shore of Chetumal Bay (Figure 11.1). It also
outlines patterns in the procurement, processing, and consumption of these
molluscan resources from a regional perspective. Since the site is situated on
the coast, one might assume that a sizable percentage of the materials collected
were available locally, yet proximity to the sea does not imply that all mollusks were collected on an adjacent beach. In addition, analysis of shell artifacts
and their manufacturing techniques can provide data on how artifacts were
used, as well as discern technological changes in their manufacture that may
be linked to the arrival of foreigners, such as the Itz.

Figure 11.1. Chetumal Bay and its coastal sites. (Illustration by Debra Walker, after original provided by
Emiliano Melgar Tsoc.)

The Archaeological Mollusks of Oxtankah


The malacological collection of the Pelecypoda and Gasteropoda classes from
Oxtankah consists of 2,185 pieces of shell, both fragmented and complete,
recovered from various sites and contexts during several field seasons (Figure 11.1).1 Six pieces were recovered during the 1996 archaeological survey
season, carried out on regional survey along roads and paths at Oxtankah,
218

Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc

Nohichmul (El Cocal), Laguna Guerrero, Laguna Roja, and Punta Lagartos
(de Vega Nova 1996). In addition, 203 pieces stem from the 19971998 season excavations in the monumental site core at Oxtankah. Two tombs and
three altars were encountered at Structure I. Other buildings investigated
and consolidated that season included Structures III and IV, the altar at
Plaza Abejas, as well as Structures VI and IX in the Plaza of the Columns
(Figure 2.10; de Vega Nova 1999; de Vega Nova et al. 2000). A further 1,727
pieces were recovered in the 2000 field season from three tombs found inside
Structure VI as well as from Structure X, both located in the Plaza of the
Columns (de Vega Nova and Ontiveros Ortiz 2001). Finally, 249 pieces were
collected during the 2003 survey carried out along the western coastline of
Chetumal Bay, including the adjacent islands and cays (de Vega Nova and
Melgar Tsoc 2003).
The first phase of analysis consisted of determining the original provenience
of the mollusks, that is, the natural habitats from where they were collected by
the ancient Maya. To accomplish this, specimens were first assigned a taxonomic identification, aided by various handbooks of Caribbean mollusks (Abbott 1974; P. Morris 1975; H. Vokes and E. Vokes 1983) and those from the
Panama Pacific region (Keen 1971). In addition, reference collections were consulted at ECOSUR2 as well as at INAH.3 Prior research references compiled by
archaeologists working on Chetumal Bay were also consulted (Boxt 1993; H.
S. Carr 1986a, 1986b; Guderjan 1995c; Hamilton 1987). Finally, several INAH
specialists were consulted.4
During the taxonomic analysis, 75 species were identified, including 37 gastropods and 38 pelecypods (Table 11.1) that could be divided into three collection zones. A full 67 species are from the Caribbean zone, which spans the Gulf
of Mexico, the Antilles, the Atlantic coast of Central America, and the north
coast of South America as far as Brazil. Five additional species originated in
the Panama Pacific zone, extending from the Gulf of California to Tumbes in
northern Peru. Finally, four species are freshwater regional resources from the
lagoons, rivers, and estuaries that ring Chetumal Bay.
Despite knowing the native habitats, how they were procured remained
uncertain. It was not even known if the Caribbean specimens were collected
in Chetumal Bay or elsewhere. This lack of information led us to carry out a
detailed review of mollusk habitats on Chetumal Bay. We collected local reports of mollusk species and sought out prehispanic shell middens that might
provide information on procurement patterns. Strangely enough, the western
coastline of Chetumal Bay lacked any prior research on malacological distributions.
Shell Materials from Oxtankah, Quintana Roo

219

Table 11.1. Taxonomic identification of mollusks at Oxtankah


CARIBBEAN SPECIES
GASTROPODS

PELECYPODS

Acmaea antillarum

Aequipecten muscosus

Bulla striata

Anadara floridana

Busycon sp.

Anadara notabilis

Cassis flamea

Anodonta alba

Cassis madagascariensis

Anomalocardia auberiana

Cassis tuberosa

Arcopagia fausta

Charonia variegata

Argopecten gibbus

Cheritidea pliculosa

Barbatia tenera

Cittarium pica

Brachiodontes exustus

Cypraea testiculus

Chama sarda

Cypraea zebra

Chione cancellata

Detracia clarki

Chione granulata

Fasciolaria tulipa

Codakia orbicularis

Fissurella barbadensis

Crassostrea virginica

Hyalanina avena

Donax denticulatus

Marginella labiata

Dosinia elegans

Melampus coffeus

Isognomon alatus

Melongena corona

Laevicardium laevigatum

Melongena melongena

Lithophaga sp.

Nerita tessellata

Lopha frons

Oliva reticularis

Lucina pectinata

Oliva sayana

Mercenaria mercenaria

Pleuroploca gigantea

Mulina sp.

Polinices lacteus

Ostrea equestris

Prunum apicinum

Parastarte triquetra

Prunum labiatum

Pecten ziczac

Strombus alatus

Phacoides pectinatus

Strombus costatus

Pinctada imbricata

Strombus gigas

Pitar circinata

Strombus pugilis

Spondylus americanus

Tegula fasciata

Tellina alternata

Turbinella angulata

Tellina listeri

Turritella sp.
Vasum muricatum

PACIFIC SPECIES
GASTROPODS

PELECYPODS

Malea ringens

Chama echinata
Pinctada mazatlanica
Spondylus calcifer
Spondylus princeps

FRESHWATER SPECIES
GASTROPODS

PELECYPODS

Pachychilus glaphyrus

Nephronaias sp.

Pomacea flagellata

Unio sp.

The Absence of Shell Middens on Chetumal Bay


Shell middens constitute the accumulated waste products of mollusks used as
food. Evidence for extraction of the fleshy interior can be noted in percussion
marks on the shell itself, or by identifying burn marks from heating to open
the shell (Waselkov 1987:9697). These types of contexts, however, are practically nonexistent on Chetumal Bay. Only one modern case has been reported
at Sarteneja (Boxt 1993:51). In contrast, prehispanic shell middens are common
elsewhere on the Quintana Roo coastline (E. W. Andrews IV 1969:184185;
Gallareta et al. 1991:64; Melgar Tsoc 2008:9091).
The lack of shell middens on Chetumal Bay is surprising, particularly since
they are common just outside the bay. The few shell middens reported on Chetumal Bay are found on the Belizean side of the bay and very close to the Caribbean Sea. As they are smaller in dimension than those to the north, and since
they occur in a coastal environment characterized by dense vegetation cover,
particularly red mangrove Ryzophora mangle (Correa Sandoval and Dachary
1999:16), they may be difficult to identify in archaeological survey.
Besides the lack of known sites, there is a lack of specific studies on the
mollusks that inhabit Chetumal Bay. Very few species have been collected by
marine biologists from the University of Quintana Roo and ECOSUR. This
constitutes a gap in published faunal studies for programs such as the Manatee Sanctuary (Correa Sandoval and Dachary 1999) and the Chetumal Bay
Coastal Management Program (Rosado-May et al. 2002). For example, the
latter reference notes the presence of only four species in the coastal zone between the Chetumal to Oxtankah corridor and Isla Tamalcab, including the
Shell Materials from Oxtankah, Quintana Roo

221

mangrove oyster Crassostrea ryzophorae; two species of brackish water snails,


Pomacea flagellata and P. yucatnensis; and another unidentified saltwater
species (Rosado-May et al. 2002:256).
The study producing such limited species diversity was carried out by surveying three transects in the coastal zone. In contrast, we observed a greater
variety of species on the beach at Cerro Maya, Belize, including Melongena
melongena and Chione cancellata, among others. These same mollusks were recovered in archaeological contexts at the site (Hamilton 1987), indicating their
long tenure in the habitat. The samples observed on the beach retained their
periostracum, an outer protein layer that provides coloration for living mollusks, which means they had died and been deposited on the beach recently.

Coastal Survey along the Western Shoreline of Chetumal Bay


Due to the lack of relevant information, we carried out a reconnaissance along
the west coast of Chetumal Bay, by foot and by boat as appropriate, to get a
clearer picture of the species that inhabit the bay. We also searched for signs of
mollusk accumulation that might provide evidence for extraction or manufacture in direct association with prehispanic ceramics or lithic materials. We carried out this survey with the intent of defining potential procurement zones for
specific species found in regional archaeological contexts in association with
other inland sites, as well as determining the presence or absence of specific
species in the aquatic ecosystem of Chetumal Bay.
In order to identify and document the presence or absence of shell middens on Chetumal Bay, various surveys along the coastline and some underwater transects were carried out between June and July 2003 (de Vega Nova
and Melgar Tsoc 2003, 2005). One result of this survey was confirming that
there are indeed no prehispanic shell middens in the bay as asserted by local
investigators. Several large Caribbean univalves were absent from the bay as
well, including Strombus gigas, Turbinella angulata, Cassis madagascariensis,
Cassis tuberosa, and Pleuroploca gigantea, as well as any univalve of the genus
Oliva, Cittarium pica, Codakia orbicularis, and any other valve of the Pectinidae family. These were not found on the coastline or in the underwater transects surveyed at different locations of the bay. Instead, the vast majority of the
mollusks collected in Chetumal Bay include Pomacea flagellate, Melongena
melongena, and smaller univalves and oysters from a mangrove environmental context.
These observations led us to consult the ECOSUR marine biologist to inquire if the environmental conditions in the present were similar to those of
the past. We also reviewed ecological studies of the area, and determined how
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current environmental conditions on the bay differed from the rest of the Caribbean. For example, there is lower salinity in the bay due to the Rio Hondo
and the New River. In addition, the shoreline is dominated by mangrove and
the intertidal plain that produces a muddy bottom of shallow and murky water (Olivera Gmez 2002:7). This combination of environmental conditions
inhibits the development of coral reefs characteristic of coastal Quintana Roo
and Belize. The bay also lacks the seaweed, clear water, and sandy beaches
necessary for many of the better-known mollusk species of the Caribbean (H.
Vokes and E. Vokes 1983). After this study, it became obvious that we needed
to separate the archaeological collections from Oxtankah into the local Chetumal Bay mollusks and those imported from other parts of the Caribbean.
Based on environmental data from beaches adjacent to Oxtankah and
the general habitats of the surrounding bay, there is little species diversity in
the waters, limited mainly to Pomacea flagellata and Melongena melongena,
which are easy to collect along the mangrove shores. These species are not
generally found in shell middens due to the manner in which they were processed and cooked by the ancient Maya. Unlike large univalves, these small
species were cooked in soups while still in the shell. As a result, they were
not discarded along the shoreline, and when found in archaeological context, they do not exhibit extraction scars produced by percussion (Hammond
1986:175176). Large Caribbean univalves, in contrast, are not endemic to the
local ecosystem. Their procurement required a greater labor investment, since
it entailed foraging outside the bay or acquiring them through regional exchange networks, increasing their social or symbolic value. As a result, one
would expect that they would be thoroughly used and would not be discarded
on the shoreline.
Mollusks of Pacific origin enabled us to identify ancient long-distance trade
routes. In contrast to the great diversity of mollusks exploited from the Caribbean, only a very select set of Pacific species were observed archaeologically at
Oxtankah, including Spondylus princeps, Spondylus calcifer, Chama echinata,
and Pinctada mazatlanica. Nearly all of these specimens were retrieved from
the tombs of Late Classic Oxtankah rulers (de Vega Nova and Ontiveros Ortiz
2001:1215), with the sole exception of a rectangular inlay of mother-of-pearl.
This distribution suggests differential access to exotic goods that were under
the control of elites (Hohmann 2002:1215).

Classification of the Shell Objects


Following taxonomic identification and the definition of probable mollusk
procurement zones, the next step consisted of typological classification of
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223

1,937 shell objects from Oxtankah following established criteria (Surez


Dez 1977; Velzquez Castro 1999). Materials were divided into 16 categories
in functional groups (Table 11.2; Figure 11.2). Ornamental shell jewelry included 78 pendants, two breastplates, 1,803 inlays, and 22 beads. Utilitarian
shell objects comprised three trumpets, one ax, seven picks, four awls, one
fishhook, and two containers. Ritual or symbolic shell objects included a
carved plaque, three false mandibles, a spiral section, a section of colum-

Table 11.2. Typology of shell artifacts at Oxtankah and vicinity


Type of Object
Pendants
Breastplates

Calderitas Lakin Ambergris Santa Rita


Oxtankah Yaaxcanab
H
Caye
Corozal
78

Inlays

1,803

Beads

22

Ear Flares

Rings

Trumpets

Axes

Picks

Awls

Scrapers

73

24

51

73

363

2
1

1
1

1
1

Containers

Spindle Whorls

8
1

Carved Hands

Carved Heads

False Mandibles

Spiral Sections

Columella Sections

Debitage

100

12

Unidentified

224

13

Fishhooks

Not Determined

16

Sarteneja

14

Polishers

Carved Plaques

Cerro
Maya

Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc

Figure 11.2. Shell objects from Oxtankah: (a) pendants; (b) breastplates; (c) inlays; (d) beads;
(e) ear flares; (f ) rings; (g) trumpets; (h) axes; (i) picks; (j) awls; (k) containers; (l) carved plaques;
(m) false mandibles; and (n) debitage. (Photograph provided by Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc.)

nella, three percussion-worked snails as offerings, and an object of undetermined function.


Most ornaments were recovered from the Oxtankah site core, almost exclusively from Late Classic tombs, particularly Tomb 1 in Structure VI located
in the Plaza of the Columns (de Vega Nova et al. 2003; also see Figure 2.10).
In contrast, tools were mainly concentrated in construction fill and as surface
debris in the residential zone, on the shoreline, and on adjacent islands. Species
Shell Materials from Oxtankah, Quintana Roo

225

Figure 11.3. Garment fashioned with mother-of-pearl, found at Structure VI, Tomb 1, Oxtankah. (Photograph provided by Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc.)

diversity in status jewelry changed through time. A greater range of artifacts


manufactured from Caribbean species date to the Early Classic, but during the
Late Classic, inlays and pendants were manufactured from a few Pacific species. The principal Late Classic find from Tomb 1 is a breastplate or a cape fashioned with circular perforated inlays of mother-of-pearl of Pinctada imbricata
(Figure 11.3). All the beads are Postclassic in date, and were manufactured from
Pacific species Spondylus princeps and Chama echinata, described in colonial
sources as reddish beads (de Vega Nova et al. 2003). For comparative purposes, information on shell objects from other sites at Chetumal Bay was also
included in the graphic (Boxt 1993; H. S. Carr 1986a; Guderjan 1995c; Hamilton
1987; Rodrguez Betancourt 1988).

Technological Analysis of Shell Objects


Another important aspect of this research was technological analysis of how
the shell artifacts were manufactured, to determine whether they were locally
produced or imported already made. The data set for comparison included
experimental archaeology along with the identification of manufacture scars
through the use of Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). This type of analysis has been applied previously (Velzquez Castro 2007)5 and has yielded
226

Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc

good results. SEM technology proved to be an ideal way to collect data on the
surface characteristics of shell materials, including roughness, porosity, and
texture. Through SEM, it has been possible to characterize and differentiate
features that otherwise would be impossiblefor example, measurement of
scars from cut marks and perforations with chert or obsidian tools.
In our ethnographic comparison, we have performed over 700 experiments
on shell using tools similar to those found in Mesoamerican archaeological
contexts, with the intent of reproducing the traces left by the manufacturing
process such as use wear, cuts, perforations, incisions, drilling, polishing, and
burnishing (Table 11.3). These comparisons are especially relevant because
modifications produced by nonlocal materials such as obsidian and basalt can
be compared with locally available stone tools such as chert or limestone.
We analyzed 217 SEM micrographs from a representative sample that reflected both common and unique features in the collection (Melgar Tsoc
2011:4652; de Vega Nova et al. 2010:227233), obtaining several important
results (Figure 11.4). For instance, basalt abrasion scars are present in 51 objects, all of which date to the Early Classic (250550 CE) and Late Classic
(550800 CE) without regard to species or type of object manufactured. These
marks are characterized by rounded bands with irregular edges around 100
m thick. In addition, these objects have a polished finish that is produced
Table 11.3. Instruments used on shell at the Experimental Archaeology Workshop
Modification

Materials

Surface Abrading

Basalt, andesite, rhyolite, sandstone, limestone, and granite mixed with


water and occasionally sand.

Cuttings

Chipped stone chert and obsidian tools.


Sand, water, and strips of leather or cords made from plant
fibers of ixtle or hemp.

Perforations

Abraders (sand, volcanic ash, obsidian, or chert dust) applied with reed
branches and water.
Chipped stone tools of chert and obsidian.

Carving

Abraders (sand, volcanic ash, obsidian, or chert dust) applied with reed
branches of greater diameter adding water.

Incisions

Chipped stone tools of chert and obsidian.

Finishing

Polished with abraders (sand, volcanic ash, obsidian, or chert dust, or


quartz, hematite dust), water, and pieces of leather.
Polished with chert nodules, sandstone, jadeite, hematite, and
corundum.
Burnishing with pieces of dry leather on both sides.
Shell Materials from Oxtankah, Quintana Roo

227

with a chert polisher. This tool leaves a series of straight fine lines less than 4
m wide along the rounded bands described above that run in different directions crisscrossing each other. In contrast, limestone wear scars occur on
only 13 pieces, all of which date to the Late Postclassic (12001500 CE). Limestone produces fuzzy bands between 20 and 60 m thick that run in different
directions. In addition, finer straight lines, approximately 6 m wide, can be
observed. It is worth noting that these pieces are not polished or finished in
any way.
In the SEM sample, obsidian flakes were used on 18 cuts and five incisions,
where very thin, straight, parallel lines less than 3 m wide can be observed.
These generally appear to have been abraded with basalt, as described above,
but in this instance they appear on top of the obsidian marks. Manufacture
scars using chert flakes included 18 cut marks, 16 perforations, eight incisions,
and five drill holes. These marks consist of a succession of bands of approximately 4 m thick that crisscross and converge, forming larger features. These
are the most abundant and occur in all contexts from all periods.

Discussion
It was important to identify shell specimens to the species level because
both the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts share the same genera such as Oliva,
Spondylus, Chama, and Pinctada. Without this level of definition, it would
not be possible to trace procurement zones or the malacological provinces
of provenience, or to make inferences on ancient trade routes. Furthermore,
we were aiming to reevaluate procurement models, since it is frequently inferred that calcareous exoskeletons found at coastal settlements come from
adjacent beaches, failing to note that coastal exchange routes date as far
back as the Preclassic (Barrera Rubio 1980:27). It almost seems as if some
researchers would negate the existence of Pacific mollusks in these collections (E. W. Andrews IV 1969:43), as if the ancient Highland Maya only
exchanged obsidian, basalt, and jadeite with communities on the coasts of
Yucatn, omitting the precious red Pacific spiny oyster Spondylus princeps
from these trades.
Compared to other sites on Chetumal Bay, the Oxtankah collection is similar in terms of ornamental jewelry from burials and offerings, such as beads,
pendants, and inlays; however, no attire similar to the one recovered from Oxtankah Tomb 1 has been recovered to date. This fine garment was fashioned
out of mother-of-pearl and must have conferred great status and power to the
ruler who wore it. Symbolically, this piece relates to the sea on multiple levels.
Not only is it made of high-status shell, but in appearance it imitates fish scales,
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Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc

Figure 11.4. Comparison between manufacture scars on archaeological artifacts and experimental
reproductions: (a, b) artifact surfaces; (c) artifact edge; (d) artifact perforation; (e) experimental
abrading with basalt; (f ) experimental abrading with limestone; (g) experimental cutting with obsidian flake; (h) experimental drilling with chert burin. (Photographs provided by Emiliano Ricardo
Melgar Tsoc.)

possibly the much-appreciated silver fish (striped mojarra) native to Chetumal


Bay known locally as xihua (de Vega Nova et al. 2010).
Another important finding is the relationship between particular shell species and the specific tools employed in the manufacture of finished artifacts.
Particular characteristics of the manufacturing process are in some sense
arbitrary and constrained by the parameters of cultural tradition. In other
words, specific choices are made in the replication of a technological process
to the exclusion of other possible processes in a given space and time by any
social group or culture (C. Carr 1995:166). SEM aids in the identification of
culturally specific processes by revealing patterns in manufacture scars. It is
therefore significant that only four raw materials for tools were identified in
the micrographs: basalt, obsidian, limestone, and chert. The first two materials are not available locally, but limestone and chert are available throughout
the region. On this basis, it could be inferred that objects produced by tools of
foreign raw materials were already manufactured when they reached the site,
while those that have scars produced by local materials may have been manufactured at the site. This assumption is more complicated than it might first
appear. Tools of foreign raw materials were actually available at Oxtankah, including basalt metates and hundreds of prismatic gray obsidian blades found
in construction fill and during the surface surveys. Furthermore, the consistency observed in the manufacture of shell artifacts using basalt and obsidian
could indicate local crafting concentrated at specific production areas where
jewelry for elite consumption was made. One likely locale is the Plaza of the
Columns in the site core at Oxtankah. It has also been argued that this standardization of manufacturing marks is due to the elite control of production
in general (Brumfiel and Earle 1987:13). Similarly, it has been claimed that
the repetitive production of objects eventually leads to increased standardization and improved efficiency (Clark and Parry 1990:293); however, in the production of high-status goods under elite control, no expense in time or labor
need be spared. In the case of the Tomb I shell garment, which was composed
almost entirely of Pacific shell, differential access to both raw materials and
the production process was clearly identified. In other words, it seems that, at
Oxtankah, social stratification was reflected in the shell species selected, the
fine-quality goods produced, the manufacturing techniques utilized, and the
preferred raw material for shell-working tools.
It is also interesting to observe technological changes between the Classic
and Postclassic periods. During the Classic era, the local manufacturing tradition consisted of abrading with basalt and polishing with chert, while in the
Postclassic, this tradition coexisted with a completely different one based on
abrading with limestone without finishing. Perhaps this latter tradition was
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Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc

nonlocal in origin, as it coincided with a period of Itz migration and political


realignment associated with non-Maya iconography that became incorporated
into local traditions all along the peninsula of Yucatn (Harrison-Buck and
McAnany 2013:295299; Ringle 2004). Among the changes at this time depth
are the arrival of Fine Orange and Tohil Plumbate ceramics, and, later, the appearance of local versions of Chen Mul Modeled incense burners (Milbrath and
Walker Chapter 10), the Mixteca Puebla style murals from Santa Rita Corozal
(D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:7), the shift in obsidian trade from a source at El
Chayal to one at Ixtepeque (Chiarulli Chapter 12), and the construction of the
walled precinct at Ichpaatun (de Vega Nova et al. 2000:107108).

Concluding Remarks
As outlined above, mollusks used by the prehispanic inhabitants of Oxtankah
consisted primarily of imported materials foreign to Chetumal Bay that had
nutritional, utilitarian, ornamental, and votive value. We can identify four great
procurement zones, each with distinct utilization patterns: Chetumal Bay for
food consumption, the Caribbean Sea for the manufacture of tools and ornaments, the Pacific Ocean for ornaments and votive objects, and the rivers and
coastal lagoons of Quintana Roo for food and ornaments. No prehispanic shell
middens were found because the mollusks exploited locally were small and
were cooked in the shell in the preparation of soups and stews, and disposed
of with other food remains.
The majority of the shell objects collected at Oxtankah were used for personal adornment. A highlight among these is the mother-of-pearl garment
found in Tomb I that resembles fish scales, probably representing the striped
mojarra, or xihua, the silvery fish native to Chetumal Bay (Garduo Argueta and Caballero Pinzn 1988). SEM micrographs provided the information
needed to differentiate manufacturing techniques employed in labor processes
that are macroscopically similar but microscopically different. Through analysis of manufacturing scars, two distinct tool groups were identified: a technique employing nonlocal basalt and obsidian and a technique utilizing local
limestone and chert.
To date, we have not located the material remains of shell-crafting workshops at Oxtankah that might confirm local production. The number and
organization of shell production facilities remain a hypothesis for future researchers to test. The great homogeneity found in manufacturing scars of Classic period shell artifacts, especially those left by abrasion with basalt, polishing with chert nodules, and perforations with chert flakes, permits us to infer
a local manufacturing tradition. A second distinct manufacturing process,
Shell Materials from Oxtankah, Quintana Roo

231

abrasion with limestone, is restricted to the Postclassic. Apparently, during the


Postclassic, both technological traditions coexisted. The latter one coincides
with the arrival of the Itz to the region, and it could represent a technology
the newcomers brought with them. In addition to worked shell, chipped stone
can provide insight into the lives of the ancient Maya. In the next chapter, Beverly Chiarulli presents her perspective on chipped stone use and exchange on
Chetumal Bay.

Acknowledgments
This research would not have been possible without the support of archaeologist Hortensia de Vega Nova, director of the Proyecto de Investigacin y Conservacin del Sitio Arqueolgico Oxtankah, Quintana Roo, and archaeologist
Adrin Velzquez, project director of Proyecto Tcnicas de Manufactura de
los Objetos de Concha del Mxico Prehispnico. I am also grateful to biologists Belem Zuiga Arellano, Norma Valentn Maldonado, and Norma Emilia
Gonzlez for their technical assistance in the taxonomy, and my gratitude goes
to Demetrio Mendoza, Antonio Alva, and Gerardo Villa, engineers who took
the micrographs.

Notes
1. Excavations were undertaken by the Proyecto de investigacin y conservacin del sitio
arqueolgico de Oxtankah.
2. El Colegio de la Frontera Sur in Chetumal, Quintana Roo.
3. Subdireccin de Laboratorios y Apoyo Acadmico del Instituto Nacional de Antropologa e Historia in Mexico City.
4. Belem Zuiga Arellano, Norma Valentn Maldonado, biologists; Adrin Velzquez Castro, archaeologist; as well as ECOSUR-Chetumal biologist Norma Emilia Gonzlez.
5. Proyecto Tcnicas de Manufactura de los Objetos de Concha de Mxico Prehispnico,
directed by Adrin Velzquez Castro (2007).

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Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc

12
Stone Tools and Trade on the Southern End
of Chetumal Bay

B E V E R LY A . C H I A R U L L I

This chapter examines both regional and long-distance trade in several types
of lithic artifacts and raw materials between communities on southern Chetumal Bay, known locally as Corozal Bay, particularly Santa Rita Corozal and
Cerro Maya, and interior northern Belize. In this region, there is substantial
evidence for trade in stone tools made in northern Belize as well as exchange in
imported obsidian. Although trade in stone tools was a long-standing tradition
on the bay, this chapter focuses on the Late Preclassic period. During this era,
communities around Corozal Bay participated in a vibrant commerce between
sites on the Caribbean coast of Yucatn and settlements farther inland.
Stone tools have been especially useful in developing an understanding of
trade and distribution patterns in northern Belize. Unlike some classes of artifacts, evidence for stone tool manufacture and use does not decay through
time. Lithic workshops create massive deposits of debris that remain either in
place or in discard piles. Broken or exhausted stone tools generally were left
where they were used. In addition, lithic raw materials can be sourced through
chemical or other methods and thus can be traced to their place of origin
(Cackler et al. 1999a; Cackler et al. 1999b).

Corozal Bay Exchange Network


Trade networks for both obsidian and Colha chert were in place before Cerro
Maya was founded in the Late Preclassic era (McKillop Chapter 15, ReeseTaylor Chapter 2; Walker Chapter 3, Figure 3.2). Both materials have been
identified in the earliest levels of construction at other sites on Corozal Bay,

including Middle Preclassic deposits at Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase and A.
Chase 1989:25, 2006). Colha workshops were producing specialized tools in
the Middle Preclassic that were exported to consumer sites in northern Belize. For example, T-shaped adzes characteristic of the Middle Preclassic were
produced at Colha (Hester and Shafer 1989) and have been found at Santa Rita
Corozal (D. Chase and A. Chase 1989, 2006) and Cuello in Middle Preclassic
deposits (McSwain 1991:169).
Investigations at Cerro Maya and Santa Rita Corozal have shown that the
two had different occupation sequences. While Cerro Mayas apogee was rather
short-lived, dominating Corozal Bay only during the Terminal Preclassic period, Santa Rita Corozal was occupied continuously from the early Middle
Preclassic onward. By the late Middle Preclassic, residents were participating
in coastal and interior trade, noted in the appearance of Colha chert tools from
northern Belize and obsidian and jadeite from long-distance trading networks.
According to Diane Chase and Arlen Chase (1989:2627, 2006), during the
Late Preclassic the quantity of obsidian at the site increased, and formal tools
produced in the Colha workshop appeared (Dockall and Shafer 1993). By the
Early Classic, Santa Rita Corozal replaced Cerro Maya as the trading hub on
Corozal Bay and had begun constructing monumental architecture. Clear status differences were seen in elite burials, and in several cases, individuals were
interred with goods that arrived through trade networks. One royal tomb excavated in 1985 at Structure 7-3rd (P2B-5) revealed a male accompanied by an
extraordinary array of goods, including a ceremonial chert bar measuring over
60 cm in length found resting at his right side that had been produced at Colha
(D. Chase and A. Chase 2005:118 Fig. 7a-v). An implement often depicted on
period-ending events on stelae, this rare and heavy chert version would have
been partially wrapped in material that ended in elaborately styled serpent
heads during use (A. Chase 1992:36). Santa Rita Corozal remained important
and was at its apogee during the Late Postclassic, when it was probably the
capital of Chetumal province (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988; Oland Chapter 6).
This research, however, focuses on Late Preclassic stone tool trade on Corozal
Bay (but see Marino et al. Chapter 13 for Postclassic Santa Rita Corozal).
My research in northern Belize focused on the production and distribution
of chipped stone tools (Mitchum 1994:149; Chiarulli 2012:96). Three types of
raw materials were used in the production of chipped stone tools in this area:
obsidian, Colha and northern Belizean chert, and chalcedony. Obsidian was
brought into the area through long-distance trade from sources in Guatemala.
Colha chert is a high-quality material cropping out near the site of Colha that
was used to produce a specialized set of tools traded to other sites in northern
Belize (Shafer and Hester 1983:524531; Chiarulli 2012). Chalcedony is a lo234

Beverly A. Chiarulli

cally available material found at most sites in northern Belize used primarily
to produce expedient tools. Distribution patterns of these materials are outlined below.

Long-Distance Trade in Obsidian


Long-distance traders brought obsidian from Guatemalan sources such as El
Chayal and Ixtepeque to trading ports on the Belizean coast (McKillop 1987).
Some have suggested that long-distance trade in obsidian, as well as volcanic stone for metates, prompted the development of complexity in the Maya
area (Rathje 1971). Although obsidian is rare compared to northern Belizean
chert on Corozal Bay, analysis of intrasite distribution at Cerro Maya and other
coastal sites suggests it was not treated as a scarce resource. In fact, distribution patterns for obsidian were much the same as for chert, indicating it was
accessible to everyone. Obsidian was recovered from all types of contexts at
Cerro Maya, including monumental architecture, residential zones, and the
dispersed settlement, demonstrating the ubiquitous use of the material.
As obsidian sourcing became a common type of analysis in the 1970s, Norman Hammond (1972:10921093) proposed an early model to describe routes
through which obsidian was imported into the Maya lowlands from two Guatemalan sources, El Chayal and Ixtepeque. He suggested that the obsidian
carried by El Chayal traders came via inland routes through the Usumacinta
and Sarstoon basins, while Ixtepeque obsidian traders followed a water route,
through the Rio Motagua, up the Caribbean coast, and then into inland Belize
either through river routes or overland (Figure 12.1). Hammonds model suggested that sites along the coast would have higher percentages of obsidian
from Ixtepeque than from El Chayal. Under that model, Cerro Maya would
have participated in coastal trade routes and would have been expected to
have higher percentages of Ixtepeque source obsidian, while inland sites such
as Cuello and Chau Hiix would be expected to have more material from El
Chayal.
For the marine route, Hammond (1972:1093) suggested that obsidian could
have been transported to a river such as the Rio Motagua and then moved
downstream by canoe to the sea. It then would be transported by canoe along
the coast. He noted that obsidian transported by canoe can be found farther
from the source and can be transported in larger quantities. According to Hammond, early Spanish colonial documents mention several overland routes, including one beginning at Chetumal Bay and extending inland across Yucatn
to Uxmal. Another mostly marine route to sites in the Puuc Hills, including
Chichn Itz, began at Ascencin Bay on the east coast of Quintana Roo.
Stone Tools and Trade on the Southern End of Chetumal Bay

235

Figure 12.1. Possible trade routes from obsidian sources to Belize and Yucatn. (Illustration by Lucas
Martindale Johnson and Debra Walker, after Hammond 1972.)

These patterns have several implications for the distribution of obsidian.


First, Hammond suggested that the greater the proportion of water transport
on a route, the farther the obsidian could be distributed. For example, one
proposed route from highland sources to southern Belize was accomplished
entirely by foot trail, while another from Ascencin Bay to Chichn Itz could
be made 80 percent via canoe. Hammond concluded that canoe transport was
more economical over long distances because canoes carried larger shipments
with less energy expenditure. He further concluded that distributions of Ixtepeque and El Chayal obsidian should be complementary, and that only areas
near Tikal and southeastern Petn should receive both types. Some aspects
of this model have been confirmed by more recent studies, while others have
not (Dreiss 1988, 1989; Nelson 1985; Masson and Chaya 2000; McKillop 1996;
Sidrys 1977). For example, unlike Hammonds hypothesis, both types of obsidian have been found in significant quantities at sites in northern Belize and
along the coast, suggesting some places along the route had access to both
sources.
Meredith Dreiss (1988, 1989:81) developed a revised four-part model to describe obsidian distribution. First, she suggested that both coastal and overland
trade networks operated for the entire Maya sequence. Second, she asserted
that obsidian from both El Chayal and Ixtepeque followed both coastal and
overland routes. Third, she suggested that obsidian distribution patterns for
coastal sites are distinct from those located at inland or riverine sites. Finally,
she noted that the coastal distribution system was outside Tikals sphere of
influence (Dreiss 1988:81).
In her study, Dreiss (1988:85 Fig. 9) identified five obsidian distribution
zones in Belize, three of which support her argument for persistent and independent coastal trade (Figure 12.2; Zones 1, 2, and 4), while two others, Zones
3 and 5, are outside the coastal trade network. Zone 1 included Chetumal Bay
and interior sites on the rivers that empty into it, such as Lamanai, El Posito,
Cuello, Pulltrouser Swamp/Kaxob, Cerro Maya, and Santa Rita Corozal. Zone
2 encompassed coastal Belize, including Sarteneja, Shipstern, Northern River
Lagoon, Ambergris Caye, and Moho Cay, as well as sites farther south. Zone 4
comprised the inland area between these, east of the New River basin and west
of the coastal strip, including Colha, Kichpanha, Chau Hiix, and Altun Ha.
Dreisss analysis of Late Preclassic obsidian in Zone 1, the Chetumal Bay
feeder system, was based primarily on 16 artifacts from Cerro Maya (Nelson
1985), all of which were sourced to El Chayal. She suggested that obsidian
reached Cerro Maya by a seaborne transportation network and then was distributed to settlements upriver (Dreiss 1988:84). In contrast, she found that
the most common source for obsidian at Late Preclassic Colha (Zone 4) was
Stone Tools and Trade on the Southern End of Chetumal Bay

237

Ixtepeque (54 percent), with smaller samples from El Chayal and San Martin Jilotepeque, suggesting a different supply route for Colha than for Cerro
Maya.
As part of my research, obsidian samples from Cerro Maya (n=30) were
sourced by the Missouri University Research Reactor (MURR; Glasscock 1996).
Of these, 60 percent of the obsidian was sourced to El Chayal, and 40 percent
to Ixtepeque (Table 12.1). According to Glasscock and Neff, there seems to be
a temporal distinction in the movement of obsidian (Michael Glasscock personal communication October 2014). Results of their sourcing studies indicate
that obsidian from the El Chayal source was most commonly used during the
Preclassic and Early Classic eras, while that from the Ixtepeque source stems
from Late Classic and Postclassic contexts. The Cerro Maya obsidian sample
fits this pattern, with El Chayal obsidian found most frequently in Late Preclassic contexts while Ixtepeque materials generally were associated with later
contexts. For the Cerro Maya sample, obsidian blade segments with striking
platforms remaining were further categorized as either Preclassic or Postclassic based on production style. These characteristics are also indicated on Table
12.1; for the most part they parallel the sourcing results.
According to prior sourcing studies, coastal sites in Belize have significant
quantities of both Ixtepeque and El Chayal obsidian (Dreiss 1988:8384),
which suggests that the obsidian from both sources was traded through coastal
routes. The quantities of obsidian found in northern Belize and along the coast
also suggests that transportation by boat did bring higher quantities of obsidian into the area, given that many of the sites have higher than expected quantities of the material (Table 12.2).
Analysts have used several measures as evidence that a site functioned as
a trade center based on the hypothesis that a trade center should contain a
higher percentage of obsidian, and that the craftsmen there should be less frugal in their use of this material. The measures include the ratio of chert to obsidian (Table 12.2), suggesting that sites along coastal Belize and Corozal Bay
have higher than expected densities of obsidian. This supports the hypothesis
that Cerro Maya and possibly other communities such as Sarteneja functioned
as trade stations, as has been suggested for Moho Cay and Wild Cane Cay
(McKillop 1985, 1987, Chapter 15).

Intraregional Trade in Tools Made of Colha Chert


Colha chert and chalcedony are local types of silica-based stone that occur
naturally in a large area of northeastern Belize (Figure 12.3), initially defined
by A. C. S. Wright and colleagues (1959). Stone deposits in this zone vary from
238

Beverly A. Chiarulli

Figure 12.2. Map of obsidian trade zones in Belize. (Illustration by Debra Walker, after Dreiss
1988:56 Fig. 8.)

Table 12.1. Cerro Maya obsidian blade sources (after Glasscock 1996)
Cerro Maya
Lab Number

Structure

Provenience

Ceramic Date

CM1-09344

3A-L1

Op 36h-1

Tulix

CM1-18407

5A-L13

Op 39o-36

Tulix

CM1-10710

5C-L1

Op 35aa-1

Tulix

CM1-10705

5C-L3

Op 35aa-2

Tulix

CM1-00379

8B-L1

Op 15a-1

mixed

CM1-00879

8B-L1

Op 15a-1

mixed

CM1-00880

9B-L1

Op 13a-2

Kanan

CM1-14009

15A-L2

Op 131a-2

mixed

CM1-11409

29B-L2

Op 111b-2

Tulix

CM1-12019

29B-L3

Op 111c-2

Tulix

CM1-13319

34A-L3

Op 118a-3

Tulix

CM1-13294

38A-L2

Op 119a-2

Tulix

CM1-16714

50B-L1

Op 133k-1

Sihnal

CM1-16061

50C-L2

Op 148c-2

mixed

CM1-16748

50D-L1

Op 146j-1

Sihnal

CM1-16748

50D-L1

Op 146j-1

Sihnal

CM1-14097

65A-L1

Op 138a-1

mixed

CM1-17827

127A-L2

Op 157a-3

Tulix

CM1-12431

127A-L4

Op 116b-1

Tulix

CM1-10842

4A-L1

Op 25h-10

Kanan

CM1-07303

4A-L2

Op 25e-2

Kanan

CM1-07303

4A-L2

Op 25e-2

Kanan

CM1-04043

4B-L1

Op 22c/3-1

Kanan

CM1-00767

9B-L1

Op 13a-1

Kanan

CM1-00767

9B-L1

Op 13a-1

Kanan

CM1-10950

11B-L1

Op 108a-2

Kanan

CM1-17110

29B-L1

Op 111dd-1

mixed

CM1-16710

50D-L1

Op 146k-1

Sihnal

CM1-14119

94A-L1

Op 135a-1

Sihnal

CM1-14148

102A-L1

Op 142a-1

mixed

Sample
Number

Source

Description

CEB011

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB010

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB008

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB009

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB013

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB012

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB014

El Chayal

Blade with Postclassic platform

CEB023

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB006

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB005

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB022

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB019

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB017

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB029

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB027

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB028

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB021

El Chayal

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB020

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB025

El Chayal

Blade fragment

CEB003

Ixtepeque

Blade with Postclassic platform

CEB001

Ixtepeque

Blade with Postclassic platform

CEB002

Ixtepeque

Blade fragment

CEB004

Ixtepeque

Blade with Postclassic platform

CEB015

Ixtepeque

Blade fragment

CEB016

Ixtepeque

Blade fragment

CEB018

Ixtepeque

Blade fragment

CEB007

Ixtepeque

Blade with Postclassic platform

CEB030

Ixtepeque

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB026

Ixtepeque

Blade with Preclassic platform

CEB024

Ixtepeque

Blade with Postclassic platform

Table 12.2. Chert-to-obsidian ratios at sites in northern Belize (after Mitchum


1994:177 Table 6.1)
Site

Chert: Obsidian

Ratio

1.1:1

0.91

2:1

0.50

2.2:1

0.45

Caledonia

5:1

0.20

Aventura

12:1

0.08

Santa Rita Corozal

17:1

0.06

Patchchacan

32:1

0.03

Chan Chen

41:1

0.02

Cerro Maya Dock Op 34


Sarteneja
Cerro Maya Waterfront Village Op 1

high-quality, fine-grained chert to lower-quality chalcedonies, all of which


were used to produce lithic tools. The site of Colha sits on extensive deposits
of large high-quality chert nodules that were used to manufacture tools beginning at the workshop level in the Middle Preclassic (600 BCE) or earlier. The
resource was exploited continually through the end of the Early Postclassic
(ca. 1250 CE; Shafer and Hester 1983:524531), but the focus here is on the Late
Preclassic workshops.
Colha is the only lithic production center of its kind in the Maya region.
The site was first investigated by Norman Hammond as part of the British MuseumCambridge University Corozal Project (Hester and Hammond 1976:v).
Hammonds project initially identified lithic workshops at the site. By 1979, investigations by Colha Project directors Thomas Hester and Harry Shafer were
under way. They found that three formal tool types were produced in great
quantity in Late Preclassic workshops, including oval bifaces, tranchet adzes,
and stemmed macroblades, along with a limited number of eccentrics (Shafer
and Hester 1983:536). These tools are consistent with population increase and
land clearance needs associated with expanding Late Preclassic agrarian communities. Such chert workshops generated massive amounts of lithic debris,
constituting the entire matrix in some Colha excavations (Figure 12.4; Hester
1985:187).
One unique Late Preclassic tool type is the tranchet adze (Figure 12.5). To
create the curved adze bit, a single transverse flake was removed from the distal
end of the tool. These primary tranchet flakes can be distinguished from sec242

Beverly A. Chiarulli

Figure 12.3. Location of Colha, consumer sites, and chert-bearing zone. (Illustration by Debra Walker, based on
original by Beverly Chiarulli.)

ondary or resharpening tranchet flakes that still have evidence of the removal
of the initial flake on the distal side. Because each new adze produced one tranchet waste flake, a fairly accurate estimate can be made of the number of tools
produced per workshop by counting tranchet flakes from the debitage column.
To further refine the count, tranchet adze flakes generated by resharpening can
be distinguished from new tools.
Late Preclassic deposits ranged in size from small workshops measuring
15 m with a depth of 2030 cm to much larger workshops measuring 350 m
and 1.75 m thick (Figure 12.4; Shafer and Hester 1983:524). At Colha Op 4001,
for example, excavators estimated the volume of the workshop debris at 150
m3 (Shafer and Hester 1983:528529). Based on the number of tranchet flakes
Stone Tools and Trade on the Southern End of Chetumal Bay

243

Figure 12.4. Colha


chert workshop during
excavation. (Photograph
by Beverly Chiarulli.)

Figure 12.5. Tranchet tools from


Cerro Maya. (Photographs from
CROC Archive, courtesy of the
Florida Museum of Natural
History.)

found in their sample, they estimated that more than 130,000 tranchet tools
were manufactured in this workshop alone. They then analyzed a sample of
200 tranchet flakes and found that 58 percent were primary flakes, which led
them to estimate that 75,000 tranchet adzes were produced in this workshop.
In 1985, Hester reported that the project had identified 32 workshops dated
to the Late Preclassic period. Subsequently, Shafer and Hester (1983:536) estimated that over 4,500,000 formal tools were produced at Colha during the
Late Preclassic. Although workshops have been found in other parts of Belize,
most date after the Late Preclassic, and they differ in the quantity as well as in
the types of tools produced (Horowitz 2015; Martindale Johnson et al. 2015;
Whittaker et al. 2009). In contrast to Colha, these workshops produced tools
for local consumption only.
Patricia McAnany (1989) and John Dockall and Harry Shafer (1993:159
163) developed a model to describe the relationship between the producer
site, Colha, where formal tools were made, and consumer sites that received
and used these tools. The model is known as the northern Belize producerconsumer model (McAnany 1989; Dockall and Shafer 1993:159163; McSwain
1991:341342). Sites involved in the northern Belize interaction sphere (Figure
12.3) and identified as chert tool consumers include Cuello (Hammond 1991),
Kichpanha (Shafer 1982), El Posito (Hester et al. 1991), Pulltrouser Swamp/
Kaxob (McAnany and Peterson 2004; Shafer 1983), Chau Hiix (Chiarulli 2012),
San Estevan (Paris 2012), Cerro Maya (Mitchum 1986, 1994; Chiarulli 2012),
Santa Rita Corozal (Dockall and Shafer 1993; Shafer 1983:216217), and Moho
Cay (McKillop 1980). All of these sites, except Moho Cay, are within the Chetumal Bay area or along the rivers that lead into the bay.
Moho Cay, located offshore in central Belize (McKillop Chapter 15, Figure
15.1), is included here because of its identification as a trade station. It is also
the only site outside the northern Belize sphere at which large quantities of
tranchet tools have been found (McKillop 2004:269). The presence of substantial quantities of Colha-produced tools on Moho Cay demonstrates that
there was some connection between this trade station and the northern Belize interaction area during the Late Preclassic. It is possible that tools made
at Colha were moved via a waterborne route east through Cobweb swamp
to the coast and Moho Cay, and from there they were transported north to
Chetumal Bay sites.
The producer-consumer model describes a system in which stone tools
from the manufacturing site (Colha) were moved to consumer communities
(Hester 1985; Shafer 1983; McAnany 1989; McSwain 1991). Sites with access
to Colha formal tools were part of this regional interaction sphere (Hester
and Shafer 1989; Chiarulli 2012). On Corozal Bay, Cerro Maya and Santa Rita
Stone Tools and Trade on the Southern End of Chetumal Bay

245

Corozal were both part of this network. Colha workshops first appeared in the
Middle Preclassic, but the occupation at Colha was dominated by stone-tool
mass production during the Late Preclassic (Hester and Shafer 1989:3). Most
sites in northern Belize were first occupied sometime during the Preclassic,
although few were occupied before the Late Preclassic (Reese-Taylor Chapter
2). The Colha workshops continued production of formal tools and eccentrics
through the Terminal Preclassic and Classic.
Of the three formal tool types, oval bifaces were used as axes, hoes, and
general purpose implements (Figure 12.6). Tranchet adzes were used primarily for woodworking, while stemmed macroblades (Figure 12.7) were used
for utilitarian activities, including cutting and sawing (Lewenstein 1987). In
addition, stemmed macroblades may have been a prototype for ritual forms,
termed eccentrics, used by the elite (Hester et al. 1991; Meadows 2001). Together, these formal tools contrast with expedient tools, which were produced
at the consumer sites generally from broken Colha chert formal tools or from
local chalcedonies or cherts (see Marino et al. Chapter 13). All sites in northern
Belize had access to local sources of low-quality materials that were used to
produce a limited set of expedient tools. Table 12.3 shows the distance from
the consumer sites to Colha compared to the three main types of formal tools
used in the Late Preclassic. Variations between consumer sites reflect varying
economic specializations and therefore the need for specific formal tools. For

Figure 12.6. Oval bifaces from Cerro Maya. (Photographs by Lucas Martindale Johnson and Debra Walker,
courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)
246

Beverly A. Chiarulli

Figure 12.7. Stemmed macroblades from Cerro Maya. (Photograph by Debra Walker, courtesy of NICH,
Belmopan, Belize.)

Table 12.3. Formal tool type distribution to sites in northern Belize and their distance
from Colha (after Mitchum 1994:153)

Community

Distance
%
%
%
to Colha Oval Tranchet
Stemmed
(km)
Bifaces Tools
Macroblades Source

Colha Workshop

0.00

80%

9%

11%

Shafer (1982)

Colha Residential

0.00

22%

9%

69%

Anthony(1987)

Kichpanha

7.00

74%

11%

15%

Shafer (1982)

Chau Hiix

25.02

24%

29%

47%

Chiarulli (2012)

Cuello

26.90

25%

25%

50%

Hammond (1991)

San Estevan

27.55

88%

1%

10%

Paris (2012)

El Posito

30.00

40%

7%

53%

Hester et al. (1991)

Pulltrouser

30.34

79%

4%

17%

Shafer (1983)

Kaxob

30.34

46%

2%

52%

McAnany (2004)

Cerro Maya

47.92

32%

9%

58%

Chiarulli (2012)

Santa Rita

52.96

66%

1%

33%

Dockall and Shafer (1993)

Moho Cay

55.27

56%

30%

14%

McKillop (1984)

example, sites specializing in agriculture, such as Pulltrouser Swamp/Kaxob


(Shafer 1983) or San Estevan (Paris 2012), have high percentages of oval bifaces,
especially broken ones, typically used in felling trees for milpa agriculture.

Discussion
To summarize, excavation has documented that the community of Cerro Maya
had sufficient access to highland Maya obsidian and Colha chert during the
Late to Terminal Preclassic to have functioned as a trading hub. As Cerro Maya
declined at the onset of the Early Classic, Santa Rita Corozal wrested control
of chipped stone tool trade on Corozal Bay. Heather McKillop (1980:263) suggested that Moho Cay also functioned as a transshipment hub for long-distance
obsidian trade in this era, and the substantial quantity of Colha-produced tools
found there, especially tranchet adzes, suggests it was a Late Preclassic trading
station for chert tools as well.
There is not sufficient information available to compare the quantity of
goods that could have been transported by land routes versus water routes
for the Maya area, but we can generalize from the Aztec example. Ross Hassig
(1985:216) provided comparative figures for the transportation of goods in the
early historic period in the Valley of Mexico. Tlamemeque were a hereditary
class of traders who carried goods on their backs in woven cane containers
supported by tumplines. Hassig estimated that in a single load (tlamana), an
individual bearer (tlamemeh) could have transported an average of 23 kg of
goods for an average distance of 21 km per day. In contrast, he noted (Hassig 1985:62) that canoes used to transport goods on the lakes in the Valley of
Mexico varied in size from 14 to 50 ft in length (5 to 15 m). During the Colonial period, these canoes are described as being propelled by as many as 60
paddlers. That kind of large canoe might have transported as much as 4 tons
(3,628 kg) of cargo over a distance of 29 km per day. Raymond Sidrys (1976:141)
estimated that obsidian cores weighed 25 g, so a tlamemeh could have carried
as many as 920 obsidian cores in a single load. In contrast, a canoe load could
have transported more than 145,120 cores over a similar daily distance.
My population estimates for several Late Preclassic sites in northern Belize include Cerro Maya, Nohmul, Cuello, and Pulltrouser Swamp/Kaxob
(Mitchum 1994:168). Based on these overall numbers, I suggested that households might have received a total of 10,685 formal tools a year, or as many
as 2 million tools during the Late Preclassic period. This estimate is not out
of line with Hester and Shafers suggested volume of workshop production
(Table 12.4).
The remaining question to consider is how this volume of tools moved from
248

Beverly A. Chiarulli

Table 12.4. Artifacts used per year during the Late Preclassic from selected sites
(after Mitchum 1994:170 Table 5.5)
Site

Number of
Households

Oval
Bifaces

Macroblades

Tranchet
Tools
Total/Year

Cerro Maya

202

808

586

121

1,515

Nohmul

591

2,360

1,714

985

5,059

Cuello

405

1,620

1,175

243

3,038

Pulltrouser/Kaxob

143

572

415

86

1,073

Tools produced
per year

5,360

3,890

1,435

10,685

Tools produced
in 250 years

1,340,000

972,500

358,750

2,671,250

Total households

1,341

Colha to various consumer sites. Although lithic analysts rarely recorded the
weights of artifacts in their samples, Thomas Hester and colleagues (1991) reported the weight of a set of 17 stemmed macroblades from El Posito, with an
average weight of 133 g, that are approximately the same length and width as
those recovered from Cerro Maya and other sites in northern Belize. Using the
same estimate for the weight of a load of obsidian, a tlamemeh load of stemmed
macroblades might consist of 170 tools. Tranchet tools and oval bifaces are
both considerably larger than the stemmed macroblades, so less than half as
many could be carried in a load.
My estimate is that 1,515 formal tools with an approximate weight of 325
kg were imported to Cerro Maya each year (Mitchum 1994). If this is correct,
given the distance of 47 km from Colha to Cerro Maya, it appears that about
40 tlamemeh days would have been required to supply this quantity of tools
to Cerro Maya. The same load could have been transported as less than 5 percent of a single canoe load in about the same time. Lenore Santone (1997:75)
expanded on this analysis by determining how far sites in northern Belize and
surrounding areas were from Colha and whether they had access to a water
transport system. She also noted that Colha was a site with access to several
inland water systems via Lopez Creek or Cobweb Swamp. If Lopez Creek was
navigable by canoe for much of its length, it would have provided water access from Colha to Freshwater Creek, and from there to sites on Chetumal
Stone Tools and Trade on the Southern End of Chetumal Bay

249

Bay as well as along the New River and the Rio Hondo (Figure 1.2; Santone
1997:8081). Thus, just one canoe load, perhaps sent in the rainy season when
water passage was at its optimum, could have provided most of the bay area
sites with all the chert tools needed for the year.
In sum, communities on the southern end of Corozal Bay were involved in
the distribution of stone tools, but there is still much to learn about the specifics of each communitys participation and about the connections between sites
in Belize and Yucatn. Although this chapter outlined data from Belizean sites,
communities in southeastern Quintana Roo, Mexico, clearly participated as
well. Today we lack a complete picture of chert distribution around Chetumal
Bay, but I hope this discussion of trade patterns on Corozal Bay has enhanced
understanding of the relationships that might have existed throughout the
larger Chetumal Bay watershed. Each year, new investigations provide additional information on the region, and the next generation of researchers can
refine these models even more. In the next chapter, for example, Marc Marino
and colleagues contrast the factory-level production system represented by
Preclassic Colha chert with the localized production of points at Postclassic
Santa Rita Corozal.

250

Beverly A. Chiarulli

13
Postclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal
Implications for Domestic Craft Production and Regional Exchange
in Flaked Stone

MARC D. MARINO, LUCAS R . MARTINDALE JOHNSON,


A N D N AT H A N J . M E I S S N E R

Studies of flaked stone tools and related debitage became relevant to the broader
understanding of Maya behavior, technology, and culture history in the mid1970s (Hester and Hammond 1976). These works continue to broaden our
understanding of how the ancient Maya interacted with their environment
to manage stone resource areas, exchange raw materials, manipulate stone
through household-based craft production, and distribute tools to other multicrafting households (Braswell and Glascock 2007; Clark 2003; Demarest et al.
2014; Hirth 2009; Hruby et al. 2011). Flaked stone was one of the most important
resources to the ancient Maya, enabling households to do the work of everyday
life, thus aiding in the reproduction of Maya society (Braswell 2011:2). Given
these broad socioeconomic research issues, there is still scant work on flaked
stone artifacts at many Maya sites. In some cases, scholars may dig up previously excavated collections to test established models against and determine if
prior interpretations need revision.
We present one such case study of a previously excavated lithic sample from
two structures at Santa Rita Corozal (Figure 13.1). Structures 216 and 218 both
exhibit a higher number of Postclassic chert and chalcedony lithic artifacts
(n=4,166) than other structures excavated at the site (D. Chase and A. Chase
1988:54). We use technological and visual sourcing analysis of these artifacts
to better understand how two households crafted formal tools locally and how
these tools articulated with the broader traditions of lithic craft production in
a regional exchange network.
Traditionally, Santa Rita Corozal has been viewed as an active participant

Figure 13.1. Study area: Santa Rita Corozal South Intermediate Sector, Quadrant 8. (After D. Chase
and A. Chase 1988:8793 Figs. 41, 46.)

in the regional exchange network on Chetumal Bay and throughout the Maya
lowlands (D. Chase and A. Chase 1988:65). Studies of lithic consumption have
been used to integrate Santa Rita Corozal into models of production, exchange,
and consumption with other sites near Chetumal Bay (Chiarulli Chapter 12;
Dockall and Shafer 1993). This producer-consumer model purported that stone
tool production occurred at various producer sites, such as Colha. These spe252

Marc D. Marino, Lucas R. Martindale Johnson, and Nathan J. Meissner

cialized and standardized tools were then exchanged to consumer sites, such
as Santa Rita Corozal. Support for the producer-consumer model derives from
analysis of chert tool production during the Preclassic and Classic periods of
northern Belize that focused on the patterns of use and exchange of Colha-like
chert and tools; however, this model has not been investigated for Postclassic
northern Belize in the recent archaeological literature.
We propose that the producer-consumer model does not help to explain
exchange dynamics in the Chetumal Bay region during the Postclassic period. Based on the data presented on household-level lithic craft production
at Santa Rita Corozal and the variability in chert and chalcedony sources, we
argue that a more regional exchange model is likely. This regional model may
have included markets that could have affected the broad provisioning of
sites with a diverse suite of goods from a range of raw material sources. Marilyn Masson and David Freidel (2013:201) have argued that the economy of
Postclassic Yucatn included markets as a primary mechanism for exchange.
Other studies have shown that Santa Rita Corozal was involved in a regional
exchange system during the Postclassic that drove the circulation of cacao,
honey, marine goods, and volcanic stone (D. Chase 1986; D. Chase and A.
Chase 1988; Oland Chapter 6). This system may have also driven the circulation of siliceous materials and tools.

Flaked Stone Assemblage Description at Santa Rita Corozal


Structures 216 and 218 are located in the South Intermediate Sector of
Santa Rita Corozal (Figure 13.1). The lithics from these structures consist
of small bifaces, blades, and small projectile points (Table 13.1). These data
are consistent with other sites in northern Belize, where the recovery of
formal biface tools is often associated with recycled and largely fragmentary specimens (Masson 2000:136; Shafer and Hester 1988:16). Blade and
blade fragments display similar characteristics of retouch, and stems recovered from macroblades show heavy modification indicating reuse in
Late Postclassic contexts at Santa Rita Corozal, a phenomenon discussed
by prior researchers (Shafer and Hester 1988:116). Late Postclassic Laguna
de On and Progresso Lagoon showed a similar pattern of assemblage tool
reuse and retouch (Masson 2000:133; Oland 2013, Chapter 6). Additionally,
excavations undertaken in Postclassic contexts at the site of Colha, Belize,
revealed a break from the production technologies of earlier periods (Barrett et al. 2011:26). This change at Colha is evident in both material use due
to chalcedony import into the site during this period (Hester 1985:200)
as well as tool manufacture, where projectile point production overtook
Postclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal

253

Table 13.1. Santa Rita Corozal projectile points and source materials

Postclassic Points:
Source Material

Platform 2
Area analyzed
Str. 216 Str. 218 Other TOTAL by by Shafer and
(P33)
(P38) Structures Material Hester (1988)

Non-Colha-like Chert
Sample Size

22

50

89

161

Site Wide %

7.7%

17.5%

31.1%

56.3%

61.1%

67.5%

50.5%

Per Structure %

15 + 1 unid.

Colha-like
Sample Size

11

42

60

Site Wide %

2.4%

3.8%

14.7%

20.9%

19.4%

14.8%

23.8%

Sample Size

12

23

38

Site Wide %

1.1%

4.2%

8.0%

13.3%

Per Structure %

8.3%

16.2%

13.1%

22

27

Per Structure %
Chalcedony

Obsidian
Sample Size
Site Wide %
Per Structure %

1.4%

.4%

7.7%

9.5%

11.1%

1.3%

12.5%

TOTAL by Location
Total Sample Size
Site Wide %

36

74

176

286

12.6%

25.9%

61.5%

100%

21
not included

Note: Colha-like chert was not distinguished from other cherts in the sample from Platform 2
(Shafer and Hester 1988:117).

and then surpassed biface manufacture during the onset of the Postclassic
(Hester and Shafer 1991:156).
A preliminary analysis of 21 projectile points and their associated manufacturing debitage was conducted from a separate sector of the site (Shafer and
Hester 1988:112). This initial report classified the projectile points as a formal
tool type, defined as a tool that goes through a series of production processes
to reach its finished form (Andrefsky 2000:30). This analysis by Harry Shafer
and Thomas Hester is supported by the previous work of John Andresen, who
also classified these points as formal tools (Andresen 1976:163). These authors
observed that this style of projectile point dates to the Late Postclassic and that
this particular style is characteristically produced on thin and curved flakes
and blades (Andresen 1976:164; Shafer and Hester 1988:112).
254

Marc D. Marino, Lucas R. Martindale Johnson, and Nathan J. Meissner

Our analysis has identified an additional 265 points and point preforms
discovered throughout Santa Rita Corozal. Technological practices included
various forms of flaking and retouch, both through bifacial thinning and marginal trimming. Combined, the 286 points found in the Santa Rita Corozal
sample have an average thickness of 3.43 mm. The characteristic blank types
used to produce such thin cross sections are small blades and biface thinning
flakes. Analysis of the full Santa Rita Corozal collection demonstrates the majority were made on short unidirectional blades, small multidirectional flakes,
and biface thinning flakes (Marino 2014:4849; Meissner 2014:352 Tbl. 6.41). It
should be noted that ethnographic data demonstrate similar point production
from blade technology in contemporary Maya multicrafting (Clark 1991).

Research Methods
Evidence for lithic production is well described in the archaeological literature, defined for the Maya region by debitage stages including prepared cores,
biface thinning flakes, cortical flakes, and flake blanks (Dockall and Shafer
1993). Biface production can be recognized by large quantities of thinning
flakes. Fragments of bifacial thinning flakes often resemble blade fragments,
as both can have relatively thin cross sections and prominent dorsal ridges.
Blade production is known to differ from biface production in terms of reductive strategies, as documented in cultural historic uses; however, in assemblages where both production strategies are intermixed, such as the Santa
Rita Corozal assemblage, the debitage profiles of biface and blade production
bear similarities. Flake curvature has been suggested to indicate reduction
sequences, but this methodology has been proven effective only when the
assemblage is known to include either blade or biface production, making it
unpredictable for studies that include both (Andrefsky 1986:52).
Striking platform morphology has been demonstrated to be the most accurate means to identify bifacial thinning flakes (Cotterell and Kamminga 1987).
Bifacial thinning produces diagnostic characteristics visible on both the striking platform and on the ventral surface of the flake (Andrefsky 2000). These
characteristics include a less-prominent bulb of percussion, the presence of a
lipped platform, and highly acute edge angles. Although not always visible,
remnant edges of the objective biface are sometimes evident, and three or more
ridges on the dorsal surface may be observed. In this study, the presence of
these characteristics was used to ascertain if debitage exhibited characteristics
of bifacial thinning. Other attributes such as the presence of grinding along
platform edges and complex faceting platforms can be indicative of either
blade or biface production, and were therefore omitted from the data set.
Postclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal

255

A significant part of this study included determining raw material sources


for formal tool manufacture during the Santa Rita Corozal Postclassic. Source
material for projectile points was identified through visual methods following
the criteria of several authors (Chiarulli 2012; Meadows 2001; Oland 1999).
Points were categorized into groups including Colha-like chert, other cherts,
chalcedony, and obsidian. Colha-like chert is banded and opaque, honey
brown to tan to mottled pale brown, and fine to very fine in texture (Meadows
2001:283). Other cherts are of lesser quality, with some bands of translucency
and less uniformity in color and texture (Chiarulli 2012:96; Meadows 2001:283).
All projectile points were analyzed macroscopically using recent methods developed for small point analysis in the Maya region (Meissner 2014:245254),
and all metric data were recorded using digital calipers and scales.

Operation P33, Structure 216


Evidence for local production was examined using the sample from Structure
216. The projectile points and point preforms recovered from this location total
36 specimens (Table 13.2), and a full reduction sequence is evident based on the
presence of debitage, including core fragments, cortical flakes, biface thinning
flakes, angular flakes, blade fragments, and biface fragments. Formal tools are
represented by blades, formal biface fragments, point preforms, and finished
projectile points (Table 13.1).

P33 Debitage
Debitage recovered from Structure 216 included 1,060 specimens (Marino
2014). In total, 25 percent of the sample from this structure consisted of biface
thinning flakes, representing the largest identifiable flake type or tool form
found at the structure. In comparison, blades made up only 4 percent of the

Table 13.2. Postclassic lithics from Santa Rita Corozal


Projectile
Points

Biface

Blade

Bifacial
Thinning Flake

Str. 216 (n)

36

38

43

268

(%)

3.4%

3.6%

4.1%

25.2%

Str. 218 (n)

74

34

77

226

(%)

6.1%

2.8%

6.4%

18.6%

Postclassic Lithics
Total n=, %

256

Marc D. Marino, Lucas R. Martindale Johnson, and Nathan J. Meissner

recovered material at Structure 216, suggesting blade manufacture was a less


practiced craft activity at this location.
Additionally, blade specimens at Structure 216 are highly fragmentary, exhibiting patterns of high reuse, and most exhibit bend break fractures. The largest
specimen of this tool type is represented by the proximal portion of a small
stemmed blade fragment, a tool type that is widely characteristic of the Terminal Classic in northern Belize. This tool was likely scavenged from a Terminal
Classic context during the Postclassic period and has a total length of 4.9 cm.
The largest blade retaining a platform has a length of 4.3 cm, while the average
length of all blade fragments recovered from this structure is only 2.2 cm.
Primary core reduction was found at this structure in the recovery of cortical flakes (10 percent) and cores. In total, six cores and core fragments were
found at this structure. Two were complete, and one core exhibiting cortex
was quite large, measuring 11.12 7.9 cm. This core was of non-Colha-like
chert, and was reduced through a multidirectional technique. Additionally,
two hammerstones were recovered. One of them had unidirectional blade
scarring, suggesting its use as a chalcedony blade core sometime during its
use life. Angular fragments and production-related shatter total 560 flakes.
Their presence suggests that Structure 216 was a locus for crafting activity.

P33 Formal Tools


Evidence for formal tool production was identified in the projectile point collection. Of the total point sample recovered from sitewide excavations, 36
(12.5 percent) were recovered from this single structure. Projectile points
show variation in both blade length and hafting style (Figure 13.2). Projectile
point blade lengths differ within this assemblage, despite the collection maintaining a length of under 5 cm. Haft lengths and proximal edge morphologies
also fluctuate, with straight, concave, convex, and curved hafts represented

Core

Stem

Hammer

Cortex

Angular
Flakes

Total
n=, %

104

560

1060

0.6%

0.4%

0.1%

9.8%

52.8%

100%

32

175

586

1213

2.6%

0.6%

0.2%

14.4%

48.3%

100%

Postclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal

257

Figure 13.2. Microcrystalline silicate points from Santa Rita Corozal, Belize: (a) thermally altered
chert point P38a/17-4; (b) Colha-like chert P38a/4-4; (c) Colha-like chert P6c/1-42c; (d) Chert P33b/121; (e) Colha-like chert P27B/6-2. (See also Meissner 2014:347 Fig. 6.22.)

in the sample (see Meissner 2014:286288, 663666 for detailed analysis of


haft morphologies at Santa Rita Corozal), and this variation is also noted at
Laguna de On (Masson 2000:126). Blade rejuvenation after each use is typical in point assemblages, and studies have shown that hafting elements are
equally as fragile (Flenniken 1985:266; Masson 2000:126), yet recent regional
studies of point manufacture have proven successful in differentiating point
technologies of various lowland Maya groups (Meissner 2014). By-products
of production practices, however, are better suited to answer questions of cultural chronology than ethnicity (Flenniken 1985:274).
Additionally, Structure 216 has yielded at least nine point preforms. Shafer
and Hester (1988:114) identify preforms as being initially flaked but lacking finishing attributes such as notching and final shaping. In this study, unfinished
points in assemblages inclusive of both finished and unfinished tools have
been classified as the same morphological type (Andrefsky 2000:77; Whittaker
1994:159). Projectile points recovered from Structure 216 meet these criteria,
and one preform retained its platform, indicating it was originally a biface
thinning flake. This classification can be correlated with other finished points
that also maintained a platform (n=2). Analysis has shown that all are indicative of bifacial thinning.
258

Marc D. Marino, Lucas R. Martindale Johnson, and Nathan J. Meissner

Figure 13.3. Santa Rita Corozal core types: (a, b) refitted blade core with blade flake from Structure
218; (c) biface core from Structure 216.

Bifaces recovered from this structure are highly fragmented, with only three
complete specimens being recovered from a total of 38. These three specimens
are representative of Postclassic traditions, including a triangular biface and a
thin bifacial celt, as well as a general utility multidirectional core (Figure 13.3c)
used as a biface nearly identical to one from Laguna de On described by Masson (2000:137 Fig. 5.5).
The remaining 35 artifacts are fragmentary bifaces, all characteristically
Postclassic in morphology and date. Lenticular biface proximal fragments
account for two specimens from Santa Rita Corozal. These tools have been
recovered from Postclassic contexts at Colha and Laguna de On (Hester 1985;
Masson 2000:136). Other forms such as dart points, oval bifaces, small biPostclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal

259

faces, and miscellaneous bifaces are also represented in the Santa Rita Corozal assemblage and are often found throughout Postclassic northern Belize.
Stem fragments representative of earlier periods are present at Structure 216.
Whether these fragments (n=4) were from macroflake or macroblade technology is unknown. The largest has a length of 4.1 cm and a width of 3.7 cm, with
a thickness of 1.4 cm. This artifact is possibly a proximal end of a macroblade.
However, average width and thickness of all specimens is 3.1 1.2 cm; therefore
this classification should be considered tentative. The presence of stem fragments once again documents the Postclassic reuse of old tools scavenged from
earlier contexts.

Projectile Point Source Material


During the Preclassic and Classic periods, a narrow range of raw materials was
utilized in the production of stone tools used at Santa Rita Corozal (Dockall
and Shafer 1993; Shafer and Hester 1988). Postclassic source materials used in
tool production were much more dynamic. Locally acquired cherts of nonColha-like material, Colha-like chert, chalcedony, and obsidian were used in
tool manufacture at Structure 216.
The projectile point sample demonstrates variation in raw material use in
comparison to other eras. The principal material used was locally acquired
non-Colha-like chert (Table 13.1). For example, of the 286 projectile points
recovered from all Postclassic locations at Santa Rita Corozal, 56 percent are
of non-Colha-like material. The 161 points that make up this sample stem from
locally available chert outcrops in northern Belize. This practice was noted at
Postclassic Laguna de On in the manufacture of expedient tool forms (Masson
2000:134). In contrast, Colha-like northern Belize cherts account for only 21
percent (n=60) of the entire site sample of projectile points. Other raw materials used in the Postclassic projectile point assemblage were chalcedony (13
percent) and obsidian (9 percent). Visual sourcing of the obsidian points identified 84 percent (n=21) from Ixtepeque, 12 percent (n=3) from El Chayal, and
4 percent (n=1) from San Martin Jilotepeque (Meissner 2014:170, Tbl. 4.2). This
pattern attests to the participation of Santa Rita Corozal in the eastern obsidian
exchange network that likely included Mayapn, Lamanai, and Tipu (Chiarulli
Chapter 12; McKillop Chapter 15; Meissner 2014:165).
Projectile points manufactured at Structure 216 were examined for material type to compare against the overall site collection. Material frequencies
at this structure resemble the overall site pattern. Analysis shows that of the
36 projectile points recovered from this location, the majority were produced
on non-Colha-like cherts (61 percent; Marino 2014:40). In comparison, the
next most frequently noted material is Colha-like chert.
260

Marc D. Marino, Lucas R. Martindale Johnson, and Nathan J. Meissner

Operation P38, Structure 218


Structure 218 provided another household tool production sample for analysis. It was located in the South Intermediate Sector of the site, on a platform
adjacent to Structure 216 (Figure 13.1). The formal tool assemblage from this
structure contained small projectile points, blades, and bifaces, as well as expedient tools and debitage indicative of a full reduction sequence (Table 13.1).

P38 Debitage
The debitage count from Structure 218 totaled 1,139 specimens, with biface
thinning flakes constituting 19 percent of the sample (Marino 2014). As at
Structure 216, this flake type occurred in the highest frequencies at this location, while blade and blade fragments accounted for only 6 percent (n=77)
of the specimens. Blades were highly fragmentary. The largest specimen with
an intact platform measured 6.5 2.2 cm. It was made from non-Colha-like
chert, despite its stemmed morphology resembling a traditional technology
used at Colha in earlier eras. It likely reflects the pattern of scavenging and
reuse seen elsewhere at Santa Rita Corozal.
Evidence for primary blade reduction was also identified at Structure 218. A
blade specimen with dimensions of 4.4 2.8 cm was refitted to a chert core with
a weight of 235.8 g, measuring 7.1 5.9 cm (Figure 13.3ab). Both the blade and
core retain cortex and are of non-Colha-like chert. In total, 32 blade cores and
multidirectional cores were recovered from this sample. Additionally, a large
macroflake proximal end was recovered that showed signs of bifacial reduction.
Cortical flakes are found in this collection at a frequency of 14 percent
(n=175). Cortex is often used as an indicator of initial reduction of tool forms,
and is often a byproduct of reduction. Production-related shatter and angular
fragments amounted to 586 pieces of debris. The majority of this debitage consisted of small flakes too fragmented to identify as either blade or biface thinning
flakes as they lacked a platform of any kind, yet small chipping debris is often
considered essential to identifying in situ production (Moholy-Nagy 1990).

P38 Formal Tools


Debitage indicates the residents at this particular household were participants
in crafting activities. Formal tool production occurred at this location primarily in projectile point manufacture, a pattern also noted at Colha for the
Early Postclassic (Hester 1985). Of the 286 projectile points recovered during
excavation at Santa Rita Corozal, 26 percent (n=74) of all points found at the
site were recovered from this single location (Figure 13.2).
Additionally, 20 of the projectile points found at Structure 218 could be
Postclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal

261

classified as preforms (Marino 2014:42). Of the 20 point preforms, 6 retained a


platform, and 5 were made on bifacial thinning flakes. The remaining preforms
were heavily thinned, prohibiting identification, but nevertheless demonstrate
a technique of removing the bulb of percussion when finishing the tool. Platform thinning has been identified in other culture areas (Whittaker 1994:159),
reducing a points overall thickness and potentially increasing its effectiveness.
Other formal tools recovered from this site included complete bifaces, biface
fragments, and the proximal stem portion of macroblades. In total, 34 biface
fragments were recovered from Structure 218. Many of these biface forms are exclusive to the Postclassic, while others are reminiscent of forms manufactured in
previous eras. Thus, there is evidence that reuse of materials likely acquired from
construction fill played a role in the domestic economy of this household (Chiarulli 2012:105; Masson 2000:133; Shafer and Hester 1988). Triangular bifaces, a
formal tool well recognized as a diagnostic of the Postclassic (Hester 1985), were
recovered from Structure 218. Two complete specimens and a fragmented distal portion of a small biface were found. Small biface celts made up 42 percent
(n=14) of the fragmentary specimens. In fact, there were no complete examples
of this form recovered at this structure. The sample contains distal, medial, and
proximal fragments. Miscellaneous small bifaces make up 36 percent (n=12) of
the specimens, including one dart point that may have been reworked into an
arrow point. All bifaces were extremely fragmented, with only two complete
specimens. Additionally, seven macroblade specimens were recovered from this
residence. All macroblade artifacts were proximal stem portions and were heavily fragmented with evidence of refurbishment of the margins.

P38 Source Material


Similar to projectile points from Structure 216 and the rest of the assemblage,
those recovered from Structure 218 were predominantly produced on local
non-Colha-like cherts. This material represents 67 percent (n=50) of the recovered points from this structure. Interestingly, projectile points of northern
Belize chert originating from the Colha region accounted for only 16 percent
(n=12). Chalcedony (14 percent, n=11) and obsidian (1 percent, n=1) were also
present in the sample. These data suggest that other stone sources were increasingly used during the Postclassic period in the manufacture of projectile points
at Santa Rita Corozal.

Discussion
Colha-like chert had been the primary material used for the manufacture of
formal stone tools during the Preclassic and Late Classic periods in northern
262

Marc D. Marino, Lucas R. Martindale Johnson, and Nathan J. Meissner

Belize (Barrett et al. 2011:22). An examination of the material used at Santa Rita
Corozal during the Late Postclassic shows a contrast with the previous pattern.
In total, 77.3 percent of the small point sample was manufactured from chert,
followed by 13.3 percent from chalcedony and 9.4 percent from obsidian. Our
analysis shows that microcrystalline silicates of non-Colha origin account for
72 percent of this chert; thus, only 28 percent of the points were made from
Colha cherts from the Belize chert-bearing zone. Taken together, these data
suggest a more fluid model of raw material exchange between Santa Rita Corozal and other sites throughout northern Belize during the Postclassic.
Analysis of the Late Postclassic lithic assemblage at Santa Rita Corozal
demonstrates two qualities. First, small point production was correlated with
production-related debris, suggesting that small points were likely produced
at crafting residences for local consumption beyond the need of a single
household. This production pattern at Santa Rita Corozal may reflect practices
throughout the Maya region in the Postclassic. Second, the data presented here
indicate that the material used to produce small projectile points came from a
variety of sources and not simply one source area. Such patterns document the
dynamic nature of the Postclassic exchange system in which sites on Chetumal
Bay played a key role.
Studies of Maya flaked stone have broadened anthropological perspectives
since the first Maya Lithic Conference (Hester and Hammond 1976; Hruby et
al. 2011) and will continue to expand our understanding of the past as new data
are compiled, new students study curated collections, and previous models are
tested through analyses of these data. By examining previously excavated and
curated lithic objects, we have shown that a broader understanding of household technological production, site socioeconomic exchange, and regional versus local consumption is possible. A data-driven understanding of household
craft production has the capacity to build models from the ground up using
archaeological data. Future research should focus on chipped stone industries
in a regional context, particularly by examining the kinds of mechanisms affecting the provisioning of sites and households within those polities (Aoyama
2001; Braswell 2010; A. Chase and D. Chase 2004; D. Chase and A. Chase 2014;
Hirth 2013:104; Hutson et al. 2010; Masson and Freidel 2013). The exploration of
regional exchange systems documented at centers in the Chetumal Bay region
could be a turning point in looking at these sites as an integrated whole, focusing directly on how households provisioned themselves with raw materials and
practiced intensive crafting to meet local needs. A similar local industry, this
time evidenced in ground stone, is considered by Lisa Duffy in the next chapter.

Postclassic Tool Production at Santa Rita Corozal

263

14
Economic Implications of Mano and Metate Use
at Cerro Maya, Belize

LISA G. DUFFY

Maize processing is generally presumed to be the primary function of ancient


Maya manos and metates; however, analysis of ground stone tools from Cerro
Maya, Belize, suggests that these implements were also used to prepare a variety of other products. Use wear patterns on these stones reflect the items that
they were used to process; for example, a reciprocal, back-and-forth grinding
motion is the most efficient way to process maize. However, nonreciprocal rotary movements also are associated with some types of ground stone tools used
for nonmaize products, such as cacao or achiote. This chapter considers the
frequency and distribution across time of reciprocal motion metates and twohanded manos from Cerro Maya as compared to the rotary motion metates and
one-handed manos based on grinding surface use wear. Metates of both rotary
and reciprocal motion types are present in all time periods, but reciprocal tools
are predominant overall and comprise the majority of metates at the site. The
sample of manos at Cerro Maya are highly fragmented, and both one-handed
and two-handed varieties are also present. The implications of these findings
suggest that, in addition to maize, significant nonmaize food processing also
took place, and may reflect the sites changing roles over time from a small waterfront village and port to an impressive center with monumental architecture,
plazas, ballcourts, and residences.

Food-Grinding Implement Analysis


The ground stone assemblage from Cerro Maya consists of a variety of foodgrinding implements that reflect distinctive forms of grinding effort used to

process a range of products. As the physical remains of food-processing activities, manos and metates are important elements in understanding past
foodways. Individually, they can inform regarding the uses of a specific tool,
while taken as an assemblage they can speak to the foodways of an entire community. Food is more than simple subsistence; it is highly embedded in the
cultural elements that comprise human society. Considering the functional
makeup of manos and metates, and tracking how these proportions change
over time, can reflect changes in social, political, economic, subsistence, and
ritual practices.
Often, ground stone analysis focuses on sourcing the stone or on manufacturing and stylistic characteristics that can address topics such as trade, resource procurement, and household economy. However, for the purposes of
this study, the subject of analysis was the actual grinding surfacein particular, the pattern of use wear that shapes the surface of the tool. Looking at the
kind of grinding forces used on these tools and how they are distributed at the
site and across time is the first step in a larger analysis of the technology and
operational chain of food processing at Cerro Maya.
The data set for this study consists of ground stone tools housed in the Latin
American archaeology collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History
at the University of Florida. The artifacts were recovered during excavation of
several phases of occupation of the site of Cerro Maya (Robertson and Freidel
1986). The waterfront village represents the earliest episode of occupation at
Cerro Maya. It was a Late Preclassic nucleated village on the shore of Corozal
Bay (Walker Chapter 3, Figure 3.2). Within 50 to 100 years, the village was
buried beneath the 2-m-deep Plaza 2A. On top of this, Cerro Maya residents
constructed a civic core consisting of four major building groups, as well as
a residential settlement dispersed around the core but more distant from the
waterfront (Figure 3.1). Cerro Maya residents also created drained agricultural
fields and water-management canals that correlated with increased civic and
residential construction (Scarborough and Robertson 1986:171). Cerro Maya
was largely abandoned during the Classic era, but was resettled by immigrants in the Terminal Classic period (Sihnal Phase), during which perishable
structures were built on top of some abandoned Preclassic mounds (Walker
1990:462). For example, Structure 50, one of the Late Preclassic ballcourts,
was reused as a residence during the Sihnal Phase. Located near the Preclassic
drained fields, its use as a living space was likely related to this proximity.
For this study, the ground stone tools from Cerro Maya were examined and
categorized into one of two types of grinding forms: a reciprocal back-andforth motion or a rotary or circular motion. The difference between these styles
is reflected in grinding surface macrowear patterns. Reciprocal motion is assoEconomic Implications of Mano and Metate Use at Cerro Maya

265

ciated with a metate surface that is flat in at least one dimension and the use of
an elongated, two-handed mano. With this method, the strength of both arms
and shoulders and upper body weight can be brought to bear on the grinding
surfaces (J. L. Adams 1999:485). This is the method typically associated with
maize grinding. Because of the greater surface area, it is more efficient when
grinding large amounts of soaked maize kernels on a regular basis as part of
daily subsistence, documented both ethnographically and experimentally (J.
L. Adams 1999:486). Alternatively, a repetitive circular motion using a smaller
one-handed mano results in a concave grinding surface. This method would be
appropriate when less force is needed for processing maize more coarsely or for
grinding smaller amounts of substances, such as dried herbs, chili peppers, or
seeds. Additionally, either type of metate may or may not have a defined rim.
Having a raised rim helps to contain dried items and avoids fragments bouncing off of the surface during the grinding process. Reciprocal motion trough
metates with a defined rim and a central channel are less associated with maize
than are the flat, slab style on which the grinding surface extends from edge
to edge (Biskowski and Watson 2013). This is likely because there is less scattering when soft items such as soaked maize kernels are ground to a pastelike
consistency, so a rim is not necessary. There is only one trough metate fragment
from Cerro Maya, and it was recovered from the construction fill of a Late Preclassic staircase in Structure 4A. While lack of use-related context for this tool
makes interpretation and dating problematic, it was either contemporaneous
to or predated the construction of Structure 4A, both Terminal Preclassic Tulix
Phase contexts.

Method of Classification
For this study, ground stone tools were placed into categories based on their
use characteristics. Even though the Cerro Maya ground stone was largely
fragmented and the original overall shape and size of the tool could not always
be determined, there were sufficient grinding surfaces present to categorize
many of them by this method. Metate fragments were divided into the following categories: flat (flat in at least one dimension), concave (curvature in
both dimensions), or undetermined. This was based on the grinding surface
appearance, independent of other stylistic characteristics such as the presence
or absence of feet and outer shape, which may be more a product of cultural
preferences than strictly functional in nature.
Manos were categorized as one-handed, two-handed, or undetermined. For
this analysis, the overall shape was estimated as being either an elongated or
compact form. While the manos were very fragmented and many were un266

Lisa G. Duffy

Figure 14.1. Two-handed mano with overhang end from Cerro Maya, SF-1013. (Photograph by Lisa Duffy,
courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)

determined, those with at least one end present could be evaluated for shape.
Manos with tapered ends, which resemble a French rolling pin in shape, could
be identified as two-handed. Additionally, knob or overhang wear patterns are
also typical of reciprocal motion use (Figure 14.1). These develop on manos
with lengths greater than the width of the metate on which they are used. As
the two grinding surfaces wear each other down, the mano ends that hang
over the edge and are not in contact with the surface of the metate do not
wear down. As a result, they develop distinct patterns resembling a ledge or a
rounded knob, depending on how the user turned or rotated the mano during
the grinding process.
Several smaller complete or nearly complete manos were identified as onehanded, as they fit comfortably into one hand and tended to be less than 12
cm in length. Those fragments with blunted or only partial ends or those that
were center fragments without adequate grinding surface remaining were not
as readily identified.

Results
The total number of ground stone tools analyzed from Cerro Maya included
75 metate fragments and 65 manos, only 6 of which were complete or nearly
complete. Several of these smaller manos appeared to have been broken fragments, possibly from once-larger manos that were reworked and reused in a
one-handed fashion. Reuse is not surprising, given the multiple periods of
occupation at Cerro Maya and the practicality of using stone tools for multiple
purposes over the course of their use-life. Both manos and metates were often
Economic Implications of Mano and Metate Use at Cerro Maya

267

reused, as evidenced by the fact that many were found in construction fill,
floors, and walls.
Of the total metates, 48 (64 percent) were flat-surfaced, indicating reciprocal grinding motion; 26 (34.7 percent) were concave, indicating rotary
grinding motion; and only 1 could not be determined clearly. Of the 65 manos, 8 (12.3 percent) were one-handed based on overall size and shape, and
28 (43.1 percent) could be identified as two-handed based on the elongated
end shape or overall size and wear pattern. The remaining 29 fragments were
too small or incomplete to determine original shape. To check for statistical
significance between the proportions of reciprocal to rotary grinding types,
a one-sample t-test between percentages for both manos and metates was
performed. The t-statistic was significant at the .05 level for both:
Metates; t(df=74) = 2.673, p = .0092
Manos; t(df=64) = 3.665, p = .0005
We can conclude that even with the relatively small sample sizes, the predominance of reciprocal grinding forms is not a result of random chance but reflects
actual differences in the prevalence of these two forms.
Overall, the data showed that the reciprocal motion tools were the most
numerous types present in the collection. The next step was looking at how
the numbers broke down chronologically (Table 14.1). The greatest total number of manos and metates found in excavation and surface collection could
be dated to the Late to Terminal Preclassic, which is not surprising since this
was the period of greatest occupation and the focus of the excavation project.
The next largest number of tools dated to the Terminal Classic during a time
of resettlement following a Classic-era abandonment. It is also clear that both
grinding forms were present across the spectrum; that is, both flat and concave
metates, and one-handed and two-handed manos, were present both early and
late at Cerro Maya. This means that there was not an evolution of one type
into another, but that both types of grinding methods were used concurrently,
suggesting that they had distinct uses that persisted through time. The other
notable data characteristic is that reciprocal grinding tools were equal to or
greater in number than rotary types across the different time periods. Even
though sample sizes in each period were small and there is a lack of use-related
context, a pattern is suggested that could be the starting point for additional
analysis.
The next data analysis reviewed the distribution of tools across the site associated with specific structures and features. In all, 27 features could be associated with ground stone tools, not including surface beach finds without clear
association to a particular feature. One interesting pattern discovered was that
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Lisa G. Duffy

Table 14.1. Temporal breakdown by grinding type of metates and manos at Cerro Maya
Time Period

Total
OneTwoTotal
Flat Concave Unknown Metates Handed Handed Unknown Manos

Late Preclassic

14

11

25

10

21

18

23

11

Postclassic

10

17

Unknown

10

16

14

Totals

48

26

75

28

29

65

Early Classic
Terminal Classic

flat metates were distributed across most features so that they were present at
all but seven. On the other hand, concave-type metates were only present at 9
of 27 features, with a notable cluster stemming from the waterfront village.
The waterfront village was the location with the greatest total number of
ground stone tools recovered from the site, with 22 manos and 21 metates.
Part of the village lay exposed on the beach where Plaza 2A had eroded away.
Thirteen ground stone artifacts recovered as surface finds from this area are of
unknown context and may be a mixture of those from the waterfront village as
well as those associated with later time periods, making dating of these items
problematic. Nine ground stone fragments from the village were associated
with Postclassic materials and so were assigned to that time period, but may
also represent a temporal mixture. The largest percentage of the items from
the waterfront village, however, came from domestic refuse and construction
fill below the main plaza floor, including six that were associated with burials
(Walker Chapter 3, Table 3.1).
Excavations at Structure 4, the tallest pyramid in the monumental core,
revealed eight manos and seven metate fragments, nearly all of which were
recovered from construction fill and rubble. Other structures in the monumental core had anywhere from one to six of these tool fragments. One of the
manos came from a termination deposit on the front of Structure 5C-2nd,
long noted for its polychrome facades. One of the metates was recovered
from a cache in Structure 11B, part of a triadic residential group on a raised
platform located just outside the monumental core. Farther outside of the
site core on the southern canal, Structure 50, a Late Preclassic ballcourt that
was reoccupied as a residential area in the Terminal Classic, produced seven
Economic Implications of Mano and Metate Use at Cerro Maya

269

manos and 18 metate fragments from this later occupation. As a high proportion of the manos could not be assigned a type, it was difficult to assess the
distribution pattern based on type; however, the total numbers distributed
across the various structures were similar to those of the metates, with the
same features having the largest and smallest numbers.

Lithic Material
Lithic material identification of the Cerro Maya ground stone was previously
done in 1980 and is included in James Garbers dissertation and monograph
(Garber 1981, 1989). The results show that the most common material is quartzite for both manos (nearly 50 percent) and metates (nearly 70 percent). The
next most common materials are limestone and dolomite at 32 percent and
19 percent, respectively. So, of the 140 ground stone items, 118 were of these
common varieties, and only 22 were of the more uncommon varieties, which
included fossilized coral, andesite, rhyolite chert, and marble. Of the less-common varieties, five were recovered from the waterfront village. Another four
came from the monumental core, making a total of nine, or 41 percent, from
Late Preclassic contexts. Additionally, four were from Terminal Classic and five
from Postclassic contexts. By grinding type, the variety of stone shows about
the same proportions for both reciprocal and rotary forms.
All of the tools recovered from ritual contexts such as burials and caches
were quartzite, with one notable exception, Burial 16, which was located in the
waterfront burying ground associated with Structure 2A-Sub 1 (Figure 14.2;
Walker Chapter 3). This elite burial and an adjacent possible cenotaph contained a variety of artifacts that included several ceramic vessels, chipped stone
tools, obsidian, and a mano fragment made of fossilized coral (SF-396). In
addition, there were several other items that, like the coral, came from aquatic
environments. These included marine shells, a fish spine, a freshwater turtle
carapace, and the long bone of a toad. Toads are aquatic as tadpoles and, as
amphibians, are always dependent on water. Therefore, rather than being a
quotidian household item, this coral mano may have been ritual in nature,
included in the cenotaph as part of an aquatic theme and reflective of a specific
ideological representation.
A total of seven ground stone fragments of fossil coral were recovered at
Cerro Maya, six associated with the waterfront village and one from the Structure 61 ballcourt. Of those from the village, three were sealed below the plaza
floor, confirming a Late Preclassic date, likely from the earliest occupation.
Another three were recovered from surface contexts on the beach. While two
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Lisa G. Duffy

Figure 14.2. Coral stone mano from Cerro Maya Burial 16, SF-396. (Photograph
by Lisa Duffy, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)

of these were associated with artifacts from the Postclassic and therefore assigned to that time period, it is very possible that they eroded out from the
lower levels and were actually from the earlier village occupation. Only one
of these tools came from outside of the waterfront village, and that is a metate
fragment recovered from Structure 61A, the playing field of a Late Preclassic ballcourt located just outside of the central monumental core. While this
structure did have a Terminal Classic reoccupation similar to the Structure 50
ballcourt, this particular artifact was not a surface find; rather, it was associated
with construction of Floor 1 during the Late Preclassic. It seems, then, that the
use of fossilized coral for manos and metates was primarily a characteristic of
the Late Preclassic.
Another possible ritual association for ground stone comes from Burial 2,
from the waterfront burying ground associated with Structure 2A-Sub 1. This
Late Preclassic burial of a young child, found seated cross-legged, contained a
small complete quartzite mano (SF-012) and a concave quartzite metate (SF104) that had been placed in the youngsters lap (Figure 14.3; Walker Chapter
3). Additionally, there was a Tuk Red-on-red Trickle drinking vessel (SF-029)
included in the grave goods. Because this ground stone is not the typical maizeassociated variety, and preliminary residue analysis of the drinking vessel indicates it likely held a cacao-based drink (based on a separate, in-progress study
by the author; Duffy and Walker 2014), this particular set of grinding tools may
have been used to prepare various ingredients for ritual beverages.
Economic Implications of Mano and Metate Use at Cerro Maya

271

Figure 14.3. Mano (SF-012) and metate (SF-104) from Cerro Maya Burial 2. (Photograph by Lisa Duffy, courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History.)

Temporal Comparison
During data review, there were some differences that emerged, particularly
when data from the Late Preclassic were teased apart into the earlier waterfront village component and the subsequently constructed monumental core
and associated residences. Furthermore, a comparison between the waterfront
village, the monumental core and residences, and the Terminal Classic reoccupation revealed some interesting contrasts (Table 14.2). The first trend that
emerged was that the most numerous ground stone type in the waterfront
village was the concave or rotary grinding form at 66.7 percent, as opposed
to later occupations, including the Late Preclassic monumental core and residential deposits and the Terminal Classic deposits, where the flat or reciprocal
metates were more numerous at 76.9 percent and 78.3 percent, respectively.
Two sample t-tests between the proportions of reciprocal metates in the early
waterfront village occupation and the occupations of the later monumental
core and residences, and between the village occupation and that of the Terminal Classic residences, showed that the differences between them are significant at the .05 level:
Waterfront Village to Monumental Core and Residences;
t(df=23) = 2.194, p = .0386
Waterfront Village to Terminal Classic Residences;
t(df=33) = 2.615, p = .0133
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Lisa G. Duffy

Table 14.2. Metate comparison between Late Preclassic village, Terminal Preclassic
site core, and Terminal Classic resettlement
Context

Flat

Concave Undetermined

Common Uncommon
Stone
Stone
Total

Late Preclassic
Waterfront
Village

4 (33.3%)

8 (66.7%)

11 (91.7%)

1 (8.3%)

12

Late Preclassic
Monumental
Core and
Settlement

10 (76.9%)

3 (23.1%)

11 (84.6%)

2 (15.4%)

13

Terminal
Classic
Reoccupation

18 (78.3%)

4 (17.4%)

1 (4.3%)

21 (91.3%)

2 (8.7%)

23

Another difference is the number of tools made from less common lithic materials. While the waterfront village had a greater proportion of these tools
(24 percent) than the Terminal Classic deposits (12 percent), these differences
were not shown to be statistically significant. However, the specific types of
these less common materials were different in each location. The early waterfront village ground stone assemblage included fossilized coral and marble,
but no volcanic stone. The earliest use of igneous ground stone is from the
monumental core, a single fragment of rhyolite associated with the Structure 29B pyramid. Terminal Classic contexts included rhyolite and andesite,
which are both nonlocal igneous rock, and also chert, but no fossilized coral,
which may have had a more aquatic ritual significance in the waterfront village. Igneous rock is often preferred for maize grinding in many cultures,
including the Maya, because its texture facilitates breaking down the kernels
and its durability results in a longer use-life and less grit in the final product
as opposed to softer varieties of rock such as limestone or sandstone (Hayden
1987; Horsfall 1987:341342). These types of stone tools, however, would have
been imported items, as the most commonly available local stones utilized
for grinding tools were quartzite, dolomite, and limestone.

Discussion
Because food is deeply rooted in human cultural beliefs and practices, it represents more than just daily subsistence and the satisfaction of biological nuEconomic Implications of Mano and Metate Use at Cerro Maya

273

tritional requirements. Its acquisition, preparation, serving, and consumption


are culturally defined and entangled with the economy, social relationships,
politics, and religion (Twiss 2012). Food-processing tools such as manos and
metates can therefore reflect the social, economic, and ritual practices that influence their use within a community. Consequently, changes in these cultural
structures over time may be reflected by changes in the assemblage of tools
used for food processing. When looking at the ground stone assemblage from
Cerro Maya, this pattern of change is evident.
The predominance of nonreciprocal grinding tools in the waterfront village
suggests a subsistence economy that was not based heavily on maize processing. Fishing, hunting, gathering, agriculture, and trade likely all contributed to
a varied livelihood. Since the region was known ethnohistorically as the land
of cacao and honey (D. Chase 1986), cacao seeds (also known as cacao beans)
may have played an important role alongside maize in food-grinding activities.
Whether cacao was grown locally, acquired by regional or long-distance trade,
or obtained through some combination of these strategies is worth exploring
(see Guderjan et al. Chapter 5).
The use of coral manos and metates during this time is also intriguing and
suggests special preparation of items for ritual purposes. The qualities of the
coral itself, particularly the rough texture, may have made it attractive for its
effectiveness in grinding some specific food or ritual item such as maize or
cacao. Alternatively, its identity as a marine product and its source location
may have been the attraction, rather than just the functional nature of the
material. What is clear is that the restricted nature of this type of grinding
tool suggests a special use that was mainly confined to the village phase at
Cerro Maya.
As the monumental core and associated residences replaced the earlier
waterfront village, reciprocal grinding tools became more common. This
may reflect a greater level of maize processing and increased level of production to feed a growing community with a higher population density. This is
also the level at which the first ground stone made from imported igneous
rock appeared. Often preferred for maize grinding, this type of stone may
reflect growing connections in regional and long-distance trade networks.
During the Terminal Classic period when the site was reoccupied by immigrants, reciprocal motion tools and more examples of imported stone are
evident. In combination with the residential reuse of a ballcourt constructed
in the Late Preclassic near the agricultural drained field system, the predominance of reciprocal motion tools and more evidence of igneous stone
suggest that these new inhabitants were more focused on maize production
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Lisa G. Duffy

and processing. The assemblage of grinding tools utilized during this time
may have included at least some that were brought in by these new settlers
or that were traded from long distance. Alternatively, some may have been
preferentially collected from existing surface deposits from earlier habitation
at the site. Any of these alternatives would still reflect their desirability for
use in maize-processing activities.
Putting this information into social context, as the waterfront village population grew and the adjacent port facility flourished, trade networks at Cerro
Maya became increasingly broader in scope with long-distance connections
(Robertson and Walker 2015). Ritual activities included a focus on water and
the sea. Access to imported materials and a diversity of foods might account
for the presence of a larger proportion of nonreciprocal motion tools associated with processing a wider variety of products, including cacao, and reflect
more emphasis on a less-intensive, rotary motion ritual preparation of maize.
However, as the site grew to include a monumental core with a more dispersed
settlement area away from the waters edge, more maize may have been needed
to feed the growing population. During the Terminal Classic reoccupation,
Cerro Maya was again primarily a farming and fishing community, with some
of the preexisting public architecture repurposed as residences. In this context, a greater dependence on milpa agriculture and more maize processing
was reflected by a higher proportion of reciprocal tools and the presence of
some igneous ground stone. This is also consistent with the reoccupation of the
Structure 50 ballcourt as a residential area located near the preexisting drained
fields. These fields may have been reused for milpa and maize agriculture by
later occupants, making the nearby ballcourt an attractive location to set up
residence. In the Late Postclassic, Cerro Maya was again depopulated, and was
used mainly for ritual purposes, serving as a pilgrimage destination for the
Chetumal Bay area. Once again, maize and other food-grinding activities during this time may have been largely for ritual purposes rather than reflecting
an agricultural economy.
Although the data presented here cannot tell us exactly what kinds of foods
were prepared with these tools, looking at their grinding patterns documents
trends that can be investigated in more detail using highly specialized chemical methods such as residue analysis. By determining exactly what foods were
processed on ground stone manos and metates through the various periods
of occupation, we can get a more nuanced view of foodways, subsistence, and
economy at Cerro Maya. From a wider perspective, how Cerro Mayas coastal
economy fit within the Maya maritime economy generally is the subject of the
next two chapters.
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275

Acknowledgments
I would like to thank Susan Milbrath and Debra Walker for access to the
Cerro Maya collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History and for their
encouragement to take on this project. Debra Walkers assistance in understanding the complex chronology and stratigraphy at Cerro Maya is greatly
appreciated. Thanks also to the University of Florida and Kitty Emery and the
anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments.

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IV
C H E T U M A L B AY I N P E R S P E C T I V E

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15
Coastal Economies
Comparing Northern and Southern Belize

H E AT H E R M C K I L L O P

The sea was important to the ancient Maya as a source of ritual and subsistence
resources as well as for canoe travel and trade. Regarded in ancient Maya ideology as a portal to the underworld, the sea was the source of stingray spines
for ritual bloodletting, conch shells for trumpets, seashells for ornaments, and
coral and manatee bone for carvings. The sea was also a source of food, certainly for the maritime Maya, and marine resources were traded inland as well.
Undoubtedly, the sea was a source of salt, a basic biological necessity that was
scarce in the carbohydrate-rich corn diet of Maya living in inland cities (McKillop 2002). Models of trading ports and transshipment ports located along the
Yucatn coast of Belize and Mexico may explain trade between the coast and
interior, as well as acquisition of goods and resources from outside the region
or from outside the Maya area (A. Andrews 1990; Freidel 1979; Graham 1989;
Hammond 1976; McKillop 1996; Sierra Sosa et al. 2014). In this chapter, the
Chetumal Bay region is compared with a similar coastal Maya landscape in
the Port Honduras region of southern Belize with its trading port at Wild Cane
Cay and information on regional settlement patterns (McKillop 1996, 2005a).

The Antiquity of Maya Sea Trade


Columbuss encounter with a large trading canoe laden with copper, cotton,
and other goods off the north coast of Honduras near the Bay Islands in 1502
underscores the ease of transportation in oceangoing paddling canoes. Moreover, the goods were not just bulk items transported more easily by boat than
by overland porters, but included a variety of objects from near and distant
lands. Columbuss encounter, along with reports by other European explorers

of contacts with local people along the Yucatn coast, underscored the occurrence of sea trade late in Maya prehistory. Maya communities at Tulum, Santa
Rita Corozal, and the salt works on the north coast of Yucatn further supported the idea of vibrant Postclassic sea trade. Postclassic sea trade was contrasted to inland trade by trails and rivers during the Classic period, since the
largest cities were in the southern lowlands away from the sea. Survey along
the coast revealed, to the contrary, that there were many coastal sites that predated the Postclassic, including some sites that were submerged by sea level
rise, so their presence was obscured in the modern landscape. In fact, there are
ancient Maya sites dating from the Preclassic through the Postclassic on the
coast and cays of Belize and Mexico (McKillop and Healy 1989).
The discovery of Late Preclassic settlement and monumental architecture at
the coastal community of Cerro Maya on the south shore of Chetumal Bay suggested that waterborne travel and trade figured in the rise of the citys complexity. David Freidels (1979) interaction sphere model for the rise of Maya civilization was based on the shared iconography in masked facades on temples,
and on other shared features of widely separated communities in the Maya
lowlands, notably Cerro Maya, Uaxactun, and Dzibilchaltun. The location of
Cerro Maya at the juncture of coastal and river transportation routes supports
the idea of significant coastal trade and communication among emerging elite
leaders throughout the lowlands. Highly crafted jadeite objects imported from
the Motagua River valley and found at various Preclassic sites also implies
coastal transportation and trade.
Excavations at Komchen in the northern Maya lowlands revealed major
Late Preclassic settlement, leading E. Wyllys Andrews V to suggest the communitys role in distribution of nearby salt from the north coast of Yucatn and
that salt figured prominently in sea trade around Yucatn and inland via rivers
to central Petn (see Ambrosino 1993), a route that included the Hondo and
New Rivers. Research at Cerro Maya in the 1970s modified views of Maya sea
trade to include the Late Preclassic, but the apparent abandonment of Cerro
Maya at the end of the Terminal Preclassic continued to support the view that
Classic Maya trade was largely by inland routes, when dynastically controlled
cities were concentrated inland in the southern Maya lowlands.
As the inventory of coastal sites with Preclassic and Classic period dates
increased, notably Moho Cay (McKillop 2004), Kakalche and Colsons Point
(Graham 1994), False Cay and Placencia (MacKinnon and Kepecs 1989), Wild
Cane Cay (McKillop 2005a), Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase and A. Chase 1989),
Xcambo (Sierra Sosa et al. 2014), and Jaina, Isla Piedras, and Isla Cerritos (A.
Andrews et al. 1989), there were questions about their roles in the political
and subsistence economies of the Maya. For example, were coastal sites re280

Heather McKillop

source areas subsidiary to inland cities, with trade goods such as exotic obsidian traded via inland routes to the coast? Alternatively, did the coastal Maya
participate directly in long-distance sea trade serving as transshipment or trading ports along a sea trade route with inland spurs (Graham 1989; Hammond
1976; McKillop 1996; Sabloff and Rathje 1975; Sierra Sosa et al. 2014)? Ancient
Maya settlement on islands up to 40 km offshore in Belize attests to the seafaring abilities of the ancient coastal Maya. High densities of obsidian beyond
local needs, unusual wealth of trade goods, and diversity of goods from various
near and distant lands at island trading ports support the idea that they were
nodes on sea trade routes, where marine resources and exotics brought by sea
trade were shipped inland (McKillop 1996). Sierra Sosa and colleagues (2014)
argue that coastal trading sites were prosperous and autonomous since they
had a secure subsistence base, exploited marine resources, and participated in
trade. By way of contrast, Soconusco on the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico,
was incorporated into the Aztec empire in order for the Aztec king to obtain
regular supplies of cacao and other goods recorded in tribute lists (Voorhies
1989). Similarly, in China, bureaucrats were placed at salt works to oversee the
payment of taxes to the state (Flad 2007). Coastal Maya trading ports, however,
seemed to be more autonomous. Changes over time in the use of trade and
transportation routes is expected with changes in the geopolitical landscape
over the course of Maya prehistory.
The sea provides many opportunities for those mariners able to negotiate
shoals, currents, and storms. To the unfamiliar, the sea is a barrier. Control
of the sea may have provided the ancient coastal and island Maya control of
resources and autonomy from dynastic inland Maya, who lacked familiarity
with the opportunities and dangers of the sea (McKillop 2010). Inland canoes
with low sides, such as those depicted on bone carvings of the paddler gods
from Burial 116, Temple 1 at Tikal (Trik 1963:Figs. 3a, 47; see also McKillop
2005b:Fig. 3), were unsuitable as seafaring canoes, as rough seas would swamp
them. Their small size would make them unmanageable in rough seas without ballast that could be carried in larger canoes. Depictions of canoes in the
sea from a mural on the Temple of the Warriors at Chichn Itz (A. Morris
1931:Pl. 159; J.E.S. Thompson 1951) illustrate calm water with paddlers inappropriately standing in a low-walled canoe that resembles a river canoe. Boat
models carved from manatee rib bones from Altun Ha (Pendergast 1979:Fig.
46b) and Moho Cay (McKillop 1985:Fig. 4) and formed from clay at the Paynes
Creek Salt Works (McKillop 2002:Fig. 3.38bc; McKillop et al. 2014:Fig. 10)
are consistent in showing flat bows and sterns and straight sides, but the size
of actual boats is unknown. An Early Classic wooden canoe from one of the
Paynes Creek Salt Works was badly broken when it was raised (McKillop et al.
Coastal Economies: Comparing Northern and Southern Belize

281

2014:Figs. 1214). The Kak Naab canoe paddle, with its long shaft and small
blade, would have been useful for long-distance paddling in a seagoing dory.
The long shaft would allow reaching over the high sides of an oceangoing canoe. The small paddle blade would move less water than a larger blade, resulting in the paddler not getting tired as quickly (McKillop 2005b:Fig. 2; McKillop et al. 2014).

Wild Cane Cay in Southern Belize


Wild Cane Cay, a coastal trading port in southern Belize, is used here as a
comparison to the Chetumal Bay area (Figure 15.1). The geographies of the
two regions are similar: Wild Cane Cay is located in a coastal bight called
Port Honduras, into which navigable rivers feed from the coastal plain, with
the Maya Mountains beginning about 24 km from the sea. Several large Maya
cities are located in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, with access to the sea
along rivers. In northern Belize, the New River provides access to Lamanai,
while the Rio Hondo connects to Blue Creek and settlements farther inland.
The coastal plain of Port Honduras includes a number of lagoons dominated
by mangrove ecosystems, similar to the Chetumal Bay coast. Wild Cane Cay
is an offshore island located at the northern end of Port Honduras, near a large
saltwater lagoon system, Punta Ycacos Lagoon. A major contrast between the
Chetumal Bay and Port Honduras areas is the deeper and larger inshore lagoon in southern Belize created by the location of the Belize barrier reef some
40 km offshore in the south, in contrast to the reef directly off the windward
side of Ambergris Caye in the north. Although there was ancient Maya settlement on the Belize barrier reef islands in southern Belize, coastal canoe trade
routes were closer to shore, focused on Wild Cane Cay. On southern Chetumal Bay, coastal trading ports moved from Cerro Maya in the Late Preclassic to Santa Rita Corozal in the Classic and Postclassic, although the role of
trading ports of Marco Gonzalez and San Juan on Ambergris Caye also needs
to be evaluated in the coastal economics of regional and longer-distance waterborne trade.
Wild Cane Cay is at the southern terminus of the circum-Yucatn coastal
canoe trade. The site was a settlement and trading port (McKillop 2005a). Regional settlement survey of the coast and offshore cays revealed settlement
from the Late and Terminal Preclassic through the Late Postclassic (McKillop
1996, 2005a). Coastal settlement continued in both areas throughout the Postclassic, with a diminution of inland settlement, apart from the river communities of Lamanai and Cayo Coco located farther inland.
Wild Cane Cay had been a 4 ha village before it was submerged and eroded
282

Heather McKillop

Figure 15.1. Map of the Port Honduras survey area, with insert showing its location in the Maya area.
(Illustration by Mary Lee Eggart, Louisiana State University.)

by sea level rise, and slowly inundated, with accretion of mangroves further
submerging the ancient site under modern vegetation. The dry land portion of
the island was divided into 10 10 m grids for surface collection of 190 areas.
Stratified random excavations on dry land, as well as 172 offshore shovel tests
excavated in stratigraphic levels from the seafloor, provided the age and previous size of the island community. Wild Cane Cay is a mangrove island, lacking
sand, so the excavations were in mangrove mud and peat. Stratigraphic excavations were carried out to a maximum of 2 m below the ground surface, with the
water table reached at 20 cm depth. Offshore shovel tests were by 20 cm levels
to a maximum of 1 m below the seafloor, below which land-based techniques
of shoveling into a screen were not possible. Stone architecture consisted of
coral rock foundations for perishable structures on earthen floors with a finger
coral subfloor. The stone architecture dates from the Early and Late Postclassic
periods. Excavations of six construction episodes of Fighting Conch mound
Coastal Economies: Comparing Northern and Southern Belize

283

revealed the remains of six buildings with coral foundations on the eastern side
of the main plaza in the center of the island. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal
from building floors and stylistic comparison of pottery vessels associated with
burials were used to date the construction episodes.
Settlement on Wild Cane Cay began in the Early Classic, as evidenced by
radiocarbon dating of charcoal from stratigraphic excavations on the island
(McKillop 2005a). During the Early Classic, fisherfolk planted a variety of
native palms and other fruit trees on the island (McKillop 1994). Outstanding preservation of animal bones and plant food remains in the anaerobic
excavation units, as well as good preservation of human skeletal remains in
midden and mound excavations, indicates the island settlers exploited a wide
geographic area for foodlarger than indicated by the faunal material from
Cerro Maya, for example (see H. S. Carr 1986a). Although the barrier reef is
some 40 km farther offshore, reef fishes are available within a kilometer on
patch reefs by Frenchmans Cay and nearby at East Snake Cay, including species identified from archaeological midden deposits at Wild Cane Cay. Estuarine fishes similar to those identified from Cerro Maya were recovered at Wild
Cane Cay, notably barracuda, jacks, grunts, and mangrove snappers, as well as
marine animals including manatee and sea turtle. Estuarine mollusks also were
abundant, including mud conch, fighting conch, and queen conch, as well as
a variety of smaller shell species. Reef species from the site include parrotfish,
doctorfish, and triggerfish. Mainland animal remains include armadillo, deer,
dog, agouti, and peccary, which expands the exploitation territory of the Wild
Cane Cay Maya in comparison to Cerro Maya. Supplementing the fish diet
were tree crops planted on the island, including three species of native palms,
avocado, mamey apple (perhaps from the mainland), and hogplum, as well as
corn (McKillop 1994).
In addition to being a coastal community, by the Late Classic Wild Cane
Cay emerged as a trading port for coastal-inland trade as well as being a transshipment point for bringing goods from farther away along the coast from
the Maya highlands via the Motagua River in particular (McKillop 2005a).
The focus of trade during the Late Classic was as supplier of marine resources
to emerging inland cities in southern Belize, notably Lubaantun and Nim Li
Punit. The Wild Cane Cay Maya may have warehoused and managed trade
of salt that was mass-produced at the nearby Paynes Creek Salt Works, now
under water in Punta Ycacos Lagoon. It was a short canoe paddle from Wild
Cane Cay to the Paynes Creek Salt Works, where laborers traveled to work
but did not reside (McKillop 2005b). The inland demand for coastal salt has
left no visible evidence at inland sites, but distinctive unit-stamped Warrie
Red water jars (similar to Tinaja Red and Remate Red elsewhere) are found at
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Heather McKillop

the salt works, in addition to Moho Red serving vessels (similar to Belize Red
elsewhere), and mold-made ocarinas (figurine whistles) similar to those from
Lubaantun (Figure 15.2). A significant amount of jadeite from the Motagua
River valley is present at the salt works as ground stone axes and other objects,
as is pottery from Honduras.
The Paynes Creek Salt Works arose and expanded in response to inland
settlement and population growth, respectively. When the inland cities in
southern Belize were abandoned at the end of the Classic period, the salt works
were abandoned also. The trading port on Wild Cane Cay reoriented its mercantile focus to long-distance coastal canoe trade, linked to other trading ports
along the coasts of Belize and Mexico. Similar suites of exotic trade goods at
Wild Cane Cay, Marco Gonzalez, San Juan, and Isla Cerritos include green
obsidian from the Pachuca outcrop, Ucareo obsidian from Central Mexico,
and Tohil Plumbate pottery (Figure 15.3). Wild Cane Cay expanded its role in

Figure 15.2. Trade pottery from the Paynes Creek Salt Works: (ac) ocarinas or figurine whistles; (d) unnamed gouged incised vessel from Site 61; (e, f ) unnamed trickle ware from site 56. (Photographs by
Heather McKillop.)
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Figure 15.3. Trade pottery from Wild Cane Cay: (a) Las Vegas Polychrome from Fighting Conch Burial
10; (b) Payil Red (Tulum Red) vessel from Fighting Conch Burial 12; (c) Tohil Plumbate vessel. (Photographs by Heather McKillop.)

the coastal transportation of obsidian from the Maya highland outcrops of El


Chayal, Ixtepeque, and Rio Pixcaya (also known as San Martin Jilotepeque)
that were dominant in the Classic period. During the Postclassic, obsidian
from six known outcrops arrived at the island, adding La Esperanza obsidian
from Honduras as well as Pachuca and Ucareo from Central Mexico, to the
Maya highland sources. Other goods transported along the coast include a
Las Vegas Polychrome vessel from Honduras (McKillop 2005a:Fig. 6.9), copper objects likely from Honduras, jadeite from the Motagua River valley, and
chert stone tools similar in form and color to Colha chert tools from the Early
Postclassic (Shafer and Hester 1983).
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Chetumal Bay Maya


Chetumal Bay is at the nexus between several inland waterways, notably the
New River and Rio Hondo, and the sea. Waterborne transportation and trade
played a role in the movement of goods and people within the Chetumal Bay
drainage area and for external links along the circum-Yucatn coastal canoe
trade route, inland to the Petn heartland of Classic period civilization, and
offshore to the Belize barrier reef.
The subsistence economy is known in the Chetumal Bay drainage area from
studies of chert, obsidian, animal remains, stable isotopes, drained field agriculture, and household archaeology. Studies of stone tools from a variety of
sites in the region indicate long-distance import of obsidian cores for blade
production, regional trade of chert tools from the high-quality outcrops to the
south at Colha, and production of cutting tools from local chalcedony (Chiarulli Chapter 12; Marino et al. Chapter 13). Mainland fauna such as peccary,
deer, and dog provided desirable meats for inland Maya, contrasting to the
aquatic focus of the coastal city of Cerro Maya (H. S. Carr 1986a). Not surprisingly, foods were selected from nearby locations, with the exception being Lamanai, where stable isotope analysis of human skeletal remains revealed more
distant procurement of foods, since seafood was present in the diet of some
elites.
The vertebrate animal remains from Cerro Maya focus on estuarine resources available nearby. The diet included some reef fishes (parrotfish, triggerfish, and surgeonfish), but mainly consisted of estuarine fishes (tarpon,
bonefish, catfish, jacks, snappers, grunts, and barracuda) that would have been
plentiful near Cerro Maya (H. S. Carr 1986a). H. S. Carr notes that during the
Late Preclassic, Cerro Maya residents focused more on fish and less on land
animals, with deer and dog a minor component of the diet and peccary and armadillo absent. The reef fishes in the sample occur in coral reef environments,
which may be found in patches within an estuarine coastal area, such as Port
Honduras of southern Belize, or on the barrier reef.
Salt is mentioned rarely in archaeological research in the Chetumal Bay
region (but see Robertson Chapter 7 for Cerro Maya), suggesting this biological necessity might have been imported from the northern Yucatn salt flats,
traded from salt works on Ambergris Caye, or produced in coastal lagoons on
the mainland, as at Oxtankah (de Vega Nova 2013a, 2013b; Reese-Taylor Chapter 2). Another report of salt production is from the Northern River Lagoon,
located on the mainland south of Chetumal Bay (Figure 11.1; Valdez and Mock
1991), where briquetageclay pots used to evaporate brine over fireswas
found mixed with Terminal Classic household remains. Salt may have been
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287

obtained from hypersaline coastal lagoons closer to Chetumal Bay, such as


Saltillo or other lagoons near Cerro Maya. Alternatively, salt may have been
obtained from Ambergris Caye, either from seasonal migration to extract salt
or by trade or tribute. Coastal connections with Ambergris Caye have been
suggested for Lamanai, particularly from similar styles of pottery during the
Postclassic. Production and distribution of salt for dietary needs, its value for
preservation, and its possible use as a flavor enhancer have not been addressed
for the Chetumal Bay drainage area, but are of clear importance in understanding the political and subsistence economies in the area.
The model of trade between inland and coastal locations, with the latter
serving as trading ports linking to coastal canoe trade, fits many locations
along the Yucatn coasts of Mexico and Belize, including the Chetumal Bay
drainage. In that area, the trading ports of Marco Gonzalez and San Juan on the
southern and northern ends of Ambergris Caye, respectively, were integrated
within the economic region of the Chetumal Bay drainage. Salt may have been
produced in the leeward lagoons on Ambergris Caye or elsewhere on the island by solar evaporation, or in some cases by heating brine in pots over fires
to produce loose salt or salt cakes. The latter technique leaves archaeological
evidence of briquetagethe broken salt-making pots (Figure 15.4). The advantage of that method is that salt can be produced year-round indoors, which is
important in rainy climates. Seawater is poured into containers of salty soil to
collect the salt-enriched brine in pots below, which decreases the fuel needs
in the process of evaporation by heating over fires. Mass production of salt
was carried out indoors using pots of standardized dimensions, similar to the
modern salt production at Sacapulas, located at a salt spring in the highlands of
Guatemala (Reina and Monaghen 1981). If salt was instead produced in coastal
lagoons or from seawater, either from solar evaporation or by enriching salty
water and evaporating in pots over fires, on the mainland near Cerro Maya,
different mainland communities may have served as ports over time, including Cerro Maya in the Late Preclassic and Santa Rita Corozal in the Classic
through Postclassic. Modern and historic studies of salt making around the
world indicate that the salinity of seawater is increased before the brine is
evaporated in pots over fires in order to reduce fuel use. Solar evaporation in
ponds or leaching brine through salty soil is commonly used (McKillop et al.
2014). Bulk transport of salt in boats along rivers suggests the intensity of intraregional trade and communication was frequent and regular. Communities
that controlled salt production and trade gained prominence in the geopolitical landscape. That was certainly true for the Maya at Xcambo, who controlled
Late Classic salt production on the north coast of Yucatn, and for Wild Cane
Cay inhabitants in the Late Classic, who likely controlled the distribution of
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Figure 15.4. Briquetage from Paynes Creek Salt Works. Punta Ycacos jar rim from Ek Way Nal Salt
Works. (Photograph by Heather McKillop.)

salt produced at the nearby Paynes Creek Salt Works, which were workshops
without evidence of residences. Salt works are located along the Yucatn coasts
of Belize and Mexico (A. Andrews and Mock 2002).
In the Chetumal Bay region, objects made from chert, chalcedony, jadeite, obsidian, and other stone were obtained from nearby, regional, and longdistance sources. Local chalcedony was used for cutting tools, in addition
to chert from the high-quality Colha chert-bearing zone to the south. The
jadeite, mercury, gold, copper, and turquoise imported from outside the Maya
area are status markers that were included in dynastic Maya gift exchange,
buried with dynastic leaders and their royal entourage, and deposited in offerings and caches associated with public architecture. The Late Preclassic rise
in social and economic complexity of Cerro Maya is marked by such exotics,
notably jadeite. The elite leaders at Santa Rita Corozal, Nohmul, La Milpa, and
Blue Creek imported jadeite and other exotic materials. The Classic and Postclassic burials and caches in monumental architecture at Lamanai also include
elite status markers (Pendergast 1981). Coastal and/or inland transportation
routes may have been used to transport jadeite from the Motagua River valley
and gray obsidian from Maya highland sources. Exotic materials from Honduras include mercury and copper recovered at Lamanai (Pendergast 1982a).
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289

The recovery of turquoise, gold, and copper artifacts made from materials
only available outside the Maya area indicated that Santa Rita Corozal participated in international trade during the Late Postclassic (D. Chase and A.
Chase 1989).
The coastal location of Cerro Maya and Santa Rita Corozal points to coastal
trade as a means for delivering materials to those communities. Exotic materials from Honduras, including copper, mercury, turquoise, and gold, at sites in
the Chetumal Bay area argue for their transportation by long-distance coastal
canoe trade, particularly in the Postclassic with the documentation of coastal
trading ports, including San Juan and Marco Gonzalez on Ambergris Caye.
The linkages between longer-distance coastal canoe trade and inland supply
of marine resources have not been the focus of studies in the Chetumal Bay
drainage, although Graham (1989) linked Marco Gonzalez, situated on the
southern tip of Ambergris Caye, to a Postclassic coastal-inland trading sphere
with Lamanai.

Discussion
How do models of local, regional, and long-distance trade fit with archaeological data from the Chetumal Bay drainage? Waterborne trade and transportation certainly figured prominently in the lives of the ancient Maya in
the area. With limited evidence of dynastic control of the political economy,
the Chetumal Bay drainage area may fit Marcuss (1993) dynamic model of
political organization in which there are shifts from centrally organized to less
centrally organized political power over time and space, in contrast to some
areas of strong political control such as Caracol, where all causeways lead to
the center (A. Chase et al. 2014). There were opportunities in the Chetumal
Bay area for coastal Maya to provide marine resources as well as trade goods
from sea trade routes for transport to inland cities during the Preclassic and
Classic periods and to be links on circum-Yucatn coastal trade during the
Postclassic. In the Port Honduras coastal area of southern Belize, Wild Cane
Cay was a trading port on a long-distance sea trade route from the Late Classic
through the Postclassic periods. With the rise of nearby inland cities during the
Classic period, Wild Cane Cay may have brokered the inland transportation
of salt from the Paynes Creek Salt Works. When they were abandoned due to
lack of customers at the end of the Late Classic period as inland cities were
abandoned, Wild Cane Cay turned its attention to the expanding long-distance
trading opportunities associated with the rise of Chichn Itz and other cities
in the northern Maya lowlands.
The Chetumal Bay area prospered earlier than the Port Honduras area, with
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the precocious development of Cerro Maya and its role in Late Preclassic trade
and exchange with emerging cities throughout the Maya lowlands. Santa Rita
Corozal probably usurped the role in sea trade during the Early Classic. The
Late Classic saw the rise of Marco Gonzalez on the southern end of Ambergris
Cayeperhaps associated with increasing inland demands for salt. In addition, coastal communities on the mainland such as Oxtankah exploited salt
from nearby lagoons, similar to salt production at Northern River Lagoon,
Placencia Lagoon, and the Paynes Creek Salt Works in Punta Ycacos Lagoon.
With the abandonment of most inland cities in the southern lowlands by the
end of the Late Classic, there was an expansion of coastal trading ports around
Yucatn, including Wild Cane Cay and Isla Cerritos, although some ports were
abandoned, including Xcamboperhaps losing its control of salt production
to Isla Cerritos as the coastal port for Chichn Itz. Postclassic settlement in
the Chetumal Bay area was atypical of the southern Maya lowlands. As at Wild
Cane Cay in southern Belize, Postclassic settlement flourished at Lamanai,
at Santa Rita Corozal, and on Ambergris Caye, including two trading ports:
Marco Gonzalez and a new port on the northern end of Ambergris Caye, San
Juan (Guderjan and Garber 1995). In sum, Belizes coastal ports, from Wild
Cane Caye to Cerro Maya, comprised one segment of a wider coastal adaptation considered further by David Freidel in the final chapter of this volume.

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291

16
Maya at the Edge of the World
Thoughts on Chetumal Bay

D AV I D A . F R E I D E L

For the maritime Maya, the people of the coasts, bays, cays, and islands, the
sky was not the only vastness. They could gaze out on an eastern horizon to
where the dawning sun rose directly out of the water and the full moon sheared
sparks of light on the waves. Sustaining a terrestrial world where everything
was potentially animate and mindful, the ambient sea was a manifestly living
presence, conduit of the celestial gods. Grant Joness exegesis of Chetumal as
Che Tamal Cab, tree of the underworld, may be an appropriate allusion to
such a portal place. Late Postclassic and Contact period pilgrims from the interior made their way to the eastern sea, to shrine centers like Xcaret in Quintana
Roo, and to the temple of the oracle of Ix Chel on Cozumel Island. Ix Chel,
Chak Chel of the Classic era, was the cosmic midwife, closely associated with
the youthful fecund Moon Goddess, and with diviners. I believe I discovered
one of the oracular shrines of Ix Chel on Santa Rita ranch in the interior of
Cozumel during my survey of structures on the island (Freidel 1975).
I thought that Cerro Maya might be another Late Postclassic pilgrimage
center, but when I first visited the site in the spring of 1974, the cleared pyramids were decisively not anything like what I had seen on Cozumel or the East
Coast. As Debra Walker (1990) wrote in her dissertation, and as she and Susan
Milbrath describe (Chapter 10), Cerro Maya was indeed a pilgrimage place in
the Late Postclassic, not a town, but a sacred ancient ruin looming on the horizon across the bay from Santa Rita Corozal. In its Terminal Preclassic heyday,
Cerro Maya was a cosmopolitan ceremonial center and community with architectural decoration, and its implied command of religion and politics, rivaling
anything in the interior. Clearly the eastern sea was important from the advent
of complexity in the lowlands.

Figure 16.1. Map of Yucatn, locating sites described in the text. (Illustration by Lucas Martindale Johnson
and Debra Walker.)

We of the first Cerros project hypothesized that this center was a trading
port, building not only on the work of experts studying the Postclassic East
Coast trade centers but also on the evidence of impressive access to exotics
at Preclassic Cerro Maya, sophisticated ceramic styles, cosmopolitan public
art, and a docking facility. Working with fine notes taken by Maynard Cliff,
Sorayya Carr, and Beverly Chiarulli, Debra Walker and Robin Robertson are
making remarkable headway with a synthesis of the shoreline occupation of
Cerro Maya before the area was buried under a wide plaza. Robertson and
Walker (2015) are making a cogent and bold case for the original establishment of the community by traders, presumably seagoing canoe traders, arriving from the northern lowlands in the latter part of the Late Preclassic. As
Heather McKillop (Chapter 15) observes, the geography of the Maya world
looks very different from its edge as compared to its interior. Where we have
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293

substantial documentation in the later periods, the coastal Maya maintained


far-flung connections routinely.
Adding to the plausibility of a northern lowland trade enclave on Chetumal
Bay is the increasing evidence for connections between the Preclassic city of
Yaxuna in north-central Yucatn (Figure 16.1), where I worked in the 1980s and
1990s (Stanton et al. 2010), with interior Petn sites as proposed by Travis Stanton in his study of the precocious E Group at Yaxuna. Stanton (forthcoming)
sees a Preclassic trade route moving salt from the north coast beds overland
to major Preclassic communities such as Yaxnohcah and El Mirador. While
later northern lowland Maya occupied sites near the salt beds more than 100
km north of Yaxuna, Preclassic Maya evidently made ephemeral camps and
staged their gathering operations out of permanent communities farther inland (Scott Johnson personal communication 2014). This scenario, of course,
begs the question of where the canoe-using settlers of Cerro Maya may have
originated. While permanent Preclassic settlements on the East Coast have
not been found, E. Wyllys Andrews IV discovered occupation at Cancn (Andrews IV et al. 1974), and the earliest settlers on Cozumel Island were there in
the Late Preclassic (Connor 1983), routinely braving exceptionally treacherous deep-water currents separating the island from the mainland. Returning
to the interior route, Chacsinkin, with its astounding Middle Preclassic style
cache of jade ornaments redeposited in a Late Classic structure (Andrews V
1986), is on the route from Middle Preclassic Yaxuna to these southerly sites. A
late Middle Preclassic performance platform at Yaxuna discovered by Charles
Suhler (1996; Stanton and Freidel 2005) contained a Middle Preclassicstyle
jade royal celt and mirror cached inside a unique bucket that exhibits some
similarity to the later cache buckets discovered at Cerro Maya.
Debra Walker (Chapter 3) makes a persuasive case for the presence of a
bundle house in the original dockside community at Cerro Maya. This is a very
exciting discovery, as this kind of building may have been an important early
expression of religious and political public activity in Maya communities, particularly in centers with trade functions. Mary Jane Acua (2013) has identified
a Late Preclassic bundle house at the site of El Achiotal in northwestern Petn.
The evidence for the El Achiotal bundle house is iconographic and takes the
form of murals on the walls of the building that depict bundles containing the
trefoil insignia of royalty. Cerro Maya Cache 1 is an actual royal bundle deposited on the summit of Structure 6 during the height of the Preclassic ceremonial center (Freidel 1979), and sat in a complex Kathy Reese-Taylor identified
as an eightfold house of the north dedicated by the primordial creator god
in later Classic mythology (Reese 1996; Reese-Taylor Chapter 2). El Achiotal
is situated on a leveled hill adjacent to the escarpment that defines the western
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David A. Freidel

edge of the Central Karstic Uplands, home to the Preclassic Mirador state. It is
almost due west of the massive center of Tintal, which, in turn, is connected to
El Mirador by a causeway system. Carlos Chiriboga (personal communication
2012), using remote sensing data, suggested that the rainy season floods that
surround El Achiotal with more than a meter of standing water slowly drain to
the San Juan River and thence to the San Pedro Martir. If this occurred in the
past, then canoe-borne commerce could have linked the Mirador state to the
Gulf of Mexico by this route. Acua proposes that El Achiotal was thus a port
for the Mirador state during its initial Late Preclassic ascent, when the style
of the murals on the bundle building is distinctively local, and then during its
apogee, when one with Principal Bird Deity masks broadly similar to those on
Cerro Maya Structure 5C-2nd and on El Mirador Structure 34 replaces it.
The remarkable cosmopolitan architectural art at Cerro Maya, combined
with the impressive size of the pyramids, documents Chetumal Bay as a place
very well integrated into the regional Late Preclassic civilization of the lowlands. In light of the pervasive theme of waterborne commerce in this book
and in other considerations of Chetumal Bay, it seems very likely that Cerro
Maya remained a trading center during the century or more that it functioned
as a major ceremonial center. That view is reinforced by the nature and quality of exotics from that time, including the jade royal jewels found in Cache
1. Reese-Taylor and Walker (2002) have long proposed that Cerro Maya was
a salient of the Mirador state. The connections, in terms of ceramic types, are
complicated and not straightforward. Robin Robertson (Chapter 7) has, however, argued that the pairing of drinking vessels with three strap asymmetrical
handle jars in ritual contexts at Cerro Maya may indicate ideological and institutional ties to the Central Karstic Uplands.
There is another candidate for a Preclassic capital of such a state nearer
by: Ichkabal, situated in southern Quintana Roo just 11 km from Dzibanch
(Lpez Camacho et al. Chapter 4; Walker Chapter 1). That would be plausible if
it is primordial Kaanul,1 a title subsequently held by Dzibanch, and later Calakmul. One might well expect that trade in the honey brown chert of northern
Belize, discussed by Beverly Chiarulli (Chapter 12), would find its way to El
Mirador and other interior sites in more abundance if this were the case. Nevertheless, the mere presence of Cerro Maya in its strategic locality at the edge of
the world makes little sense unless it was representative of such regional state
power. Moreover, there are reasons, as alluded to above, to suspect that Yaxuna
with its prodigious early pyramids was a salient of such a Preclassic hegemon
in the northern lowlands. If the original Cerro Maya trading community was
established by northern traders with existing ties to the Mirador state, it may
have been a relatively direct segue to the ceremonial center phase.
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295

I have proposed (Freidel 2012) that the lowlanders north of the 18th parallel
constituted the heartland population of the Kaanul state. As noted by scholars
over the years, the Central Peninsular Zone2 marks the beginning of territory in which Classic Maya sites contain fewer stelae and display distinctive
architectural conventions. Farther north, stelae are also relatively scarce, and
generally there is little epigraphic evidence of dynasty, founders, or the calculation of succession from founders through male lineages. I have hypothesized
that these patterns are commensurate with succession based more on selection
or election than on primogeniture and that this way of selecting divine kings
may have been typical in the Late Preclassic lowlands and sustained by Kaanul
kings during the Classic. I further speculate that the name of this Classic regime, Kaan, is not only conservatively ancient Maya pronunciation but also
clearly Yucatecan in the Classic period. Yucatecan speakers predominated in
the northern lowlands, and I propose that they were the ethnic faction most
loyal to Kaanul.
Certainly during the Early Classic, the main capital of Kaanul, the state of
the Snake Kings, was the site of Dzibanch in Quintana Roo (Lpez Camacho
et al. Chapter 4; Martin 2005; Nalda 2004a, 2005). Debra Walker (Chapter 1)
observes that Dzibanchs realm is adjacent to the luminous Lake Bacalar and
marine estuary lands later called Siyan Kaan, birthplace of sky or snake. As
contributors to this book make clear (Guderjan Chapter 5; Walker Chapter
3), Dzibanch is connected to Chetumal Bay by a short portage over extensive
watercourses. Looking at the prospects of significant waterborne transport on
the western side of the lowlands during rainy season flood tides, I am sensitive
to the observations of Guderjan (Chapter 5) and others that Chetumal Bay was
the place of convergence for a much wider range of potential transport than we
have traditionally envisioned. Indeed, I am realizing that, as Patrick Culbert,
Chris Jones, and others have long argued, the interior southern lowland Maya
likely had bulk transport by canoe over extensive areas during the rainy season
that are not identifiable as perennial water routes. Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase
and A. Chase 2005) was the Early Classic successor community to Cerro Maya
on southern Chetumal Bay. The wealth of offerings in the royal tomb context
of Structure 7 at Santa Rita Corozal (D. Chase and A. Chase 2005) shows that
despite the lack of massive architecture on the scale of Cerro Maya, this was
likely a strategic trade town aligned with Dzibanch.
Santa Rita Corozal in the Early Classic period may have been relatively
modest in scale compared to Preclassic Cerro Maya, but it was evidently not
out of the ordinary for settlement near Chetumal Bay. As Javier Lpez Camacho and his colleagues observe (Chapter 4), the Classic period communities
north and west of the New River in Quintana Roo have been known for some
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time (Harrison 1981) to be designed around clusters of civic religious architecture rather than substantial aggregates of such buildings as in Petn. Lpez
Camacho and his associates, citing the path-breaking work of Enrique Nalda
(2004a, 2004b, 2005) and his collaborators, suggests that these nodes of public
activity functioned as parts of an administrative whole while at the same time
effectively integrating communities of dispersed inhabitants of the ambient
realms. They propose that such dispersed aggregates of civic religious architecture were related by orientation to the sky and perforce the sun path. This
is an idea shared by James Doyle (2013) in his discussion of founding E Group
centers in Petn during the Middle Preclassic and Francisco Estrada-Bellis
(forthcoming) notion of E Groups as coordinating civic religious complexes
around Cival in northeastern Petn. Camacho and colleagues attribute this
distinctive settlement pattern in Quintana Roo to innovations by kings of the
Kaanul regime who ascended in the region during the fifth century AD. Their
arguments appear to be promising and productive, based on the relatively robust epigraphic record of Kaan lords from Dzibanch and sites in its dispersed
urban zone. The general thrust of these interpretations is that Chetumal Bay
was perhaps part of greater Kaanul during the Early Classic expansion of that
realm. If this was so, in light of its trade it was probably strategically important
to the political economy of the Kaan regime.
Several of the contributors to this volume (Aimers et al. Chapter 8; Chiarulli
Chapter 12; Robertson Chapter 7) observe that locally made tools and artifacts
reflect the enduring access of Chetumal Bay people to nonlocal resources reflective of its trading traditions. In the case of the famous honey brown chert
of northern Belize, while it is not surprising that Cerro Maya shows access
comparable to sites nearer the chert-bearing zone to the south, it is surprising to me that this superior material was not more widely distributed in the
regional exchange networks of the lowlands. Thomas Hester and Harry Shafer
(1989) do report that there were some Colha-like stemmed macroblade knives
in Preclassic contexts at El Mirador, and tools from this zone show up in small
numbers in other interior sites they discuss. Nevertheless, the consumer catchment area for the prodigious production of tools in the Late Preclassic was
evidently primarily northern Belize and southern Quintana Roo, the regions
around greater Chetumal Bay. To be sure, there are many other sources of chert
in the Maya lowlands, and so this is not a resource that was definitively scarce
like obsidian, but it is telling that the pre-Columbian Maya had their own ways
of determining value and prestige in commodities that do not necessarily jibe
with our own modern notions of aesthetics.
The shell industry of Chetumal Bay, discussed by Melgar Tsoc (Chapter 11)
from the vantage of Oxtankah in Quintana Roo, is intriguing because evidently
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297

the mollusca fished from the bay itself were small and used for soup, leaving
no shell middens. The shell used for tools came through exploitation elsewhere
on the edge of this world, mostly local but including some Spondylus and other
species from the Pacific at least during the Classic period. My colleagues and I
proposed (Freidel et al. 2002) that Spondylus emerged as a valued commodity
and currency in the Late Preclassic period at places such as Cerro Maya and
that it was largely an exotic commodity. As Melgar Tsoc notes, shell studies
have to document species to determine if one is dealing with exotics from afar
or more local resources.
Chetumal Bay in the Postclassic was clearly a flourishing trade zone with
Ichpaatun in the north (Guderjan Chapter 5) and Santa Rita Corozal in the
south (Milbrath and Walker Chapter 10; Oland Chapter 6). Coastal trade
was lucrative farther to the south and north along the Caribbean littoral (McKillop Chapter 15). What I find very interesting are the ethnohistorical accounts describing Chetumal Bay as an agrarian heartland with cacao
groves, staple crops, and a busy honey and wax industry. The subtle variability
in deity representation in the ceramic effigies as described by Milbrath and
Walker (Chapter 10) suggests that the Postclassic lowlands witnessed a range
of innovations in religious practices in the centuries following the Classic. The
remarkable murals discovered at Santa Rita Corozal evince cosmopolitan innovation along with reference to age-old gods of the ancestral Maya. These
people, like their forebears on Chetumal Bay, knew that beyond their edge of
the world lay others to which they could voyage, and from which they could
welcome strangers. It is perhaps not coincidental that it was here Gonzalo de
Guerrero made his home and threw in his lot with the people of the bay against
the encroaching Europeans.

Notes
1. Kaanul translates as Snake Land, the name of the realm formally declared by Calakmul
King Yuknoom Cheen II in AD 635, as inscribed on a stair tread at La Corona and deciphered
by David Stuart.
2. Also known as the Rio Bec zone.

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CONTRIBUTORS

James Aimers is associate professor of anthropology at the State University of


New York, Geneseo. His research interests include Maya pottery and architecture, material culture studies, and anthropological approaches to gender and
sexuality. He edited the volume Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis,
and Interpretation.
Timothy Beach is professor of geography and the C. B. Smith, Sr., Centennial
Chair at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include Maya
wetlands agriculture. He has published more than 80 peer-reviewed publications and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science.
Clifford Brown is associate professor of anthropology at Florida Atlantic University. His research interests include lithic and ceramic analysis, settlement
patterns, social organization, and ethnoarchaeology in Mesoamerica and the
southeastern United States.
Beverly A. Chiarulli is associate professor of anthropology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has studied lithic artifacts from Belize, including
Cerro Maya.
Lisa G. Duffy is a Ph.D. candidate in environmental archaeology at the Florida
Museum of Natural History, University of Florida. She received an M.A. in anthropology at the University of Central Florida with a focus on Maya archaeology. Her research interests include ancient Maya cuisine and food-processing
technology, ground stone tool analysis, zooarchaeology, and chemical residue
analysis.

Dori Farthing is assistant professor of geological sciences at the State University of New York, Geneseo. Her research focuses on the mineralogy, petrology,
and geochemistry of archaeological materials, namely metallurgical slag and
pottery.
David A. Freidel is professor of archaeology at Washington University. He
studies the emergence and florescence of government institutions among the
lowland Maya, and he is currently working at the site of El Peru (Waka) in
Petn, Guatemala. The author of many books and articles on the Maya, he
initiated research at Cerro Maya (Cerros), Belize, on Chetumal Bay in 1974.
Elizabeth Graham is professor of Mesoamerican archaeology at the Institute
of Archaeology, University College London, U.K. She has carried out over four
decades of research in Belize and is currently working at the sites of Marco
Gonzalez on Ambergris Caye and Lamanai in northern Belize. Her recent
book on the Maya during the contact period is Maya Christians and Their
Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize.
Thomas Guderjan is associate professor of anthropology and director of the
Center for Social Sciences Research at the University of Texas at Tyler, and
president of the Maya Research Program, a not-for-profit corporation. He has
conducted nearly three decades of field research on Ambergris Caye and in
northwestern Belize. He is the author of numerous journal articles, book chapters, and books on the archaeology of Belize and the southern United States
and is proudly a former student of David Friedel.
Elizabeth Haussner is a graduate student in the Geology Department at the
University of Cincinnati. She received her bachelors degree in geological science at the State University of New York, Geneseo. Her research interests focus
on a variety of aspects of archaeological geology, including ceramic petrography and sedimentology.
Linda Howie is founder and managing director of HD Analytical Solutions;
she is also assistant professor at Brescia University College. She specializes in
materials research, including ceramic petrography. Her research includes the
technical analysis of the pottery of Lamanai and northern Belize.
Samantha Krause is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geography and
the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin. She studies ditched ag338

Contributors

ricultural systems in Mesoamerica and the southwestern United States and


has been involved with wetlands agricultural research in northwestern Belize
for seven years. She has authored and coauthored several articles on the topic.
Javier Lpez Camacho is research professor in anthropology at the Escuela
Nacional de Antropologa e Historia (ENAH) and is responsible for the region
of southeastern Quintana Roo bordering the Rio Hondo. He has worked in
Quintana Roo for over two decades, focusing on settlement survey and mapping projects at previously unknown sites in the region.
Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach is professor and chair of the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research
interests include geoarchaeology and hydrology in Mesoamerica, the Mediterranean and Near East, and Iceland.
Marc D. Marino is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Arkansas. His research interests include lithic technology, chemical sourcing,
and geospatial analysis. He has conducted fieldwork in Belize, Honduras, and
Mexico.
Lucas R. Martindale Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Florida and a senior archaeologist and lithic analyst at Far Western
Anthropological Group, Inc. in Davis, California. He has carried out research
on lithic technology and the organization of household crafting at Caracol, Belize. His current dissertation research project at Caracol aims to synthesize 32
years of obsidian collections to better understand the sourcing of raw material,
local crafting techniques, site exchange mechanisms for household provisioning, and the ritualization of obsidian.
Heather McKillop is professor of anthropology at Louisiana State University.
She has carried out archaeological fieldwork on the coast, cays, and underwater
along the coast of Belize since 1979, and is currently working at waterlogged
sites in Paynes Creek National Park. She is the author of many publications on
Maya economics and trade.
Nathan J. Meissner is a visiting assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has conducted fieldwork and lithic analysis in Guatemala,
Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. His interests include Postclassic Maya economies and the intersection of social identity, production, and exchange.
Contributors

339

Emiliano Ricardo Melgar Tsoc is research professor in archaeology at the Templo Mayor Museum, INAH, Mexico. He specializes in shell and lapidary technological analysis using experimental archaeology and Scanning Electron Microscopy. He is director of the Style and Technology of Lapidary Objects from
Ancient Mexico Project at INAH. He is currently analyzing turquoise objects
from the American Southwest and jadeite pieces from Mexico and Guatemala.
Susan Milbrath is Latin American curator at the Florida Museum of Natural
History and an affiliate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida.
Her research on Postclassic Mesoamerica includes more that 25 articles and
book chapters on the codices and Postclassic sites, especially Mayapn, and
her books featuring Mesoamerican cultural astronomy include Star Gods of the
Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore and Calendars, Heaven and Earth in Ancient
Mexico: Astronomy and Seasonal Cycles in the Codex Borgia, and, most recently,
Cosmology, Calendars, and Horizon-Based Astronomy in Ancient Mesoamerica,
coedited with Anne Dowd.
Satoru Murata is a recent Ph.D. (Boston University) and affiliate assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire. He is interested in craft production and
ancient technologies, but is also invested in modern technologies that enable and
empower archaeological research, such as remote sensing, geographic information systems, database management, and other computer-aided fieldwork.
Maxine Oland is a visiting lecturer in anthropology at Smith College. She
specializes in the late precontact and Colonial periods in the Maya area of
Mesoamerica. She recently coedited a book entitled Decolonizing Indigenous
Histories: Exploring Prehistoric/Colonial Transitions in Archaeology.
Terry Powis is associate professor of anthropology in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia.
He is the director of the Pacbitun Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP) in
west-central Belize. Terry specializes in Maya pottery, diet and subsistence,
and the evolution of complex societies. His recent research has focused on the
origin of chocolate in the New World.
Kathryn Reese-Taylor is associate professor of archaeology at the University of
Calgary. She is director of the Yaxnohcah Archaeological Project in Campeche,
Mexico, studying the development of complexity among the Maya during the
Preclassic era. She is the author of numerous publications on the Maya.
340

Contributors

Robin Robertson was the assistant director and ceramicist on the original
Cerros (Cerro Maya) Project. She currently holds a research position at the
University of Texas at San Antonio after a career leading independent schools.
Recently she has analyzed the Native American collections in Truro, Massachusetts, and is now revising earlier work on the Late Preclassic material
from Cerro Maya as she and Debra Walker prepare the final site report for
publication.
Luis A. Torres Daz is a researcher at the Laboratorio de Geomtica de la Direccin de Operacin de Sitios de la Coordinacin Nacional de Arqueologa del
Instituto Nacional de Antropologa e Historia (INAH, Mexico). He has worked
on various projects in the Maya area, principally on survey, and he teaches at
the Escuela Nacional de Antropologa e Historia.
Araceli Vzquez Villegas is a researcher and instructor at the Laboratorio
de Topografa de la Escuela Nacional de Antropologa e Historia del INAH,
Mexico. She has worked in southern Quintana Roo on survey and mapping
projects, and has analyzed Maya ceramics.
Debra S. Walker is a research curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History
in Gainesville. She specializes in Maya ceramic analysis and has worked at sites
in northern Belize including Cerro Maya and Colha, as well as at Naachtun,
Petn, Guatemala. Currently she is ceramicist for the Yaxnohcah Archaeological Project in Campeche, Mexico.

Contributors

341

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INDEX

Acalan, 95
Achiote, 21, 26, 28, 73, 96, 106, 264
El Achiotal, 29495
Achote Black, 166
Afterlife, 56, 59, 61, 67, 69, 71, 73, 75
Agriculture: commercial, 92, 94, 97, 100, 102,
1056; ditched field, 96101, 105; drained
field, 287; in general, 248, 274; maize, 26, 35,
275; milpa, 106, 248, 275, 289; swidden, 96
Aguacatal, 126, 151
Aguacate Orange, 125, 134, 147
Aguada, 4, 85
Aguila Orange, 8687
Ah cuch cab, 109
Los Alacranes, 14, 90
Alacranes Bajo, 4, 97
Albion Island, 15, 97, 99100, 105
Almeja Gray, 128, 135
Altar de Sacrificios, 147
Altun Ha, 237, 281
Ambergris Caye: ceramics from, 14950, 153,
15556, 158, 161; geography of, 6, 8; Late Preclassic settlement on, 48; political affiliation
of, 22; as a port of trade, 105, 282, 28788,
29091; shell industries from, 237; sites on,
1011, 1819
Andrews, E. Wyllys V, 132, 135, 140, 146, 147,
280, 294
Antler tine, 69, 71
Aragon, 18
Archaeological site. See specific site names
Archaeological survey: on the coast, 23, 280,
28283; on Cozumel Island, 292; of Noh
Kah region, 83, 86, 88, 90, 97, 99; of northern Belize, 13; on Progresso Lagoon, 115; of
shell habitats, 21722, 230, 292; of Uaymil,
29; of the Xkalak Peninsula, 12

Archaic period, 8, 11, 1420, 3637, 102


Ascencin Bay, 6, 235, 237
Audiencia, 93
August Pine Ridge, 10, 11
Aventura, 10, 13, 17, 25, 242
Avocado, 284
Aztec, 248, 281
Bacalar, 6, 10, 14, 2122, 24, 37, 42, 46, 52, 56,
9396, 111, 296
Baclam Orange, 134
Balanza Black, 87
Ballcourt, 47, 51, 125, 26465, 26971, 27475
Bandera, 18, 46
Barrier reef, 8, 155, 282, 284, 287
Barton Ramie, 12627, 151, 153, 15960
Basil Jones, 19
Batab, 109
Bead, 3839, 44, 47, 6970, 142, 208, 22426,
228. See also Jadeite; Shell industries
Bean, 36, 96, 274
Becan, 126, 128, 13435, 138, 14041, 147
Beclum Blanco, 129, 134
Bee: in general, 24, 28, 195, 2067; god, 2067.
See also Diving god; Honey
Belize Coastal Plain, 101
Belize Postclassic Project, 115
Belize Red, 284
Belize River, 9596, 153
Benque Viejo (Santa Cruz), 16
Betz Landing, 17, 3536
Birds of Paradise Fields, 101, 1034, 106
Blue crab, 45, 66
Blue Creek: archaeology of, 97, 99; ceramics of,
130, 13840, 142; ditched fields of, 100101,
1056; economy of, 28, 91; periods of occupation, 1011, 15; trade with, 282, 289

Bobche Smudged, 131, 135, 148


Boca Bacalar Chico, 6
Bravo Escarpment, 99, 101, 104
Bribri Black Composite, 128, 133
Briquetage, 28789. See also Salt
British colonial influence, 21, 9394, 190, 203,
208, 242. See also Colonial period
Broad spectrum horticulture, 28, 36
Bundle burial, 47, 64, 69, 73, 295
Bundle house, 64, 6667, 74, 294
Burial: ceramics in, 13233, 136, 14042;
Contact period, 114, 120; elite, 228, 234, 281;
Preclassic period, 42, 45, 26972; Postclassic
period, 189, 19192, 209; at Santa Rita Corozal, 3738, 40, 47, 52; at Wild Cane Cay,
284, 286, 289. See also Cerro Maya burials
Burning Water, 19
Burying ground, 5859, 61, 67, 74, 27071
Cabro Red: at Cerro Maya, 9, 6465, 6970,
141, 143, 147; definition of, 75, 12528, 132; at
Lamanai, 168, 178; at Santa Rita Corozal, 52;
with trickle technique, 140; at Yaxnohcah,
51, 143
Cacao: beverage, 67, 96, 14243, 271; as cash
crop, 21, 26, 28, 90, 96, 106; chocolate pot,
134; ethnohistoric accounts of, 93, 9596,
206; ground on metate, 264; iconography
on effigy censer, 208; and settlement system,
effect on, 96, 298; as trade good, 73, 253,
27475, 281
Cache: ceramics in, 133, 136, 14142, 144;
ground stone in, 26970; in general, 289;
Preclassic period, 42, 4445, 47, 5051, 73,
29495; Postclassic period, 113, 116, 18889,
19192, 195, 202, 2067, 209; Terminal
Classic period, 100. See also Cerro Maya
caches
Caciques house, 114
Calabash Unslipped Ware, 15152, 160
Calakmul, 2425, 51, 128, 132, 143, 147, 295, 298
Calcite: geology of, 17071, 17374, 17682;
inclusions, 126, 134, 156, 159
Caledonia, 16, 242
Campeche, 22, 90, 151
Canal, 6, 56, 6061, 104, 125, 265, 269
Cancn, 217, 294
Canoe: in battle, seized, 95; at the dock, 58; efficiency of, 237, 24850; inland, 281; interior
wetland routes, 144; long-distance, 282,
285, 28788, 290, 29396; model of, 281;
oceangoing (seafaring), 105, 281; paddle,
344

Index

282; trade routes, 3, 56, 75, 162, 235, 279;


transport, 8, 12, 56, 69, 73, 105, 279, 284
Cao Modeled, 189
Caramba Red-on-orange, 131, 147
Caribbean Zone, 219
Carolina/Ranchito 2, 17
Cash crop, 21, 96, 106
Caucel Trickle-on-red, 140, 143
Caye Coco: geography of, 6; periods of occupation, 10, 13, 17, 31; Preceramic period
of, 3537; Postclassic period of, 109, 11518,
12021, 183, 187
Caye Muerto, 17, 116
Cayetano Trichrome, 147
Cayman Modeled, 130
Cayo Venado, 218
Cayo Violin, 218
Cedar Bank, 108
Ceibal, 126, 134, 139
Cenote (sinkhole), 4
Cenote (site), 18
Censer: censer cult, 29, 110, 116, 118, 121, 186,
212; disposal of, 116; distribution of, 118;
effigy, 27, 170; frying pan, 166; in general,
113, 120, 142, 170, 231; iconographic analysis
of, 18697, 199213; paste analysis of, 176,
18384. See also Chen Mul Modeled; Kol
Modeled
Central Peninsular Zone, 296. See also Rio Bec
Ceramic: analysis, 57, 86, 126; decoration,
127, 129, 140, 143, 147, 166, 182, 200; fabric,
171; grog temper, 17779, 18182; paste
inclusions, 126, 15559, 17173, 17683;
production, 12; sequence, 113, 125, 15152,
160, 172; temper, 27, 134, 156, 15859, 161,
17071, 173, 17682; thin sections, 15556,
158
Ceramic complex. See individual complex
names
Ceramic type. See individual type names
Cerro Maya: ceramics from, 26, 12547,
151, 15455, 165, 169, 183; chert industry
at, 28, 23335, 23738, 24042, 24449;
as Colonial capital, 23; dock at, 3; effigy
censers from, 26, 18692, 19596, 198203,
20610, 212; ground stone industry at, 28,
26476; occupation periods, 910, 17; Op
1, 60, 62, 6667, 242; Op 25, 189; Op 33,
6061, 67, 69; Op 34, 67, 12526, 14446,
242; Op 41, 63; as port of trade, 13, 3133,
280, 282, 284, 28798; Preclassic occupation, 42, 4455; and residential dispersion,

29; shell industry at, 222; Terminal Classic


period at, 26; waterfront burying ground
at, 56, 5861, 6667, 72; waterfront village
at, 3032, 4245, 48, 7475, 12526, 14344,
242, 26465, 26975
Cerro Maya burials: anchoring ancestor, 60,
66, 68, 74; Burial 1, 6970, 7374; Burial
2, 67, 27172; Burial 3, 141; Burial 5, 73;
Burial 8, 6970, 73; Burial 9, 67; Burial
10, 6667, 286; Burial 11, 73, 141; Burial 13,
6466, 74; Burial 14, 6465; Burial 15, 68,
74; Burial 16, 67, 73, 136, 27071; Burial
17/19, 66, 141; Burial 20/30, 66; Burial 22,
67; Burial 23, 61, 67, 69, 73; Burial 26, 66;
Burial 27, 60; Burial 31, 6061; Burial 35,
142, 189, 209; Burial 36, 60; Burial 37, 60;
cenotaph, 62, 67, 136, 270; cist grave, 61, 63,
67, 69; container burial, 61, 6467, 7071,
74; cross-legged burial, 6771, 74; funerary
subcomplex, 64; general chart, 6263; Late
Preclassic burials at, 26, 5675; occipital
flattening, 68; seated burial, 61, 7172
Cerro Maya caches: Cache 1, 47, 50, 142,
29495; Cache 3, 189, 202, 207; Cache 6, 189;
Cache 7, 189, 209; Cache 17, 195, 2067
Cerro Maya small finds (SF) catalog numbers:
SF-012, 67, 27172; SF-013, 69; SF-024,
69; SF-027, 67, 133; SF-028, 69; SF-029,
67, 271; SF-037, 69-70; SF-041, 6970;
SF-051, 141; SF-071A-G, 69; SF-078, 69;
SF-104, 62, 67, 272; SF-108, 6970; SF-109,
6970; SF-110, 70; SF-112, 62; SF-113, 62;
SF-115, 62, 6970; SF-118, 69; SF-120, 70;
SF-122, 6970; SF-123, 62, 6970; SF-150,
14142; SF-154, 142; SF-287, 66; SF-290,
133; SF-334, 62, 141; SF-395, 68; SF-396,
27071; SF-407, 69; SF-426, 69; SF-481, 195,
207; SF-484, 68; SF-485, 133; SF-489, 68,
133; SF-498, 136; SF-499, 68; SF-501, 133;
SF-503, 63, 133; SF-507, 62, 6869; SF-508,
66; SF-512AB, 68; SF-515, 6465; SF-516,
66, 141; SF-519, 6465; SF-524, 68; SF-566,
195, 208; SF-663, 195, 202; SF-694, 69, 71;
SF-695, 69, 71; SF-712, 69, 71; SF-755, 63,
69, 71; SF-799, 141; SF-800, 133; SF-831, 195,
20910; SF-897, 69, 71; SF-920, 133; SF-954,
69; SF-1013, 267; SF-1360, 136; SF-1363, 66;
SF-1612, 133; SF-1964, 6465; SF-1965, 45;
SF-1967-1978, 45; SF-4033, 62, 67; SF-4034,
62, 67; SF-4169, 190
Cerro Maya structures: Eight North House, 47,
49; Plaza 2A, 60, 265, 269; Structure 2A-Sub

1, 6063, 6668, 70, 74, 27071; Structure


2A-Sub 3, 44, 6067, 69, 71, 74; Structure
2A-Sub 4, 60, 63; Structure 2A-Sub 12, 45;
Structure 3, 47; Structure 4, 47, 188, 189, 199,
2069, 212, 266, 269; Structure 5, 57, 269,
295; Structure 6, 47, 54, 84, 206, 294; Structure 8, 47; Structure 11, 269; Structure 21, 53;
Structure 29, 47, 273; Structure 50, 47, 265,
269, 271, 275; Structure 61, 27071; Structure
98, 57, 6061
Cerros Project, 23, 293. See also Cerro Maya
Cerros Research Online Catalogue (CROC),
147
Chac: rain god, 10, 18, 15455, 19496, 199,
2024, 207. See also Tlaloc
Chac Balam, 10, 18, 15455
Chacsinkin, 294
Chactoc Red and Buff, 47, 69, 70, 130, 142
Chac Xib Chac, 194, 203
Chalcedony: as a resource, 21, 118, 234, 238,
251, 25354, 25657, 260, 26263, 287, 289;
as a temper or inclusion, 173, 17781. See
also Chert; Chipped stone industries
Chama, 22021, 223, 226, 228
Champotn, 18788, 212
Chan Cahal, 100106; ditched field model, 102
Chan Chen, 16, 242
Chanlacan, 10, 114, 122
Chase, Arlen, 13, 23, 37, 41, 72, 11213, 146,
15960, 234
Chase, Diane, 13, 23, 37, 40, 42, 52, 11213, 146,
211, 234
Chau Hiix, 16, 235, 237, 245, 247
El Chayal obsidian source, 73, 231, 235, 23738,
24041, 260
Cheen, 24
Chen Mul Modeled: at Lamanai, 170, 176,
18384; at Mayapn, 187, 213; at Oxtankah,
231; at Progresso Lagoon, 110, 116, 118, 120,
121. See also Kol Modeled
Chert: ceremonial bar, 234; Colha-like, 71, 73,
234, 25362; debitage, 6970, 73; in ground
stone production, 270, 273; non-Colha-like,
257, 26062, 264; in replication studies,
22731; as a resource, 118, 238, 251, 25363;
as a temper or inclusion, 170, 17374,
17681; tools, 35, 6871, 73, 246; as a trade
good, 21, 2728, 42, 46, 73, 138, 165, 23353,
28687, 289, 295, 297. See also Chalcedony;
Chipped stone industries
Chert bearing zone, 12, 21, 27, 174, 243, 263,
289, 297
Index

345

Chetumal province, 22, 9394, 107, 113, 188,


206, 234
Chicago Orange, 134
Chicanel Ceramic Sphere, 9, 41, 130, 166
Chichn Itz: ceramic affiliation with, 12; ethnohistory of, 2425; Postclassic iconography
in, 187, 19899, 212, 281; Terminal Classic
period in, 47, 109; trade routes to, 22, 235,
237, 29091
Chili peppers, 96, 266
Chipped stone industries: axe, 246; biface,
36, 6869, 71, 73, 242, 24649, 25362;
biface thinning flake, 25556, 261; blade,
67, 73, 11718, 120, 230, 24041, 25359, 261;
blade core, 21, 287; blade fragment, 62, 253,
25557, 261; blade segment, 238; blank, 69,
73, 255; celt, 71, 259, 262, 294; constricted
uniface, 3536; core, 21, 27, 35, 69, 248,
25557, 259, 261, 287; cortex, 69, 25657,
261; craft production, 118, 251, 253, 263;
debitage, 69, 73, 22425, 243, 251, 25456,
261; eccentric, 242, 246; expedient tool,
235, 246, 261; flake, 35, 6971, 118, 22829,
231, 24243, 245, 25459, 26162; hammerstone, 36, 69, 257; knappers bag, 117; lithic
workshop, 233, 242; macroblade, 262; oval
bifaces, 73, 242, 246, 24849, 259; pick, 68;
point preform, 25556, 258, 262; projectile
point, 11718, 25354, 25658, 26063; reduction sequence, 25556, 261; side-notched
projectile point, 117; stemmed macroblade,
70, 242, 24647, 249, 297; striking platform,
238, 255; T-shaped adze, 42, 234; tranchet
adze, 24243, 24546, 248; tranchet flake,
24243, 245. See also Chalcedony; Chert;
Obsidian
Chowacol, 29
Chultun, 63, 69, 13839
Chunox, 9, 18, 126
Chunox Hard Ware, 126
Ciego Composite: and expedient pottery
technology, 151; at Becan and Komchen, 135,
138; at Cerro Maya, 12728, 137; at Edzna,
137; at Lamanai and Colha, 138, 16768; in
northern Belize, 148: and salt production,
73, 138, 14345
Cizbiques, 96. See also Vanilla
Cliff, Maynard, 43, 56, 293,
Cloth, 47, 69, 117, 194. See also Cotton
Clustered dispersed settlement, 13, 26, 2930,
60, 78, 8790, 125, 235, 275
Cob, 188
346

Index

Cob Swamp, 35
Cobweb Swamp, 35, 245, 249
El Cocal, 41, 52, 219
Coconut Walk Unslipped, 27, 14958, 160
Coh Phase (Cerro Maya), 125
Colha: burials patterns from, 7273; ceramics
from, 12627, 130, 134, 138, 140, 144, 147,
169, 190; chert tool production from, 42,
69; chert trade from, 28, 71, 165, 23334,
23738, 24250, 25254, 25663, 28687;
periods of occupation, 1011, 17; Preceramic
occupation of, 35
Colonial period (Contact period): archaeological remains from, 10, 12, 1420; church,
113; codices, 142, 186, 200; ethnohistoric
accounts, 3, 22, 29, 31, 9293, 95, 106,
10722, 154, 16365, 16973, 188, 192, 209,
213, 226, 235, 248; in general, 2627; petrography of ceramics in, 176, 18085; rule,
107, 116, 122
Colsons Point, 152, 280
Columbus, Christopher, 279
Commerce, 31, 233, 295
Condemned Point/Ramonal, 18
Consejo, 16, 40, 167, 178
Cooking vessel, 135, 148
Copal, 96, 187, 191, 193, 196
Copper, 114, 164, 279, 286, 28990
Copperbank Caye, 18
Copperbank Village, 6
Coral: carvings, 279; jewelry, 6970; limestone
formation, 174; in manos, 27071, 27374;
reef environment, 223, 287; rock foundations, 283
Corn, 45, 111, 153, 279, 284. See also Maize
La Corona, 298
Corozal Bay: geography of, 6; sites on, 1011,
13, 37, 60, 72, 265; stone tool trade on,
23335, 238, 245, 248, 250
Corozal Postclassic Project, 37
Corozal Town: geography of, 6, 13, 23; effigy
censers from, 192; ethnohistoric accounts
of, 110
Corozo palms, 79
Correlo Incised Dichrome, 131, 139, 147
Corts, Hernn, 95
Cosmic Monster, 201
Cotton, 28, 96, 194, 279. See also Cloth
Council house, 116. See also Multepal
Cozumel Island, 23, 162, 188, 206, 292, 294
Cuchcabal, 10910
Cuchteel system, 21, 27, 30, 109

Cuello: burials from, 40, 42, 72; ceramics from,


12627, 134, 140, 147; excavations at, 13;
periods of occupation, 16; stone tools from,
23435; Swasey ceramic sphere at, 9, 12, 38;
in trade network, 237, 245, 24749
La Curva, 20
Dvila, Alonso, 95, 11014
Daylight Orange, 100, 166
Deer god, 195, 20910, 212
Direct historical approach, 113
Diving god, 19495, 2067, 213. See also Bee;
Honey
Dock: above Blue Creek, 97100; at Cerro
Maya, 3, 26, 4344, 56, 5860, 67, 7475,
12526; commodities found on, 7374, 141,
143, 145, 148, 242; decommissioned, 47, 51
Dos Arroyos Orange Polychrome, 8687
Doubloon Bank Lagoon, 17, 3536
Dreiss, Meredith, 23739
Dresden Codex, 193, 19799, 2013, 205, 210,
213
Drinking vessel, 47, 67, 69, 125, 132, 14144,
146, 271, 295
Dzalpach Composite, 128, 134
Dzibanch: and Kaanul dynasty, 1213, 24, 31,
8791, 29597; clustered dispersed settlement at, 76; Early Classic occupation of, 52,
5455, 75; effigy censers from, 18788, 192,
199, 206, 212; geography of, 6; occupations
at, 1011, 15; Preclassic occupation of, 41,
49, 76
Dzibilchaltun, 129, 137, 148, 206, 280
Dzilam Green Incised, 143
Dzul, 94
Dzuluinicob, 16, 2223, 31, 9396, 113, 185
Ear flare, 70, 22425
East Snake Cay, 284
Edzna, 126, 132, 13435, 137, 139
Effigy censer, 27, 29, 184, 18694, 19697,
199201, 20313. See also Chen Mul Modeled; Kol Modeled
Ejido, 78, 9091, 106
Ek Chuah, the merchant god, 19596, 199,
2089
Ek Luum, 15455
Ek Way Nal Salt Works, 289
Elites: in archaeological context, 9, 112, 114,
11617, 12022, 144, 223, 230, 246; as ancestors, 26, 6768, 270; ethnohistoric accounts
of, 11012, 114, 122, 163; in governance, 32,

46, 74, 90, 106, 280, 287, 289. See also Status
markers
Encomienda, 3, 26, 31, 9293, 111, 114
Entrada, 23, 30, 107
Epidemic disease, 111
Equinox, 209
Eric Villaneuva, 20
Erosion: coastal, 5961, 67; of soil, 99, 101, 103.
See also Sea level rise
La Esperanza, 286
Esperanza, Catfish Bight/Blue Heron Cove, 18
Espiritu Santo Bay, 6
El Estrecho de Isla Tamalcab, 14
European colonization, 107. See also Colonial
period
Exotic goods. See Trade
Expedient technology, 160
Extraction scars, 223
False bird of paradise, 104
False Cay, 280
Feasting, 110, 117
Felipe Carrillo Puerto, 29
Fermented beverage, 73, 144, 148
Fine Orange, 231
Fish: barracuda, 66, 284, 287; bonefish, 66,
287; catfish, 18, 66, 287; in general, 21,
45, 64, 69, 73, 228, 23031, 270, 284, 287;
grunts, 284, 287; jacks, 284, 287; mangrove
snappers, 284; mojarra, striped (xihua), 66,
23031; mullet, 66; parrotfish, 66, 284, 287;
pompano, 66; shark, 66; snapper, 284, 287;
surgeonfish, 66, 287; tarpon, 287; triggerfish, 284, 287; yellowfin tuna, 66
Fishing, 52, 27475. See also Fish
Flagstone floor, 26
Flor Cream, 126, 130, 134, 168
Florida Museum of Natural History, 56, 75,
265, 276
Foodways, 265, 275
Fort San Felipe, 22
Franco, 19
Fred Smith, 17, 3536
Free trade zone, 21, 31. See also Trade
Freidel, David, 29, 56, 125, 144, 146, 163, 187,
253, 242
Frenchmans Cay, 284
Freshwater Creek, 6, 1718, 22, 3537, 106, 176,
249
Frontier, colonial, 22, 108, 11112, 122
Fruit trees, in groves, 95
Fuensalida, Fray Bartolom de, 96
Index

347

Gann, Thomas, 13
Gavilan Black-on-orange, 125
Geology of northern Belize, 4, 172, 174
God A. See Sac Cimi
God B. See Tlaloc; Chac
God D. See Itzamna
God E. See Maize
God G. See Kinich Ahau
God K. See Kawil
God M. See Ek Chuah
God N. See Pauahtuns
God Y. See Deer god
Gold, 93, 28990
Gran Cacao, 101
Gray Fox, 97
Ground stone industries: basalt, 46, 117,
164, 22731; in general, 27, 11819, 122,
26375, 285; granite, 117, 164, 227; mano,
26, 28, 64, 67, 118, 26475; mano, onehanded, 264, 26668; mano, two-handed,
264, 26668; metate, 26, 28, 62, 67, 118,
230, 235, 26475; reciprocal motion grinding, 28, 26466, 268, 270, 272, 27475;
rotary motion grinding, 28, 26465, 268,
270, 272, 275
Guacamallo Red-on-orange, 52, 125
Guano kum, 85
Guerrero, 19, 52, 219, 298
Gulf of Honduras, 4, 32
Gulf of Mexico, 219, 295
Haab cycle, 193, 205, 212
Haab monthly rites: Ceh, 209; Chen, 12, 193;
Mac, 2045, 209; Mol, 207; Muan, 204,
2078; Pop, 196, 2034; Tzec, 147, 204, 207;
Uayeb, 19394, 19697, 199200, 2025,
21213; Yax, 24, 19394, 204; Zip, 204,
20911
Halach uinic, 10910, 121
Hammond, Norman, 13, 29, 23537
Hancock, 19
Harrison, Peter, 29, 76, 99, 100
Harrison-Buck, Eleanor, 96
Hector Creek Unslipped, 15254, 159
Hester, Thomas, 42, 242, 245, 248, 249, 254,
258, 297
Heterarchy, 30
Hexagonal lattices, 29
Hickatee Cave, 108
Hillbank, 17
Hippolito, 29
Hobnil, 19495, 207
348

Index

Hogplum, 284
Hol can be, 24
Hondo River. See Rio Hondo
Honduras: trade goods from, 28586, 28990;
trade routes to, 95, 164
Honey: containers for, 206; ethnohistoric accounts of, 2067; honeycomb (beeswax), 28,
73, 204, 298; product of Chetumal region,
21, 28, 73, 253, 274, 298. See also Bee; Diving
god
Huachinango Incised, 143
Huehueteotl, 196
Hukup Dull, 68, 12728, 13233, 14143
Hurricane. See Windstorm
Hyperspectral imagery, 100, 103
Iberia Orange, 125, 134
Ichkabal: and Cerro Maya, relationship to,
75; and Kaanul dynasty, 24; occupations at,
1011, 15; Preclassic occupation at, 13, 37, 41,
54, 295; trade with, 46, 48, 52, 56
Ichpaatun, 10, 12, 14, 23, 231, 298
Idols (idolos), ceramic, 111, 187, 191, 19394,
204, 209, 211
Iguana Creek White, 130
Incense burner. See Censer
Indirect rule, 11112, 122
Inlays, 22426, 228
Inline triadic group, 47
Interaction sphere, 40, 245, 280
Isla Cerritos, 47, 280, 285, 291
Isla Piedras, 280
Isla Tamalcab, 6, 1214, 2324, 75, 221
Itz: Maya of northern Yucatn, 22, 217,
23132; migrations, 24, 26, 31; Petn Itz
Maya, 111, 114, 121, 186
Itzamna, the old god, 19496, 199202, 204,
207, 211
Ixcanrio Orange Polychrome, 125, 169
Ix Chel, 204, 292
Ixtabai Phase (Cerro Maya), 125
Ixtepeque obsidian source, 231, 235, 23738,
24041, 260, 286
Jadeite (jade): as abrader for shell, 227; broken,
44, 73; depicted on effigy censers, 208; as
grave goods, 69, 71, 73; human figures, 51;
human heads, 47; jewelry, 21, 3840, 45, 47,
53, 106, 142; sourcing, 73; as trade goods, 42,
46, 162, 164, 228, 234, 280, 28586, 289
Jaina, 280
Jasaw Chan Kawil, 25

Jilon Plain, 151


John Piles Creek, 6, 114
Jones, Grant, 2224, 9395, 111, 11314
La Juventud, 14, 90
Kaan, 2425, 30, 29697
Kaanul, 12, 15, 24, 31, 8890, 29598
Kakalche, 15152, 280
Kak Naab, 282
Kan, 2425, 19495, 204, 207, 296. See also
Tzolkin monthly rites
Kanan Phase (Cerro Maya), 18889, 24041
Katun (katun), 2425, 106, 11112, 196, 20911
Katun 8 Ahaw, 25. See also Katun
Kawil, 194, 203, 211
Kaxob: burials at, 58, 64, 72, 74; occupation
periods at, 16; Preceramic occupation at, 35;
Preclassic occupation at, 12, 40, 42; stone
tool trade with, 237, 245, 24749
Kichpanha, 17, 237, 245, 247
Kik Red, 166
Kin group, 56, 74
Kinich Ahau, the sun god, 194, 196
Kinichn, 11, 15, 49, 76, 89, 91
Koben Composite, 137
Kohunlich, 1014
Kol Modeled, 187
Komchen: ceramics from, 126, 128, 13233, 135,
140, 143, 147; salt trade with, 280
Kuxche Red-orange, 127, 130, 134, 141
La Lagartera, 41, 48, 52
Laguna (Rio Hondo Drainage), 15
Laguna de Bacalar, 6, 24
Laguna de Cayo Francs, 19
Laguna de On, 17, 3536, 187, 253, 25860
Laguna Guerrero, 52, 219
Laguna Roja, 219
Laguna Seca, 6, 114
Laguna Verde Incised, 127, 130, 139, 167
Laguna Xcalak, 20
Lake Bacalar, 37, 42, 46, 52, 9394, 296
Lake Nohbec, 94
Lakin H, 14
Lamanai: burial patterns at, 72; ceramic paste
analysis of, 16267, 16973, 17578, 18285;
effigy censers from, 188, 192, 199, 2012,
208; ethnohistory of, 22, 107, 11214, 117,
122; expedient ceramics from, 151, 153, 155,
159, 161; geography of, 6; occupations of,
1011, 16, 30; Preclassic ceramics from,
126, 130, 134, 138, 140, 144, 147; Preclassic

occupation of, 41, 46, 50, 55; stone tool


trade with, 237, 260; trade with, 27, 282,
28791
Landa, Friar Diego de, 19296, 199, 2025,
209, 211
Last Resort/Copperbank, 18
Las Vegas Polychrome, 286
Levi, Laura, 2930
Libertad (Mounds 2628), 16
Limestone: as abrader for shell, 22732;
bioclastic, 176; disks, 206; formations, 4, 97,
164, 17274, 17683; ground stone tools, 270,
273; inclusions as temper, 18283
Lindbergh, Charles, 100
Logwood, 85, 9394
Long count, 25
Long-distance: architectural association, 86;
trade, 21, 40, 52, 95, 99, 11718, 126, 144,
23335, 248, 27475, 28182, 285, 287, 290;
trade routes, 46, 223; trading expeditions,
208; trading partners, 2728; exchange
(trade) network, 32, 5455, 73, 164. See also
Canoe; Trade
Lopez Creek, 249
Louisville, 15
Lubaantun, 284, 285
Lucu, 96
Lujn, Alonso de, 95
Macal (taro), 36
Madrid Codex, 19397, 199, 2038, 210, 213
Mahahual, 217
Maize: agriculture, 26; early evidence for,
3536, 45; ethnohistoric references for,
19496, 211, 213; god of, 19496, 2046, 211,
213; ground on metate, 28, 264, 266, 27375.
See also Corn
Mamey apple, 284
Mammals: agouti, 284; armadillo, 284, 287;
deer, 45, 94, 195, 201, 20912, 284, 287; dog,
45, 19495, 204, 284, 287; manatee, 221, 279,
281, 284; opossum, 193, 19799; peccary, 45,
284, 287
Mamom Ceramic Sphere, 9, 3841, 147
Mams, 19798
Mangrove, 45, 22123, 28284
Mangrove oyster, 222
Man, 29, 9495
Manioc, 3536
Marco Gonzalez: expedient ceramics from,
14950, 156, 158; maritime trade with, 282,
285, 288, 29091; occupations of, 11, 48
Index

349

La Margarita, 41, 49
Margay Black-trickle-on-red, 131
Marginella, 66
Marine resources, 45, 279, 281, 284, 290
Market economy, 21, 92, 1056, 117, 163, 184,
253. See also Trade
Martinez, 29
Matamore Dichrome, 6970, 130, 168
Maya calendar, 29, 106, 11012, 11617, 193, 196,
204, 209. See also Haab cycle; Haab monthly
rites; Tzolkin monthly rites
Maya chronicles, 110, 112
Maya Mountains, 158, 164, 172, 282
Maya new year, 193, 19596, 204, 212
Mayapn: ceramic affinities with, 12, 31; effigy
censers from, 18692, 19597, 199200,
2023, 2059, 21113; ethnohistory of, 24,
95, 10910, 11617, 120; in obsidian exchange
network, 260
Maya resistance (rebellion), 22, 92, 94, 111, 114
May ku, 2425
McAnany, Patricia, 58, 7172, 245
Melongena, 45, 220, 22223
Merchants, 95, 16263, 208. See also Traders
Mercury, 164, 28990
Merida, 24
Mexico: border of, 6, 9293, 97, 101, 250; Colha
chert traded to, 73, 212; effigy censer iconography and, 197; geology of, 29, 164, 172;
materials from, 28586; sites along coast of,
14, 27981, 28889; Valley of, 248
Mica, 126, 134, 158
Migration: in general, 2425, 31, 159, 231, 288;
Great Descent, 25; Little Descent, 25
La Milpa, 289
Mineralogy, 156, 171, 178
El Mirador (Petn): ceramics of, 13334,
13942, 144, 147; Preclassic occupation at,
46, 51, 55, 29495, 297; Terminal Preclassic
collapse of, 126
El Mirador (Quintana Roo), 90
Moho Cay, 23738, 245, 24748, 28081
Moho Red, 284
Mollusks, 32, 174, 21723, 228, 231, 284. See
also specific genera
Montalvo, Fray Gregorio de, 96
Montejo, Francisco de, 95, 110
Motagua river valley, 280, 28586, 289
Mother-of-pearl, 226, 228, 231
Multepal, 110. See also Council house
Multiethnic environment, 3031
Munequita Composite, 129
350

Index

Nalda, Enrique, 2930, 297


Nance, 28, 45, 73
Navigable waterways, 6, 8, 97, 100, 249, 282
Necax, 20
Net weight, 69
Neutron activation analysis (NAA), 18788,
19091, 212
New River: ethnohistory of, 22, 31, 106, 114;
geography of, 6, 32, 33, 223, 237; geology of,
174, 176, 180, 182; sites on, 1011, 16, 46, 52,
56; trade along, 27, 250, 280, 282, 287, 296
New River Lagoon, 6, 153, 163, 180, 182
Nicols Bravo, 76
Nictaa Buff, 129
Nim Li Punit, 284
Nohichmul, 42, 52, 219
Noh Kah, 50, 7678, 81, 83, 8591, 97, 99,
1056
Nohmul: bundle house at, 64; ceramics at,
13940, 147; occupation periods of, 1011, 15,
97, 1056; round structure at, 99100; stone
tool trade with, 24849; in trade network,
289; on YouTube, 13, 32
Northern lowlands, 293, 29596
Northern River Lagoon, 153, 237, 287, 291
Nr 5, 16
Nueva Esperanza, 90
Obsidian: as grave goods, 62, 67, 71, 73, 270;
exchange models for, 23342; in household
crafting, 256, 260, 26263; projectile points,
118; recycled, 118, 120; sourcing, 235; as trade
goods, 21, 2728, 42, 44, 46, 11718, 120,
162, 164, 281, 28587, 289, 297; transport of,
24849, 254; for working shell, 22731. See
also Chipped stone industries
Ocarina, 285
Oliva, 44, 68, 208, 220, 222, 228
Omankil, 144, 148
Operational chain, 265
Orchard, 96, 111
Oxtankah: connection to Kaanul dynasty,
31; ethnohistory of, 23, 105; geography of,
1213; occupation periods of, 1011, 14;
Preclassic occupation of, 37, 46, 48, 5255,
75; salt production at, 4143, 287, 291; shell
industry at, 27, 21721, 22328, 23032, 297
Oxtankah structures: Plaza Abejas, 219; Plaza
of the Columns, 37, 219, 225, 230; Structure
I, 88, 219, 257; Structure VI, 37, 219, 22526;
Structure X, 219; Tomb 1, 22526, 228
Oyohualli, 194, 19799

Pacheco, Alonso, 111


Pacheco, Melchor, 111
Pachuca obsidian source, 28586
Pahote Punctated, 6870, 130, 168
Palenque, 211
Paleoindian, 8, 11, 37
Palms, 79, 284
Panama Pacific zone, 219
Paris Codex, 204, 21011, 245, 24748, 299
Paso Caballo Waxy Ware, 12526
Patchchacan, 15, 242
Patt Work Site, 17, 3536
Pauahtuns (Bacabs), 19599, 201, 211
Paynes Creek National Park, 283
Paynes Creek Salt Works, 281, 28485, 28891
Payo Obispo, 23
Pelican Cay, 283
Pendants, 47, 22426, 228
Pepper, 36, 96, 266. See also Chili peppers
Perforation, 22729, 231
Perforator, 6970
Petn: architectural similarities with, 64, 76,
80, 86, 8990; ceramic affiliation with,
125, 129, 132, 140, 15253; effigy censers
from, 18688, 212; ethnohistory of, 111, 114,
121; Itz migrations from, 2425, 3132;
population density in, 99; trade with, 4142,
9596, 237, 280, 287, 294, 297; travel routes
to, 4, 12, 22
Petn lakes, 153
Petrography, 149, 15556, 158, 167, 16971, 173,
17677, 18384
Pilgrimage, 29, 146, 170, 184, 188, 192, 275, 292
La Pimienta, 22, 95
Pinctada, 22021, 223, 226, 228
Pixoy Usulutan, 131
Placencia, 280, 291
Plaque, 22425
Pohl, Mary, 35, 97, 99
Point Alegre, 18
Poknoboy Striped, 128, 13536, 148
Pol Box, 15, 76, 8789
Political landscape, 110
Polvero Black, 9, 133, 139, 168
Pomacea, 22123
Pork and Doughboy Point, 283
Port Honduras, 279, 28283, 287, 290
Port Honduras Marine Reserve, 283
El Posito, 16, 237, 247, 249
Potter, 143, 15859, 17071, 177, 18284. See
also Ceramic
Preceramic, 8, 11, 26, 3337

Principal Bird Deity, 201, 295


Producer-consumer model, 245, 25253
Programme for Belize Conservation Area, 104
Progresso Lagoon: Contact period, 27, 107,
10910, 11215, 11722; ethnohistory of,
27, 31, 107, 10910, 11213; geography of, 6;
lithic industry at, 253; occupation periods
of, 1011; Postclassic stone industries on,
253; Preceramic occupation at, 12, 3536;
Preceramic period on, 35; sites on, 1011,
1213, 11415, 11722; Terminal Classic
period at, 13, 31
Progresso Shore/Avila, 10, 17, 107, 11516,
11821. See also Progresso Lagoon
Pseudo-usulutan, 138
Public architecture, 125, 275, 289
Pucte, 17
Pueblo Nuevo (Mound 20), 16
Puleston, Dennis, 97, 100
Puletan Red-and-unslipped, 6869, 129,
13536, 168
Pulltrouser Swamp, 15, 35, 105, 237, 245, 248
Punta Calentura, 218
Punta Hobn, 20
Punta Lagartos, 219
Punta Limn, 19
Punta Polvox, 218
Punta Tamalcab Sur, 14
Punta Ycacos Lagoon, 28284, 291
Puuc Hills, 235
Quartz: abrader for shell 227; temper for
ceramics, 151, 153, 15659, 161, 170, 173, 175,
17783
Quetzalcoatl, cult of, 26, 206, 213
Quetzal plumes, 96
Quiche, 198
Quintana Roo: architectural style in, 7879;
ethnohistory of, 2224, 93, 95, 18687; geography of, 6; marine environments of, 221,
223, 232; Preclassic occupation in, 37, 41, 48,
52, 56; settlement patterns in, 2930, 90, 93;
sites in, 1011, 12, 7677, 217, 292, 29597;
trade routes in, 235, 250
Radiocarbon dating, 8, 9, 27, 36, 41, 100, 104,
113, 116, 213, 284
Ramonal (near Chunox), 18
Raw materials, 16365, 17072, 230, 23334,
251, 260, 263
Red mangrove, 221
Redundant goods, 163, 165
Index

351

Relaciones, 191, 203


Remate Red, 284
Los Renegados, 19
Repasto Black-on-red, 130
Reptiles: caiman, 201; iguana, 130, 204; sea
turtle, 45, 284; turtle, 45, 62, 67, 116, 270, 284
El Resbaln, 15, 76, 8789
Richardson Peak Unslipped, 68, 129, 135, 167
Rio Azul, 4, 41, 46, 50, 97, 101
Rio Bec, 8182, 298. See also Central Peninsular Zone
Rio Bravo, 97, 99, 101, 104
Rio Escondido, 6, 22
Rio Hauch, 20
Rio Hondo: ditched fields along, 101, 1056;
effect on bay salinity, 223; ethnohistory of,
23, 9296; geography of, 4, 6; geology of,
174; Preclassic archaeology on, 33, 50, 52;
settlement patterns along, 26, 30, 91, 92;
sites on, 8, 1011, 1315, 97100; trade route
on, 250, 282, 287
Rio Juan Unslipped, 15153, 15960
Rio Kirk, 6
Rio Pixcaya obsidian source. See San Martin
Jilotepeque obsidian source
Rio San Jose, 6
Roaring Creek Red, 153, 166
Robles Point, 19
Round structure, 26, 31, 99100, 10910, 191.
See also Quetzalcoatl, cult of
Roys, Ralph, 9395, 109
Sabidos, 15
Sacapulas, 154, 288
Sacbe (sacbeob), 34, 26, 49, 89, 101
Sac Cimi, the death god, 19496, 199200,
2023, 209
Sacluc Black-on-orange, 129, 147
Sajomal, 16
Salamanca de Bacalar, 2122, 111
Salt (sea salt): ethnohistoric accounts of, 96;
for fish, preserving, 73; as grave good,
6971, 73; production of, 27, 4143, 44, 55,
73, 13738, 14346, 150, 15355, 161, 28791;
for trade, 21, 46, 27981, 284, 294; works,
43, 48, 52, 28081, 28485. See also Paynes
Creek Salt Works
Saltillo, 16, 288
San Antonio (Freshwater Creek), 18
San Estevan: occupations at, 1011, 16; settlement pattern at, 2930; stone tool trade at,
245, 24748
352

Index

Sangre Red, 127, 131


San Juan: expedient pottery at, 14950, 155,
157; occupations at, 10, 18; in trade network,
coastal, 282, 285, 288, 29091
San Martin Jilotepeque obsidian source, 238,
260, 286
San Pedro, 19, 295
San Pedro Lagoon, 19
Santa Cruz, 16, 19
Santa Lucia, 15
Santa Mara Calderitas, 12, 14
Santa Rita Corozal: burial patterns at, 6061,
64, 72, 7475; ceramics from, 127, 13435,
140, 142, 144, 146; chipped stone trade with,
23334, 237, 242, 245, 248; craft production
at, 28, 25063; effigy censers from, 18690,
192, 19596, 199202, 206, 2089, 21113;
ethnohistory of, 23, 25, 107, 110, 11214,
11617, 122; occupation periods at, 1011,
13, 17, 3132; Preclassic occupation at, 12,
3738, 4042, 47, 52, 5455; shell industry
at, 224; trade routes to, 105, 18384, 231, 280,
282, 28892, 296, 298
Santa Rita Corozal structures: Structure 7-3rd,
234; Structure 134, 37, 40; Structure 216,
25662; Structure 218, 259, 26162
Santa Rosa, 16
Santone, Lenore, 24950
Sapote Striated, 131, 135
Sarstoon River, 235
Sarteneja, 6, 10, 13, 18, 60, 221, 224, 23738, 242
Savannah Bank Usulutan, 47, 69, 71, 131, 147
Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), 22628,
23031
Sea level rise, 99, 280, 282. See also Erosion
Sedentism, 8
Segmented century, 110
Seibal. See Ceibal
Shafer, Harry, 42, 242, 248, 254, 258, 297
Shell industries: awl, 22425; axe, 22425;
currency (conch), 298; cut marks, 22728;
garment, 230; jewelry, 21, 74, 106, 224; mandible, false human, 22425; midden, 217,
219, 22123, 231, 298; pick, 22425; trumpet,
22425. See also specific shell genera
Shipstern, 6, 10, 18, 22, 237
Shipstern Lagoon, 6, 18
Shrine, 29, 58, 64, 74, 116, 120, 191, 292
Sidrys, Raymond, 13, 60
Sierra Madres, 164
Sierra Red: at Becan, 132; at Cerro Maya,
13031, 133, 14345; at Cob, 133; in general,

9, 12528, 14748; at Komchen, 132; at


Lamanai, 16667, 17879; at Santa Rita
Corozal, 42, 4748
Siete Cocos, 20
Sihnal Phase (Cerro Maya), 24041, 265
Siyan Kaan, 2425, 30, 296
Sky Witness, 90
Snails, 222, 225. See also Mollusks; specific
genera
Social differentiation, 42
Social memory, 188, 192
Society Hall Red, 69, 71, 12728, 132, 143, 147,
167
Soconusco, 281
Solar alignment, 26
South Tamalcab Island, 41, 46
Specialty bread basket, 32
Specular hematite, 13839
Spondylus, 44, 47, 51, 53, 22021, 223, 226, 228,
298
Squash, 36
Stann Creek, 149, 15152, 154
Status markers, 68, 89, 122, 226, 228, 230, 234,
289. See also Elites
Stingray spine, 279
Straight Lagoon Unslipped, 15152, 154
Strath Bogue, 17, 35
Strombus (conch), 42, 4445, 201, 220, 222,
28384, 286
Subsistence strategies: Preclassic, 37, 44;
food procurement model, 26566, 27375,
27981, 28788. See also Foodways
Swasey Ceramic Sphere, 9, 3841
Tabasco, 95
Taciste Washed, 131
Tamalcab-Estrecho, 52
Tases Phase (Mayapn), 186
Tepeu Ceramic Sphere, 9, 149, 152, 154
Termination deposits, 120, 142, 144, 212, 269
Test Program Sop 7, 17
Thiessen polygons, 29
Thompson, Eric, 9394, 186, 188, 193, 19697,
2023, 2089
Three-handled jar, 142
Tibbat, 105
Tikal, 25, 126, 134, 13940, 147, 237, 281
Tinaja Red, 284
Tinta Usulutan, 131
El Tintal, 51, 295
Tipikal Preslip-striated Red, 128, 132
Tipu, 2122, 18485, 260

Tlaloc, the Rain God, 19596, 199, 2024. See


also Chac
Tlamemeque, 248. See also Traders
Toad, 270
Tohil Plumbate, 231, 28586
Trace element analysis. See Neutron activation
analysis
Trade (exchange): by canoe, 75, 92, 27982,
28488, 29091; center, 238; in ceramics,
12526, 138, 144, 16266, 18384, 188; in
chipped stone, 231, 233, 23538, 23950,
25153, 260, 263; in clay materials, 151; Colonial period, 111; Early Classic period, 13,
52; in general, 3, 31, 51, 96, 126, 163, 184; gift
exchange, 289; god of, 208; models of, 31; in
perishable goods, 73; along river systems,
92, 9496, 284; routes, 41, 46, 52, 54, 105,
117, 223, 228, 23536, 28182, 287, 290, 294;
in shell materials, 42, 232; surplus and, 71,
73; waterborne, 4, 21, 27, 58, 161, 282, 290.
See also Long-distance; Traders
Traders: at port, 7375,144; hereditary, 248; in
canoes, 3, 293, 295; long-distance, 235. See
also Tlamemeque
Treaty of Versailles, 93
Tres Cocos, 19
Tres Garantas, 14
Tribute, 92, 10911, 12122, 281, 288
Trickle decoration, 140, 143
Tsul winikob, 22, 31
Tuk Red-on-red Trickle: at Cerro Maya,
6465, 69, 71, 127, 129, 271; at Lamanai, 168,
185; decorative technique, 14041, 147
Tulix Phase (Cerro Maya): burials, 56, 5861,
64, 67, 69, 73, 75; ceramics, 12527, 135;
ground stone, 266; obsidian, 24041
Tulum, 187, 206, 21213, 280, 286
Turquoise, 28990
Tzakol Ceramic Sphere, 9, 149, 152, 154
Tzolkin monthly rites: Akbal, 202, 205; Ben,
2034; Cauac, 194, 199, 2034; Etznab, 199;
Ix, 194, 19697, 199, 2045, 219, 292; Kan,
2425, 19495, 204, 207, 296; Lamat, 202;
Muluc, 194, 2034
Tzucub te, 24
Uaxactun, 9, 38, 126, 160, 280
Uaymil, 22, 29, 76, 9394, 186
Ucareo, 28586
Ukum, 95
Ula, 95
La Union, 14, 90, 97
Index

353

Use wear, 28, 35, 227, 26465


Usulutan design, 138
Usumacinta River, 235
Uxmal, 235

Xcaret, 292
Xnoha Creek, 97
Xulh, 14
Xunantunich, 188

Valencia, 18
Valladolid Incised Bichrome, 143
Vanilla, 21, 26, 28, 73, 96, 106. See also Cizbiques
Verbena Ivory, 129
Vessel spouts, ceramic, 142
Villa Real, 111, 113
Visita mission church, 114

Yalamha, 19
Yax che, 24
Yaxnik Through-the-slip Incised, 130, 13839
Yaxnohcah: Carmela Group ballcourt, 47;
ceramics at, 51, 5455, 141, 143, 294; Fidelia
Group, 47, 49
Yaxuna, 128, 132, 143, 147, 29495
Yearbearer cycle, 193, 19699, 2025
Year-end rites (Uayeb). See Haab monthly rites
Yglesias Phase (Lamanai), 113, 117, 170
Yo Chen, 17
Yucatn Peninsula: ceramic affiliations with,
12829, 132, 134, 140, 143; ethnohistory of,
22, 9396, 1089, 11112, 186, 191, 197, 200,
205; geography of, 45, 8; geology of, 172;
Itz migrations to, 24, 26, 231; maritime
trade with, 3132; Preclassic archaeology in,
41, 75; shell exploitation on, 217; trade with,
228, 233, 23536, 250, 253, 27980, 282,
28791, 29394
Yucatec language, 29, 31, 9394, 96, 148, 186,
188, 21221
Yumpetn, 94

Wakna, 51
Warrie Red, 284
Watsons Island, 154
West shore of Progresso Lagoon. See Progresso
Shore/Avila
Wetlands, 6, 8, 97, 99100
Whelk, 45
Wild Cane Cay, 28, 238, 27980, 28286, 288,
29091
Windstorm, 6, 30, 59, 64
Witz Cah Akal, 152
Xaman Kiwik (Santa Elena), 16
Xanaba Red, 128, 132
Xcalak Cemeterio, 20
Xcalak Peninsula, 6, 8, 12, 1920, 217
Xcambo, 280, 288, 291
Xcanlum, 15

354

Index

Zacpetn, 187
Zapatista Trickle-on-cream-brown, 129, 140,
144, 146

Maya Studies
Edited by Diane Z. Chase and Arlen F. Chase
The books in this series will focus on both the ancient and the contemporary Maya
peoples of Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The goal of the
series is to provide an integrated outlet for scholarly works dealing with Maya archaeology, epigraphy, ethnography, and history. The series will particularly seek cuttingedge theoretical works, methodologically sound site-reports, and tightly organized
edited volumes with broad appeal.
Salt: White Gold of the Ancient Maya, by Heather McKillop (2002)
Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Iximch, by C. Roger Nance, Stephen L.
Whittington, and Barbara E. Borg (2003)
The Ancient Maya of the Belize Valley: Half a Century of Archaeological Research,
edited by James F. Garber (2003; first paperback edition, 2011)
Unconquered Lacandon Maya: Ethnohistory and Archaeology of the Indigenous
Culture Change, by Joel W. Palka (2005)
Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L.
McNeil (2006; first paperback printing, 2009)
Maya Christians and Their Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize, by Elizabeth
Graham (2011)
Chan: An Ancient Maya Farming Community, edited by Cynthia Robin (2012; first
paperback edition, 2013)
Motul de San Jos: Politics, History, and Economy in a Maya Polity, edited by
Antonia E. Foias and Kitty F. Emery (2012; first paperback edition, 2015)
Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis, and Interpretation, edited by James
John Aimers (2013; first paperback edition, 2014)
Ancient Maya Political Dynamics, by Antonia E. Foias (2013; first paperback
edition, 2014)
Ritual, Violence, and the Fall of the Classic Maya Kings, edited by Gyles Iannone,
Brett A. Houk, Sonja A. Schwake (2016)
Perspectives on the Ancient Maya of Chetumal Bay, edited by Debra S. Walker
(2016)