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Polities, Hinterland Communities, and Everything in Between: Twenty-Five Years of Archaeological Research in Northwest Belize

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

This session synthesizes 25 years of archaeological investigations taking place in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) of northwest Belize, a region that was deeply transformed by the life practices of the Maya over a period of nearly 2,000 years. From small beginnings in 1992, the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (PfBAP) has since grown to encompass various research efforts, fostering cooperation among archaeologists, geographers, and environmental scientists. As a result, an extensive body of data concerning the character of many of the region’s recorded sites has been produced, shedding light onto the lives of the ancient Maya that inhabited this corner of Mesoamerica from the Preclassic (1000 BCE – 250 CE) to the Terminal Classic (850 – 950 CE) periods. This session builds on the regional focus to explore the interrelationships between the varying communities from various theoretical positions as supported by empirical data. Sites discussed in this session include the large Maya sites of La Milpa, Dos Hombres, and Maax Na. Mid-level sites of Say Ka and Wari Camp are also discussed, forming a bridge to the numerous smaller settlements that extend across the landscape such as Medicinal Trail, Hun Tun, and La Milpa North.


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  • Documents (15)

Documents

  • The Ancient City of Dos Hombres: Material Expressions of Power (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Rissa Trachman.

    Investigations at the ancient Maya city of Dos Hombres have been guided by an interest in social, political and economic organization, based on architecture and material culture remains. Excavations in the civic ceremonial center of Dos Hombres have been focused in the northern plaza, a very public space that likely was a place of commerce, public ritual and sacred space, thereby the prime backdrop for publicly legitimizing authority. Newly excavated data, especially architectural exposures as...

  • Commoner Landscape, Ritual, and Symbolism in the Shadow of Dos Hombres: Recent Investigations at the Site of Chawak But’o’ob. (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Stanley Walling. Travis Cornish. Chance Coughenour. Jonathan Hanna. Christine Taylor.

    A number of seasons of research at the site of Chawak But’o’ob in the southwestern outskirts of the city of Dos Hombres have revealed an architecturally humble community characterized by dense habitation and extensive landscape modification as well as domestic and public ritual. The evidence suggests that the inhabitants of this farming community had an eye toward symbolism in decisions they made about the disposition of domestic and public structures as well as the manipulation of water and...

  • The Critical Zone Revolution from 2016 LiDAR and Two Decades of Multiproxy Geoarchaeology around the Programme for Belize (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Timothy Beach. Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach. Colin Doyle. Nicholas Dunning. Nick Brokaw.

    Over the last two decades we have studied agroecosystems in the Programme for Belize (PfB), a valuable and privileged reserve for an exceedingly wide array of research efforts. Aspects of the agroecosystems preserved in the PfB include terraces, wetland fields, aguadas, ecology, and curious wall features under the canopy of this tropical forest with some savannas. We based these studies on excavations along multiple transects across this karst region’s uplands, escarpments, bajos, floodplains,...

  • Ecological and Paleoethnobotanical Research at the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Thomas Hart. Luisa Aebersold. Nicholas Brokaw. Sheila Ward.

    Archaeological research requires interdisciplinary scholarship to answer broad questions relating to resilience, social complexity, climate, and environmental impacts in Mesoamerica throughout ancient Maya times and into the present. RBCMA, PfBAP, plant ecology, and paleoethnobotany have provided a platform to reconstruct ancient Maya landscapes, which delves into the nuances of human-environmental relationships in northwestern Belize. Ecological studies of the impacts of ancient Maya on soils,...

  • The Emic, the Etic, and the Electronic: Digital Documentation in Northwestern Belize (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Sarah Jackson. Linda A. Brown. Brett A. Houk.

    Twenty-five years of archaeological research in northwestern Belize have yielded a robust regional database, allowing a rich and diverse picture of ancient Maya life to emerge. As part of this research, multiple projects have recently adopted innovative digital technologies using new methods to record and envision ancient sites in novel ways. This paper presents some of the ways in which researchers have engaged with digital technologies that allow for the collection of new types of data, as...

  • Exploring Migration and Kinship of the Ancient Maya through Isotopes and aDNA in NW Belize (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Angelina Locker. Stacy Drake.

    As a uniquely sustained archaeological research program that has annually excavated in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area for 25 years, the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (PfBAP) offers a wealth of knowledge for bioarchaeological research. This paper examines ancient Maya burials from northwestern Belize, spanning the Late Preclassic (250 BCE – 250 CE) to the Terminal Classic (850 – 950 CE). Detailed here are stable isotope, ancient DNA, and osteological analyses from a...

  • La Milpa East, Hun Tun, and Medicinal Trail Communities: Ancient Maya Hinterland Settlements East of La Milpa, Belize. (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Robyn Dodge. David M. Hyde. Estella Weiss-Krejci.

    The hinterland east of La Milpa is distinctive of an upland landscape with bajos on its edges, a few formal courtyard groups, monuments, and numerous informal clusters of mounds. Multiple landscape modifications such as terraces, depressions, chultuns, and linear features are present in these eastern hinterland settlements as well. This paper will provide an overview of the excavations into three specific hinterland communities: La Milpa East, Hun Tun, and the Medicinal Trail Community, as well...

  • Origins: Contextualizing the Beginning and Development of the PfBAP (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Fred Valdez. Debora Trein.

    The introduction of a large-scale regional project in northwest Belize began as a more modest endeavor in northeast Guatemala. How the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (PfBAP) began, how it has modified through several decades, and what we anticipate as its future are discussed. A brief review of select projects within the PfBAP are mentioned as examples of overall program interests. Importantly, the PfBAP relationships with the Belize Government, local communities, and other entities...

  • Power, Space, and Place in the Heart of La Milpa (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Debora Trein. Brett Houk. Gregory Zaro.

    La Milpa was one of the largest ancient Maya urban centers in the eastern Maya Lowlands during the second half of the Late Classic to the Terminal Classic periods, its influence extending over communities throughout the Three Rivers Region of northwestern Belize. La Milpa’s rise to regional prominence is associated with a series of upheavals during this period, including increased political dynamism following the decline of Tikal at the end of the Early Classic period, and a dramatic rise in the...

  • Production and Intensification in Hinterland Communities (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Marisol Cortes-Rincon. Erik Marinkovich. Cady Rutherford. Spencer Mitchell. Kyle Ports.

    This study investigates the nature and intensity of ancient Maya household economies in northwestern Belize. The primary focus will be centered on investigative ways in which settlement pattern data offers insight to understanding production systems in hinterland communities. The preliminary patterned relationship that emerged among settlement features and land resources allowed for the interpretation of land management strategies and production systems implemented in different environment zones...

  • Putting the Pieces Together: Maax Na in Its Regional Context (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Eleanor King. Michael Brennan. Beverly Chiarulli. Christine Taylor. Darcie Flanigan.

    Twenty years of research at the large prehispanic Maya site of Maax Na in northwestern Belize have yielded insights not only into site organization and function, but also into its role in the Three Rivers Region. Ongoing investigations of a marketplace and of local caves indicate that Maax Na, while probably not the political capital that its neighbor La Milpa was, nonetheless had a distinct and important regional function as a religious and marketing center. Investigation of water management...

  • A Quarter-Century of Exploring the Three Rivers Watersheds in Belize (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach. Timothy Beach. Nicholas Dunning. Vernon Scarborough. Fred Valdez, Jr..

    The Programme for Belize Archaeological Project is situated in the heart of the Three Rivers Watersheds, drained by the Rio Bravo, Booth's River, and Rio Azul/Blue Creek in Northwestern Belize. These three river systems, along with groundwater, springs, and wetlands, nurture what is today the tropical rainforest refuge of the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area, active farming communities, and long ago sustained multiple ancient Maya communities such as La Milpa, Dos Hombres, Chawak But'o'ob,...

  • Revealing La Milpa: Integrating Residential Data from the Core and Periphery (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Brandon Lewis. Hugh Robichaux.

    The Programme for Belize Archaeological Project represents a regional research program aimed at elucidating the nature of Maya political, social, and economic integration within the northeastern Peten. Toward this end, extensive research is being undertaken at the primary center of La Milpa. Research conducted by the authors has been motivated by numerous objectives. Of specific interest is understanding the role of La Milpa within the changing political landscape of the region. In addition,...

  • Social, Economic, and Political Changes: An integration of ceramic and lithic data from the Three Rivers Region (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Lauren Sullivan. David M. Hyde.

    Archaeological research in northwestern Belize indicates a long history of occupation beginning in the Middle Preclassic and ending with abandonment in the Terminal Classic. The collection and analysis of ceramic and lithic data on a broad regional scale and across the entire range of settlement hierarchy allow for a comprehensive examination of social and political changes that occurred across the region. Stylistic changes in the ceramics, the continuity of lithic forms, and depositional...

  • Wayfinding: Paths, Pathway Markers, and Navigational Monuments at Wari Camp and Beyond (2017)
    Citation DOCUMENT Laura Levi. Christian Sheumaker. Sarah Boudreaux.

    Social life never proceeds in the absence of a spatial dimension that defines, brackets, segregates, alters or otherwise organizes interaction. The power to organize space emerges historically from the sweep of institutional arrangements across society and operates along many different dimensions and scales, at once establishing boundaries all the while insidiously permeating them. This historical process – this "social production of space" – is what we refer to as landscape. Landscape has been...

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America