Exploring Two Thousand Years of Human Habitation in the Belize Valley: Situating Cahal Pech in Lowland Maya Prehistory

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

The Belize Valley has traditionally been considered a peripheral region of the southern Maya lowlands. Twenty Eight years of research by the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance project at Cahal Pech have, however, demonstrated that the medium-sized polities of the Belize Valley actively participated in the socioeconomic and political processes that unfolded in the central Maya lowlands. Research in the Belize Valley has also provided critical information for understanding the rise of cultural complexity in the Middle Preclassic period, and the subsequent growth, fluorescence, and decline of Classic period Maya civilization in this sub-region of the Maya lowlands. Besides elucidating two thousand years (ca. 1100/1000 B.C.-AD1000) of prehistory at this major Belize Valley site, this session will also serve to demonstrate that Cahal Pech, and other Belize Valley sites, were important participants in the events occurring in the Maya world from the Middle Preclassic to the Terminal Classic periods. It is expected that participants of the session employ a broad range of methodologies (e.g., settlement patterns, architectural analysis, mortuary analysis, ceramic studies, and etcetera) to accomplish the purpose of the session.

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  • Documents (10)

  • Architectural Planning and Shared Political Traditions in the Belize River Valley (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Rafael Guerra. Claire Ebert. Jaime Awe.

    The presence of shared architectural elements and configurations between major ancient Maya centers has often been attributed to socio-political affiliation and/or emulation of influential centers by their neighbors. In this paper, we examine the site plans and settlement systems for the monumental centers of Cahal Pech and Lower Dover in the Belize Valley to identify parallel trends of the growth of monumental architecture through time. Cahal Pech is one of the earliest permanently settled...

  • Artifact Distributions, Interaction Networks, and Social Complexity: Middle Preclassic development at Cahal Pech from a small-world perspective (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sherman Horn.

    The temporal position of the Middle Preclassic (c. 900 – 350 B.C.), situated between the earliest permanent settlements and hierarchically organized Late Preclassic polities, makes it a critical period for understanding the development of complex societies in the Belize Valley and the Maya Lowlands. From 2004 – 2009, the Belize Valley Archaeological Project’s excavations produced a trove of information on the Middle Preclassic occupation beneath Plaza B in the epicenter of Cahal Pech....

  • Building a Typology: The Formative Period Figurine Assemblage from Cahal Pech, Cayo, Belize (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lisa DeLance. Jaime Awe.

    Nearly every excavation at the site of Cahal Pech has recovered ceramic figurines. The ubiquitous nature of these figurines in a multitude of stratigraphic levels illustrate the importance of a figurine industry during the Formative Period. A comparative analysis of figurine attributes in this collection, in addition to collections found at neighboring sites in the Belize River Valley, reveals a unique style of figurine representation not found in any other regional figurine style in...

  • Cahal Pech Mortuary Practices in Regional Perspective (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anna Novotny.

    In Patricia McAnany’s influential work Living with the Ancestors, she argued that the practice of venerating ancestors by placing human burials in eastern structures originated with commoners and was appropriated by the ruling elite as potent political displays. Within the Belize Valley, sites at all levels of the settlement continuum had eastern structures that contained numerous human inhumations, suggesting ancestors may have been politically powerful for elites and non-elites. However,...

  • Climate, Chronology, and Collapse: Comparing the Classic Maya and the Roman Empire (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Julie Hoggarth. Laurent Cases.

    Increasing literature has focused on the role of climate change in the collapse of complex societies. These studies suggest that abrupt shifts in climate can exacerbate existing political, social, and economic issues by affecting the basic subsistence systems on which populations depend. Here we compare archaeological, historic, and climate proxy data from two state-level societies: the Classic Maya and the Roman Empire. A strong focus on the impact of multi-decadal droughts from the ninth to...

  • The Early Ceramic History of Cahal Pech: Implications for Local Identity and for the Rise of Regionalism in the Maya Lowlands (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lauren Sullivan. Jaime Awe.

    Ongoing ceramic analysis at Cahal Pech have allowed for a more complete understanding of the Cunil Ceramic Complex that was originally defined by Awe in 1992. These data provide important information on the early inhabitants of the site and reflect the formation of new political strategies and identities. The innovation of ceramic manufacture and the display of specific symbols suggest that a rising elite was firmly in place by around 1000 B.C. in the Belize Valley. Recent finds suggest that...

  • Paths towards Complexity in the Maya Lowlands: Implications of Architectural Change at Cahal Pech (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nancy Peniche May. Jaime Awe.

    The elucidation of how permanent settlements and social complexity evolved in the Maya lowlands has been a long-standing question among Mayanists. Recently, it has been proposed that the first permanent architecture in the Pasion River region (i.e., Ceibal) emerged as ritual complexes around 1000 B.C. rather than villages with permanent households (i.e., Inomata and colleagues 2013). Nevertheless, Middle Preclassic evidence from the Belize Valley (i.e., Cahal Pech) has depicted a different...

  • Paying Homage to the Ancestors: The (Preclassic) Cunil Phase Maya of Cahal Pech (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jaime Awe.

    More than 20 years of investigations at Cahal Pech have served to establish that the site has one of the longest sequence of occupation in the Maya lowlands. First settled at the end of the Early Preclassic period, the settlement gradually grew in size and affluence during the Middle and Late Preclassic periods, and eventually became one of the primary Classic period centers of the upper Belize River Valley. Cahal Pech’s rise to prominence, however, was not a product of Classic period...

  • Timing the Development of Household Complexity at Cahal Pech, Belize (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Claire Ebert. Nancy Peniche May. Jaime Awe. Brendan Culleton. Douglas Kennett.

    Understanding the settlement and growth of ancient communities into spatially, demographically, and socio-politically complex polities is one of several critical research issues in Maya archaeology. The major polity of Cahal Pech, located in the Belize River Valley, provides a unique case study for understanding the development of complexity because of its long occupational history, from the Early Preclassic (~1200-1000 cal BC) until the Terminal Classic Period Maya “collapse” (~cal AD 800-900)....

  • Tracing mortuary trends at Cahal Pech using Stable Isotope data (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kirsten Green. Ashley H. McKeown. Roseanne Bongiovanni.

    Recent research focusing on environmental change in the Belize River Valley during the Classic period provides clear evidence for deteriorating conditions during the Late Classic period. These findings help explain shifts in socio-political and religious systems, as well as fluctuations in population distributions of the Late Classic and Terminal Classic Maya. Some archaeological research suggests complete abandonment of ceremonial sites occupied by the Maya elite. Mortuary practices can be used...