The Ancient Maya City of Blue Creek, Belize - M.MOAM.INFO (2023)

plazas and a series of related public buildings (Figure. 2.2). However, the ..... amounts ofpotteryand other artifacts in front of ..... de Sacrificios,redsandstone was employed, at Copan ..... cleared by farming activities (Figure3.5).Figure3.5.

The Ancient Maya City of Blue Creek, Belize Wealth, Social Organization and Ritual

Edited by

Thomas Guderjan

BAR International Series 2796 2016

First Published in 2016 by British Archaeological Reports Ltd United Kingdom BAR International Series 2796 The Ancient Maya City of Blue Creek, Belize

© The editor and authors severally 2016 The Authors’ moral rights under the 1988 UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, are hereby expressly asserted. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be copied, reproduced, stored, sold, distributed, scanned, saved in any form of digital format or transmitted in any form digitally, without the written permission of the Publisher.

ISBN: 978 1 4073 2069 4

Cover Image: Early Classic Lidded Polychrome from Structure 4: part of the axis mundi feature (photo by Bill Collins, see page 221)

Printed in England

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1. The Blue Creek Archaeological Project 1992-2014 Thomas H. Guderjan


2. Implementing Multiple Research Strategies: A Case Study from Blue Creek, Belize Thomas H. Guderjan


3. Water, Stone and Soil: A Preliminary Investigation into the Location of Selected Sites in Far North-west Belize in Relation to Critical Natural Resources Gail A. Hammond


4. Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek Dominick Van den Notelaer


5. Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community Dominick Van den Notelaer


6. Environmental Assessment of Blue Creek: Preliminary List of Woody Tree Species Encountered in the Region Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña


7. Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) Jeff Baker


8. The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock


9. Maya Political Economy: A Spatial, Temporal, and Contextual Analysis of Jade Deposits throughout the Southern Lowlands 149 Christina G. Marroquin 10. The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage Norbert Stanchly


11. The Shaft Caches of Structure 4: An Analysis of the Archaeological Evidence and Symbolism Lyssabeth C. Pedersen


12. An Evaluation of Evidence for Formative Economic Behavior: Artifact Assemblage Diversity at Chan Cahal Colleen P. Popson


Chapter 1 The Blue Creek Archaeological Project 1992-2014 Thomas H. Guderjan

When I first came to Blue Creek in 1992, my intent was to conduct 3 seasons of fieldwork, then move on to another planned project. Today, 23 years later, I recognize that I will not likely undertake another large field project in my lifetime. “Officially”, we completed our last excavation at the site of Blue Creek in 2013 and efforts of the project have moved to other neighboring sites. Yet, while I write this in 2015, there is discussion regarding opening and/or re-opening new excavations at Blue Creek in the future.

Archaeology who signed the permit. In 2014, Dr. Morris, now a valued friend and colleague is the Director of the Institute of Archaeology, again signs our permits. We did survive 1992 and, I think to the community of Blue Creek’s surprise, returned in 1993. The truck had arrived by then, but the driver also turned out to be a difficult, in-residence, land-lord. That summer we engaged in a search for a new home to which we moved in 1994. In 1993, we began serious efforts to excavate and learn about the public architecture of Blue Creek. Dale was working at Structure 5 and Helen was in charge of excavations at Structure 9 where we first encountered the set of Early Classic masks that we quickly reburied for two years until we were prepared to handle them appropriately.

The Blue Creek project emerged from my previous work, largely in 1990, aimed at identifying the database in northwestern Belize and providing basic maps of the sites we “discovered” (Guderjan 1991). As is the case in many field projects, the act of discovering a site was usually the act of being shown a site by someone who already knew it. In 1991, the area I was surveying was divided into 3 projects. Norman Hammond undertook excavations at La Milpa and Richard Adams continued survey and excavation work in the Programme for Belize’s Rio Bravo Conservation Area as I undertook additional work at Blue Creek.

1994 was marked by a move to our new field station near Rosita, an area within the Mennonite community. Now, in 2015, it is still our home, though with much expanded facilities. The move also made access to the site much different. Instead of climbing a 100 meter escarpment daily, we drove to the base of Plaza A, cutting our travel time and effort. That year, MRP also became a separately incorporated non-profit corporation. In 1994 and 1995, the first generation of scholars from the project truly began to emerge, including Helen Haines, Bob Lichtenstein, Dale Pastrana, Pam Weiss, Liz Gilgan and Bob Baker, all of whom contributed chapters to our 1995 field report. David Driver, who had done his MA work with material from the project on Ambergris Caye I had codirected with Jim Garber some years earlier, joined the team as my field director freeing me to get my nose out of the dirt and begin to expand the project. David, like Helen, would eventually complete his doctoral work at Blue Creek. Colleen Hanratty, then my student at St. Mary’s University, began supervising excavations at the residential group of Chan Cahal. Later, we married and she became my wife, mother of our son and project co-director.

The first summer season at Blue Creek was mostly an exercise in an underfunded project struggling for survival. Maya Research Program was not yet incorporated and I brought small groups of volunteers and students to the Mennonite community of Blue Creek for the first time. There were generally fewer than 20 of us living in a rented house. The intent was that cots and other equipment would arrive on a truck in advance of the team….it did not occur that way… The summer’s mantra for all missing things was “It’s on the truck”. Our major accomplishment was to map the central precinct via plane table and alidade, an antiquated technique even then. Mike Lindeman and Ellen Rubble, who had also been with me in 1990 accomplished this with wonderful precision. The rest of us dug test pits in front of buildings with the intent of using the data as proxies to date the buildings. This is an approach I soon learned to be spurious. The other person with the project in 1992 who remained for many years was Helen Haines who eventually completed her doctoral dissertation on obsidian at Blue Creek and other sites such as Kakabish, where today, she leads an excavation for Trent University. The same summer, Dale Pastrana, accompanied by her son, Alex, joined the project. I also note that John Morris was the then-Acting Commissioner of

In 1996, Jeff Baker joined the project, tackling the ditched agricultural fields I had found the year before as his dissertation topic at the University of Arizona. Also supervising excavations that year were two young scholars, Jason Renaud and Colleen Popson, who later completed her MA on the project at SUNY-Albany. By this time, our investigations had expanded far beyond


Thomas H. Guderjan the central precinct and we were investigating the nature of neighborhoods such as Kin Tan and Chan Cahal which had been partially identified by Bob Lichtenstein’s two year testing program of the buildings identified by Bob Baker’s 1995 survey. During the years 1995-1997, about half of the project effort was in the central precinct and the other half was undertaken in the surrounding residential areas.

all of our collective efforts. While these were dynamic and constantly shifting, they guided our broad efforts in a general way. The Organization of this Volume The next chapter of this volume discusses the research domains of the project and was originally written for an edited volume for which it really was not a good fit. This is one of those manuscripts that sat for many years to be re-tooled for this volume. As I have mentioned, the research domains have been very dynamic and are expressed each year in our permit proposal to the Institute of Archaeology of Belize. The version in this volume and the version in the most recent proposal are radically different. I include it here largely because it gives insight into the approach taken by the project when it was originally written in about 2002, mid-way between the project’s initiation and today. This is also the point in time from when many of the materials in this volume originated.

The efforts of the Blue Creek project can be divided into 4 phases. These phases make sense to me, but I recognize that as an archaeologist, I may be too well trained to think that all time can be divided into phases! Nevertheless, the foci of the project have been continually dynamic and contingent on project leadership and the interests of the lead researchers. Phase 1 (1992-1996). The initial seasons at Blue Creek were focused on excavation of the public precinct, investigating temporal, political and ritual dynamics. In many ways, these were my favorite years, as I was onsite nearly daily and all participants shared the experience of being together as a team in nearby locations. However, if we had ceased at the end of this period, our view of Blue Creek would have been much different than the one we hold today.

Similarly, the approach taken by various authors reflect differing viewpoints of the archaeology of Blue Creek. I considered editing them for internal perspective homogeneity. However, it is clear that the differences in the lens of perspective of each chapter is one of the strengths of this work. In some cases, the authors follow older viewpoints of my own with which I no longer fully agree. Even so, it always remains uncertain which perspective is best. Consequently, the reader my see differences of opinion that actually reflect the rich nature of more than two decades of field research.

Phase 2 (1997-2001). The research theme shifted to an integrated and comprehensive study of the structure and functional dynamics of a Maya city and investigations began to move outside of the public precinct. In 1996, Bob Baker undertook the first survey of the area outside of the public precinct, bringing to our attention that vast data sets were available to us. Then, Bob Lichtenstein conducted test excavations at hundreds of mounds and features for his MA thesis (Lictenstein 2000). My intent was to understand the structural components of the city and their interrelationships, a task that has largely been done and reported in a book published by the University of Alabama Press (Guderjan 2007).

Chapter 3 by Gail Hammond is an overview of the archaeological landscapes in which the city of Blue Creek existed. This is a portion of Gail’s MA thesis at the University College-London written in 2009. The following chapter by Dominick Van den Notelear deals with social stratification at Blue Creek and is a revised version of his 2013 undergraduate thesis and summarizes our data about the various residential groups in and around the central precinct.

Phase 3 (2002-2005). I recruited Jon Lohse to take over the directorship of the project and for four years, he expanded the perspective of the project into a regional effort. I will not discuss Dr. Lohse’s efforts in detail as he and his colleagues have done so themselves (Lohse 2013)

Chapter 5 is also by Dominick Van den Notelear and is a revision of his MA thesis summarizing the data on the residential group of Chan Cahal. Excavations at Chan Cahal were variously led by Heather Clagett, Colleen Popson, Antoine Giacometti and others. However the task of synthesizing their data into a final package remained for Dominick to complete in 2014. Dominick’s interpretive framework incorporates a Late Classic “subjugated” period. This derives from my earlier discussions of the caches in Structure 4 possibly marking a take-over of Blue Creek by a neighboring polity. While I now longer believe this to be true, Dominck’s usage is left intact as ….it may still be true.

Phase 4 (2006-2015 and further??). I returned to the project in 2006 to pursue several avenues of research that were only beginning to be understood. Earlier, my approach had been to define research and recruit graduate students who would take ownership of their portion of the effort. This, in at least one occasion, resulted in a student thinking they had more ownership than they actually did, by the way. After 2006, my approach was to build on the ideas and initiatives of others and to assist experienced researchers meet their goals. I believe this has built a stronger and more successful project. At this time, I also constructed a group of research domains that were designed to guide

Chapter 6, written by Kirsten Tripplett and her senior informant, Ruperto Magana from the village of San Felipe, summarizes Kirsten’s 1999 survey of trees in 2

The Blue Creek Archaeological Project 1992-2014 the Blue Creek area, building on the work of Nick Brokaw, who later returned to Belize and works with us today.

Change in Northwestern Belize. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, Los Angeles.

As I mentioned earlier, Jeff Baker was the first to investigate the ancient ditched agricultural fields at Blue Creek. Since his work, the task has been taken over by Tim Beach and Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach and their colleagues. In Chapter 7, Jeff summarizes his doctoral work which laid the foundation for ongoing work today. The next chapters deal with analyses of material remains. Chapter 8 by Helen Haines and Michael Glasscock summarizes Helen’s doctoral work on obsidian patterns seen at Blue Creek. Chapter 9 by Christina Marroquin is a revision of her MA thesis at University of Leicester on the jade artifacts from Blue Creek. In both cases, they deal with exotic imports with quite different social value and they reflect different aspect of the ancient city. In Chapter 10, Norbert Stanchley reviews the faunal remains from Blue Creek. Notably, he sees a strong connection between coastal Belize and Blue Creek. Chapter 11 by Lyssabeth Pedersen is a revision of her undergraduate thesis at the New College of South Florida in which she reviews the materials found in a set of caches found in Structure 4. The final chapter is a version of Colleen Popson’s MA thesis from SUNY-Albany in which she examines the political economy of Chan Cahal. As a whole, this volume represents many years of research by the authors and the entire MRP team and is an overdue treatment of the details of more than two decades of field work. References Cited Guderjan, Thomas H. 1991 Maya Settlement in Northwestern Belize: The 1988 and 1990 Seasons of the Rio Bravo Archaeological Project. Labyrinthos, Culver City, California 2007

The Nature of an Ancient Maya City: Resources, Interaction and Power at Blue Creek, Belize. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Lichtenstein, Robert 2000 Settlement Zone Communities of the Greater Blue Creek Area. Unpublished MA Thesis, Department of Archaeology, Boston University. Lohse, Jon C. 2013 Classic Maya Political Ecology: Resource Management, Class Histories, and Political


Chapter 2 Implementing Multiple Research Strategies: A Case Study from Blue Creek, Belize Thomas H. Guderjan

Overview The realities of funding limitations make it very difficult for North American archaeologists to design and implement large scale projects in other countries. Consequently, most archaeological projects in the Maya lowlands take the form of specific, highly directed studies that are focused upon very specific research topics. Unfortunately, these studies have the inherent fault that they cannot take the broader context of their data into account. In the rare case where a large scale, long-term project can be implemented, it is critical to structure the project in a manner that integrates a number of research themes into a centralized set of project goals. The Blue Creek project has been such a case, and this chapter explores how the project has developed and how a set of research domains have been developed that structure the efforts of the project and organize efforts of individual researchers into a coherent and integrated whole. In a sense, this cannot be done without exploring the two decades of research at Blue Creek and some of the insights that have been gained in the process.

Figure 2.1. Location of Blue Creek in northern Belize. Blue Creek’s core area is situated on top of the Bravo Escarpment overlooking the confluence of the Rio Bravo and the Rio Azul, as they become the Rio Hondo. This setting accounts for two major environmental aspects that underlie the economic base of Blue Creek. First, the Rio Hondo is the furthest north of all rivers on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán Peninsula and, therefore, a major artery for trade between the coastal trade system and the southern lowlands of the Petén. This provided Blue Creek with a strategically important setting to participate in trade. Blue Creek became a very wealthy community in the Late Preclassic and Early Classic periods as seen by the large numbers of trade goods found (see Research Domain II: The Structure of Maya Society). I have also argued that Blue Creek at this time was an independent polity (Guderjan 1996, 1998).

The Blue Creek Maya Site Blue Creek is a medium-sized Maya site near the headwaters of the Rio Hondo, which forms the contemporary boundary between the country of Belize and Mexico (Figure 2.1). The central precinct of Blue Creek includes two plazas and a series of related public buildings (Figure 2.2). However, the boundaries of the community are better defined by the natural barriers, which exist in all directions, rather than simply the locations where public architecture exist. In this sense, Blue Creek incorporates 100-150 square kms, about half of which has been surveyed. Within this, we have defined a number of discrete and well-delimited residential groups with a wide range of variability in terms of temporal periods, construction technologies and socio-political status (Guderjan, Lichtenstein and Hanratty 2003, Lichtenstein 2000). While we do not have any good sense of precision, it is reasonable to estimate that Blue Creek’s Late Classic population was in the neighborhood of 20-25,000 people (Guderjan 2007).

As important as trade obviously was to Blue Creek, the community’s vast and variable agricultural resources may have been more important (Guderjan, Baker and Lichtenstein, 2003). Blue Creek sits on an ecotone where two large ecological zones merge. To the east is the Belize coastal plain and to the west is the more rugged, karstic Petén physiographic zone. Such ecotone settings generally have high biological density 5

Thomas H. Guderjan and diversity and have advantages of both ecological zones. Blue Creek is no exception, especially in regard to soils with agricultural potential.

been augmented by grant funds from foundations and private individuals and the total income and expenditures of the project now (2015) exceed two million US dollars. In essence, the cost-sharing volunteer and student program has provided an exceptional environment for data collection and a somewhat less than adequate environment for data processing. However, it has also provided leverage for the acquisition of funds for data processing from other sources. The upshot of this situation is that the project has an enviable ability to engage in long-term planning of research goals. Unlike most field projects, the Blue Creek project is in the position where the staff can know that future funding is in place and fieldwork will take place. Therefore, we have never been in the position where fieldwork must be completed in any given season. Instead, we have been able to plan and predict years into the future. This ability for long-term planning has given us the ability to incrementally expand the scope of the research and to expand the breadth of the staff involved with that research.

Figure 2.2. Blue Creek’s central precinct (map by Marc Wolf.) Below and east of the escarpment are vast low-lying areas that were ditched by the Blue Creek Maya for intensive agriculture (Baker 1997). As of July, 2002, we had positively identified at least six square km of ditched agricultural fields. However, modern agricultural practices have obscured much of what was once present, and we can reasonably, and very conservatively estimate that there were at least 15 square km of ditched agricultural fields within the 100 square kilometer area that we define as Blue Creek. Above and west of the escarpment the terrain is composed of a hill-and-bajo arrangement. It is clear that higher areas were used for habitation and small bajos were used for farming. We can estimate that about half of the area west of the core area, or approximately another 20 square km, was used for such farming practices. Finally, the escarpment zone itself incorporates micro-environments that are unique to that zone and not found in either the Petén uplands or the coastal Belize zone. Typically, these are sinkholes, known in the northern lowlands as rejolladas (Guderjan, Baker and Lichtenstein 2003). In one case, I have speculated that a rejollada may be a royal garden for the rulers of Blue Creek. It is clear that the people of Blue Creek grew wealthy due to their vast agricultural productivity and strategic setting for trade. Further, more than a third of the area we know as Blue Creek were agricultural lands rather than residential (Guderjan 2007).

During the years of work at Blue Creek, the overall research design has been a constantly evolving, almost organic, set of concepts. At the beginning of the project, there were clearly defined but naïve research goals with very specific and structured processes of related data acquisition. This has evolved into a situation where there are a number of broadly defined “Research Domains” and highly diverse field activities, many of which feed data into multiple Research Domains. Yet, we see the necessity to relate all research activities and Research Domains to a general conceptual framework. The conceptual umbrella of the Blue Creek project can be defined by a clear statement of the purpose of the project, analogous to a mission statement in the world of non-profit organizations. The goal of the Blue Creek project is to understand the structure of a single Maya city as well as its functional and temporal dynamics. While most of our efforts have been focused at the Blue Creek site itself, a part of our effort has also been devoted to understanding the communities that neighbor Blue Creek to better understand Blue Creek’s geo-political context (Guderjan, Bedford and Preston, 2002). In order to clearly understand the transition that occurred within the project from its initial years to its “middle age” ten years later, it is useful to review the major conceptual frameworks that it has embraced and how the data have led us down broader and ultimately more useful paths.

The History of Research at Blue Creek Since 1990, we have undertaken annual, two to three month long, field seasons under the auspices of the Maya Research Program, an independent non-profit corporation affiliated at different times with St. Mary’s University, Texas Christian University and now (2015) with the University of Texas at Tyler. During the two decades discussed here, we developed a stable, long term funding base through a cost-sharing volunteer and student program. In addition, this funding base has

When the project began, the initial working hypothesis was “Blue Creek is a daughter site of La Milpa. The La Milpa polity is viewed as including Blue Creek for its access to the Belize Coastal Zone and the Rio Hondo. The Rio Hondo is the polity’s linkage to the coastal trade network.” (Guderjan, et al 1993). This derived from both my previous work on coastal trade at 6

Implementing Multiple Research Strategies: A Case Study from Blue Creek, Belize Ambergris Cay (Guderjan and Garber 1996) and at the recently re-discovered site of La Milpa, which we had mapped (Guderjan 1991). It was clear that Blue Creek’s strategic setting was of importance. Equally so, I had become convinced that regional political hierarchies were definable without iconographic material, though it was also clear that the task would be complex. So, I entered the Blue Creek project hoping to demonstrate that Blue Creek’s architecture and ceramics mimicked that of its larger neighbor, La Milpa, about 15 km to the southwest.

ever found in the Maya area. Certainly, it indicated that Blue Creek, while relatively small, was very wealthy. The cumulative effect of the discoveries in 1993 and 1994 was that by mid-season, we recognized that we were not excavating a Late Classic outlier of La Milpa as we expected. Instead, it was clear that Blue Creek had a great deal of Early Classic architecture. Further, the evidence from Structures 1, 4 and 9 was contrary to the idea that Blue Creek was part of the realm of any other site. We came to see Blue Creek as an independent polity during the Early Classic period.

In 1992, we mapped the central precinct and what became known as Kin Tan. In addition, we made surface collections where possible and undertook test excavations in front of public buildings. The test excavations indicated that all occupation of the site dated to the Late Classic with the exception of one location in front of Structure 4 (Shirley Mock, personal communication 1992). Today, I would argue that such testing is inadequate to understand the chronology of any site’s construction history.

If 1994 was a watershed year, then 1995 was the first year we operated under a new fundamental understanding of Blue Creek. We re-excavated the Ahau masks on Structure 9 that had been reburied for 2 years. We also undertook large-scale excavation on Structure 1 to better understand the nature of the columned super-structure. In Kuhn’s sense, we had undergone a paradigmatic shift and were now beginning to operate in a period of “normal science” (Kuhn 1970).

In 1993, we began excavations of one of Blue Creek’s largest and most intriguing buildings, Structure 9. As the building had been heavily looted, we mapped the looters’ trenches and expanded one of them. In one of the final days of the field season, we encountered a set of Early Classic stucco masks on the façade of a buried early phase of the building. Since all previous information indicated that we were digging a Late Classic site and we had not yet penetrated the architecture of that construction phase, we ingeniously data hammered the masks into the Late Classic (Grube, Guderjan and Haines 1995). We claimed that the masks must be an archaizing trait analogous to GreekRevival architecture and that is why stylistically Early Classic masks could actually date to the Late Classic. This was ingenious, but very wrong.

By the next season, 1996, the project had begun a significant expansion of its long-term goals and Research Domains. A winter, “off-season” survey team began the process of mapping the area beyond Kin Tan and the central precinct. That survey was instrumental in discovering clusters of residential activity. As we began to explore the nature of these clusters, we found them to be discrete residential zones with a wide range of internal variability. This led us to realize that Blue Creek should be viewed as a complex community with a range of structural components. While this was, in a sense, obvious from the beginning of the project, we had not truly realized the degree to which Blue Creek offered special access to these components. We had presumed, incorrectly, that modern agricultural practices had severely damaged the non-monumental buildings. While that was partially true but the same agricultural practices allowed us access to these buildings. Land clearing had created a situation of very high archaeological visibility and access with far less damage than we expected.

In 1994, we expanded architectural excavations into Structures 1 and 4 on the Main Plaza. At the summit of Structure 1, we were amazed to encounter a columned superstructure. Initially, we believed this to date to the Terminal Classic period and reflect an institutionalized trade interaction with northern Yucatán. Later, however, we determined it to be much earlier, dating to the Early Classic period. Instead of reflecting the importance of trade in Blue Creek’s short life, it actually reflects the architectural innovation that marked a part of Blue Creek’s long history (Driver 2002).

During the subsequent summer field season, initial excavations began at the Structure 37 Plazuela in the Western Group (Hanratty 2000) and at Chan Cahal, a residential group about 3 kms. northeast of the Core Area (Clagett 1997). These represent the opposite ends of the residential spectrum at Blue Creek. Kin Tan consists of large, masonry elite residence and Chan Cahal consists of about 40 small housemounds and a single masonry structure.

In the same season, we began excavations into Structure 4, soon finding the “jade shaft” caches (Guderjan 1996, 1998) which are also discussed by Pedersen in this volume. There was a stone lined shaft penetrating into Structure 4 from its summit. At about AD 500, it had been filled with a series of caches, all deposited at once, that included nearly a thousand jade artifacts. This was one of the largest caches of jade

A few days after the end of the field season, we encountered an unexpected component of the Blue Creek site. In one of our early aerial surveys, we discovered the existence of a set of ditched agricultural fields at the base of the Bravo Escarpment. This


Thomas H. Guderjan discovery prompted a new emphasis on understanding agricultural practices that extends into current research.

faced by the Blue Creek project. This concept is related to what Binford calls “frames of reference” (2001). In a large-scale field project, it is possible to develop tightly defined hypotheses and test implications that can be addressed with the data at hand. However, it is not possible to anticipate all kinds of data that may be collected or to know in advance all of the possible applications those data may have. This is a classic issue in scientific archaeology. It is certainly critical to collect all data relevant to the hypotheses at hand. However, other kinds of data are also collected that do not directly pertain to the hypotheses under examination. Even so, we are ethically obligated to collect and record all such data. Often, we later find that these data, too, become important. For example, we never set out to collect a large contextual database associated with the distribution of jade artifacts, yet we did in fact create such a database (Guderjan and Pastrana 2001; Marroquin this volume). A way of organizing a research design so that such databases can be best utilized is by defining Research Domains appropriate to the situation. Simply enough, a Research Domain is a general category that encompasses a series of general questions and related data. Often, in fact usually, Research Domains overlap one another, so that a single piece or category of data can be applicable to multiple Research Domains. At Blue Creek, I have defined five such Research Domains with the understanding that the integration of them allows for a comprehensive picture of the ancient city.

All of these activities reinforced the idea that Blue Creek provided a special resource in terms of understanding the structure of a Maya city. While we continued research into the public architecture of the central precinct, our interests expanded to incorporate this theme. From 1996 on, we were expending more effort outside of the central precinct than within it and our objective had become to understand the structural complexity of Blue Creek. Pursuing this thinking, the following field seasons, 1997-1999, were designed to better understand this complexity. Bob Lichtenstein undertook a testing program of residential features across the site (Lichtenstein 2000). Jeff Baker (1997) and then Steve Bozarth and Kim Cox undertook excavations of ditched field complexes. Excavations continued and expanded in the Western Group (Hanratty 2001) and at Chan Cahal (Clagett 1997, Popson 2000). The next step in our evolving research design had been slowly laid out during this period. It was clear that it was not adequate to understand the structure of Blue Creek, but that we needed to also understand the functional inter-relationships among the various components. Consequently, Jason Barrett began research on the flow of stone artifacts among the components of the site (Barrett 2004). We also have significantly expanded our emphasis on environmental interaction in general and specifically with regard to agricultural systems. At the same time, we have completed excavations in the central precinct and Chan Cahal and completed excavations in Kin Tan. Our attention is being turned to excavations in another residential group, Sayap Ha, and the nearby site of Bedrock. In addition, we have now assembled a very large database that can be “mined” for new kinds of information related to significantly different and sophisticated research designs. For example, biosilicate analyses of Early Classic caches have revealed the consistent presence of sponges as a component of the ritual activity. This seems to be related to the recreation of the Maya cosmos in these rituals (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). Importantly, our understanding of this is based upon a significant and growing database from several years of excavation, rather than a unique instance.

Research Domain 1: Monumental Architecture, Ritual and Political Organization: Typical of studies of Maya sites, there has been a significant focus on monumental architecture and related data. Excavation data allow us to understand spatial planning and construction histories. In addition, public art and deposits associated with dedication and termination rituals allow us to better understand the political history of the city. In particular, we are now confidant that the Blue Creek site core became an important central place with public architecture by the Late Preclassic period. During the next several centuries in the Early Classic, there were significant large-scale construction projects at the site, incorporating some of the most innovative architecture of the southern lowlands (Driver 2002). By the early part of the Late Classic, this activity seems to have shifted from the Main Plaza to Plaza B, but there were still significant changes on the Main Plaza. Most obvious among them was the closure of the open east side of the plaza with the addition of two new buildings, Structures 2 and 3.

After the first decade of research at Blue Creek, the central theme remains a focus on the structure of a Maya community and its functional and temporal dynamics. In the following section of this paper, I will address several of the major Research Domains incorporated into this central theme.

During the Late Preclassic/Early Classic times, several important features are associated with the public architecture. First, there is a Late Preclassic dedicatory cache placed in front of the earliest phase of Structure 4 that includes several hundred obsidian blades and cores. This may represent a mass bloodletting ritual associated

Research Domains at Blue Creek The concept of Research Domains derives from Cultural Resource Management studies in the United States as a response to fundamentally similar issues 8

Implementing Multiple Research Strategies: A Case Study from Blue Creek, Belize with the installation of Blue Creek’s first king, the progenitor of the royal dynasty that stayed in place for several centuries (Guderjan 1998). This alone would be very weak support for the idea that Blue Creek was an independent polity. However, a number of other pieces of data also support the concept. The masks on the front of Structure 9, for example, depict an ahau or ruler. While our original dating is no longer viable, the thesis offered by Grube, Guderjan and Haines (1995) still stands as reasonable. Structure 9 can be interpreted as a Nikteil Na or accession house for kings. Further, Structure 1 overlooks the Main Plaza and is a tall, graceful viewing gallery with a superstructure composed of a perishable roof held by 16 columns in two rows (Driver 2002). This innovative Early Classic building may well be the earliest use of such columns by the Maya and certainly predates general use of the form by hundreds of years. Such innovation seems to be a consequence of a royal construction commission rather than a backwoods community suddenly creating new architectural styles. Another telling feature is the presence of an early Classic ballcourt at Blue Creek All of the other dated ballcourts in northwestern Belize date to the Late Classic. More importantly, it has been speculated that only a royal lineage would build such a public structure.

innovative buildings and the pace of public architecture construction had come to and end or slowed. In the end, the site was largely abandoned by the beginning of the Terminal Classic period. This abandonment was marked by the deposition of massive amounts of pottery and other artifacts in front of several buildings, especially Structure 3 on the Main Plaza and several buildings in the Structure 37 Plazuela. The nature of these deposits is still debated but we regard them as the materialization of the ritual abandonment of the associated buildings. At any rate, by the Terminal Classic period, Blue Creek is abandoned with only a few later instances of Postclassic re-occupation below the Bravo Escarpment. Research Domain II: The Structure of Maya Society: If anything, the structure of Maya society was far more complex than we yet understand. Certainly, today’s understanding is truly different from the overly simplistic royalty-commoners dichotomy of 40 years ago. Arguments have been made that in the Late Classic, the Maya developed a “middle class” (Chase and Chase 1992) and that in the Postclassic a merchant class took greater control of economic and political affairs (Sabloff and Rathje 1975). Nevertheless, Maya society, even in the Classic, even at the level of a single site, was more complex (Crumley 2003; Guderjan, Baker and Lichtenstein 2003; Scarborough, Dunning and Valdez 2003).

Finally, the presence of large quantities of jade in ritual and non-ritual contexts during the Late Preclassic and Early Classic periods give us insight into the wealth and royal nature of the city. Most notable are the caches in Structure 4 known as the “jade shaft” caches. While the meaning of these deposits has been debated, most fundamental points are agreed upon. At about AD 500, the Maya of Blue Creek buried more than 900 jade artifacts in the stone lined shaft in Structure 4 (Guderjan 1996, 1998). However, this was hardly the only jade found at Blue Creek during this period. In all, we have a sample of nearly 1500 jade artifacts found in caches in public buildings, tombs, and even in apparently non-elite households (Guderjan and Pastrana 2001).

At Blue Creek, we have identified a series of major residential components (Figure 2.3). Each has a definitively distinctive character and temporal pattern. For example, the residences of the core area were certainly the most important of the community. The Structure 19 Courtyard was initially built in the Early Classic and was probably a residence at that time. By the Late Classic, though, it had become the residence of Blue Creek’s most important family. Similarly, the Structure 13 Courtyard was transformed at about the same time from public space to a secular residence. These residences flank Plaza B, indicating their importance in the political order of Blue Creek.

On the other hand, jade from the Late Classic period is scarce. Except for the 24 artifacts from the Early Classic/ Late Classic transitional cache in front of Structure 3, there are only two small jade beads and a jadeite celt from clear Late Classic contexts at Blue Creek. I think it is fair to argue that jade was a royal commodity and access by even wealthy non-royals was not feasible. Therefore, as the royal lineage at Blue Creek lost power, the community lost its access to jade.

Kin Tan has been the focus of several years of investigations and a consistent pattern is emerging. In the Western Group, Early Classic residences seem to have been complex dwellings of elite members of society. In several cases, though, there was significant expansion of these residences in the Late Classic. This pattern, contrary to that of the monumental architecture of the core area, enables several important insights.

In the early part of the Late Classic, Blue Creek may have been taken over by a neighboring polity. Significant formal shifts occur in Structures 1, 5 and 9 that see them converted from Petén style pyramids with central staircases with staircase outsets and masonry superstructures to platform- topped buildings without staircase outsets. This shift seems to correspond to the Late Classic architecture of the coastal Belize zone. Certainly, Blue Creek’s access to jade, construction of

First, in the general sense, we know that we cannot comprehend the temporal aspects of any Maya site by examination of only the monumental architecture. If that had been done at Blue Creek, a quite biased view would have emerged. I strongly suspect that such lack of breadth in excavation and sampling has been one 9

Thomas H. Guderjan cause leading to spurious constructs. For example, excavations at Rio Azul have been used to support the notion of a Middle Classic “hiatus” (Adams 1999). However, there were no extensive excavations beyond the core area at Rio Azul. Until that sampling bias is overcome, I do not believe that such data can be applied to such a problem at all.

Structure U-5 was originally built in the Early Classic period and greatly expanded in the Late Classic as a two-room, masonry building with a stone roof adjacent to a large platform. Occupations at Chan Cahal range in date from the Middle Preclassic to the Late Classic. We have also looked at the analogous situation at the neighboring group of Sayap Ha with forty-two residences, where Lichtenstein’s excavations revealed occupation from the Late Preclassic through the Late Classic. The largest building, the Structure 4E-1 Courtyard was begun as an Early Classic patio group and expanded into a Late Classic courtyard (Lichtenstein 2000). Based on this, we expected the two small, apparent, pyramids to follow the same pattern of a small Early Classic growing to a larger Late Classic structure. To our surprise, this was not the case. One building was actually a low, Early Classic platform while the other was an Early Classic, multiroom, masonry building. Most surprising was that the building had been abandoned by the end of the Early Classic.

It becomes clear that there was a decline in construction of public architecture at the same time there was an expansion of construction of elite residences. I have argued that this is a result of the loss of fundamental independence and the collapse of a royal lineage at Blue Creek. On the other hand, this could simply reflect a dispersion and decentralization of power for a number of other reasons. Either way, the picture would have been woefully incomplete without significant sampling of Kin Tan. Kin Tan represents the highest density of elite settlement at Blue Creek. However, several other elite communities exist. For example, the Rosita group is about 3.5 kms. northwest of the central precinct. Relatively little excavation has been done in the group (as of 2002), but there are indications of occupation ranging from the Late Preclassic through the Late Classic periods. The group consists of at least courtyard groups on the tops of high hills. Also, Nukuch Mul is an unexcavated community about 1.5 km. north of the central precinct that is focused on a very large, complex plazuela group.

The variability at Blue Creek is still difficult to interpret. Again, however, several patterns have emerged. First, Blue Creek was organized into a set of residential groups, each with its own character. Largescale settlement surveys and testing have made it possible to define discreet barrios or neighborhoods. Each of these has its own distinctive nature. Unlike the over-simplified concentric circle model of preColumbian cities, Maya sites such as Blue Creek are composed of a complex mosaic of functional units. Research Domain III: The functional relationships among the constituent parts: There are two approaches to the issue of functional relationships. The first and more obvious is to examine economic interaction and the political economy that drives a community’s interaction. Being situated on an ecotone, Blue Creek’s constituent communities have access to a diverse variety of eco-niches that provide equally diverse resources. Most of these resources are biological resources and related resources of agricultural potential. As I have already noted, these vary considerably within the community, to the benefit of the community as a whole. Another resource that is not homogeneously distributed is stone for tool making. For the most part, such stone is located in ancient gravel deposits on terraces along the contemporary Rio Azul/Blue Creek drainage about the Bravo Escarpment. We are currently well underway with a study that will define the locations of such gravel deposits and the locations of workshops for making tools (Cox and Ricklis 1999, Barrett 2001). Already, we have been able to determine that some communities were self-sufficient with their stone tool needs; making and using tools at the household level. On the other hand, some elite communities obtained tools from more specialized workshops, perhaps at the

Figure 2.3 Residential Components of Central Blue Creek. (Fieldwork by Bob Baker, Thomas Guderjan, Jerry Reed and others. Map by Lance Trask.) In contrast, below the escarpment are several residential groups that lack large-scale masonry architecture and exhibit significant variability from these elite groups. Chan Cahal consists of about forty housemounds and a central place, Structure U-5. 10

Implementing Multiple Research Strategies: A Case Study from Blue Creek, Belize strategically located site of Bedrock. Northwest Belize and the upper Rio Hondo area have nodal and distinctive deposits of stone suitable for toolmaking (Barrett 2001). Consequently, the pathways of stone artifacts as they flow through the Blue Creek economic system are relatively easy to trace. As we do so, we will also begin to define the relationships among these residential components.

experienced paddlers were at work. Moreover, near the site of Blue Creek, the Rio Hondo divides into the Rios Bravo and Azul (or Blue Creek) and it is no longer possible to canoe upstream. As the rivers ascend (or, technically, descend) the Bravo Escarpment, their utility as transportation routes end. So, the site of Blue Creek is situated in exactly the most strategic location to take advantage of trade up and down the Rio Hondo.

Another aspect of this integration is world-view that was shared by all members of Blue Creek society. We have subjected the residue from eight Early Classic caches to biosilicate analyses. In each case, there were significant quantities of sponges present (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). Additionally, each also contained important elements of the terrestrial world. These data confirm arguments that such caches are material representations of the Maya cosmos (Freidel, Schele and Parker 1993; Garber, Driver, Sullivan and Glassman 1998) and dedicatory rituals involved the symbolic recreation of the Maya universe. The eight caches from Blue Creek come from public ritual locations in monumental architecture, elite residences and non-elite residences. In contradiction to arguments for ethnic and religious heterogeneity, the Maya society of Blue Creek was culturally, though not economically, homogeneous.

The quantity of exotic materials at Blue Creek indicates that they certainly did take advantage of the situation. In the Late Preclassic and Early Classic, jade artifacts are found in abundance (Guderjan and Pastrana 2001). Further, a wide variety of stone artifacts are made from other exotic materials (Haines 2000, Pastrana, manuscript). Clearly, Blue Creek was a wealthy community. How did they “pay” for these materials? One explanation is that as participants in a large-scale trade system, they grew wealthy through control of trade. While this is reasonable, it ignores the fact that Blue Creek also had large-scale agricultural resources. The ditched field complexes below the escarpment combined with the small bajos or “bajitos” above the escarpment and a series of small eco-niches along the escarpment zone indicate that Blue Creek had vast agricultural potential and diversity (Guderjan, Baker and Lichtenstein 2003. This being the case, it only seems likely that these resources were traded for others and that this trade is reflected in the wealth Blue Creek exhibits.

Research Domain IV: The underlying economic basis of a Maya city: It is erroneous to examine our own society in economic terms yet fail to realize that pre-Columbian cities were also bound by similar economic principles. This overtly cultural materialist strategy is the most common way in which we examine our own society. Yet, we somehow often fail to consider that societies of the past operated within the same realm. The strategy of cultural materialism allows us to make the past understandable and to make it comparable with the present. Blue Creek had two important economic advantages: its setting at the terminus of the northernmost river in the Maya area and an enormous agricultural base.

During the past several years, we have moved forward in the analyses of biological materials to better understand the nature of agriculture at Blue Creek. The clay soils of the area seem to have mechanically impacted macro-botanical preservation, making this avenue of research less than satisfactory. However, the preservation of phytoliths and pollen is remarkable. We have now recovered phytoliths and pollen from several middens, ditches and fields as well as from ritual contexts and in each case, the preservation has been very high (Steve Bozarth, personal communication, 2001). Consequently, as we have excavated materials from residential areas, we have also been able to begin to identify the interaction between these residential areas and adjacent fields.

We understand the Maya to have traded elite, exotic objects such as jade, green obsidian, etc. Further, some such exotic objects, such as obsidian, became so common that they are found at the household level. We also see trade in perishable materials such as cacao, salt and textiles as part of the fabric of Maya life. However, there is significant debate regarding the trade of commodities, especially food, with many archaeologists adhering to the idea that such commodities trade was not institutionalized. However, at Blue Creek, it seems very likely that such trade was exactly the case.

Moreover, we are likely to be successful in directly identifying what plants were actually grown in these fields. As our colleague, Jeff Baker, has pointed out, economically useful plants are not limited only to plants used for food but include palms for housing materials, cotton for clothing, etc. (personal communication, 2002). Research Domain V: The use of plants by the people of Blue Creek:

The Rio Hondo meanders its way from the Bay of Chetumal to Blue Creek. Recently, we found the distance to be a 3-day trip by canoe from the coast, if stopover points were known in advance and

Clearly there is a close relationship between this and the previous research domain. However, these domains 11

Thomas H. Guderjan are somewhat arbitrary organizational constructs and overlap is not only expected, but advantageous. As research in one area is undertaken, it expands our knowledge of the other. In the case of plant use, we are certainly looking beyond food and plants used for export. Phytolith analysis has opened windows into house construction techniques, ritual activity, agriculture, as well as food usage (Bozarth 2002). Our efforts in this area are rapidly expanding integrating analyses of ancient macrobotanicals, pollen and phytolith with surveys of contemporary plant communities and ethnobotanical research with contemporary communities. While such research is unusual in the Maya area, it is certainly not innovative within the field in general. However, what is important is that the project has accumulated a very large database of samples from numerous sources (i.e.; middens, agricultural fields, ritual settings, etc.) and now has a strong grasp on the numerous other potential sources of data that remain unexcavated. Most importantly, we have strong contextual framework in which these data may be placed.

new data into older research domains. The use of Research Domains as an organizational construct allows for an active research project to examine potential new efforts and data gathering within a framework that gives the archaeologists an understanding of why data collection may occur without the restraint created by a strictly deductive approach. To be successful, small projects must, by their nature, adhere strictly to the limitations imposed by their initial research designs. However, long-term field projects cannot be so rigidly restrained. An analogy comes from the world of non-profit corporations in the United States. Each organization, whether it is a university, an archaeological research organization or a drug rehabilitation center, devises its own Mission Statement. This statement defines the breadth and limitations of what an organization may undertake. In several cases, I have been in meetings when the limitations of the organization’s mission statement have been used to halt a new initiative. Yet, the Mission Statement has another function. It enables the organization to clearly understand when an initiative is appropriate and should be fully supported. In a sense, Research Domains fulfill the same function. There have been 20 or so staff members of the Blue Creek project over the past decade, many with exciting and innovative ideas for research. The construction of explicit Research Domains has allowed for a decisionmaking framework for the support of these ideas.

Integrating the Research Domains Each of these domains is intertwined with others and it is clear that any single research effort attains much greater value when coordinated with others. By applying methodologies aimed at understanding specific parts of the Blue Creek community, it becomes possible to understand the structure and dynamics of a Maya city…the overall goal of the project. The fieldwork and goals associated with some research domains, in particular Research Domain 1: Monumental Architecture, Ritual and Political Organization, have now been largely accomplished. As this transpired, we accumulated a database that allows us to better approach the other research domains. As the efforts in these domains proceed, the results feed back into our understanding of domains that we focused efforts on earlier.

Secondly, while data only exist in relationship to the hypotheses they are collected to test, the use of Research Domains allows us to consistently understand that data can be applied to multiple questions and allows us to remain aware in advance, what these interactions among research designs are. Thus, those researchers who are able to benefit from a data collection innovation can also be involved in the process from its beginning. The third point is more specific to Blue Creek and the project’s contributions to understanding the Maya civilization. At Blue Creek, we have made special efforts to avoid compartmentalizing data and to ensure that those with vested interests in the outcomes of a field effort are involved from the beginning. The consequence is to allow us to have greater depth, breadth and substance in our interpretations.

For example, in the early years of the project, we focused on Research Domain 1: Monumental Architecture, Ritual and Political Organization. This created a set of residue samples from ritual caches that later could be used to feed into several other domains, in particular Research Domain II: The Structure of Maya Society, Research Domain IV: The underlying economic basis of a Maya city and Research Domain V: The use of plants by the people of Blue Creek. Then, as these samples were analyzed (see Guderjan 2000), the results allowed us to expand our understanding of ritual and political organization, part of Research Domain I.

References Cited Adams, Richard E. W. 1999 Rio Azul, An Ancient Maya City. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

Discussion Baker, Jeffrey 1997 Investigations in the Ditched Fields. In Working Papers of the Blue Creek Project: The 1996 Field Season. Edited by W. David Driver, Heather L. Clagett and Helen R.

I hope to make two major points in this chapter. First, large-scale projects must be organized in a way that creates an interpretive framework for data and associated hypotheses and allows for integration of 12

Implementing Multiple Research Strategies: A Case Study from Blue Creek, Belize Haines. Maya Research Program, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas.

Freidel, David A., Linda Schele, and Joy Parker 1993 Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path. William Morrow and Company; New York.

Barrett, Jason 2004 Constructing hierarchy through entitlement: Inequality in lithic resource access among the ancient Maya of Blue Creek, Belize, Unpublished PhD dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University.

Garber, James F., W. David Driver, Lauren A. Sullivan, and David M. Glassman 1998 Bloody Bowls and Broken Pots: The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Maya House. In The Sowing and The Dawning: Termination, Dedication and transformation in the Archaeological and Ethnographic Record of Mesoamerica. Edited by Shirley Boteler Mock, pp. 125-134. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Binford, Lewis R. 2001 Constructing Frames of Reference: An Analytical Method for Archaeological Theory Building Using Ethnographic and Environmental Data Sets. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Grube, Nikolai, Thomas H. Guderjan, and Helen R. Haines 1995 Late Classic Architecture and Iconography at the Blue Creek Ruin, Belize. Mexicon 17:3:51-66.

Bozarth, Steven R. 2002 Analysis of Phytoliths from Blue Creek. In Working Papers of the Blue Creek Project; 1998 & 1999 Field Seasons. Edited by Thomas H. Guderjan and Robert J. Lichtenstein. Maya Research Program, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas.

Guderjan, Thomas H. (editor) 1991 Maya Settlement in Northwestern Belize: The 1988 and 1990 Seasons of the Rio Bravo Archaeological Project. Labyrinthos, Culver City, California.

Bozarth, Steven R. and Thomas H. Guderjan 2004 Biosilicate Analysis of Residue in Maya Dedicatory Cache Vessels from Blue Creek, Belize. Journal of Archaeological Science 31:2:205-215. Chase. Diane Z. and Arlen F. Chase (editors) 1992 Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. Cox, Kim A. and Robert A. Ricklis 1999 The Organization of Lithic Technology at Blue Creek: A Systemic Approach. In The Blue Creek Project: Working Papers from the 1997 Season. Edited by W. David Driver, Helen R. Haines and Thomas H. Guderjan, pp. 85-94. Maya Research Program, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas. Crumley, Carol L. 2003 Alternative Forms of Social Order. In Heterarchy, Political Economy, and the Ancient Maya: The Three Rivers Region of the East-Central Yucatan Peninsula. Edited by Vernon L. Scarborough, Fred Valdez, Jr. and Nicholas P. Dunning, pp 136-145. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.


Investigations at the Blue Creek Ruin, Belize. In The Investigators of the Mayan Culture 4, pp. 330-354. Autonomous University of Campeche, Mexico.


The Blue Creek Jade Cache: Early Classic Ritual in Northwest Belize. In The Sowing and the Dawning: Termination, Dedication and transformation in the Archaeological and Ethnographic Record of Mesoamerica. Edited by Shirley Boteler Mock. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.


Recreating the Maya Cosmos: Early Classic Caches at Blue Creek. Acta Mesoamericana 14:33-39.


The Nature of an Ancient Maya City: Resources, Interaction and Power at Blue Creek, Belize. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Guderjan, Thomas H., Jeffery Baker, and Robert J. Lichtenstein 2003 Environmental and Cultural Diversity at Blue Creek. In Heterarchy, Political Economy, and the Ancient Maya: The Three Rivers Region of the East-Central Yucatan Peninsula. Edited by Vernon L. Scarborough, Fred Valdez, Jr. and Nicholas P. Dunning, pp. 77-91. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Driver, W. David 2002 An Early Classic Collonaded Building at the Ancient Maya site of Blue Creek, Belize. Latin American Antiquity 13:1:63-84.


Thomas H. Guderjan Guderjan, Thomas H., William Bedford, and Tim Preston 2002 Relocating Chocoha. Mexicon 24:5:88-89.

Unpublished Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, State University of New York at Albany.

Guderjan, Thomas H. and James F. Garber 1996 Maya Trade and Settlement on Ambergris Cay, Belize. Labyrinthos, Lancaster, California.

Popson, Colleen, Jeffery Baker and Robert J. Lichtenstein 1999 Beneath the Escarpment: Settlement and Subsistence on the Rio Bravo Floodplain. Paper Presented at the 64th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Chicago, Illinois.

Guderjan, Thomas H., Robert J. Lichtenstein, and C. Colleen Hanratty 2003 Elite Residences at Blue Creek, Belize. In Maya Palaces and Elite Residences. Edited by Jessica Christie, pp. 13-45. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Sabloff, Jeremy and William J. Rathje 1975 The Rise of a Maya Merchant Class. Scientific American 233:4:73-82.

Guderjan, Thomas H., Helen R. Haines, Michael Lindeman, Shirley Mock, Ellen Ruble, Froyla Salam, and Lea Worchester 1993 Excavations at the Blue Creek Ruin, Northwestern Belize: 1992 Interim Report. Maya Research Program, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas.

Scarborough, Vernon L. and Fred Valdez, Jr. 2003 The Engineered Environment and Political Economy of the Three Rivers Region. In Heterarchy, Political Economy, and the Ancient Maya: The Three Rivers Region of the East-Central Yucatan Peninsula. Edited by Vernon L. Scarborough, Fred Valdez, Jr. and Nicholas P. Dunning, pp. 3-13. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Guderjan, Thomas H. and Dale V. Pastrana 2001 Patterns of Jade Distribution at Blue Creek, Belize. Paper presented at the 66th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, New Orleans. Haines, Helen R. 2000 Intra-Site Obsidian Distribution and Consumption Patterns in Northern Belize and the North-Eastern Petén. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Institute of Archaeology; University College, London. Hanratty, C. Colleen 2000 Continuing Excavations on the Structure 37 Plazuela, Blue Creek, Belize. Paper presented at the 66th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, New Orleans. 2001

Kín Tan: New Perspectives of the Structure 37 Plazuela at Blue Creek. Paper presented at the 66th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, New Orleans.

Kuhn, Thomas S. 1970 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Edition. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Lichtenstein, Robert J. 2000 Settlement Zone Communities of the Greater Blue Creek Area. Occasional Paper 2. Maya Research Program, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas. Popson, Colleen 2000 Political Economy of the Chan Cahal Residential Group, Blue Creek, Belize. 14

Chapter 3 Water, Stone and Soil: A Preliminary Investigation into the Location of Selected Sites in Far North-west Belize in Relation to Critical Natural Resources

Gail A. Hammond Introduction

Methodology and Rationale

This chapter examines the locations and proximity to natural resources of ancient Maya population centres in northwestern Belize and considers their place in the wider geographical and political landscape to define locational variables common to each. Blue Creek, the focus of intensive research since the 1992, will be used as a model for comparison with four other sites.

Blue Creek is used as a model for the comparison because it has intensively excavated and documented (See Guderjan 2007). The other four sites, Xnoha, Bedrock, Nojol Nah and Grey Fox are of varying size and function. I have worked at two of these sites, excavating at Nojol Nah under Dr Jason Barrett in 2008, and assisting Marc Wolf with mapping at Grey Fox in 2009.

This area, part of the Three Rivers Region (after Scarborough et al 2003), contains a diverse range of ecological and topographical features as well as natural resources such as water, agricultural land and lithic resources which makes possible an assessment of the role that environmental resources had on the economic activities of the ancient Maya (Scarborough and Valdez 2003). My purpose is to assess whether access to these critical natural resources was an important determining factor in terms of settlement location.

Site Catchment analysis (Flannery 1986), Optimal Foraging models (Winterhalder 2001) and Central Place Theory (Johnson 1972) have focused on human interactions with natural resources and these interactions are equally important in agrarian and urban societies as they are for hunter-gatherer societies. In the ancient Maya world these resources ranged from green stones and quetzal feathers, which were used as valuable commodities, to copal, which was used as incense in a ritual context. The most obvious critical resources are water and food, and I would also argue that lithic resources are also critical as they provide material for both buildings, and more importantly, for tools used in a variety of ways.

A resource is anything that fulfils a real or perceived need for a society (Barrett 2004) A critical natural resource is a resource that the lack of will affect the viability of the continuation of a mode of existence and cannot be replaced by an alternative (Barrett 2004).

The Physical Environment of Northwestern Belize Focus of Present Study Environmental considerations are equally as important as cultural ones in the study of human behaviour. Landscapes are themselves layered artefacts (Dunning et al. 1999, 650) and humans have modified and manipulated their natural environments, the nature of these environments have inherent boundaries that will limit human action. This section will deal with the environmental contexts and critical resources of northwestern Belize.

Settlement pattern studies are usually top-down studies, but this study will consider sites on a landscape from a bottom-up approach. By focussing on natural resources, I am not advocating an environmental deterministic stance but access to critical natural resources do impact the nature and function of a site. After site location choice variables have been taken into account, then, in terms of future research directions, we can begin to assess the kinds of relationships with other locations that impact site functions and more complex question concerning power, ideology and religion can be addressed.

Belize is in northeastern Central America and is part of the Yucatan Peninsula. The ancient Maya world covers 15

Gail A. Hammond nearly 500,000 square kilometres (Figure 3.1) and is conceptually divided into the Highlands and the Lowlands. The Maya as a recognisable (although not

building material available or used. For example, at Altar de Sacrificios, red sandstone was employed, at Copan green trachyte, at Quirigua, sandstone, schist and rhyolite were utilised in great quantities (Hammond and Ashmore 1981) and at Stann Creek, Belize, granite, sandstone and slate (Graham 1994). Thus the Maya exploited local variations in available geological resources. The Maya Lowlands lie between latitude 15˚ and 22˚ north and longitude 87˚ and 93˚ west. The Lowlands are subject to a bi-seasonal pattern of wet and dry periods, with most of the 2000 mm yearly average falling between June and January - although in reality rainfall can be unpredictable and the area has historically been susceptible to severe droughts (Ford 1996). Temperatures remain fairly constant throughout the year, with daily highs often reaching 38˚C, and relative humidity more than 80% throughout the Lowlands (Hammond and Ashmore 1991). There are few lakes or perennial rivers in the lowlands, the exception being in Belize which contains three major rivers, the Hondo, the New and the Belize. Also, seasonal water holes known as aguadas and water bearing sinkholes known as cenotes were important features within the Lowland Maya cultural landscape. As the land is largely limestone karst, any water quickly enters the groundwater systems and becomes accessible in only a few places (Dunning et al 2002). Therefore, management of water must have been a prime concern as water is, of course, the most critical of all subsistence resources (Fedick 1996). The agricultural potential of the Lowlands is not uniform, with the Peten containing areas with deep, fertile soils, while Yucatan contains areas which are quite the opposite (Coe 2005). An agriculturally important feature in the Lowlands are bajos. These are low-lying lands subject to seasonal inundation (Culbert et al 1990), and are likely to have been used for wetland agriculture (Beach et al 2009).

Figure 3.1. The Maya World (Sharer 2006, 24) homogeneous) entity have inhabited this area since at least 2000 BC to the present day (Fash 2002). The Maya area was never politically unified and in the Southern Lowlands area alone, during the Classic Period, there were 45-50 separate kingdoms (Webster and Evans 2005). That being said, the entire lowlands area was linked by uniformity in art, calendrics, iconography, mathematics and architecture (Pyburn 1996).

Another conspicuous feature of the Lowlands is its broadleaf tropical forests. The forests contained many important resources for the ancient Maya including trees, such as the Ceiba (which was important to the Maya in sacred terms), hardwoods such as cedar and mahogany (which are useful for building), food trees such as ramon and avocado, as well as rubber trees and many different species of palm that had many uses. Within the forest dwelled a diversity of animal life including jaguars, snakes, monkeys, tapirs, deer peccaries, and many birds such as doves, woodpeckers, turkeys and parrots (Sharer and Traxler 2006). The forest played an important role in the Lowland Maya world both in terms of practical subsistence resources, and sacred, cosmological reasons with forest imagery and symbolism commonly appearing on monumental art and architecture throughout the Lowland Maya region (Taube 2003). While the ancient Maya had a wide spectrum of resources available, these

The range of environmental settings in the Maya Lowlands, while not as striking as the mountainous Highlands, are ecologically diverse and contain a rich variety of resources (Coe 2005). However the Lowlands still contain a diverse range of physiographic and biotic zones within their 350,000 square kilometres. The geological make-up of the Lowlands consists mostly of a limestone platform, with outcrops of chert (Wright et al 1959), which provided materials for both buildings and stone tools. However, limestone was not the only 16

Water, Stone and Soil resources, particularly water, were homogenously distributed. This is relevant when considering the location of population centres.

which increase in elevation from east to west - these are the Booth’s River escarpment, the Rio Bravo escarpment and the La Lucha escarpment. The three rivers each have notably different characteristics. Unlike the two other rivers, the Rio Azul is not a perennial river (Houk 2003). It sluggishly flows through a series of interconnected bajos and during the wet season spreads out amorphously over a wide flood plain when these bajos become inundated. In the dry season it dwindles to a series of stagnant pools. In contrast, the Rio Bravo flows all year round, albeit erratically – in the dry season it is a placidly flowing stream, however, in the wet season it can become a raging torrent (Houk 2003). The Booth’s River is situated in a large depression and its principal channel flows gently through wide perennial wetlands during the dry season, and floods widely in response to the wet season’s rain (Dunning et al 2003).

Belize is bounded by the Caribbean Sea, in the north by the Rio Hondo, in the south by the Sarstoon River and has a land border with Guatemala in the west. The country covers 23,000 sq kilometres, is 280 kilometres long and lies between 18.5˚ and 17.75˚ north latitude. It is a large, varied segment of the Maya lowlands and its dominating geographical feature are rivers (Rice 1974). The mainland can be divided into two regions: i) the flatlying low relief northern region, and ii) the mountainous southern region which contains the mass of the Maya Mountains (Howie 2005). The low relief northern region of Belize is a low land plain consisting of gently sloping limestone hills, inland and coastal swamps, and sandy plains and lagoon complexes (Howie 2005). Like the rest of the Maya lowlands, Belize is subject to wet and dry seasons, with 90% of the 1500 mm of annual rainfall occurring between June and December, and has a subtropical climate. From August to October the area is prone to tropical storms, hurricanes and torrential rains, a time when fields and bajos can become inundated, and erosion of hill slopes is greater (Barrett 2004).

There are five major types of vegetation which occur in this area: 63% upland sub-tropical moist forest; 20% swamp forest; 8% palm forest; 7% marsh; and 2% savannah, with the swamp, marsh and savannah habitat occurring east of the Bravo and Booth escarpment systems (Guderjan 1991). There are large areas of chert outcroppings within this area. For example chert cobbles appear on the western edges of the Dumb-Bell Bajo, and also on the route into Grey Fox (Cox and Ricklis 1999). Chert occurs within two geologic contexts, (i) the marly limestone deposit which underlies the regions, which contains cherty and siliceous interbeds (this material is in general of inferior quality for making tools); and (ii) fluvial river terrace gravels, of Pleistocene age, which have been identified as being the primary chert source used by the ancient Maya (Lewis 2003). Other lithic resources in the area include chalcedonies which are often alongside chert on the edge of bajos (Barrett 2004).

Northwestern Belize is part of the Three Rivers Region which is dominated by the three principal tributaries of the Rio Hondo: the Rio Azul, the Rio Bravo and the Booth’s River. Northwestern Belize also is an ecotone where two of the major ecological zones in the Maya Lowlands – the Peten Physiographic region and the Eastern coastal plain – meet, a diverse range of habitats occurs (Guderjan et al 2003). The Three Rivers Region itself is the eastern margin of the large Peten karst plateau. The complex karst hydrology occurring here had the effect of creating a wide range of ecological settings within this specific area. Furthermore, this hydrological variation produced a wide range of soil types and soil moisture regimes meaning that native vegetation ranges from well-drained upland forest to perennially moist herbaceous marsh land (Dunning et al 2003). In the upland areas, calcareous-based soils occur; in the bajos there are thick wetland deposits of calcareous clay or loam; and in the north-east part of this area is a band of siliceous sandy soils (Guderjan 1991). This is important when considering the types of potential agriculture in the area, as for example manioc and corn prefer acidic soils, such as found in the uplands, whereas maize, beans and squash prefer more the basic soils of bajo areas (Dunning et al 2003). Notably within this region is a large 40 square kilometre Bajo, the Dumb-Bell Bajo which has had massive agricultural productivity in both modern and ancient times (Guderjan et al 2003).

A hallmark of ancient Maya civilisation was agriculture (Voorhies 1996). The Maya identified themselves and their relationship with the physical world around them with the cultivation of maize. Their very identity and cosmological origin myths were linked to this (Freidel et al 1993). The altered their natural environment and exploited land with sophisticated agricultural techniques, as was necessitated by the environmentally heterogeneous nature of the lowlands (Dunning, et al 1998). The rainforest setting and the delicate nature of soils mean that nutrients can be exhausted quickly. However by mimicking the natural diversity and dispersion of individual species over a wide area, the ancient Maya were able to maximise the agricultural potential of their environment, and support large populations (Demarest 2004). Some examples of their diverse agricultural strategies are: swidden agriculture, also known as ‘slash and burn’, which involved alternate cycles of cultivation

The eastern half of the region is located on a series of fault lines that have produced three terraced uplands


Gail A. Hammond and laying fallow; household gardens, which were small intensive garden plots located in and around house lots; terracing, which involved the construction of various types of walls in order to retain moisture, stop erosion and conserve moisture; raised field agriculture, which took place in low-lying areas, particularly in seasonally inundated bajos and swamps, where drainage channels were excavated with soil piled up between them to create productive fields; bajos, which were also exploited in the dry season for crops of tubers, maize and other cultigens; and rejolladas, which are naturally occurring sinkholes that occurred in the limestone karst that held thick nutrient rich soils within them (Demarest 2004). These features can be identified archaeologically, often with aerial photography.

Access to lithic resources is another important indicator of whether a site could function autonomously. Lithic resources were important for subsistence such as food processing tools such as metates; and for ritual purposes, for example Maya eccentrics, and for buildings and sculpture. Lithic resources therefore were vital for many different facets of ancient Maya life, and so can be termed a critical resource, particularly when considering how crucial they were to subsistence needs. Specifically, though, in this paper I refer not to building materials and such resources but chert and similar deposits which are raw materials for stone tool manufacture. Lithic tools formed the technological core of the Maya subsistence economy, and so access to these resources was in continuous demand (Barrett 2004).

Water was often in short supply, and the ancient Maya developed different adaptive strategies to address this potential problem. Agriculture consists of water management strategies such as the terracing discussed above. Access to a regular water supply can mean the difference between life and death. Water is the most precious natural resource and it has been estimated that a human needs 2-3 litres of water per day under normal settled living conditions (Scarborough 2003). This varies on a number of factors including environment, body type, and activity levels, as well as cultural norms. Strategies for coping with an unreliable water supply revolved around water storage features. There were four principal landscaping features that the ancient Maya used for water manipulation, these being wells, reservoirs, dams and canals, all four of which entail major earth moving endeavours, which in turn involved large amounts of labour (Scarborough 2003). Dams and canals are more likely to have been utilised for agricultural intensification whereas wells and reservoirs are both for water storage and collection, and are associated with daily uses. Chultuns are a form of man-made water storage where bell-shaped chambers were excavated into the limestone bedrock. The presence of a chultun however does not necessarily connote water storage, as these were often used for food storage or for human burial, particularly in the Southern Lowlands, although there is clear evidence that they were used as water storage in many instances (Harrison 1993). Elsewhere aguadas were another type of water reservoir which were modified from large naturally occurring depressions. A cenote is a natural phenomenon and refers to the accessible body of water that connects to subterranean rivers. These were used as water supplies and also had ritual significance, as seen in the famous example of the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza (Brady and Ashmore 1999). The presence or absence of any of these water storage features at an archaeological site can indicate whether water was managed internally or whether an external supply was needed.

Figure 3.2. Northwest Belize showing selected sites (Barrett and Brown 2008) Blue Creek Blue Creek is the most thoroughly studied site and consists of a central precinct with two large plazas with monumental architecture and a ballcourt (Figure 3.3), as well as residential communities and over 400 cultural features have been recorded (Lichenstein 2000). Guderjan (2004) has convincingly argued that Blue Creek at one time was an independent polity (Hammond 2009), despite its proximity to the two largest sites in Belize - Lamanai and La Milpa. The site core is located on top on the Rio Bravo escarpment, 100-150 metres above its adjacent low-lying coastal plain. Xnoha Xnoha, first located in 1990, is situated approximately 14 kilometres northwest of Blue Creek and contains one large plaza with a range of residential architecture


Water, Stone and Soil (Figure 3.4). It was mapped and partially excavated in 2003-2004, and was found to be a smaller site than Blue Creek, although still of substantial size. Its surrounding settlement zone is yet to be defined.

Bedrock Bedrock is Blue Creek’s nearest neighbour. It is located on the northern side of the Dumbbell Bajo and is a small centre consisting of a central plaza surrounded by medium sized public buildings. Early Classic ceramics and a Terminal Classic vaulted chamber have been found here (Guderjan 2004). This site has been completely cleared by farming activities (Figure 3.5).

The name “Xnoha” derives from Xnoha Creek which forms part of the headwaters of the Río Hondo. It has also been spelled “Ixnóha” which is possibly phonetically more accurate. However, we retain the original spelling for concordance with existing maps, etc.

Figure 3.5. Aerial view of Bedrock. Photo by Kim A. Cox. Nojol Nal Nojol Nah is a large settlement area, containing both ceremonial and residential architecture located at the end of an east-west running ridge close to the Mexican border overlooking a the Alacranes bajo to the north. It is roughly 4.5 kilometres south of the Mexican border, and around a third of this site has been lost to deforestation and modern land clearance schemes, although the remaining structures appear to be largely intact and have been subject to only minor looting. The largest intact structure is approximately 7 metres in height. Nojol Nah also contains a number of plazas, plazuelas, patio groups and isolated mounds (Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.3. Blue Creek Central Precinct (Guderjan 2007)

Figure 3.6. Map of Nojol Nah by Marc Wolf and William T. Brown.

Figure 3.4. Xnoha site centre


Gail A. Hammond Upland dry farming; lowland ditched fields; terraces and check dams; the use of specialised niches such as rejolladas; and kitchen gardens and houselots (Guderjan 2007, 92-99). The interesting thing about this mixture of techniques is that some would have been carried out on an individual household basis, but others, such as the ditched fields would have necessitated some form of centralised control, which brings up the question of whether the population of Blue Creek grew from a small Middle Pre-Classic settlement into the wealthy city that it eventually became because agricultural exploitation was so successful and thereby attracted large populations, or whether agricultural exploitation became a necessary adaptation because of increasing population size that occurred from other factors. It has been estimated that at least 40 square kilometres of upland dry farming, and at least 5 square kilometres of lowland ditched fields were utilised by the Blue Creek Maya (Guderjan 2007, 99). Blue Creek therefore was well situated to take advantage of the agricultural potential of the surrounding area, and was able to create an exportable surplus which was the means used to acquire its wealth (Guderjan 2007, 102).

Grey Fox The site of Grey Fox is located about 4 kilometres north of Nojol Nah, and 200 metres south of the Mexican border, close to the Rio Azul. Grey Fox has two central plazas with an 11.3 metre tall central structure and other monumental architecture (Figure 3.7). The site also contains a third detached plaza, a ball court, several large range buildings and several elite courtyards, as well as house mounds. The site is covered by forest, is virtually un-looted, and may be the second largest site in the MRP research area (Cox 2009, Personal Communication).

Blue Creek is located at the headwaters of the Rio Hondo, close to the Rio Azul and Booth’s River water courses. As well as these water supplies, water was plentiful and evenly distributed throughout the Blue Creek community. This can be seen by the presence of numerous lakes and springs that occur within this area (Guderjan 2007, 101). The lack of any evidence of centralised water control also indicates that water was plentiful as resources only become commodities when they are in short supply. Water was a vital element in the development of Blue Creek as a community whose wealth was disproportionate to its size. The Rio Hondo is the farthest north of the numerous Central American rivers that drain into the Caribbean and so control of this waterway meant control of an important trade route for riverine canoe trade (Guderjan 1996, 6-7). So it would be reasonable to say that water was the most important critical natural resource for the development of Blue Creek as a wealthy independent polity, as without such good access to water, the transport of the agricultural surplus which allowed Blue Creek to develop on its trajectory would have been impossible.

Figure 3.7 Grey Fox, map by Marc Wolf and Gail Hammond. Blue Creek as a model for comparison of other sites Blue Creek is located at an ecotone. So, there was the potential to exploit an abundance of natural resources. The soils around Blue Creek, particularly below the escarpment, developed on the flood plain of the Rios Hondo and Bravo and so are rich in nutrients. And it was here that the settlement areas of Chan Cahal and Sayap Ha were situated (Van den Notalaer, this volume). West of the central precinct, the landscape consists of rolling karstic hill which are interspersed with bajos which contain deep and fertile soils (Guderjan and Baker 1995, 122). The ancient Maya at Blue Creek employed at least five different agricultural techniques, these being:

Less than 20% of all lithic tool forms recovered at Blue Creek appear to have been manufactured at the site itself (Barrett 2004, 112). The geology of the area immediately around Blue Creek yields lithic outcrops that are poor in terms of raw material for stone tools. These outcrops contained coarse grained cherts, sedimentary quartzites and dolomites that were of a much lower quality and durability than those found in the outcrops located in the bajo region to the west of Blue Creek (Barrett 2004, 272). Unlike many other sites in the Maya area that were self-sufficient in terms of lithic resource procurement,


Water, Stone and Soil Blue Creek depended on the importation of stone tools from surrounding areas (Barrett 2004, 132).

may indicate that naturally fertile agricultural land was not an original deciding factor in the location of Xnoha.

Agricultural Land

Nojol Nah and Grey Fox are both located on the edge of the 500+ square kilometre, Alacranes Bajo (Guderjan and Hanratty 2014), which has high agricultural potential. The nature of the economic base of these sites has yet to be established. Nojol Nal does not contain a ballcourt, and this may indicate that the site was not politically autonomous. There is a ballcourt at Grey Fox however, although no excavations have been carried out there. There are agricultural terraces at Nojol Nah (Guderjan 2009 Personal Communication), which like at Xnoha, indicates that the Maya at Nojol Nah also altered the land for their subsistence needs. There were also other naturally occurring resources within the forest, and further research is needed at these two sites to see how important agriculture was as a subsistence base, although the size of both of these sites would seem to indicate that agriculture was a necessity to support their population sizes.

This section will focus on the location of sites in relation to land with agricultural potential. Ways to determine the agricultural use of land by past societies include locating remnants of agricultural techniques such as ditched fields, terracing and check dams. Although, it is important to note that these features are notoriously hard to date (Guderjan 2007, 95). Bedrock is nearest to and west of Blue Creek and on the northern side of the Dumbbell Bajo. The topography and soil near this site is similar to that of Blue Creek, but with addition of the immense bajo (Barrett 2004, 81). The Dumbbell Bajo covers around 42 sq. kilometres (Lohse 2005, 4). The bajo itself is ringed with small courtyard groups and other settlements on low hills and the site of Bedrock consists of ten courtyards, and is surrounded by these smaller residences (Guderjan 1995, 19-20). The most notable feature of this site in the context of this study in relation to agriculture is its location at the edge of the bajo. Bajos are well known in the Maya area for their association with intensive agriculture (Kunen 2004), and Bedrock was well placed to take advantage of this agricultural resource. Bedrock had no ballcourt or stelae which are commonly seen as markers of political authority (Barrett 2004, 129). The site may reflect a form of resource specialisation and may have been under the control or influence of La Milpa, which is the one of the largest sites in Belize and lies across the bajo, south of Bedrock. It is possible that Bedrock was integrated into the La Milpa polity to ensure its control over the agricultural productivity of the immense Dumbbell Bajo (Guderjan 1995, 20). Communities such as this which existed for the purpose of intensive agricultural resource specialisation have been termed Bajo Communities, and could also be described as specialised producer extractor sites, or resource specialised communities (Kunen 1999, 7-8).

Water Resources Water is the most important of all natural resources. It provides an essential part of everyday needs, for direct consumption, but also agricultural activities would be impossible without a regular and predictable supply of water. Water was also important in terms of transport and riverine trade. Archeologically, the presence of water control and storage techniques can be determined by the presence of certain cultural features, and we can see how accessible water supplies were by the sites’ proximity to rivers and other water bodies. In comparison to Blue Creek, Xnoha was not in a position where there was an abundance of water. Located a mile or so away from the river, the site was also positioned around 100 metres higher than the flood plain, which would suggest that easy access to a permanent water source was not a deciding factor in its location (Guderjan 2009, Personal Communication). The presence of intensive agricultural features such as terraces and its proximity to bajos suggest that water was not an issue for this site, as agriculture would have been possible without a plentiful water supply.

Xnoha is 4 kilometres northwest of Blue Creek and is smaller than Blue Creek, but still of substantial size (Guderjan 2007, 16) and likely was an independent polity. Like Blue Creek, Xnoha is a medium sized Maya city, containing monumental architecture, as well as residential and other smaller structures. A series of small upland bajos and major lowland bajos are located north, south and west of the site’s centre, and berms and terraces, thought to be agriculturally related, were found approximately one kilometre from the site (Kanipe and Gonzalez 2003, 45). The land around Xnoha is not naturally particularly fertile and where cleared it is ranched and not farmed today (Cox 2009 Personal Communication). So although it had the potential to be modified to become more productive agriculturally, this

Bedrock too is not near a river or permanent water source. However like Xnoha, it is located in close proximity to a bajo which by its nature becomes seasonally inundated with water, so in the rainy season at least, water would be plentiful. The site was occupied from the Late Pre-Classic to the Terminal Classic (Guderjan 2007, 16), a timescale of over a thousand years, and from this we can assume that water was not a pressing issue, as the site would not have had this longevity without it. So although the site is not near an obvious permanent water source, this does not


Gail A. Hammond seem to have been an issue in terms of where the site was located. However, a possible reservoir near the lithic workshop close to the Bedrock site has been identified (Barrett 2004, 84).

Unlike lithic manufacture at or around Bedrock which was associated with specialised workshops, lithic production at Nojol Nah is found in the context of residential architecture. And although the archaeological record shows less artefacts per cubic metre than at Bedrock, the amount of lithic debris found at the lithic outcrop at Nojol Nah is still more than would normally be expected for local household consumption (Barrett and Brown 2008, 60-64). Nojol Nah is approximately 9 kilometres away from the lithic outcrop at the Dumbbell Bajo, and although the lithic raw materials there are not as fine-grained as at Bedrock, they are still of very good quality. The lithic procurement outcrop here consists of a 10 metre wide by 50 metre long platform, that descends towards a small bajo that is strewn with cobbles of broken chert (Barrett and Brown 2008, 59). A small number of lithics found at Blue Creek exhibit a microfossil inclusion which identifies them as originating from the vicinity of Nojol Nah, demonstrating that lithic tools originating from this site were part of the regional markets (Barrett and Brown 2008, 61), thereby showing that natural resources at Nojol Nah were commodities outside of the site itself.

Nojol Nah is located around 4.5 kilometres south of the Rio Azul. It is located on an elevated hilly area which is surrounded by bajos. The other nearest known water source to the site is a cenote approximately 2 kilometres to the south-east (Barrett and Brown 2008, 59) and there is a possible reservoir in the area (Guderjan 2009 Personal Communication), but this needs further investigation. In any case Nojol Nah does not seem to have lacked water, as it was clearly inhabited, as evidenced from residential architecture, and people need water in order to live. Grey Fox is located just 200 metres from the Rio Azul. So the site would have had direct access to the river as it left the bajo. However the Rio Azul only flows in the rainy season in this area, so this was not an available water source during the dry season. However, the location of Grey Fox near to the Rio Azul could have been a strategic one, as it would have been in the position to have controlled access to this water way. It would have been canoe-able for short periods of the year, so would have been linked to the Rio Hondo and then to the wider range of riverine trade networks at least temporarily. Additional mapping of Grey Fox revealed an aguada and further research at the site may reveal more water storage facilities.

Grey Fox is also well situated to exploit local lithic resources. The road into Grey Fox traverses three small ridges (Grey Fox is located on the northernmost one before the land drops off into the Rio Hondo), and these ridges are capped or possibly comprised of a thick, dense chert cobble matrix; and the evidence from this site suggests that the initial stages of the reduction of mundane tools was likely to have been taking place at the area where the raw materials were procured (Cox and Ricklis 1998).

Lithic Resources To evaluate the accessibility of lithic resources for individual sites, lithic outcrops near the site, raw materials within the site, and the presence of imported lithics must be identified. Most of the published data on Xnoha has focussed on ceramics (see Gonzalez 2005), however lithic resources were in good supply around this site (Guderjan 2009 Pers. Comm.). The site occupies a similar topographical setting as Blue Creek, however its proximity to the bajos meant that it had access to the high quality lithic resources of the bajo.

Critical Natural Resources and Site Location While none of the sites have great access to all three critical natural resources – except perhaps Grey Fox in the rainy season when the Rio Azul flows. Blue Creek certainly has the most naturally fertile land, but the inhabitants of the other sites modified the land and adapted it to specialised agricultural techniques. All site locations appear to have been chosen with agricultural potential in mind and closely related to that is an adequate water supply. So although not all sites in this area were near permanent natural water supplies, that they relied heavily upon agriculture suggests that water shortages were not problematic. All of the sites apart from Blue Creek had access to sources of good quality lithics. Blue Creek’s agricultural potential allowed it to acquire lithics from elsewhere. Its location near, and ability to control the nearby river system allowed it to become wealthy as this allowed for commercial trading with sites outside its immediate vicinity.

Bedrock is thought to have shown significant economic ties with Blue Creek which is seen archaeologically through the volume of lithic tools found at Blue Creek that emanated from lithic workshops at or around the site of Bedrock (Barrett 2004, 7). Bedrock also shares topographical similarities with Blue Creek, but like Xnoha, it had access to the very high quality lithic resources of the Dumbbell Bajo and 1.5 kilometres south east of Bedrock are large slabs of chalcedony. Additionally there is evidence of lithic tool manufacture at several locations around the site (Barrett 2004, 101).


Water, Stone and Soil Blue Creek was a wealthy independent polity (Guderjan 2007). However, it relied on outside sources for lithic raw materials. Bedrock had available ample lithic and agricultural sources. However its strategic position on the edge of the highly fertile Dumbbell Bajo would have likely attracted the attention of larger powers, such as perhaps La Milpa or Xnoha. It may have been under the direct control of, or an outpost of, one of these sites. Therefore, access to critical natural resources is not necessarily a reliable marker as to whether a site was an independent. polity. Other factors such as regional geopolitics may have over-ridden this possibility. It is, however, important to remember that from the late PreClassic onwards small settlements, minor centres and powerful urban entities existed long-side one another in a highly fluid political landscape throughout the Maya world and so alliances between, and areas controlled by individual sites were not static and unchanging.

1996, 7). Blue Creek was the farthest east of any Peten style site, and was in the line of sight of at least two sites to the west (Kákabish and Indian Creek) that conformed to the Coastal Belize style, meaning that Blue Creek was located where it could have benefited from interactions with either sphere (Guderjan 1996, 7). Although Blue Creek was able to function as an independent polity, it was still part of the wider political arena that consisted of Peten style sites. The presence of ballcourts here and at Grey Fox demonstrates their links to wider Mesoamerican cosmologies. No site therefore is truly independent or autonomous in the broader sense, despite what control it may or may not have over critical natural resources. Acknowledgements: This work would not have been possible without the help and support of Dr Elizabeth Graham, Dr Thomas H. Guderjan and Kim A. Cox. I also owe all of my friends a great deal for making sure I didn’t go under when all seemed lost, in particular Matthew Walsham, Hannah Dawson, Hannah Cordts, Helen Hewitt, Robin Pairman, Kate Havard, Rachel Peart, Stuart Page, Gary Lau, and Jacquie Martinez. Thanks as well to my family, both the Hammonds and Samphires. Dedicated to the memory of Dr Benjamin R. Samphire 1977-2009.

Other Considerations If access to critical natural resources is not the only factor in site location choice, then we must consider what other factors are also relevant. In the example of Blue Creek and Grey Fox, it seems that strategic positioning in relation to their positions to the rivers was an important factor in terms of control of the water, as opposed to using the water within the sites for domestic purposes. The positioning of Xnoha high above the flood plain may have also been for strategic purposes and what these strategic purposes may have been needs further investigation.

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Another factor to consider when considering access to natural resources is population densities. It has been estimated that population densities in some parts of the Maya world may have ranged from 150 to 500 people per square kilometre during the Late Classic period (Gomez Pompa and Kaus 1992, 274). This is obviously a wide ranging figure, and so if there are any reliable population density estimates for individual sites, then these should be factored in to any analysis, as this will affect interpretations of whether the levels of critical natural resources at a site were viable to support its population, or whether it relied heavily on external resource procurement methods such as for example, trade or the collection of tribute.

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Chapter 4 Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek Dominick Van den Notelaer Although social stratification can be the subject of debate, social classes can be recognized in the archaeological record. Since Blue Creek saw extensive excavations which made it possible to focus not only on the monumental site center but also on the less impressive settlement area, the agricultural fields, etc., the site is a suitable location for such research. Several Features are combined to get an as nuanced and complete image as possible. This way the possibility that certain types of evidence are over- or underrepresented in the archaeological record and would bias conclusions are countered. Some of these features include markers of wealth and prestige such as jade, which would have been imported from outside the greater region. The long-distance trade certainly was not the main reason these materials were held precious, since a luxurious connotation was held in the whole Maya area, but might have enhanced their status even further. Other exotic features such as marine shell used as decoration or exotic pottery types would function in the same way as the other markers of wealth and prestige but their prestigious connotation apparently was more derived from their exotic, and therefore restricted nature. Status and wealth were certainly closely affiliated, and therefore it will be important to discern patterns of wealth as well. The construction of elaborate houses with high status goods are manifestations of the available capital of the residents. An interesting aspect of Maya ritual life was that the most important members of a lineage were buried in the houses to be venerated as ancestors. Therefore these burials are important indicators of status, especially when accompanied by grave goods. By putting these and other features that indicate status in a chronological framework together we will see what parts of society could claim which status, and how this evolved through time.

between residential groups. At Blue Creek, the position of the residential groups in relation to the Bravo Escarpment must have had important implications regarding the life quality of its inhabitants. A distinction between the upper and lower residential groups is recognizable. Although that this oversimplifies the more complex reality, the base of the escarpment holds the settlements that are more commoner-based, while the elite-based communities are located on top of this escarpment. The abundant rainfall in the rainy season could potentially pose a serious hazard to the lower lying residential groups. Not only their fields and crops, but even their houses could be inundated during the rainy season. The water would also have attracted many uninvited guest like mosquitos, rodents and such. Clearly, life on top of the escarpment would have been more comfortable. Moreover there would have been a psychological boundary between the upper and lower lying parts. Whenever people from the lower parts wanted to visit the upper parts, they would have to overcome this physical gap. Consequently, the lower lying parts literally had to look up to the elite residential groups, while the upper lying residential groups overlooked much of the surrounding lands. Since Blue Creek was inhabited for more than a millennium, it will not be possible to cover this entire period in an exhaustive way without doing injustice to the complexity of the subject. Therefore I will focus on the Late and Terminal classic periods, which was also when population was at its peak (Guderjan 2007; Hammond 2009). Chronological Framework: The Late Classic and Terminal Classic Periods The starting point for this article will be around the year AD 500, when Blue Creek may have ceased being an independent polity, which coincides roughly with the start of the late classic. Hammond and Tourtellot (2004) note that, although their estimated beginning and ending dates only vary about one generation, various definitions are used in defining the terminal classic period in the Maya lowlands. Since continuous occupation did not outlast the terminal classic period although there was a postclassic re-occupation at some places - the abandonment can be used as an ending point.

Since Blue Creek was divided into several distinct residential groups, I will investigate this topic on a residential group-level before the overall polity level. As will be evident at the end of this article, though there is a general pattern exhibited in the evolution of the social strata at Blue Creek, not all groups adhere to it. The division of several is not that imposed by archaeologists and is also confirmed by epigraphic evidence (Schele and Matthews 1998; Chase and Chase 2004). Such residential groups imply a “nostalgic idea of social belonging and identity” towards the neighborhood one belongs (Hendon 2012). Conversely, the same mental construction of a neighborhood also would have led to reciprocal rivalries or in other cases harmonic symbioses

It has been said that every transformation implies a state of crisis (Durkheim 1893). This does apply for the 27

Dominick Van den Notelaer transition from classic to postclassic in Mayan civilization. The end of the classic period - the terminal classic - was a period of great distress in which some cities were seemingly abandoned overnight while others silently died out, sculptors left their work unfinished and war was endemic. The image of a Maya collapse must be reconsidered though. The Maya as a people did not cease to exist and some cities in Yucatan seemed to thrive as the majority of the southern lowland cities faded away. Some of the lowland cities however, such as Lamanai less than 30 km from Blue Creek, continued to flourish. Crafts and trade were on at least as high a level as they were in the classic period. The art of the postclassic, long considered a decadent degeneration from the classic period art, now finally gets the attention it deserves. So while the view of a crisis and transformation can rightfully be applied to the terminal classic, the idea of degeneration is clearly not in place here.

concept of kinship and lineages. The social position of an individual in Maya society was largely derived from the proposed position of its ancestors (Schele and Freidel 1990; McAnany 1995; Webster 2002). The importance of lineage is stressed by various rituals of ancestor veneration, and in fact, as Webster (2002) notes, the difference between gods and ancestors is sometimes unclear. The ancient Maya themselves acknowledged this concept of kinship and referred to it as “the house of” (Gillespie 2000; Houston and Inomata 2009). The fact that important lineage members were buried in the house not only underlines this figure of speech, but also stresses the importance of the house as a physical entity in constructing kinship awareness. Though many Maya inscriptions, it is striking that some cities with abundant glyphic texts almost entirely lack such statements (Stuart 2005). This is not very surprising since the sociopolitical organization in different Maya cities could have been quite variable (Webster 2002; Chase and Chase 2004; Dunning 2004). So, it is indispensable to always look at the polity-level first whenever we want to examine broader socio-political structures throughout the Maya area. The lineages were led by their lineage head, probably an elder who functioned as some sort of pater familias (McAnany 1995). When describing the power between communities at Blue Creek, Guderjan (2007, 2009a) follows Wallerstein’s world-systems theory and proclaims that the economic interaction between core and periphery became institutionalized which caused some lineages to be extremely powerful while others got excluded from this system. It were presumably these lineage heads who first effectuated these connections and later liaised them. Interestingly, the title for these lineage heads in the contact period was ah kuch kabob, which means “he with the authority of the land” (McAnany 1995). Despite of the lack of epigraphic evidence, powerful lineages were active at Blue Creek.

Social Stratification in Maya Society Social stratification has as many definitions as there are researchers. One could write bookshelves full of theories on social stratification and how their perception changed over time and space. This article does not in any way aim to do so. Some theoretical remarks on stratification and Maya civilization however, will prove to be useful in our attempt to recognize the social differences at Blue Creek. As a start I will present three slightly different definitions of social stratification to demonstrate that social stratification studies are de facto affected by the authors’ personal vision. For example, Frank Cancian (1976) defines social stratification as “a basic element of social organization in all human and some animal societies. Interpersonal and intergroup relations of dominance and submission, rank or hierarchy which appear wherever people live together”. For Carol Owen (1968) it is “concerned with the placement of people into social categories such as high and low, upper class, middle class and working class, ‘those who count’ and the rest; their placement by law, by religion, by ideology and by their own and their fellows’ estimations on the basis of some one or several characteristics which they possess”. Anthony Giddens (1984), on the other hand, states that “stratification is the first and most basic evolutionary universal in the transition from more to less primitive societies. Stratification tends first of all to emerge through the elevation of one lineage to a privileged rank; the senior individual in that lineage then usually takes the title of monarch. Advanced primitive societies are considerably more heterogeneous than their forerunners, involving ethnic, religious and other oppositions, as well as class divisions”. Though the cores of their definitions are similar, it is clear that different authors put different emphases, but contrary to the first two definitions, the third one hands us a relevant concept when studying Maya societies: the

Eric Thompson (1970), followed by many of his contemporaries, adopted a view on Maya social organization in which two homogenous classes, the astronomer-priests and the peasants, constituted a peaceful and idyllic society. While we now know that this vision is oversimplified and in some cases simply wrong, the basic distinction between an elite class and a non-elite class is still a valid one. It is important to note though, that research has proven that postclassic lowland Maya social organization was not an easily delineated class-based society. Its predecessors, the classic Maya, were not either (McAnany 1995). Classes, and specifically the higher classes, have mechanisms to exclude others (Schumpeter 1927). Evident examples hereof are the alleged claims on exotic descent by Maya-royalty. Well known examples are found at Copan where the rulers claimed to originate from Teotihuacan and Palenque blood (Martin and Grube 2000). Non-royal nobility on their turn did


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek sometimes claim royal descent, but mostly did not go as far as claiming such exotic ancestry (Houston and Inomata 2009).

capable of acknowledging the contribution of other sections to this society. What these particular contributions were could well be used as a main indicator in making distinctions between social differences between classes. Although it might be possible to make more specific allocations, this becomes apparent in these properties of the elite/non-elite distinction. I believe the difference lies in the contribution made towards the community: whereas the non-elite contribution lies in the material aspect (production, construction…), the elite contributions are of a more abstract nature (diplomacy, rituals …). Admittedly, an obvious critique could be formed in the fact that elites are in fact known to engage in weaving or grinding maize, or the commoner-shamans, who seemingly transgress these properties. But these arguments can easily be countered if the intentions behind these actions are uncovered. Elites who wove or ground didn’t primarily do so to create a material surplus, but were engaging in rituals that imitated mythological scenes. The behavior of commoner shamans, on the other hand, might appear abstract to us, but in their worldview had direct impact on, for example, crop growth. Thus, their actions should not immediately be labeled as of an abstract nature. Furthermore, it can hardly be stated that any of these exceptions could be labeled as actions that typify the behavior of the class in which it occurs. The merchant class seemingly operates on both levels, engaging both on a diplomatic as a materialistic level, interestingly both elite as non-elite merchants are known to exist, although they might have put different emphases. Though these reflections could be used as attributes to distinct classes, they may not be seen as a definition of the Maya class structure. David Webster (2002) notes that “nobles were rich, and to be rich meant to own or otherwise control land, labor, and articles of commerce. In fact, the single most important correlate of noble status was exemption of tribute, or more accurately, the fact that one was supported by the goods and services of lesser folk”. While this might indeed be an appropriate characterization of the majority of nobles, such generalizations should be approached with caution. Evidently, it is likely that there was a layer of relatively impoverished nobles that could claim noble descent, but for some reason lost their wealth (Houston and Inomata 2009). Both of these impoverished elites as the Azmen Huinic prove to be difficult to attest on an archaeological basis. Such difficulties to distinguish more subtle social differences on the field are common in archaeology and originate partly from the need to place the finds into idealized categories (Cancian 1976).

The social position of an individual is predetermined by birth and thus operates on a family-level (Schumpeter 1927). While it is an interesting and poorly understood topic to see from where these social classes originate, by the late classic these were already long manifested, knew a long tradition and could be seen as steady social components. Social migration of individuals under specific circumstances however, cannot be ruled out. Slavery is one of the most extreme possibilities wherein individuals could migrate into another social class. Unlike slaves in classical antiquity, the number of persons born in slavery in the Maya-area was negligible and they were never really numerous as to constitute a large part of society. They were acquired by war or debts and therefore demonstrate an obvious downward migration in the social structure. A more bottom-up movement can be found in the Azmen Huinic. Azmen Huinic were an ethnohistorical group comparable with the European bourgeoisie. Originating from non-elite ranking, these people could climb up the social ladder through accumulation of wealth, and thus prestige (Chase 1992). Considering they could not claim noble descent, they were not incorporated in the other elite classes and became a distinct class somewhere between the lower nobility and the higher commoners. It is unwise to think of this group - and others for that matter - as a static entity once it was manifested. Again following historical attestable data from the bourgeoisie, these “middle men” most likely sought connection to nobility through means of marriage, conspicuous consumption, etc. While some of the nobles undoubtedly obstinately rejected these Azmen Huinic, it is equally likely that some of these Azmen Huinic succeeded in their aims and after time were merged with the nobility. These are two manifest instances of social migration. Others can be found, but I hope that I made the point clear that social classes may not be seen as static entities. The Greek sociologist Nicos Poulantzas (1982) emphasizes the importance of economic position and divides societies in exploiting classes, which are politically and ideologically dominant, and exploited classes, which are dominated. Not only is this thesis merely vaguely assertable in the archaeological record, it is also biased by Marxist thought into an opinion were the higher classes are de facto morally blameworthy. Giddens (1982), on the other hand, argues justly that when we want to examine status we have to look at consumption as well. From an archaeological perspective, both the place in the production process and the consumed goods can be good indicators of status and should be combined whenever possible to get a more nuanced perspective. The main reason to disagree with Poulantzas though, is that it is unlikely that complex societies would function if large sections were not

So, the question remains: how were these classes organized? Unfortunately, the available data do not give us detailed information on every layer of Maya social organization. On the top of the social ladder stood the ruler with his royal family. They were surrounded by the higher elites, servants, artisans, craftspeople and such, who might even have resided in royal palaces. Postclassic evidence hints that the polity rulers were not 29

Dominick Van den Notelaer autocratic (McAnany 1995). We should be careful in applying this information to classic times, because the nature of kingship certainly did undergo severe transformations, but the power exhibited by several nonroyal elites does suggest that the majority of kings should not be seen as dictatoric. Classic Maya kings were often referred to as ahau (lord) or sometimes k’uhul ahau (holy lord), k’inich ahau (radiant lord) or other variants, since occasionally the word ahau could also be used for high-functionary elites. Of course the elites did not always stand side by side with the royal family, and in fact several accounts have been found in which a group of elites oppose or even dethrone the royal family (Webster 2002). Several titles which could be given to elites demonstrate that there was an elite hierarchy and that certain elites had different duties than others, but these are not yet well understood so that no further stratification through this means is deducible (Houston and Inomata 2009). An important elite-title that is adequately comprehended is the status of Sajal. A sajal was a functionary appointed by the ruler to govern far-off centers or districts (Freidel et al. 1993; Houston and Stuart 2001; Parmington 2003; Houston and Inomata 2009). Due to the office he held, he would have to represent the ruler’s authority and defend his (or occasionally her) interests, hence he most likely came from the ranks closest to the ruler.

must look at all aspects of settlement from the smallest features to the largest temples and palaces.”, but important steps in overcoming this gap in our knowledge have been taken only during the last decade. Amongst the highest ranks of these commoners were presumably the craftspeople, merchants and such. The lower ranks of this group were probably inhabited by farmers and laborers. Likely, there was a difference in farmers who focused on export and specialized in one or a few crops, hence having a profitable occupation, and the poorer farmers whose work was subsistence-based. It might be suspected that some laborers have had better social positions which would be reflected in the work they did.

Recognizing Social Stratification in the Field How can these groups be recognized in the archaeological data? First, it is important to stress that on an archaeological base social stratification is hard to distinguish, but patterns of wealth and conspicuous consumption are more easily discerned. These concepts are often closely linked, but we must not blindly link wealth with stratification and vice versa. One of the materials most closely affiliated with elites is jade. However, it has been noted that much of the places where jade was found ubiquitous, only saw extensive excavations in the public area and therefore are not capable of giving insights in how jade functioned on a broader social level (Guderjan 2007; Guderjan and Pastrana 2001; Marroquin this volume). It is yet unclear whether jade was too costly for most commoners or that it could only be accessed through means of gift exchange and therefore was restricted from larger parts of society. Interestingly, although jade is indeed more representative to elite-contexts, it does occur in lower social classes in Blue Creek. The lower-class jade is of less quality and shows less craftsmanship though. Apart from - or perhaps because of - its prestigious nature, jade also had symbolic and religious associations (Digby 1972; Martínez del Campo Lanz 2012). When studying jade at Blue Creek it becomes apparent that jade was found much less frequently in the late and terminal classic periods: only 2.1% of all diagnostic jades found at Blue Creek were datable to the late classic, while no terminal classic pieces could be found (Figure 4.1). This pattern of great amounts of jade in the early classic, few in the late classic and none or almost none in the terminal classic is not exclusively to Blue Creek and has been noted at other places such as Tikal and Uaxactun as well (Guderjan and Pastrana 2001). Both Tikal as Uaxactun were independent centers of interregional importance. Therefore, the decrease in jade materials at Blue Creek in the latter half of the classic period should not automatically be interpreted as a diminution of might or wealth. Because of the scarcity of jade during the periods studied in this

The concept of “elite” is very frequently used by archaeologists, but rarely defined or at least not enough clarified leading to distorted conceptions of the social reality (Chase and Chase 1992; Houston and Stuart 2001). Some have even gone as far as to suggest that elites and commoners spoke different forms of language (Dąbrowska 2010; Houston 2000). While this may seem farfetched at first, contemporary parallels are available. For instance, different classes in the cities in the US in the 1960’s used variant forms of the English language (Labov 1972). Although this might serve as an interesting remark, such studies belong more to the expertise of epigraphists and social linguists. Since it stresses the importance of bloodlines, the somehow lesser abstract concept of nobility might be more appropriate, however because of the preponderance of the term elite, this will be used throughout this article. Beneath the elites are the extensive group often referred to as commoners, a name that is somehow misleading since they were not a homogenous group. Kanipe and González (2003) rightly lament that “Historically, studies of Maya settlement patterns have focused primarily on large ceremonial sites such as Tikal. In part, this is due to the intrigue and sense of grandeur that large temples and plazas elicit, as well as the prominence of the sites. As archaeologists discovered that these temples and palaces yielded artifacts of an even grander stature, the examination of the Maya as a whole was skewed toward the elite class. However, to fully understand Maya settlement patterns, archaeologists


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek article, its relevance is possibly even higher than in the previous periods.

accompanied by grave goods even more information can be deducted. The inhumation of infants in some of these contexts poses a problematic issue within the theory of achieved status though.

Many mayanists associate polychrome pottery with the presence of elites. This vision needs to be nuanced, since occasionally polychrome vessels

The houses where these artifacts can be found also can yield information about social organization. First its place in the neighborhood can inform us whether the inhabitants could have controlled lands or had a monopoly on certain recourses. Also the size and elaborateness of the structure hand us useful hints for this research. This poses some problems though, since once a structure was established, the maintenance costs were relatively low and therefore richer lineages who got impoverished through time could still reside in their luxurious residences (Abrams 1994). Furthermore the amount of construction phases, and more specifically when they occurred, shows us not only what the residents could afford, but also how they wanted to be perceived by outsiders. It is not the intention to sum up all archaeological remnants which could tell us about Maya social stratification, since that list would be seemingly endless and would depend partly on the researcher, but the these are most commonly used by mayanists. These tell more about wealth than they do about social organization, but this does not mean that they are inefficient to investigate the stratification at Blue Creek. To get a trustworthy image we must not only attempt to combine as much of these properties as possible, but also investigate what their significance is on both a group as a polity level to see in which way they can be significant for our research question. Apart from artifacts, more holistic aspects of city scaping, proximity to sources, etc. will be crucial in creating an understanding of the social structure.

Figure 4.1 Depositional Dates of Jade Artifacts at Blue Creek. have been found in lower class places as well (Adams 1971; Fry 1979). In the Blue Creek area such vessels were relatively uncommon during the late and terminal classic, but it appears that this pattern has more to do with regional styles than with the absence of elites (Muller and Hopkins 1974; Kosakowsky and Lohse 2003). Clothing and beautifications such as piercings, scarification, tooth-modification or craniummodification were linked with the higher classes, but most leave little or no archaeological traces. Scarification is one of those beautifications which we know only through the reports of Europeans after the colonization or on several figurines. Some habits, like cranial-modification, do leave archaeological traces. Finally, others, like teeth-inlays or ear-ornaments, are recovered at the Blue Creek site and give us an insight of status and wealth.

Interpretation of the Archaeological Data Diego de Landa, the first bishop of Yucatan in the sixteenth century, noted that the highest nobility lived close to the ceremonial center of the city and that, the further one would wander from this core, more impoverished and lower-class households were encountered (De Landa 1566). We must be cautious in projecting his observations on Blue Creek because of the distance in both space and time, but nonetheless it is interesting. At first sight, these observations are indeed applicable but there are some notable exceptions. The Rosita settlement, as we will see later, is clearly elite but is located at a considerable distance from the site core.

Graves are found on a regular basis underneath plastered floors or in vaulted chambers. The low amount of graves found in this way does not even approximately approach the number of people that resided in these houses, so that it is clear that such interments only occurred in certain circumstances, presumably in exceptional ritual, political or social instances (Chase and Chase 2004). It is hypothesized that this reflects the choice of the family of which family member would be revered as an ancestor throughout time and who would face the inevitable fate of oblivion (McAnany 1995). Therefore such graves potentially give us an interesting view on the status of lineage members, but when they are

Chan Cahal and Sak Lu’um, which will prove to be more commoner-based societies, are close to the site core, but in these cases the difference in altitude might have served as a physical boundary. For some other residential groups, Diego de Landa’s observations might 31

Dominick Van den Notelaer be more suitable, but is evident that the reality of social differentiation is more complicated than simply measuring the distance from the site core. Over time, the power exhibited in several but not all residential groups at Blue Creek followed similar patterns. By the early classic many of its power relationships were steady manifested, but things changed when during the early classic/late classic transition Blue Creek. It did not become impoverished during this period, as in fact, some of the already thriving places seem to have gained even more wealth. Intriguingly, as the switch from Petén-style ceramics in the early classic to Belize-Valley and southern Campeche-Rio Bec styles in the late classic period suggests, the installment of a new ruler also might have constituted a change in trading habits (Kosakowsky and Lohse 2003; Houk and Lohse 2013).The role of interregional commerce at Blue Creek might have even been enhanced as becomes apparent in the preponderance of imported lithics in the late classic period in contrast to the usage of locally produced materials in the previous eras (Baker 2004). During the terminal classic, Blue Creek - as did most cities in its environs – became more impoverished eventually leading to the abandonment of the site. In the postclassic era some buildings were reoccupied for a short period.

Figure 4.2. Central Precinct of Blue Creek. The eastern edge of plaza A is delineated by structures 2 and 3. Structure 2 counts three construction phases (Driver et al. 2002). Though damage done by looters made it difficult to investigate structure three, two different construction episodes could be distinguished (Driver et al. 2002). The study of the architecture and the associated ceramics suggest that this group was erected in the late classic period (Guderjan et al. 1993, 1994). Together these form a so-called pseudo-E-group. Such groups are a variant on E-groups that function as an observatory for celestial activities. A more symbolic, mythological or organizational function for such groups is also suspected, although the specifics of these remain obscure (Chase et al. 1990; Savoie 2005). Pseudo-Egroups differ from E-groups in their lack of a western pyramid and appear to have put less emphasis on observational functions (Guderjan 2006; Savoie 2005). The very construction of this group proves that there was a combination of wealth and power in whoever it was that had the right to decide on these matters. One dedicatory cache was located underneath structure 3’s floor. This cache is significant because it possessed the only late classic pieces of jade in the central precinct that are not linkable with the transition of power around 500 AD (Guderjan 2004). All other late classic jades that were cached in the central precinct all appear to be part of a massive caching ritual that marked the end of the independence of Blue Creek (Guderjan 2007). Together with the pieces of jade, one effigy lid was p laced in this cache. There is some debate whether this vessel depicts god G1 of the Palenque Triad or K’inich Ahau (Driver and Wanyerka 2002; Guderjan 2007). Considering the fact that E-groups functioned as a solar observatory -

Central Precinct Blue Creek’s Central precinct served as the political and ceremonial center of the city. It consists of two plazas (A and B). Plaza A offers invaluable information about the nature of social stratification at Blue Creek because of the presence of communal edifices, but also contains serious limitations due to the fact that it lacks residential structures. The structures located in plaza A all eradiate a sense of power and prestige and therefore can be linked to the uppermost classes of Blue Creek. Furthermore the very presence of such elaborate communal structures implies a powerful social and political organization. Plaza A’s tallest building is structure 1, a pyramid 12.7 m tall, but was somewhat larger since a perishable superstructure stood atop the stone construction (Guderjan 2002, 2007). Ceramics associated with its last construction date from the late classic (Guderjan et al. 1993, 1994). Five other phases dating from the early classic and late preclassic were distinguished (Driver 1996, 1997, 1999). Str. 1 functioned as a representation of the Yax-Hal-Witz’, the mythological first mountain that arose from the primordial sea, which in its turn is represented by the plaza surface and would therefore have had an important ritual function (Schele and Freidel 1990; Freidel et al. 1993).


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek though this function seems less apparent in the PseudoE variant-, it is interesting to note that both G1 and K’inich Ahau have a strong association with the sun. Although the identity of the depicted deity is not of much importance to this research, this effigy lid does show us the importance of ritual in the uppermost classes of late classic Blue Creek. Other artifacts found in this cache include several shell species, stingray spines, fish vertebrae and, according to the phytolith analysis, a great number of marine sponges (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). These indicate access to marine species which were likely to be imported via the Rio Hondo. One of the main contributors of Blue Creek’s exceptional wealth - the Rio Hondo harbor north of Rosita - was apparently still in use during the late classic. Associated with structure three is a deposit named “Special Deposit 1”. This deposit contained a great number of ceramics, five chert bifaces, a chert blade plus twelve obsidian blades and blade fragments that can be dated to the late or terminal classic (Driver 1999; Driver et al. 2002). There is still some discussion whether this deposit should be interpreted as a termination ritual or as a concentration of refuse, but recent re-analysis of the material in 2012 might shed new light on this discussion (Guderjan 2004; Clayton et al. 2005). Regardless of the outcome of this debate it is clear that Special Deposit one marks one of the last actions of the community of Blue Creek’s central precinct.

preclassic and the early classic (Pastrana 1996; Guderjan 2007). Sherds of a late classic Achote Black cylinder vase have been retrieved from the interior floor (Pastrana 1996). A local resident reported that a previous landowner had discovered a stela that was “covered all over with carved symbols” in front of structure 6 (Pastrana 1996). It is believed that the landowner sold it and unfortunately the piece has been traceless ever since. A ballcourt, formed by structures 7 and 8, is located approximately 20 m north of the structure one pyramid. It is placed on top of a platform that appears to be created solely as a surface for the ballcourt. The size of the platform though, is much larger than necessary if its only purpose was to accommodate the ballcourt. Parallels with the platforms like in Chan Chich, which served as an artisan’s workshop, have been drawn, but could not be proven (Guderjan 2007). Foremost these ballcourts are known to be related to very powerful lineages and royalty. Guderjan (2007) notes that the ballgame at Blue Creek may have been visible to a maximum 20 people plus 20 additional spectators if they would have stood atop the structure one pyramid, but that this number is probably too high. Interestingly, this could roughly correspond with the elites living in plaza B’s courtyards. To my knowledge, there is unfortunately no extensive study that examines the correlation between the possible amount of spectators and the proposed number of ruling class, so that no further comparisons are possible. The fact that some late classic lithic debris - be it a termination deposit or just refuse - is found on the ballcourt suggests that it was not used in this period (Guderjan 2007). The dilapidation of this ballcourt, which coincides with Blue Creek’s subjugation, is therefore not likely to be a coincidence. This symbolism of loss in power would probably have been understood by every inhabitant of Blue Creek.

On the most southern part of Plaza A structure 4 can be found, a small temple which was raised in the terminal late preclassic (Guderjan et al. 1994; Weiss 1996). In the late classic, the 4 m high pyramidal construction which was built on top of the original construction in the early classic, was razed to accommodate new architectural features (Weiss 1996; Driver 1999). Other minor modifications have been recorded as well (Driver 1999). The most peculiar aspect of structure 4, however, is the high amount of caches associated with the building. No less than 13 terminal preclassic and early classic caches were found during the 1995 and 1996 field seasons, yielding various prestigious materials such as jade, shell and ceramics (Weiss 1996; Driver 1999; Guderjan 2004). One of these caches rendered up to 905 pieces of jade, making it the third largest jade cache discovered in the Maya world (Pastrana 1999). In the light of this study it is important to emphasize that no late or terminal classic equivalents of these caches were found in relation to structure 4.

Although Blue Creek may have lost its independence during the transition from early to late classic, plaza A was not derelict. During the late classic, construction still occurred at structures one and four and the plaza surface was expanded to accommodate the construction of the pseudo-E-group. This evidence proves that even though in this period the city was subordinate to an unknown polity, still considerable effort was invested in the religious and political core of the city. Whether it was done by the same people that did so in the previous eras cannot be confirmed nor refuted. Nonetheless, it is clear that the loss of independence did not equal the loss of wealth or power. The group does not appear to have been forsaken directly after the late classic, as the later terminal classic termination deposit/ concentration of refuse - special deposit one - , which is an indicator of the abandonment of structure three or perhaps even of the whole plaza, suggests. The fact that in the terminal classic no further architectural modifications were conducted although there was still activity at this plaza has strong implications. This fits perfectly in the view

Structures 5 and 6 are located on the western end of plaza A. Both consist of a sole narrow chamber without interior walls and they are the only plaza A buildings that do not explicitly exhibit a religious function. Structure 5 was raised in the early classic and is known to have one extra construction phase in this period (Pastrana 1996). Structure 6, on the other hand, saw its first construction phase in the late preclassic and underwent further adjustments in the terminal late


Dominick Van den Notelaer that by the terminal classic, the power of the uppermost classes had faded and that they no longer had the means to support the public areas, eventually leading to the depopulation of the cities.

constructed before structures eleven and fourteen were built, it appears that it was regarded as a part of the open structure 13 courtyard in the early classic. Consequently, the construction of structures 11 and 14 might also imply the deliberate exclusion of structure 10 from the patio group.

Structure 9, also known as the “temple of the masks” is located between plaza A and B. Looting has done much damage: six different looter trenches were dug into this pyramid. The construction of the “temple of the masks” was initiated in the terminal late preclassic. In this time it was a small building of only 6 m high. In its first phase this building served as a residence and only later, probably in the early classic, it was given a religious function (Haines and Blom 2002). In total six different construction episodes between the terminal late preclassic and the beginning of the late classic period were conducted (Guderjan et al. 1993, 1994; Haines 1996). The buildings sobriquet “temple of the masks” is derived from the two early classic stucco masks that are located at the top of its staircase. It is possible that the temple of the masks served as the polity’s popol nah, a place where Blue Creek’s rulers could interact with their people through means of rituals, dancing, etc. (Grube et al. 1993; Guderjan 2007). The hypothesis that this building was a popol nah is contradicted by Kosakowsky and Driver (2013), although they do not question the ritual and political function of this building.

The structure 19 courtyard is composed of two minor interior courtyards, surrounded by a complex of passageways and interconnected chambers, several of which were vaulted. A great variety of domestic artifacts were recovered, the majority of them crafted from exotic materials. It appears that the structure 19 courtyard was erected in the early classic and continuously modified throughout the late classic (Guderjan et al. 1993; Lichtenstein 1997). What happened to these royal elites after Blue Creek’s loss of independence is not sure, but it is possible that they continued to live in these courtyards and rule Blue Creek, albeit with serious restrictions and tribute costs to its aggressor. Other examples in which an ahau of a city became subordinate to another ahau after a battle was lost are not uncommon in the Maya region (Martin and Grube

Plaza B holds two courtyards which presumably withheld the most powerful elites of Blue Creek during the late preclassic and early classic period. The structure 13 courtyard is the first cluster of structures encountered when walking from plaza A to plaza B. This courtyard is in fact formed by four different structures: Structures 11, 12, 13 and 14. Structures 12 and 13 have been built more or less contemporaneously in the early classic (Gilgan 1997). Excavations in both buildings uncovered several early, late and terminal classic ceramic types as well as a variety of domestic tools, such as blades, manos and metates plus one early classic cache related to structure 12, which yielded up to 85 jade artifacts (Gilgan 1996, 1997; Guderjan and Pastrana 2001). It is suspected though, that while the early and late classic materials resulted from domestic activities, the building was abandoned and was used as a garbage dump by the terminal classic, resulting in the variety of terminal classic materials. In the beginning of the late classic, structures 11 and 14 were added to the courtyard group, transforming the open, public courtyard to a closed, private place which could only be entered via a small entryway between structures 11 and 14. At the same time these construction works were conducted the only major modifications at structure 13 took place (Guderjan 2007). Since the two construction phases apparent in structure 13 can be assigned to the early classic period, it appears that the extensive modifications turning this courtyard to a more private area were limited to the more northern orientated structures (Driver 2002). South of the structure 13 courtyard stands a temple known as structure 10. Considering that structure 10 was

Figure 4.3. Structure 13 Courtyard. 2000; Houston and Inomata 2009). The two courtyards at plaza B may in fact be belonging to two different royal lineages in a Sparta-reminiscent political system in which power was shared to prevent dictators to take control, a political system that, although not adequately documented, might have been the case at several other Maya cities (Webster 2002). If this was the case, the size of the courtyards and the number of interred ancestors suggest that the structure 19 courtyard’s lineage over time did get more power at the expense of the structure 13 courtyard’s lineage. Even if only one of the courtyards was the sole provider of the polity’s k’uhul ahau, the other definitely served as the second uppermost elite residence, hence still greatly contributing to the governance of Blue Creek. The fact


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek that these courtyards were modified in the late classic and one radiocarbon date of cal A.D. 615 ± 60 demonstrates that they were not only still inhabited during this period, but also that these inhabitants still had the means to invest in major architectural renovations. The nature of these modifications, which resulted in the structure 13 courtyard being a secure closed structure in contrast to its more open public nature in the previous periods, led Guderjan (2004) to conclude that this was an effect of the subordination of the city. If so, this symbolism suggest that the courtyard residents’ power waned over time. The late classic artifacts such as obsidian, quartzite or worked shell, found in these courtyards nevertheless suggest access to exotic and prestigious goods. There is a considerable amount of graves in both these courtyards, which is not too surprising considering their status. Unfortunately no date was reported for any of these graves so that it is best not to draw any further conclusions on them regarding the late and terminal classic periods apart from acknowledging the fact that interments, especially in this high a number, do indicate an elaborate status. Many of structure 19’s smaller chambers were vaulted and contained such interments, which implies they were transformed into non-functional rooms. It is likely that before the closure of these chambers they were used as storage chambers and housings for servants. If so, we can conclude that the practical disuse of them - although their ritual function might have served as statusenhancing - implies a, perhaps slight, impoverishment. Likely, the behavior of the inhabitants of the structure 13 and 19 courtyards may be described as apprehending the loss of power and wealth, but also trying to keep up appearances by displaying high-status goods and continuing to perform modifications to their residences as an act of compensation. Somewhere in the terminal classic era, both these courtyards were abandoned. Since in this period no further alterations to the architecture are discernible, it does appear that the, in the early classic powerful, lineages of the central precinct gradually lost all their might and silently faded away with “special deposit 1” possibly being a last marker of their faded influence on Blue Creek.

This name was derived from the several hundreds obsidian chips that were probably remnants of the looting of a tomb located in this structure. The temple of the obsidian warrior was built in the early classic and had one later construction period in the same period (Driver 2002). One dedicatory cache was located underneath a staircase step and contained late classic ceramics and two jade beads (Driver 2002). It is possible that this ritualistic deposit could be associated with a minor architectural modification at the bottom of the staircase (Driver 2002). If we summarize the data from Blue Creek’s central precinct, a distinction between plaza A and B becomes apparent. While the monuments of plaza A were more closely tied to the public religious aspects of Maya civilization, plaza B housed more

Figure 4.4. Structure 19 Courtyard. residential structures. This should not mean that the two plazas weren’t closely linked. If we look at the jade artifacts, an indicator of wealth and possibly linkable to royalty, interesting patterns emerge. The great majority of jade can clearly be attributed to the early classic period, a pattern that is not exclusive to the central precinct, but consistent for the whole of Blue Creek (Guderjan 2007; Guderjan and Pastrana 2001). The great majority of buildings were initiated in the terminal preclassic and early classic. In the late classic not much energy was invested in erecting new or modifying old buildings on plaza A. Indeed, the pseudo-E-group was constructed in the beginning of the late classic, but apart from that only minor modifications were conducted. Conversely, buildings on plaza B saw further expansions throughout the late classic. Occupation lasted throughout the late classic, and somewhere in the terminal classic the central precinct was abandoned.

Structure 15 is an early classic building that was constructed on a late preclassic platform (Driver 2002). The structure itself was erected in the early classic and saw one additional construction phase as well as two smaller modifications in the early and late classic periods (Driver 2002). One early classic cache, containing two Uaxactun Unslipped Ware bowls, can be associated with structure 15 (Driver 2002). The mat weave design inscribed on the bottom of one of these vessels is a clear symbol of royalty. Keeping this in mind, Structure 15’s location between what appear to be the most eminent residences of Blue Creek - the structure 13 and 19 courtyards - may be significant. On the outermost northern edge of the central precinct stands structure 24, “the temple of the obsidian warrior”.


Dominick Van den Notelaer and Driver 1997; Hanratty 2002; Guderjan and Hanratty 2006). Following similar activities in the previous eras, this plazuela group saw an internment and cachings accompanied by prestigious goods in the late classic making the total number of graves in this plazuela to four. The late classic burial, named burial 37, was placed on the structure 37 floor. After being covered with boulders, the burial served as a base for further architectural expansions (Hanratty 2002). A cache, containing one late or terminal classic vessel could be retrieved from the southern room of structure 37 (Hanratty and Driver 1997). Apart from various other pieces of jade from the previous periods, there was one late and possibly one terminal classic piece found inside this plazuela group (Guderjan 2004). The combination of these factors make the structure 37 plazuela group the most elaborate cluster of Kín Tan and led Guderjan and Hanratty (2006) to conclude that it withheld the most influential and powerful non-royal lineages of Blue Creek. These burials and caches also stress the importance of rituals and their link with status-display to Kín Tan’s residents. Furthermore, the presence of finely carved high quality jade, marine resources and other prestigious goods confirms their theory. The fact that both burial activity and ancestor veneration continued to occur in this building throughout the late classic, indicates that the lineage continued to be very powerful for centuries and that there was an awareness of the importance of earlier forged kinship bonds that were still of much importance. By the beginning of the late classic this plazuela group was already manifested as one of the biggest and most prestigious structural clusters in the area but nevertheless it was still greatly expanded throughout this period. The terminal classic evidence in construction efforts - or better the absence of much of it - suggests that the inhabitants lost some of their wealth over time. Some terminal classic artifacts – the most expressive being a jade bead – tell us that this structure was not abandoned directly in this period and that its residents still pertained some status. A termination deposit, dating to the terminal classic, has been recovered and serves as a terminus ante quem for occupation at the structure 37 plazuela group (Hanratty and Driver 1997). Some of the artifacts of this deposit like obsidian blades, applique ceramic figurines, and others, indicate that its residents still displayed a considerable amount of wealth and access to exotic imported goods at the time they left Blue Creek.

Kín Tan Kín Tan, originally named “Western Group”, is a residential group closely affiliated with the central precinct. It is therefore sometimes referred to as the elite suburbia of Blue Creek (Currid 2002; Guderjan et al. 2003). The main architectural features include one plazuela, three courtyards and seven patio groups. Kín Tan was located adjacent to upland agricultural fields that are known to be very fruitful and relatively safe from inundation (Guderjan 2005, 2007). Kín Tan’s residents controlled these fields and presumably imported labor recourses from other areas to work them. Since, judging from the configuration of the structures and their associated artifacts, the houses of this group all appear to have belonged to the uppermost elites, these imported labor resources might have come from other residential groups. Nevertheless, the absence of commoner houses is intriguing considering the presence of these agricultural fields. The proximity to the site core implies a link between the Kin Tan denizens and the site core. It were presumably the combination of these two factors, perhaps in combination with other factors, that lay at the base of the status of Kín Tan’s residents. The connection with the site core’s courtyards however, was probably not too tight because at the time the structure 13 and 19 courtyards stagnated and declined, the lineages of Kín Tan continued to thrive and were even becoming wealthier. The earliest occupation at Kín Tan can be found in what later became the structure 37 plazuela (Guderjan 2009b). Although its earliest architecture

The first Kín Tan courtyard to be discussed is the structure 41 courtyard which is located north to the structure 37 plazuela. Since the planview hints that structure 38, structure 42 patio group and the structure 83 patio group together form one cluster with this courtyard, these are included in the structure 41 courtyard discussion. During the early classic the boundaries of the large patio were defined and the complex was initiated. The complex saw great expansion and the construction of several circumjacent buildings, modifying the patio group to a courtyard. These actions caused the open space to be transformed

Figure 4.5. Planview of Kín Tan. remnants date to the early classic, the presence of a late preclassic midden indicates that this place was already inhabited before the early classic (Guderjan and Hanratty 2006; Guderjan 2009b). Of the seven masonry edifices which compose the structure 37 plazuela, only two predate the late classic period which makes it very clear that the structure 37 plazuela lineage was extremely prosperous during the late classic. (Hanratty 36

Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek erected in the early classic and saw great architectural alterations - transforming it into a courtyard - in the same period points out that the people living here gained much status and financial means in a relatively short time. The late classic burial serves as an indicator of high status during this period and, combined with the evidence of some additional construction episodes, hints that the people living in the structure 41 courtyard were thriving. Most of the late classic features that could be assigned to more specific periods date to the beginning of the late classic. While it might be tempting to conclude therefrom that this lineage had more prestige in the beginning than in the ending of the late classic, it is impossible to exclude the option that many of the further non-datable late classic material stems from the end of the late classic period so that we cannot state this with any certitude, although it is clear that the inhabitants were extremely prosperous in the beginning of the late classic. The terminal classic story of this structure is comparable with that of the previous mentioned structures at the site core. No terminal classic architectural modifications could be discerned. There was some terminal classic occupational debris though that indicates that the building follows the same occupation pattern as the majority of the structures at Blue Creek and that likewise this lineage’s power waned.

Figure 4.6 Planview of the Structure 37 Courtyard. to a more restricted private area. An intrusive cist-type tomb, containing burial 37, was situated underneath the plaster floor. Neither gender, nor age could be determined for this late classic burial (Lichtenstein 2002). Although no terminal classic alterations could be discerned, terminal classic debris hints that this courtyard was inhabited until some point in this period (Lichtenstein 2002). Adjacent to the structure 41 courtyard lays the structure 83 patio group. This group is formed by structures 83 and 84, which enclose a third structure, structure 85, in an L-shaped form. Structure 83 underwent three construction episodes and was occupied until the terminal classic (Hanratty 2008). Structure 85 was a small open room upon a large substructure and had, unlike most buildings at Kín Tan, its last construction episode in the early classic and only little evidence of late classic usage (Hanratty 2008).The fact that its floor appears to be swept clean could mean that after the building’s occupational function, it still was maintained and perhaps served as a shrine. The other two buildings of this patio group do follow the standard Kín Tan pattern of heavy structural modifications during the early part of the late classic, declining displays of wealth during the latter half of the late classic and finally the terminal classic period in which it was abandoned. Structure 38, a small early classic pyramid, was Kín Tan’s axis mundi, hence serving as the center of religious ceremonies at this residential group (Guderjan 2007; 2009b). The residential structures centered around this pyramid therefore might have housed the lineages responsible for performing important rituals. This assumption is reinforced by the knowledge that all these structures are built at approximately the same period: their configuration was initiated and completed during the early classic. The fact that the structure 41 courtyard was

The structure 46 courtyard is, together with the structure 37 plazuela group, the most prominent structure at this residential group. Based on size and structural complexity alone, this one could compete with the courtyards of the central precinct. This is confirmed by the finds connected to this courtyard.

Figure 4.7 Planview of Structure 50 Courtyard. The typical Kín Tan pattern in which the structure was founded in the late preclassic or early classic and was greatly expanded during the first half of the late classic seems consistent in this courtyard as well (Hanratty 2008; Ek 2002). The two extremely badly preserved human remains entombed in this building can pose us only limited data, but still learn us that during the early or late classic - the presumed inhumation dates - these two persons were held in high esteem (Ek 2002). Like


Dominick Van den Notelaer the structure 37 plazuela group, the abandonment of this group was preceded by a termination ritual which took place in the terminal classic. This termination deposit contained 14 chert biface fragments, six obsidian blade fragments, two hammer stones, one slate blank, one broken chert mano fragment, one intact coral bead, one mother of pearl bead fragment and almost 235 kg of ceramic fragments, which tells us that, though they may have lost some wealth regarding the beginning of the late classic period, these lineages surely weren’t impoverished (Hanratty 2008). It is possible that the two most eminent lineages of this group left their home at about the same time and with them the less prominent households so that these termination deposits mark the end of Kín Tan.

beginning of the late classic, was found underneath this structure’s floor (Currid 2002). The badly preserved bones in this grave might have belonged to an infant, which, if this indeed was the case, makes it unlikely that this person accumulated much prestige during his or her life. It nevertheless remains a valid status marker for the inhabitants of this building. At some point after this entombment, presumably in the late classic, a second extensive building phase was established. No terminal classic alterations were performed on this structure. Just as the information regarding construction phases and burials, the material assemblage is consistent with Kín Tan’s elite consumptions process: among the finds jade, obsidian and carved marine shell could be counted. A terminal classic concentration of sherds and lithic flakes may be seen as a small termination deposit, but the presence of lithic debitage points out that at least part of it should be seen as waste material (Currid 2002). Termination deposit or heap of garbage, the conclusion remains the same: after a late classic climax, this building too was abandoned during the terminal classic. All structures of Kín Tan, even the ones which appear to be the “most humble” of this group, show an extensive power to organize labor recourses and the presence of the wealth to fund them. These patterns are confirmed by the goods found in relation to several of these houses. Although both housed the highest category of the elite classes, the information of Kín Tan tells a different story as the central precinct. While the central precinct’s denizens power clearly became restrained in the late classic, Kín Tan shows no signs of such a chokehold and continued to grow, especially during the earlier part of the late classic. It is possible that the aggressor felt no need to limit Kín Tan’s power because they posed little political threat or that they, perhaps out of fear of a revolt, did not restrict their power too much. Another possibility, which does not exclude the former, is that the Kín Tan lineages collaborated with their occupier and that their status could continue to grow because of this. All of these theories though, are merely tentative hypotheses. The terminal classic poses a very different story. In accordance with much of the residential groups at Blue Creek and other cities in the Maya lowlands, the wealth and power of the lineages housed here perspicuously decreased after their florescence in the late classic, eventually ending in the abandonment of the site. This end was marked by two grand termination rituals which, combined with other information regarding this period, indicates that the residents still had considerable material wealth during their exodus.

Figure 4.8 Example of a Termination Deposit at Structure 50. The structure 61 courtyard and the structure 60 patio group are thought to be connected, but so far only the patio group has seen extensive investigations. The western side of structure 60 held a chultun containing animal bones, lithic flakes and both early and late classic sherds (Currid 2002). The fact that postholes of a perishable structure preceded the masonry structure 60 patio group combined with the preclassic midden found in near the structure 37 plazuela are not only indicators of the first occupation of Kín Tan, but also indicate that this group consisted out of a few perishable structures in the preclassic period, hence suggesting that the means to Kín Tan’s power were constructed somewhere at the start of the early classic. The postholes are also important for another discussion: the fact that they could be preserved underneath structure 60 indicates that wooden houses without masonry substructure did occur and that there might have been more of such structures whose postholes did not last or are not uncovered yet. It is thus perfectly possible that the laborers working at the Kín Tan fields that we were searching for did live in this group, but that their traces have not been recognized. Because of their uphill position the inundation risk was relatively low, so masonry substructures would not have been as necessary as in the lower-lying residential groups. Such thatch and pole residential structures which would leave little or no archaeological traces are still common in some parts of the Maya region today. A grave, accompanied by a vessel which stylistically could be designated to the end of the early classic or the

Nukuch Muul Nukuch Muul is located approximately 1.5 km from the Blue Creek site core and is composed of 41 constructions, centering a large plazuela group. This plazuela group, the structure 2C-6 group, is located on a hilltop and thus overlooks much of the circumferential area. The group’s name was derived from this 38

Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek topographic location, since “Nukuch Muul” is Yucatec for large hill. Unfortunately the limited excavation data do not allow us to fully apprehend the complexity of the Nukuch Muul complex. It would be regrettable not to draw some preliminary conclusions on the nature of social stratification from the information that is available though. The plan of Nukuch Muul suggests that there was one central elite plazuela surrounded by smaller buildings. This pattern might be consistent with the etnohistoric attested, but yet poorly understood “barrio leaders”. These leaders were members of the elite which attracted lower class families which would settle themselves around these leaders (Hill and Monaghan 1987; Lemonnier 2012). They would have had much status, privileges, and other typical eliteattributes, but the main reason they could attract commoner families most likely should be sought in their economic potential. Figure 4.9. Nukuch Muul. Only the structure 2C-6 plazuela group was subject to extensive excavations. Its first indicator of status lies not in its material culture, but in the geographical position. Because of its position on top of the Nukuch Muul hill, it overlooked the surrounding structures and lso had a view on Kín Tan, Ya’ab Muul and Rosita. Although this would not have given many materialistic advances, it clearly would have had psychological implications.

demonstrates possible evidence of water control plus two chultuns which might have served as water cisterns (Lichtenstein 2000). This is a noteworthy ascertainment since few or none of Blue Creek’s other chultuns seem to have served as water reservoirs. Even though it is unsure whether its purpose was subsistence based or that it was distributed, the possibility of water management exhibited at the 2C-6 plazuela does imply a strong and powerful social position. Several lithics such as biface tools and ground stone mano’s and metates were found during surveys (Lichtenstein 2000). Ceramics related to this plazuela group date from the early classic until the terminal classic and give us a good estimate of the earliest and final occupation dates (Kosakowsky 2004; Driver 2004). A clear pattern in construction phases is apparent in the 2C-6 Plazuela group since all investigated structures exhibit evidence of two major construction phases: one in the early classic and one in the terminal classic (Driver 2004). It might seem likely that construction works at the different structures were performed simultaneously, but this cannot be asserted with any certainty.

The structure 41 courtyard is located north to the structure 37 plazuela. Since the planview hints that one lineage could claim this position might suggest that it already had a more prominent position than other lineages at their arrival, although this also might have just been the first people that settled in this area. McAnany’s first arrival hypothesis which states that the lineages who first arrived would eventually grow out to be the most powerful might be applicable to Nukuch Muul (McAnany 1995). About 25 m to the north of the structure 2C-6 plazuela is a feature that is dubbed Qu. 2C-1. Qu. 2C-1 is a quarry where chert was harvested (Lichtenstein 2000). This chert was of such inferior quality that it is unlikely that it was a major export product (Lichtenstein 2000). Nevertheless, the presence of chert could have been one of the main factors that attracted the lineage founders to settle on top of this hill. Architecturally, the structure 2C-6 Plazuela Group is an arrangement of 13 structures centered around three exterior open spaces. One of the central structures in this plazuela - structure 2C-6 - functioned as an axis mundi: the community’s central ritual point. Just as at Kín Tan, the people living in the structures near this axis mundi were therefore likely to have had a priestly office. Because the plazuela group serves as the sole elitebuilding in this residential group, it is unlikely that its denizens had only priestly functions and no political or economical function though. As a matter of fact all these functions: political, economical and religious, were probably not sharply delineated in classic Maya society and were in several occasions performed by a single person (Schele and Freidel 1990). This plazuela group

The fact that all investigated buildings of this plazuela group appear to have been constructed during the early classic and saw a second major construction episode in the terminal classic is intriguing. It appears that after its initiation in the early classic, the power of this lineage stagnated and kept steady - but wealthy - during the late classic. The diminution in power and later abandonment of the central precinct and Kín Tan in the terminal classic created a power vacuum which may have made it possible for less elaborate elites to grasp more power. Commoners living in the residential groups that were depopulating who might not want to leave Blue Creek would be able to migrate to the still populous Nukuch Muul group hence contributing to the power of the inhabitants of the structure 2C-6 plazuela. The fact that 39

Dominick Van den Notelaer considering the presence of various groups which included both elite as commoner houses, was definitely much more complex as we can reconstruct. The groups of this group might resemble the barrio leader pattern seen in Nukuch Muul at a smaller scale, but the information puts us in no position to draw decisive conclusions on that matter. One of the two investigated groups in this group is group B, which consists of two patio groups and some freestanding structures. Of these patio groups, the structure 3B-13 and 3B-11 patio group, the former appears to have been the most prominent. Both are comprised of three structures, but the two burials – one crypt and one cyst-type burial - in the structure 3B-13 patio group hint at a superior status (Lichtenstein 1998; 2000). One jade pendant was found in one of its structures which affirms its leading position. Many construction phases could be distinguished, but only few of them - all late classic alterations – could be dated with any security (Lichtenstein 1998; 2000). While the structure 3B-13 patio group was initiated as a configuration composed of three structures, the structure 3B-11 patio group was composed of two structures in the early classic and got expanded in the late classic with the building of a third structure (Lichtenstein 2000). Firstly this supposes a lower ranking during the early classic era, but it also suggests that by the late classic they rose to an almost equal power as their neighbors. Because of its close proximity to the structure 3B-11 patio group, structure 3B-9 might have functioned as an out-building for this patio group.

Figure 4.10 Plazuela 2C-5 Nukuch Muul some of the commoner residences - although not excavated, but still subjected to test pitting - were constructed somewhere during the terminal classic seems to confirm this supposition (Driver 2004).1 The drain on commoner populations and the depopulation of many other cities and residential groups led this power to be unstable so that it did not see the postclassic era though. The story of Nukuch Muul is important because it proves that the terminal classic was not just a universal downward spiral but that there were more complex forces active in this period. Nevertheless, its growing power was still insufficient to withhold the regional patterns of the population so that in the end the “Classic Maya Collapse” got hold on this group as well.

It was built in one construction phase, but a date could not be assigned (Lichtenstein 2000). Not only does the architectural configuration and scarcity of high-status goods suggest that these groups were inhabited by low elites, the presence of much domestic goods also tells us that the elaborateness of these lineages was reduced by behavioral patterns that would be fit for commoners. The fact that both saw significant modifications during the late classic perfectly matches the regional pattern of flourishing during the late classic period. Several other mounds in this area proved to be small masonry platforms consisting of one construction episode which would have supported perishable superstructures and were likely to be the housings of the lower classes. Only one of them could be dated to a time period, the early classic (Lichtenstein 2000).

Ya’ab Muul The Ya’ab Muul residential group lies southwest of Nukuch Muul. The structures of this group are clustered in five groupings, groups A – E. Heavy bulldozing damaged much of the site, thus hampering much of the research. Out of these five groups only two, group B and C, were partly excavated, hence giving us sufficient data to create a broad overview of these groupings. Groups A, D and E have been mapped, but no further information is available. The situation at Ya’ab Muul,


Classic Maya comparisons can be found in Joya de Cerén, “the Mesoamerican Pompeii”, which was buried under several layers of volcanic ash, and where archaeologists have demonstrated that food preparation took place in either separate huts or outdoor areas (Houston and Inomata 2009).

Not all of these mounds were residential though. Eight of the structures have been designated as ancillary structures, field houses or shelters (Lichtenstein 2000). Some of these might have functioned as food preparation facilities (Lichtenstein 2000). Such distinct huts reserved for food preparation can still be observed in several contemporary communities throughout Central America.


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek Muul at the bottom - implies that several other factors were active in each of these residential groups. U Xulil Beh About 2 km southwest of the site core, north of the Quincunx group, lies a cluster of house mounds known as U Xulil Beh. Originally thought to be defined by hills to the east and depressions in the north, south and west, surveys in 2003 have demonstrated that U Xulil Beh might be much larger than previously anticipated and stretched out significantly to the south (Driver 2004). To date, no further investigations apart from these unpublished surveys were conducted in these southernmost extremities of U Xulil Beh. In the area that is investigated, about thirty structures, mainly smaller residential housings, were mapped. Two patio groups could be identified at U Xulil Beh. The biggest patio group, the structure 5A-2 patio group, lies on the western edge of the settlement, alongside the agricultural terraces. A date more specific as general classic could not be assigned to this patio group (Lichtenstein 2000). All tested structures of U Xulil Beh proved to be containing only one construction period (Lichtenstein 2000; Kroll 2009). Only few artifacts were uncovered during excavations at U Xulil Beh, most of them were utilitarian in nature (Lichtenstein 2000). The first inhabitants of this group arrived somewhere in the early classic (Guderjan 2007). Shortly after the first occupation, some effort was put up in the construction of agricultural terraces to make the surrounding arid area as fructuous as possible (Guderjan 2007). Such terraces are well documented throughout the Maya-area and require significantly less effort to construct than the terraces known in other premodern societies like those known in Asia or South America (Inomata 2004). Biosilicate analysis suggests cultivation of palms, Marantaceae (such as wild banana or canna indica) and edible fruits on these terraces (Bozarth 2009). The scarcity of food phytoliths in contrast to indicators of wild banana which were used as food-wrappers or oilproducing plants like palms in the phytolith analysis does not entirely fit into the view of an impoverished subsistence-based society that is sometimes projected on U Xulil Beh. Possibly its major economic base lay in providing non-food agricultural goods for the Blue Creek zone. Furthermore, the absence of weed or grass phytoliths indicates that these fields were well managed (Bozarth 2009). No terminal classic material has been documented, but since there is much undatable material only generally designated to the classic period without further specification, it is not impossible that there was in fact occupation at U Xulil Beh that outlasted the late classic period. The absence of jade, exotic goods, inhouse burials, central structures, etc. resulted in several researchers labeling U Xulil Beh as the poorest group of Blue Creek (Lichtenstein 2000; Guderjan 2007; Kroll 2009). If you would have been an immigrant moving to Blue Creek, this was probably the place you didn’t want to end up in.

Figure 4.11 Yáab Muul (Lichtenstein 2000) The tale of Ya’ab Muul’s C group is very different from the above mentioned situation. The five structures in this group are considered too small to have had a residential functioned and were therefrom hypothesized to be field houses (Lichtenstein 2000). Their function would then be connectable with the aforementioned fields to the east of this group. Two diagnostic sherds – one early and one late classic – could be found, but these two isolated pieces do not allow us to draw many conclusions. The fact that these field houses are separated from the other residential groups that are residential in nature is intriguing. These may have been used communally and that, because of this, it was decided to construct them on grounds unclaimed by any of the lineages. The examined residential structures of the Ya’ab Muul group suggest that it was led by lower elites. It must be kept in mind though, that only few buildings were excavated, so that the possibility that more elaborate elites were housed in Ya’ab Muul cannot be outruled. The overall data of this residential group does not seem to contradict the general Blue Creek pattern of an opulent late classic followed by abandonment in the terminal classic. It is unsure what the main economic base of this group was, but the fact that it lay adjacent to the same fields as Kín Tan and Nukuch Muul suggests that some of the lineages of Ya’ab Muul had some control over parts of this upland dry farming system. Following this hypothesis, the stratification of elaborateness in these three residential groups - with Kín Tan at the top, followed by Nukuch Muul, and Ya’ab


Dominick Van den Notelaer 5A-2 patio group. Such terraces are found at several sites in the Maya area and are implemented to overcome several difficulties in the cultivation of slopes, such as erosion of fertile soil layers (Kunen 2001). Another interesting aspect of U Xulil Beh is its late starting date. It was not before the early classic when the first people moved into this area. A clear population growth has been reported at Blue Creek and the region in which it is located during this era which may be significant. It is not demonstrably whether U Xulil Beh’s denizens came from Blue Creek or from a different polity, however, because it can be supposed that since Blue Creek’s inhabitants knew the surrounding environment, it is unlikely that its people would voluntarily immigrate into this more arid area. No great depopulation which coincided with the establishment of U Xulil Beh has been reported at Blue Creek, but this does not necessarily mean that there could have been none. However, it seems more likely that U Xulil Beh’s people came from outside the Blue Creek polity. Takeshi Inomata (2004) has demonstrated how commoners who got exploited to an intolerable degree, would have been able to move into areas with better prospects. Not much examples of such migrations are available, but the U Xulil Beh case might be counted as one of them.

Figure 4.14. U Xulil Beh Different authors have unjustly referred to U Xulil Beh as an unstratified commoner society. But considering these two arguments, this should be reconsidered. Firstly, the fact that K. Gardella’s unpublished survey demonstrates that the mapped area was only a small portion of the whole U Xulil Beh group obliges us to be cautious to speak out such generalizations when large sectors of the group prove to be unexamined. Secondly, even if we would not consider the first argument, I believe that the examined part of U Xulil Beh does exhibit some signs, however subtle, of stratification. The configuration of the structure 5A-2 patio group, in contrast to the majority of U Xulil Beh’s freestanding buildings, hints at a more organized lineage which would have been slightly wealthier than the others at the investigated part of this group. Furthermore its location between fields to the west and residences to the east, which is comparable to the situation of Chan Cahals structure U-5, hints that some control over the agricultural fields was held by the inhabitants of this patio group. No typical elite artifacts could be discerned from this patio group. This is further confirmed by the absence of monumental architecture in the structure 5A2 patio group. The residents of the structure 5A-2 patio group therefore appear to have been part of the commoner class who have been able to gather some wealth and control over the agricultural fields. Their influence seems to have been relatively small in contrast to some of the ruling lineages in other residential groups though. This ascertainment, combined with its considerable distance towards the core area suggests that it would have been able to operate without much interference from the uppermost ruling elites. Because the majority of the lineages living in the northern part of U Xulil Beh were quite impoverished, it would probably be difficult for any lineage to gain more status because of the negative connotation of this area. This general low status is confirmed by the absolute absence of nonutilitarian goods and the fact that no effort whatsoever was invested in further construction phases after the initiation phases. To what extent the control of the 5A-2 patio group reached is unknown. The fact that terracing occurred at these fields and seem to have had a regular rationalized pattern, does suggest that a considerable portion of these fields was in fact under the supervision of a centralized administration, perhaps housed in the

U Xulil Beh poses some interesting features, but remains obscure because of the gaps in our knowledge. It is clear however that U Xulil Beh was not an unstratified commoner society, as claimed in the past. The northern portion does exhibit subtle evidence of a lineage which accumulated some degree of control over the surrounding agricultural complexes. The majority of the other houses in this part appear to have belonged to the bottom class of the Blue Creek polity since no evidence of anything that could indicate the slightest degree of prosperity has been found whatsoever. The effort invested in terracing might hint that a wealthy lineage did indeed perform some control over the terraced fields. It is also possible that other mighty lineages who could have controlled these fields were located in the uninvestigated part of U Xulil Beh. Whether the 5A-2 patio group lineage could operate relatively independent, and if so to what degree is not clear, but their privileged position in contrast to the more humble lineages did not really make them wealthy. Chum-Balaam-Nal Chum-Balaam-Nal, or shortly CBN, is a residential area about 1.5 km south of Blue Creek’s central precinct. Since the boundaries of this area are not yet defined, it is only possible to concentrate on the center of CBN. Excavations have hitherto focused on just one courtyard group which may be insufficient to create an overview of social status of the broader CBN-area. I think that the data, albeit very limited, do enable us to draw some


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek preliminary conclusions on the nature of CNB though. The courtyard as a structural entity already has implications in Maya social stratification studies. Since this is the most complex and costliest of the residential structures, courtyards are consequently inhabited by the uppermost elites in Maya society. This is generally confirmed by the goods found in relation to these structures, as is the case with the CBN courtyard since items crafted from obsidian and jade are found within this structure.

entombment in the terminal classic in which the human remains where accompanied by one vessel and possibly one ceramic bead (Preston 2011). Further ritual activity can be found in two early classic caches which were cut in structure 17’s floor. The first cache does not prove to possess any other artifacts than layers of ash. It is surmised that this cache contains the remnants of ritually burned organic material (Preston 2011). The second cache contained ceramics, a biface tool and three flat circular stones also referred to as “hamburger stones” (Preston 2011). Whether such stones had utilitarian or ritual functions is still debated, but due to the nature of this deposition a ritual in which the hamburger stones refer to the mythological “First-Three-Stone-Place” appears most likely in this specific case (Freidel et al. 1993; Schele and Villela 1996; Preston 2011). The moment of abandonment was marked by two termination deposits, one south of structure 17 whose relicts include almost 4000 ceramic pieces, 19 lithic fragments and traces of intentional burning which all can be brought back to the terminal classic period, and another smaller one, associated with burial 61, consisting of sherds that show traces of burning as well (Mastropietro and Preston 2010, Preston 2011). The sizeable amount of burials - no less than five interments between the terminal preclassic/early classic transition and the terminal classic - and two caches are very reminiscent of the situation of Kín Tan’s structure 37 plazuela group. Just as the structure 37 plazuela group, this group would likely have housed one of the most powerful non-royal lineages in the Blue Creek polity. The comparison with Kín Tan even follows the way of abandonment, since two termination deposits, containing material that indicates that this lineage could still be considered as rich, were found in this courtyard. CBN is therefore a clear manifestation that the highest non-royal elites were not only housed in Kín Tan. The people living in this courtyard were clearly thriving even after Blue Creek’s subjugation - again, just like the situation at Kín Tan. Whether its neighbors were as powerful and rich as the inhabitants of this courtyard is not clear and might be an interesting research question for future field seasons.

Figure 4.15 CBN-13 Courtyard The CBN-13 courtyard was investigated in the 2009 and 2010 field seasons and proved to consist of five structures: CBN-13, 14, 15, 16 and 17, which are accompanied by three platform structures: structure 18 and 19, which align in an L-shape, and structure 20. These three buildings could have possibly housed the servants of the courtyard’s wealthy inhabitants. The earliest known construction phase originates from the terminal preclassic period and can be found in structures 13 and 14, but little other information is available on the CBN-13 courtyard in this period (Preston and Mastropietro 2010; Preston 2011). The early occupation period combined with the wealth and prestige exhibited in later periods would make it a good advocate for the first arrival hypothesis. From the early classic period until the time it was forsaken, seemingly continuous major and minor expansions and modifications were performed on this courtyard (Preston and Mastropietro 2010; Preston 2011). These modifications tell us that the lineage living in the courtyard must have had a considerable amount of wealth and prestige throughout these periods. Between the transition from terminal preclassic to early classic the CBN-13 courtyard saw the interment of two intrusive burials with ceramics and one obsidian blade as associated grave goods (Preston and Mastropietro 2010). In the late classic, a person accompanied by one vessel and a jade bead plus another person without any grave goods were inhumed in structure 17 (Preston 2011). This structure saw a third

Rosita The last group to be discussed on top of the Bravo escarpment is Rosita, a community that lies about 3.5 km northwest to the Blue Creek site core. About 1 km north to Rosita lies an ancient dam and dock complex. Since I believe this complex could be linked with the Rosita community, the overview of Rosita will start with a delineation of this inland nautical feature. The riverine complex consists of relatively simple cobble structures which were heavily eroded by the river and could therefore not be ascribed to any period (Barret and Guderjan 2006). Even if an initiation date for this complex could be asserted, this should not be seen as a starting point for riverine trade at Blue Creek; it is more 43

Dominick Van den Notelaer probable that the construction took place at the time that riverine trade was already well established and had proven to be a flourishing business. Curiously, no storage or administrative facilities, nor other structures, were discovered in the immediate environment of the dock and dam construction (Barret 2002). It has been asserted experimentally that it would have taken canoes only three days to reach Chetumal Bay (Guderjan 2007, 2012). From Chetumal Bay goods could be easily transported north towards the Yucatan peninsula, but since the canoes from the Rio Hondo would not be navigable in coastal waters, there must have been an exchanging point, very likely a city such as Cerros or Ambergris Caye, which then would have served as a multicultural trading center (Guderjan 2007, 2012). The agricultural surpluses produced by Blue Creek are an evident export product, but it is also interesting to note that Blue Creek is situated in one of the few areas where for instance cacao, a desired product throughout whole Mesoamerica, could be cultivated for economical purposes (Coe and Coe 1996). It is likely that some of the farmers of Blue Creek concentrated on export and specialized in one or a few crop species. Evidently the Rio Hondo was equally important for the import of exotic resources into Blue Creek (Guderjan 2012). A third important factor is that further upstream canoe travel was impossible and that Blue Creek may have acted as a point where goods imported from Yucatan via Chetumal Bay were distributed further inland.

upland bajito that would have provided its denizens with agricultural recourses (Guderjan 2007). Rosita consists of more than 20 structures in at least eight hilltop groups. Structure RS-20, with major construction in the late preclassic, early classic and late classic era as well as several other minor modifications, served as the community’s axis mundi and is located on the northern extremity of Rosita (Preston 2009). Several utilitarian objects such as mano’s, metates and sherds, belonging to the late preclassic, early classic and late classic but with a clear preponderance of late classic material, were excavated in relation to this structure (Preston 2009).

Figure 4.16 Planview of Rosita, map by Marc Wolf. Since Rosita would be the first group encountered when one would draw a line from the port at the Rio Hondo to Blue Creek’s central precinct, and is by far the closest residential group to the harbor, it seems logical that Rosita could be linked to this feature. Ascribing control over the riverine dam and dock complex to Rosita does pose some problems though. A straight line from the Rio Hondo port to the central precinct would seem logical on a map, but ignores the fact that steep hills would be encountered between the dock and dam complex and Rosita which evidently would make it harder for merchants carrying their goods uphill. Conversely, the fact that Rosita was the closest residential group to the harbor and the presence of exotic influences in Rosita, do speak in favor of Rosita being closely related to the riverine trading system. In contrast to the previous residential groups, more intensive excavations at Rosita enable us to get a thorough and nuanced view on this group. Although it is not known to what degree it reached, it is fair to state that the control over the dock and dam complex would have given the inhabitants a powerful position, both on an economical as a political level. Because of this, they could have been able to operate independently from the site core and – since maritime trade was one of the major sources for Blue Creek’s exceptional wealth – the site core would have to maintain a good relationship with Rosita’s ruling lineages. The importance of interregional trade is manifested in various exotic influences found in Rosita. Therewithal Rosita is supposed to have controlled an

Comprised of structures RS-5, 6, 7 and 21 plus one associated structure, RS-10, is one of the bigger Rosita groups, which is located at the western end of the Rosita group. This group, named the structure RS-5 patio group, was initiated in the late preclassic with the construction of structures RS-5 and 7, which were only low platforms topped by perishable superstructures in their first phase (Preston 2008). By the end of the early classic the final configuration had taken form, but further construction phases still occurred in the late and terminal classic (Preston 2007, 2008). Structure 7 was badly damaged which made it impossible to establish a function with any certainty (Preston 2008). It is possible that this building was razed in order to reuse some of its material in the construction or modification of other buildings, such as the adjacent structure RS-21. RS-5 and 6, which shared a common basal platform in their latest construction phase, were ascertained to be residential buildings while structure RS-21 had functioned as a shrine (Preston 2007, 2008). A concentration of sherds was located in the doorway of structure RS-5, but it is yet unclear whether this should be interpreted as a termination deposit or as occupational debris (Preston 2007). A similar deposit was reported in relation to the RS-6 doorway (Preston 2007). In one of the RS-5 rooms two intrusive caches, each containing a darknight orange vessel, were discovered. Two middens, one with late preclassic or early classic and another with late or terminal classic


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek waste were excavated near structure RS-6 (Preston 2007).

2007). Lastly, a midden containing fresh water shells has been hypothesized to be a remnant of ritual feasting (Preston 2007). The combination of all of these topics indicates a strong presence of ritual activity. The people living in this patio group likely belonged to Rosita’s ruling elite and may have combined both economical as religious offices. There is no sign that the wealth or power of this lineage diminished during the terminal classic, but nevertheless the patio group was forsaken before the start of the postclassic era.

The proximity to the harbor implies the inflow of exotic influences in Rosita. This is very apparent in the structure RS-5 patio group. One of its structures, the structure RS-21, which had been built in the early classic as a local style residence, was reconstructed in the terminal classic as a typical circular Yucatecan style shrine (Guderjan and Hanratty 2007; Preston 2007, 2008). This teaches us two, equally important, things. Firstly such transformations would not have taken place if the patio group was out of use or if its residents did not have the financial means to invest in such architectural modifications. Secondly, the construction of buildings with such an exotic appeal suggests that its denizens were in some way involved in the interregional trade system. Though such Yucatecan style shrines can hardly be described as common outside Yucatan, others have been found at for example Nohmul, Ambergris Caye or Seibal, and are seen as a clear marker of terminal classic Yucatecan influence (Chase and Chase 1982; Harrison-Buck 2010). Interestingly, most if not all of the places where such circular shrines have been found outside of Yucatan were either major centers or places associated with interregional commerce. We can therefrom conclude that the people living in the structure five patio group were thriving in the terminal classic and that their riches most likely came from the interregional trade. Structure RS-21 is not the only odd structure in this patio group though, because structure RS-10 is comprised of a platform which supports a single room structure and an exterior activity area enclosed by a low platform, which is a configuration previously unseen in Blue Creek (Preston 2007). However, we must acknowledge the possibility that similar buildings did exist, but are generally too eroded to be recognized as such. There are other features about this patio group too that need to be highlighted. Originally this group was initiated in the late preclassic as a configuration of two masonry structures supporting perishable structures. Therefore, it appears that while in the late preclassic the lineage housed here was of a more humble nature, it grew out to be more powerful during the early classic when the four buildings of this patio were constructed. The fact that these buildings were continuously modified during the late and terminal classic indicates a wealthy lineage was housed in these structures. Some interesting features hint that apart from the interregional trade as an economic factor, its residents also took a great interest in ritual practices. This is foremost apparent in the building of a shrine, the aforementioned structure RS-21, but other remnants of ritual behavior are also apparent. Inhumation of deceased ancestors and ritual caching have been reported in previous houses and are - as in other cases - indicators of status, but we mustn’t forget that this implies important ritual activity as well. The late classic burial in structure RS-21 therefore is both a marker of status and ritual activity. Two metates were found in what appear to be two separate ritual contexts in structure RS-10 (Preston

Figure 4.17. Structure RS-21, a Yucatecan style shrine. The structure RS-9 patio group is situated about 20 m southeast of the RS-5 group and is compiled of structures RS-9, RS-24 and RS-25 arranged in a Ushape. Structures RS-24 and RS-25 were constructed simultaneously at an undefined moment in time, but before structure RS-9 was built (Preston 2008). Structure RS-9 was initiated in the early classic and differs stylistically and in size from the other two buildings in this patio group (Preston 2008). Just like their neighbors living in the structure RS-5 patio group, the structure RS-9 patio group exhibits signs of elite status and ritual behavior. Among these signs a crypt containing four jade beads and one zoomorphic jade shaped into a monkey head, all presumably belonging to one necklace, can be counted (Reyes 2009). Following one of the episodes in the Popol Vuh, the hero twins’ half-brothers: the scribes Hun Baatz and Hun Chouen, were transformed into monkeys as a punishment for mocking and mistreating Hunaphu and Xbalanque. This myth explains how and why monkeys became the symbol of Maya scribes. Since we know that Maya scribes came from the upper classes, the interred person may well have been a scribe (Coe and Kerr 1997; Schele and Miller 1992). The fact that the act of writing itself was considered a ritual activity which may or may not have been preceded by the intake of intoxicating substances, fasting or bloodletting, and such, might explain the possible evidence of incense burning inside this structure (Schele and Miller 1992; Miller and Martin 2004; Preston 2008). Other finds that prove the high status of the residents in this structure include obsidian and shell inlays plus another jade bead. During 45

Dominick Van den Notelaer the terminal classic a Daylight Orange Vessel and a jade bead were placed in a cache in the center of RS-9, but it is further unclear how the wealth of the people living in the patio group evolved during the beginning of the terminal classic (Preston 2008). Either way, the seemingly inevitable fate of Blue Creek’s residences is also repeated in this structure: by the end of the terminal classic it was abandoned.

article we will refer to this area as Chan Cahal (Guderjan 2007). Chan Cahal is quite different from the other groups. Although it does contain some buildings that show more signs of prestige, the majority of the people living here would have worked the fields that surrounded this group. Due to their position at the base of the Bravo escarpment and Belize’s climate of annual rainy seasons, the lands of these people risked seasonal inundation, potentially causing much damage to their crops. In an attempt to minimize this risk, a ditched field system - a series of canals to drain the abundant water was installed by the late classic (Luzzadder-Beach et al. 2012). At least four ditched field systems have been located in the Chan Cahal area (Baker 2003). As a secondary function, these canals were apparently used for fishing activities (Lichtenstein 2000). By the terminal classic, these ditches began to fill with sediment, suggesting disuse from this period onward (Luzzadder-Beach et al. 2012). The construction of such agricultural complexes was initiated and completed during the classic period to intensify the agricultural crops and therefore it is not surprising that Blue Creek as a main exporter of agricultural surpluses did appear to be prosperous during the late classic. The construction of the ditched field systems suggests the existence of an organization which could decide over topics such as the installment of these complexes. If Diego de Landa’s (1566) ascertainment that fields were used in common and were not the property of individuals would be true for Blue Creek - something that is very doubtful - , surely these communal fields still would have been delegated by a restricted group of individuals. The fact that many of Chan Cahals houses were surrounded by small kitchen gardens, which were worked for personal use, indeed suggests a distinction between farming from an economical perspective and the growth of crops for personal use in this group (Clagett 1997; Guderjan 2005). Excavations revealed the presence of Yucatecan slate wares in a great number of the residential structures, both the most elaborate as the humble (Lichtenstein 2000). This suggests access to exotic goods, but since they are found so ubiquitous, they can not be regarded as status markers. Possibly, these item came from the long-distance trade in which the agricultural surpluses harvested by Chan Cahals denizens were traded with polities in the north. Chan Cahal was probably the earliest inhabited area in the Blue Creek area since this is the only place with evidence for middle preclassic occupation. Since the area was continuously occupied until the terminal classic, it consequently was the longest inhabited zone in Blue Creek as well.

Close to the RS-9 patio group lies structure RS-23, a large platform that appears to have been built in the early classic and was occupied at least until the late classic (Preston 2008). Ceramics dating to earlier periods in the construction fill of this structure might indicate that a perishable structure preceded the current RS-23 structure (Preston 2008). An unusual high amount of lithic tools in relation to the excavated terrain has been found (Preston 2008). Since no debitage refuse has been reported in this area, it is unlikely that this was a lithic workshop and utilitarian or ritual purposes appear more likely. Some of the most productive lithic crops in the greater Blue Creek area can be found in the bajos surrounding the Rosita community (Barret 2004). In contrast to the quarries of some of Blue Creek’s neighboring polities, no qualitative material could be harvested there, and it is therefore unlikely that it could be used for anything more than self-sufficiency (Barret 2004). Less elaborate structures were apparent in Rosita as well. These can be found in for instance structures RS23 and RS-26 but are not as good understood as some of the more impressive structures. It appears that both elite as non-elite classes were housed in Rosita. The fact that Rosita had a broad spectrum of social classes combined with agricultural sources and control over interregional trade, made it a very powerful group that could have functioned perfectly if the bonds with Blue Creek’s site core would ever be disconnected. The rulers of Blue Creek were presumably very aware of this and can be expected to do as much as possible to maintain good relationships with this group. The independent character of Rosita was probably the reason why it could continue to thrive during the terminal classic while other places were already being derelict. Nonetheless, since control over the riverine trade system was its major economical base in this period, the group was doomed to drain, as gradually all other places which would have functioned in the trade system were being abandoned.

Chan Cahal For now we leave the areas on top of the Bravo escarpment behind to focus on the lower lying parts of the Blue Creek zone. Originally thought to be two distinct neighboring residential groups, current research has shown that the residential groups known as Chan Cahal and Sayap Ha are in fact one group, hence in this

Guderjan (2005) states that some of the elites on top of the escarpment most likely controlled these lands. Without contradicting this, I would argue that one lineage at Chan Cahal might have controlled a large section of the ditched field system, perhaps in


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek command of the elites in the core area. Chan Cahals most distinctive building is the structure U-5. The earliest construction phase of this structure was carried out in the early classic and was preceded by the interment of a person, which unfortunately could not be investigated (Giacometti and Lalonde 2002). At this point it was probably the only building at Chan Cahal that was constructed solely of imperishable materials (Guderjan 2007). Large structures in otherwise more modest commoner residential quarters like this one have been reported elsewhere and are thought to have certain religious and/or socio-political purposes, but are apart from that incompletely understood (Willey 1956; Haviland 1966). Further investigation of structure U-5’s data hints at a primary residential function though, albeit with possible secondary public functions (Guderjan 2007). Considering the importance of the agricultural complexes, it seems unlikely that it did not perform some kind of control over at least some of the ditched field systems. Furthermore, the fact that structure U-5 was heavily expanded during the late classic, at the same time the ditched field system was installed, does not appear to be coincidental (Giacometti and Lalonde 2002). The spatial location of this building is similar to U Xulil Beh’s structure 5A-2 patio group which had a controlling function over some of the terraced fields. Although the situation at Chan Cahal is more expressive, both are located on a border between agricultural complexes that show extensive modification in order to intensify the working of the lands to the west, and more humble residences to the east. In both cases the controlling building shows signs of higher status compared to the residences to the east of them, although this is much more apparent in structure U-5 than it is in the structure 5A-2 patio group. Apart from the fact that it was the most elaborate building in the vicinity, some of the goods found in the structure U-5 are the typical indicators of wealth and prestige which were already discussed above, but their abundance in a further relatively humble group can be labeled as intriguing to say at the least. One late classic piece of jade was recovered from this building, but in the previous eras, there appear to have been hundreds of pieces of jade that are linkable to the wealth of these lineages. As stated before, it needs to be stressed that the diminution of jade artifacts in the late classic does not necessarily mean an impoverishment, since this was a pattern spread across a large region. Some other prestigious and exotic artifacts such as goods crafted from steatite, granite and conch shell plus some chert bifaces were also found in this patio group. Two rooms contained burials in which the inhumed person appears to be bound tightly with the hands behind the back and appears to be missing his or her head (Giacometti and Lalonde 2002). Similar examples are found elsewhere and while these certainly appear to be sacrificial victims at first sight, it has been pointed out that we do not know for sure whether this was not a rare post-mortem ritual in which an already deceased person was bound and decapitated (Martin and Grube 2000). One interesting

piece is the uninscribed stela found in one of the chambers of this structure (Giacometti and Lalonde 2002). It can be presumed that in ancient times, this stela was covered in plaster or painted. The great majority of stelae in the Maya area deal with political issues, and I do not consider this one to be very different. The relationship between the rulers and the denizens of structure U-5 is likely to have been a local variant of the bond between an ahau and a sajal and that the people living in this structure stated and legitimated their power by this stela and the information on it. It is not known from which period this stela stems, but the fact that it was maintained until the abandonment of the structure in the terminal classic suggests it kept its relevance throughout this period.

Several smaller platforms which would have served as a base for perishable superstructures can be found at Chan Cahal, most of them erected at the end of the preclassic period and lacking late construction (Lichtenstein 2000). Nonetheless, some of these humble residences seem to have been occupied over a long period, such as 3E-31, which appears to have been inhabited for over 500 years (Lichtenstein 2000). A notable high percentage shells of Pomacea Flagellata, a fresh water snail used as supplementary subsistence, was recorded in middens related to some of these houses (Clagett 1997; Popson and Clagett 1999; Lichtenstein 2000). These middens also consistently revealed an amount of lithic debitage suggesting a household-level of lithic manufacturing, but no further intentions to export these tools (Lichtenstein 2000). Structure 3E-36 appears to have been a humble residence according to its architectural features and construction phases, but nevertheless exhibits signs that otherwise might be designated as elite characteristics. After its construction in the late preclassic, further construction phases of unknown date were performed on this structure (Popson and Clagett 1999). If we only look at quantity instead of quality, the 3E-36 structure yielded the biggest amount of jade artifacts of all of Blue Creek’s residential structures (Guderjan 2004). The fact that these were of inferior material and craftsmanship than the majority of jades found in higher class structures does not undermine the fact that this is an exceptional find. Of the 124 pieces of jade, 56% belonged to the late preclassic period, 4% to the early classic, and the rest could not be dated with any certainty (Guderjan 2004). Apart from ceramics, some notable finds includ shell, obsidian and three “hamburger stones” such as found at CBN structure 17, which all underline a privileged position (Clagett 1997; Popson and Clagett 1999). The caching of three “hamburger stones” in this structure might be revealing since such rituals may have been performed by a priestly class. It could be that a commoner-priestly lineage was housed here and that part of the exhibited wealth was derived from their privilege to perform certain rituals, but this is far from certain. The structure itself consisted of 47

Dominick Van den Notelaer cobblestone platforms which delineated a small patio (Clagett 1997).

annual dry season as was the case for Blue Creek. The high status of the inhabitants of these courtyards is also reflected in the artifact assemblage. Judging by the architecture structure 3D-15’s inhabitants could have been slightly wealthier as those living in 4E-1. This is further confirmed by the artifact assemblage since in contrast to 4E-1, from 3D-15 polychrome pottery, jade and carved shell were retrieved.

The southwestern part of Chan Cahal was previously known as Sayap Ha, which is Yucatec for “Spring Water”, and refers to the three fresh water springs close to the community. Apart from these springs two aguadas also functioned as water management systems. Lichtenstein (2000) notes that, in contrast to the northern part of Chan Cahal, direct evidence for agriculture at Sayap Ha is scarce, but that the linear stone alignments found adjacent to this group might have functioned as part of an agricultural terracing system. Even if no agricultural fields were to be found in this region, it is still likely that many of its inhabitants were active in the Chan Cahal fields. No evidence of terminal classic activity was reported here, so that it appears to be one of the earliest abandoned areas of Blue Creek.

The structure 3E-12 patio group is composed of two structures, structure 3E-11 and 3E-12, both standing on an early classic platform. After the patio group was erected, it underwent three additional construction phases: one between the transition from early to late classic era and two in the late classic (Lichtenstein 2000). One intrusive burial was detected in one of the later construction phases’ floor, but could not be investigated due to time constraints (Lichtenstein 2000).

On the southern edge of this group, near one of the aguadas, stands the 4E-1 courtyard which is formed by four structures atop a masonry platform. Evidence of occupation as early as the late preclassic is present and lasted until the latter half of the late classic period (Driver 2004). The structure itself, however, was initiated in the early classic as a patio group and sometime during the late classic, further modifications turned the patio group into a courtyard (Lichtenstein 2000; Driver 2004). Apart from this transformation, various other construction phases have been present at the 4E-1 courtyard (Driver 2004). One of these construction phases was preceded by the burial of a person (Driver 2004). Apart from the typical utilitarian goods, the courtyard also yielded goods such as obsidian and Yucatecan trade wares (Lichtenstein 2000).

A few of the buildings at this group can hardly be described as elite residences, but are clearly of a more luxurious nature than the majority of commoner residences. The structure 3E-12 patio group is a good example hereof. Although it does not appear to have been an extremely wealthy or important lineage that was housed here, one intrusive burial took place here. Apart from the burial as a possible indicator of status, the presence of Yucatecan slate wares indicates that its denizens were active in interregional trade. We must not draw conclusions on higher status too soon though. Yucatecan slate wares do indicate long-distance trade, but as we have seen, are found too commonly to be a real indicator of prestige. The same goes for the burials: various lower class residences in this group participated in the entombment of an ancestor so that it too was too common to serve as an indicator of status. This behavior has been linked with the upper regions of the lower classes at Chan Cahal who would copy the behavior of elites, possibly in an attempt to connect with this class (Guderjan 2007). Because they did not participate in the already manifested power structures, the lineages could not rise to a higher status although the ancestor himself might have enjoyed a high status and was an important lineage member.

One of the most - perhaps the single most - elaborate groupings of Sayap Ha is the structure 3D-15 courtyard group. The courtyard group is comprised of four structures: structure 3D-14, 3D-15, 3D-16 and 3D-17. All of which appear to have been built during the end of the early and late classic period (Lichtenstein 2000). Structure 3D-19 is a small single-phase platform which because of its proximity to the courtyard, might have functioned as an outhouse of the 3D-15 group (Lichtenstein 2000).

Structure 3D-4, 3D-5, 3D-8 and 3D-10 are all cobblestone platforms which were built during the late classic (Lichtenstein 2000). According to the ceramic evidence, both structure 3D-4 and 3D-8 hint at an earlier occupation (Lichtenstein 2000). The other two structures did not yield much ceramic, but it is not unlikely that they follow the same pattern. It is also possible though, as Lichtenstein (2000) notes, that structure 3D-5 and 3D-10 were outbuildings which would in fact explain the low amount of ceramics and other finds. Such outhouses might have served as storage sheds for agricultural harvest, but apart from their non-residential nature little is known about them.

The structure 4E-1 and 3D-15 courtyards clearly appear to have been the houses of lineages with some degree of status. This was further underlined by the fact that they were located slightly above the other residences in this group. Both also could have had an important role in water management, since the structure 4E-1 courtyard lay adjacent to an aguada and the structure 3D-15 was located near another aguada and two fresh water springs, which might have been the reason that they grew out to be more enriched than most in this group. Water-management evidently was an important issue in agrarian societies, especially if they lay in zones with an


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek There are several indicators that at least some, but very likely the greater majority, of the other residents at Chan Cahal were of considerably lower status than the people of most of the aforementioned structures. This can easily be derived from the humble single-phased platform structures which would have been topped by perishable superstructures, the need to construct kitchen gardens to meet their needs, the crafting of lithic artifacts for personal use, and the general absence of indicators of higher status. These were the homes of the farmers who would work the surrounding fields. Everything hints at a relatively humble agrarian society, but there is one stunning exception that does not fit this picture. A great amount of pieces of jade was found in several of the seemingly humble residences, most of them dating from the end of the preclassic and the early classic period (Guderjan 2004). To date no satisfying explanation has been found for this puzzling abundance of jades. No other status markers were found in these structures, which makes this context even more enigmatic.

have been conducted in these buildings, the closest structures - structure 4D-16 and 4D-17 - do not appear to exhibit much elaborate characteristics, so that it is unlikely that this cenote had an important ritual connotation. No agricultural complexes were found in the region of Sak Lu’um, which can best be explained by the absence of fertile soils in this area (Lichtenstein 2000). Therefore, it might seem unlikely that the people of this residential group were farmers, but in fact, the ditched field system of Chan Cahal-Sayap Ha was located at less than 1 km from this area so that some of Sak Lu’um’s might have well been employed in these agricultural complexes.

The situation at Chan Cahal is definitely a complex merging of various classes of Maya society. Regardless, it can still be characterized as a commoner based society whose main economic power lay in the exploitation of the agricultural complexes. Because of the importance of the export of agricultural surpluses to Blue Creek’s economy, some of the controlling lineages accumulated quite some wealth. Even some of the more modest lineages in this group tried to connect to the upper classes by imitating certain aspects of elite behavior, but presumably did not succeed in their attempts. The Chan Cahal residential group is also an interesting case for the first arrival hypothesis. The first people ever to arrive in Blue Creek were settled in Chan Cahal. On a polity level Chan Cahal certainly was not the place of the uppermost elites. Nonetheless, some of the oldest buildings in this group later grew out to be the most affluent of Chan Cahal itself, so that this theory might hold true on a group level.

Figure 3.18 Wings Ha.

The two buildings that were excavated do confirm the survey results. Both are cobblestone platforms that would have supported a perishable superstructure. Structure 4D-28 was initiated in the late preclassic and saw another additional construction period at an unknown date whereas structure 4D-33 was erected in the early classic and did not appear to have had any other major modifications (Lichtenstein 2000). There is nothing that would point at anything else than a low commoner household. Sherds of Yucatecan slate ware have been located, but as seen in the Chan Cahal-Sayap Ha discussion, the fact that these could hint at interregional trade does not necessarily mean that its users had a high status. This can be further confirmed by the fact that this pottery type is relatively common in the lower-class societies, but is much less apparent in the elite residential groups of Blue Creek.

Sak Lúum The Sak Lúum residential group is located about 1 km southeast of Blue Creek’s central precinct. Unfortunately, of the 44 structures mapped at this site only two have been subjected to excavation, but surveys show no sign of monumental architecture which already has significant implications in examining its social stratification (Lichtenstein 2000). Its occupation dates from the late preclassic until the late classic and is thus similar to much of the other settlements (Lichtenstein 2000). A cenote is located in the western extremity of this group and might have served as a water reservoir. In some places these natural sinkholes were also used as a focus point for rituals, such as apparent in the famous sacred cenote at Chichén Itzá. Although no excavations

Instead of making hypotheses about an area which has not been excavated thoroughly, it is better to be reticent on many aspects of Sak Lu’um. We can state that it was very likely a commoner based society though, but the temporal dynamics and the details on its social stratification remain unclear.


Dominick Van den Notelaer

Figure 3.19. Río Hondo housemounds. (Clayton 2003)

or U Xulil Beh, the people of Rio Hondo do not appear to have been active in the agrarian sector, nor did they belong to the lowest commoner class. Jade and obsidian are found, albeit in small amounts, indicating that the people living here were at least slightly wealthier or of higher status than the low commoners. One interesting piece that confirms this is the greenstone hacha that was found in this residential group (Clayton 2003). Since hacha’s were part of the ritual ballgame regalia that was played by royalty or higher nobility, this is a very interesting find. Another indicator of status can be found in the burial and ritual deposits located in structure 3. A burial accompanied by four early classic vessels was found located in a hole in the bedrock subsurface of this structure (Clayton 2003). The position of the corpse and its grave goods are consistent of Blue Creek’s burial pattern suggesting a “community-shared worldview” (Clayton 2003). Not far from this grave a pit containing a chert biface was located, but it appears that the caching of the biface and the inhumation of the corpse were two unrelated events (Clayton 2003). A third ritual deposit was located in the northeastern corner of the building. Its implications are not yet well understood, but Clayton (2003, 2013) suggests a possible connection with the religious connotations of the cardinal directions. Architecturally, the residences of Rio Hondo appear to have belonged to very low classes though. The typical, mostly single-phased, masonry platforms - which would not have been an unnecessary luxury considering their location next to the river -, topped by perishable superstructures which are found wherever lower classes are encountered at Blue Creek are the only structures to be found in the Rio Hondo group. The absence of construction phases cannot be emphasized in this case because of its short occupancy period - maybe even less than three generations. The pattern of lithics is consistent with lithic craft specialization, something which is absent in all other parts of the Blue Creek polity (Clayton 2003, 2013). At some other places, like Chan Cahal, there is evidence of lithic debitage as well, but in these cases it was only subsistence-based. Blue Creek did not possess high quality lithic resources and the lithic artifacts found in the Rio Hondo settlement consequently came from Colha - an interregional chert exporter located about 60 km east of Blue Creek - and other lithic exporters (Clayton 2003, 2013). The local chert crops of Chan Cahal were also exploited by Rio Hondo’s stone workers although apparently Chan Cahal’s denizens themselves did not use artifacts crafted from these sources (Clayton 2013). The fact that these people would engage in commercial lithic crafting seems to confirm the vision that these people should not be considered as an elite class although the presence of interred ancestors, a jade bead, an obsidian blade, and the aforementioned hacha suggests these people were not impoverished peasants.

Though the structures of this group are reminiscent of the lower class structures such as seen at Chan Cahal

There seems to be a problematic discrepancy between the presence of typical elite features on the one hand

Rio Hondo The last cluster of residential structures to be discussed is the small Rio Hondo settlement located on the Rio Hondo river bank which, intriguingly, was only occupied for some generations. The group was initiated during the transition between early and late classic and did not outlast the first phase of the late classic. The fact that its first inhabitants arrived at roughly the same time Blue Creek lost its independence might be significant, but there is no data that further supports a correlation between these two events yet. The Rio Hondo settlement is located not far from tomb five, a late preclassic tomb that proved to contain various vessels and jade artifacts, but is omitted from this study since it withheld no late or terminal classic data. Firstly its location on the riverbank poses some interesting issues. On one hand, it could provide some valuable food-sources like shell or fish, and could allow interactions with merchants taking their goods to or from Blue Creek. In fact, surface prospections did result in a great amount of jute shell (Clayton 2003). Jute is a fresh water shell that was used as food by the ancient Maya, but we must not directly link these with consumption patterns since we cannot rule out the possibility that these were deposited when the river flooded. On the other hand, though, the water posed a serious hazard to possible agricultural crops and even the houses. It might have been due to these risks that Rio Hondo’s denizens decided to abandon this site so quickly. In addition,to the land clearage by modern day farmers, the river water had seriously deteriorated the conservation and readability of the archaeological remains.


Late and Terminal Classic Social Stratification Dynamics at Blue Creek and typical commoner characteristics on the other hand. Considering the late arrival date and the short occupation period, it seems that the wealth exhibited by Rio Hondo’s denizens was already acquired before they founded this group. Most archaeologists estimate the number of people living in households between 4.9 and 5.6 people (Haviland 1972). When applied to the six structures of the Rio Hondo this indicates that it might have housed about 30 people. This could be consistent with the number of people in one, or perhaps two lineages. The interred ancestor buried in structure three could have possibly been the lineage founder of this new settlement. The “community-shared worldview” suggests that they were accustom to the region’s habits though, and one can’t help but wonder whether there could be a link with Blue Creek’s subjugation which occurred at the same time this group was initiated. The Rio Hondo’s inhabitants might then best be described as community of elites who had lost their wealth and power and perhaps were even exiled from their original homes, but still tried to cling to certain features that would state their elite ancestry. Whether this theory holds true or not, the ending of occupancy at the Rio Hondo group remains the same: after a few generations the settlement ceased to exist. The hazard of the flooding river might have been one of the major reasons for this.

A certain pattern can be discerned in the evolution of social stratification at Blue Creek, though not all residential groups adhere to it. This is because the exhibited pattern should not be seen as a controlling force, but as an active process in which each residential group – presumably even lineage or individual interacted in its own way. Moreover, the pattern is the somewhat contingent way in which many agents reacted on various temporal processes rather than a framework in which the behavior of certain classes can be understood. At the beginning of the late classic, Blue Creek can be seen as a thriving city of regional importance. Its social strata were steadily manifested and the balance between them - although casual conflicts were as always presumably inevitable - helped to construct a polity which was politically and economically opulent. The political turnaround from independent to subordinate polity seems not to have had a great impact on the arrangements of social layers. The small group of royal elites lost some control over the city, but to what degree is unclear. Because the most affluent non-royal elites seem to have gained even more prestige directly after this event, it appears that they diverted some of the power lost by the royalty to them. The low classes in Maya society are generally thought not to mingle too much in political and military affairs and this seems to have been the case in Blue Creek as well, since little or no significant change in lifestyle or status could be discerned in their residential groups after the subordination of their city. There were also local rulers in these residential groups which were of some higher status. Since they could retain their elaborate status, it can be concluded that the power relations between the rulers of the commoner residential groups and the uppermost elites were kept. It might even have been so that the communication between these commoner rulers and the royalty always would have gone through the non-royal elites, but this cannot be assured. It would be a good argument in explaining the conservation of power relationships between upper elites and the commoner residential groups though.

Blue Creek: The Whole is More than the Sum of its Parts In this chapter we will zoom out and try to discern the broader patterns that were active at Blue Creek. As is clear by now, Blue Creek exhibits a complex social hierarchy which evolved through time. Earlier I have stated that the residential groups on top of the escarpment housed the predominantly elite-based communities, while the residential groups that were located at the base of this escarpment were more commoner-based. This vision needs to be nuanced though, since higher classes were present at the lower class residential groups and vice versa. However, residential groups like Nukuch Muul or Ya’ab Muul still can be considered as elite based since the main focus of such places was the presence of elites which then would have attracted lower classes. Conversely, residential groups like Chan Cahal, were originally low class societies. Some of the lineages in these residential groups grew out to be more powerful which eventually would lead to bonds with the elites on top of the escarpment. This way the originally low class lineages had found a way to legitimate and expand their power, while the ruling elites could implement some sort of control over the lower-class residential groups which were the foundation of Blue Creek’s economical wealth. This distinction might seem subtle to us in some cases, but could have had important implications in the cognitive perception of these residential groups and the people living in it.

After the power shift in the beginning of the late classic, which appears mostly to have affected the central precinct, Kín Tan and possibly Chum-Balaam-Nal, a stagnation of the power heterarchies on a polity level is apparent. This does not explicitly means that there were no changes, since some of the data are not more specific than general late classic and is thus insufficient to examine the evolution between the beginning and ending of this period. The drain on the polity in the terminal classic naturally had an effect on the power relations. The power of the highest elites who were probably ruling the polity seems to have reached a low. Lower elites could benefit therefrom and were attracting more and more power, the most notable evidence hereof being the increase in 51

Dominick Van den Notelaer commoner houses at Nukuch Muul. Some residential groups, more specifically U Xulil Beh and Rosita, appear not to have partaken in the dynamics of powershifting at the center of the polity, suggesting a relative independence towards the elites of the core area. The fact that Rosita was still thriving – U Xulil Beh can hardly be described as thriving during any phase of its existence – does suggest an economical and political liberty and the presence of very powerful lineages during this period. Since the ditched fields began to fill with sediment, the important agricultural economic base of the city appears to have collapsed. We do not know whether the terminal classic abandonment first took place in the elite or commoner societies or that it happened synchronous. It is safe to say though, that while the commoner society could have prevailed without the presence of an upper class, the loss of the agricultural base of the city would have inevitably been followed by the downfall of the elite groups.

elaborate status when not accompanied by other of these markers, although they can still be counted as markers for financial wealth. Also, Blue Creek seems to have had an extremely high amount of these status indicators, hence hinting that even much of the lower classes can be considered as relatively wealthy. This wealth in the Blue Creek polity was based on two factors which cannot be considered separately. Firstly, this city was capable of producing much more agricultural products than necessary for its own survival. Secondly, because Blue Creek’s harbor was an important post in interregional trade, these surpluses could be exported to other regions. The place that it took in the interregional trade system also made exotic goods available to a broad section of society. After the royal elites at Blue Creek had lost their might, the power-vacuum was filled by the high non-royal elites at Kín Tan and Chum-Balaam-Nal. Though they seemed to flourish even more as they already had after this power-transition, their wealth and power gradually waned from the latter part of the late classic on. Nevertheless, they still appear to have been the most affluent people in the region until the time they left Blue Creek. Their exodus, which was marked by massive termination deposits, made place for other people to attract might at Blue Creek. In the terminal classic, these lower elites were growing more powerful and were able to attract more commoners to their sites. Regardless of their increasing influence, the forces behind the “classic Maya collapse” could not be eluded, as these people as well abandoned their homes at the end of the terminal classic.

About hundred years after the city was entirely abandoned at the end of the terminal classic period, there have been several small reoccupations in the area. The fact that these occurred mostly close to fertile farming areas such as in the structure U-5 at Chan Cahal may even indicate that the agricultural potential was not forgotten after its abandonment (Giacometti and Lalonde 2002). It can even be suggested that it were the progenies of some of the people who earlier lived in this area that were attracted by the stories of its productive soils. Since the reoccupation seems not to have been numerous nor lengthy, no major stratification can be expected in these periods. Conclusions

The abandonment of the city affected all social layers in it, since by the beginning of the postclassic no more activity was to be found in Blue Creek. It would be unwise to regard the processes leading to the depopulation of the polity as a top down movement in which the lower classes would just follow the outmigrating elites. A more bottom up movement in which the lower class residential groups were forsaken first and thus triggered the implosion of the economical base might be more appropriate for this city. Unfortunately the dating methods are mostly not precise enough to give a decisive answer as to which group was left before the other in the approximately 150 year long period known as the terminal classic.

Social stratification in Maya civilization is a subject that, although great steps have been taken in the last 50 years, is not yet adequately apprehended. Epigraphists have contributed greatly in our knowledge of social heterarchies, especially in the elite-classes, but these have not always been located in the archaeological record. Because of such omissions, the study of power relations should still be seen as an important topic in Maya archaeology. This article has focused on social stratification on a polity level, but similar research on a group level and (inter-) regional levels are just as indispensable to broaden our understanding of Maya culture. In addition, by taking an holistic approach on social organization, the underexposed parts of the social structure – the commoner societies, can be seen in a broader context which hopefully stimulates further research.

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Chapter 5 Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community Dominick Van den Notelaer consolidated the greatest amount of power and wealth in the residential group, moved outside the area shortly after this event. The vacant position of most influential lineage of Chan Cahal was quickly taken over by the lineage living in the U5 plaza complex, which expressed their power through various means including architectural programs. While this lineage attained socio-economic affluence, those with a lower status were not able to express any form of prestige as they had done in the previous eras. The farmlands, the economic base of Chan Cahal, appear to have been controlled by this ruling lineage.

Introduction Until recently, Maya commoners – who constituted a large majority of society – have been neglected by students of the ancient Maya, or have been stereo-typed as a passive, homogenous group. The only way to do justice to this group is by detailed analysis of commoner contexts. The ultimate goal here is not to counter the approaches that centre around the elite parts of society, but rather to overcome oversimplified perspectives– be it top-down or bottom-up – that do injustice to very complex situations. As a step towards this goal, this chapter will investigate the socioeconomic complexity in Chan Cahal.

Though the situation of most inhabitants of Chan Cahal was hardly enviable, the group– and Blue Creek as a whole – appears to have been economically profitable and socially stable by the end of the Late Classic. Its inhabitants could however not be prepared for the catastrophes that led to the end of the Classic era. The combination of drought and the region-wide disappearance of many of its trade partners made that Blue Creek was no longer a thriving city. Gradually, people moved out of the Chan Cahal residential group, with the last people leaving before the Postclassic.

Chan Cahal was a residential group at the base of the Bravo escarpment. Due to its position near fertile wetland soils, this group could focus on producing agricultural surpluses and was a valuable contributor to Blue Creek’s economy, which profited from various types of fertile soils combined with its location near the Río Hondo to export agricultural goods. Since Chan Cahal appears to have been the earliest inhabited zone of Blue Creek, with occupation dating back to the Early Middle Preclassic, these soils may have been one of the prime reasons for which people settled in this zone. Furthermore, the presence of water sources and the location at the base of the escarpment, which allowed for wetland and dryland agriculture.

Every society has to cope with stereotypes and prejudices. T he Maya have been stereotyped as a mysterious time-obsessed people engaged in pyramid building and human sacrifice. While there certainly lies some truth in these stereotypes, they are not representative of how the vast majority of people in these civilizations lived their everyday lives. In Maya society - as in most other societies, this majority consisted of farmers and laborers. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the importance of these commoners to society, Mayanists have too often regarded them as passive agents lacking any form of dynamic, resulting in their underrepresentation in research (Lohse 2007; Marcus 2004; Robin 2009).

In its early years, Chan Cahal was an egalitarian farming community f ocused on agriculture for selfsufficiency – perhaps with a small amount directed towards trade – combined with hunting and foraging. As it grew and other residential groups of Blue Creek became inhabited, social complexity emerged in Chan Cahal. Initially, there is a small but clear difference visible between the extended families and the nucleated families within them. While at first this is small and informal, by the Early Classic it had become institutionalized, enlarging the gap between the upper and lower social strata in Chan Cahal. This does not mean that those with a low socio-economic status were impoverished, as they seem to have been relatively enriched. Some even could acquire quite an affluent position due to personal achievements, though real power still was in the hands of few.

I will examine the socio-economic differentiation and demographic evolution of Chan Cahal. This residential group yields the earliest signs of occupation in the Blue Creek area, with ceramics dating back to the beginning of the Middle Preclassic era. It was continuously occupied until the Terminal Classic period, a time of great distress when Blue Creek and most of the other polities of the central and southern Maya lowlands were being abandoned. Consequently,

Things changed drastically when around 500 AD, Blue Creek lost its independence. To Chan Cahal, this apparently meant that the Imcolel lineage, which had 59

Dominick Van den Notelaer it has the longest occupation history of Blue Creek, rivalling many other Maya sites in occupation length. Though Chan Cahal’s main economic activity was farming, there was a wide range of social strata apparent, ranging from humble farmers to elites with close bonds with Blue Creek’s rulers. Though this social differentiation was manifested in economic stratification and display of prestigious goods, many commoners still had considerable access to exotic and “elite”-goods.

Creek Regional Ecology Project undertook an aerial survey to document the extent of ditched field systems at Chan Cahal (Lohse et al. 2003). The Chan Cahal fields remain an area with great scientific interest and research has continued for over a decade now (Baker 2003; Beach and Luzzadder-Beach 2004, 2005, 2007; Beach et al. 2006, 2009, 2013; Guderjan and Krause 2011; Luzzadder-Beach and Beach 2009; LuzzadderBeach et al. 2012). In 2003, work was done at the southern portion of Chan Cahal by David Driver (2004), to gain understanding of the inter-community architectural variation in Blue Creek. In 2007, Sarah Skinner began a Master Thesis at San Francisco State University, which would give an overview of excavations performed at Chan Cahal, but this thesis was not finished (Guderjan, personal communication 2013).

Research History Blue Creek was first visited by Mary Neivens in 1974 and later by Jaime Awe. In 1988,Thomas Guderjan, who had been active as an archaeologist on various Belizean sites, had been informed by a local landowner about the archaeological potential of Blue Creek. The site was named after the town of Blue Creek, adjacent to the ancient ruins.

Structural Remains at Chan Cahal At Chan Cahal, we can discern three basic types of constructions. The most numerous is the category of the residential structures, or houses. Also present at Chan Cahal are buildings with a ritual function. While they are greatly outnumbered by the residential structures, their construction cost and implications towards worldview and identity make them crucial contexts in discerning socio-economic dynamics at Chan Cahal. Finally, some structures at Chan Cahal are labelled as ancillary structures.

In 1992, annual excavations at the site core commenced (Guderjan et al. 1992). After a broad survey in 1995, it b e c a m e c l e a r that the site was much larger than earlier anticipated, containing several previously undetected residential areas as well as a large ditched field complex (Baker 1996). In subsequent seasons, the emphasis on excavations in the site core diminished with excavations being carried out in both Chan Cahal’s residential area (Clagett 1997), and its ditched field complex (Baker 1997). At this point it was thought that the residential group was divided into two separate residential groups: Chan Cahal to the north and Sayap Ha to the south, a division later contested by Antoine Giacometti (2002). Though Chan Cahal is now considered as one, there is a drain separating its Northern from its Southern part. The following seasons saw both the continuation of the excavations at Chan Cahal’s residential area (Popson and Claggett 1999; Popson et al. 1998) and the initiation of a large project by Robert Lichtenstein to provide a general overview of Blue Creek by excavating hundreds of small trenches in every known part of Blue Creek, including Chan Cahal (Lichtenstein 1999, 2000).

When we consider the residential structures, a dichotomy between what Elliot Abrams (1994; see also Johnston and Gonlin 1998) calls basic structures and improved structures is apparent. The basic structures, comprising the majority of the structures of Chan Cahal, were very humble huts mostly consisting of a single room, constructed with perishable materials (Figure 5.1). Often, but not always, basic structures were supported by nonperishable sub-structures. These substructures are normally the only architectural features remaining when archaeologists unveil the remnants of such basic structures. They are characterized by a general lack of elaboration and appear to have undergone very few changes in shape or function. Such structures are still frequently being built today, and it is hard to discern major differences in style with those constructed centuries ago (Kurjack 2003; Traditionally, the Morley and Brainerd 1956). improved structures are multi-roomed structures, and sometimes even multi-structure compositions. They are more elaborate and their construction would have required a significant investment regarding construction and labor costs. Therefore improved structures are mostly considered to be the dwellings of an elite class. They are also more receptive to stylistic evolutions (Abrams 1994). Once they were constructed, however, the maintenance of these structures was not costly (Abrams 1994). It is possible that a family living in an improved structure had been rich in the past, but had

While Popson and Clagett’s work focused on the humble residences of Chan Cahal and Lichtenstein aimed to get a better understanding of Blue Creek as a whole, subsequent work carried out by Antoine Giacometti (2001, 2002) focused on the more elaborate architectural features of the residential group, which he termed “hinterland plaza complexes”. During this period, an important shift in the activities at Blue Creek took place. Jon Lohse directed the project for 4 years redirecting efforts into a regional study. Because of the new regional focus, excavations at the constructions of Chan Cahal came to be less of a priority in order to be able to perform activities at other, previously unexcavated centers such as X n o h a . The ditched field system, however, was more closely studied from this period on: in 2002 the Blue


Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community become impoverished after a few generations. This is why it is very important to take further construction phases into account when evaluating the wealth of a family based on architectural remains (Van den Notelaer, this volume). While their elaborateness was important in the display of social status and wealth, improved structures also had purely practical advantages such as better fire resistance, better thermal regulation and less heating costs, less problems with flooding and more beneficial conditions concerning health and hygiene (Abrams 1994).

(Guderjan 2007). Due to modern disturbances, it is hard to identify the exact boundaries of Chan Cahal’s ditched field complex. Consequently, it is likely that it was significantly larger than today. Pollen analysis indicates that a variety of plants were being grown here, both food and non-food crops. (Beach et al. 2013). One of the most pertinent questions about Chan Cahal’s ditched field complex is who had the authority over these fields (Guderjan et al. 2003b). Goals and Research Methods

Apart from residential structures, there are also ritual structures at Chan Cahal. These consist of several subcategories, including temples, shrines, platforms for dances and rituals, etc. The distinction between residential and ritual structures is sometimes vague though, as is apparent in Chan Cahal’s structure U5, which is a combination of one of the most elaborate residential structures found in this residential group and a massive platform where ritual performances were held. This is not all too surprising since the political, economic and religious realms were closely intertwined for the Maya (e.g. Schele and Miller 1986; Schele and Friedel 1990).

The focus of this section is the socio-economic dynamics in Chan Cahal. This will be done by placing the discernable differentiation in a temporal framework. Since it is vital to investigate how the stratification of individual contexts relates to the whole of Chan Cahal, we will also engage in calculating population estimates. Socio-economic Differentiation The economic activity of Chan Cahal was directed at producing agricultural goods on the fields surrounding the residential group (Guderjan 2007). The surpluses produced by Chan Cahal and other residential groups were an important factor in the economy of Blue Creek, which profited from its riparian location near the Río Hondo to function as an important node in the trade between the Belizean coastal region and the mainland lowland area (Guderjan 2005a, 2007, 2012). Massive amounts of agricultural goods were exported via these trade routes. Together with cities such as Lamanai, the role of Blue Creek as an interregional passageway between riverine and overland trade gave it an important economic and political power (Culbert 1977; Guderjan 2005a; Phillips and Rathje 1977). This gave rise to social differentiation and economic specialization (Phillips and Rathje 1977; Tilley 1981). While every residential group had its own type of specific differentiation and specialization, there are – mostly more subtle – differences to be found within each individual residential group as well (Van Den Notelaer, this volume). Consequently, the goal of this thesis will be to examine socio-economic variations within the residential group of Chan Cahal, which will help in gaining more insight into Blue Creek’s organization as a whole as well. Since these subtle variations can only be discerned by looking very closely to the archaeological contexts, this thesis will examine each household – which can be seen as the basic socio-economic entity (Fedick 1989; Hendon 2004; Inomata and Stiver 1998; Johnston and Conlin 1998; Lemonnier 2012; McAnany 1995; Sheets and Simmons 2002) – represented by single structures, before making statements about Chan Cahal’s organization on a broader level. A special emphasis will be directed towards the dynamics exhibited by Chan Cahal. Firstly, all the changes in the archaeological data will be discerned, after which it will be attempted to explain the “why” behind these changes.

The least understood category is that of ancillary structures. This is in no small part because these ancillary structures greatly resemble basic residential structures, except being slightly smaller (e.g. Webster and Conlin 1988). This makes it very difficult to see the difference between small residential structures and large ancillary structures, hence making it likely that many of them are being regarded as basic residential structures. Ancillary structures could have had various functions. Some of them functioned as storage sheds where crops, material or trading goods could be stored. Others were huts used in food preparation activities such as Joya de Cerén where the layers of volcanic ash preserved perishable materials giving us a better idea of the activities performed in these structures (Houston and Inomata 2009). Until this day, some communities still contain such food preparation huts adjacent to the residential units. Agriculture Blue Creek displays a wide array of agricultural techniques such as upland dry farming, lowland ditched fields, terraces and check dams, specialized niches such as rejolladas, and kitchen gardens (Guderjan 2005a, 2007). The ditched field complex north of the residential group is the one that is most typical for Chan Cahal. This does not mean that ditched field farming was the only agricultural strategy employed in this residential group. In the residential area, many of the houses were surrounded by house gardens worked by the residents for means of self-sufficiency. Not only is the ditched field complex the most characteristic agricultural modification at Chan Cahal, it is also by far the largest, measuring up to 6 km² 61

Dominick Van den Notelaer This will be done by a Conjuntive Approach (Taylor 1948) combining as many strands of evidence as possible. Not only traditional artefacts such as ceramics, lithics or architectural remains should be used in this approach, but just as much attention should be given to the ditched field complex and geographical location. These will predominantly be approached on a functional, rather than a phenomenological base. While it will prove to be an important, but difficult, issue to consider the specific connotation of certain artefacts and artefact types in a given era, no single feature can be labelled as irrelevant when studying socio-economics from an archaeological perspective. Consequently, an overview of all excavated contexts of the residential group will be indispensable. These data will be presented in a chronological order to provide a framework which acknowledges the entanglement of all factors, whether dynamic or stable, in a given time period. Kosakowsky and Lohse’s (2003) ceramic chronology remains the most important tool for investigating chronology in the Northwestern Belizean area and will consequently provide this thesis with a chronological framework. Each section will cover one time period.

Demographic Estimates A first step to deal with population growth and decline over time is to estimate by period. This will be attempted for the entire occupation history of Chan Cahal, with exception of the Early Middle and Middle Preclassic and the Postclassic. Unfortunately there is no extensive study on the demography of Blue Creek, so that the estimates obtained here cannot be compared to the demographic estimates of Blue Creek as a whole. Two population estimates have been calculated for Blue Creek’s demographical heyday, the Late Classic period. These two available estimates are not in accordance with each other, with Driver (2008) having calculated a population of maximum 4500 persons and Guderjan (2007) one of 12500 persons. Driver (2008) continues to take percentages of his Late Classic estimate to calculate earlier population numbers. This method might be overly simplistic to make demographic inquiries. Overall, his estimates appear very low in comparison with the estimates calculated in this thesis. Alternative methods for population estimates, such as calculating how big a population the water-reservoirs could support (McAnany 1990; Morley and Brainerd 1956), have been tried. The most recommendable for this research – which is also the most generally used – involves counting the inhabited structures (e.g. Ashmore 1990; Chase 1990a; 1990b; Culbert et al. 1990; Driver 2008; Lemonier 2012; McKillop 2004; Morley and Brainerd 1965, p. 262; Webster and Freter 1990). There are quite a few caveats to this method though. According to Rice and Culbert (1990) the most important difficulties comprise: non-platform and hidden structures, nonresidential structures, the contemporaneity issue, disuse, and finally family size. We will start with handling such problematic matters and how we can try to overcome them, after which we will combine them in order to compose a mathematical formula which allows us to make a reasoned estimate.

In any given time period, we will generally work our way from North to South, after which Chan Cahal’s western section will be discussed. In other words, the Ustructures will be treated first, followed by the Lstructures, to finish with the K-structures (see p. 111: plate 2). The end of these chapters will consist of a discussion in which the entanglement between the contexts and how they relate to situations outside Chan Cahal are treated. Though Chan Cahal, considering its agrarian nature, could relatively easily access prestigious goods, no sufficient explanation for this unusual display of opulence has been formulated yet. We cannot evaluate the significance of this display of prestigious goods without investigating the mechanisms that led to these goods being available to many of Chan Cahal’s residents. Therefore, a hypothesis explaining why conspicuous goods were used in specific contexts will also be postulated.

Because Maya cities are located in very variable environs, the estimation of the amount of nonplatform and hidden structures varies greatly. For example while Diane Chase (1990) states that at Santa Rita Corozal, the original house count may have to be doubled to get a more correct view on the number of structures once present, Culbert et al. (1990) would add only 10% for the estimation at Tikal. The nonplatform and hidden structure problem might be considered quite negligible in the Chan Cahal residential group. Because of the geographical and climatological location of the residential group, nonplatform residential structures would risk annual inundation and are thus not considered to have been plentiful here once the technology to make substructures had reached Chan Cahal. Hidden structures would likewise not be a major problem in the Chan Cahal case since, apart from the fact that the area has been subject to excavations over a long period of time, its location in what now are agricultural fields – in contrast to many sites that are located in the dense jungle – makes it less

Of course the Chan Cahal residential group is not an isolated island, and consequently, it should not be studied as one. Without paying sufficient attention on how it related to other residential groups of the Blue Creek polity, we can never get an accurate image of what happened in this residential group and why. Some socio-economic changes for instance, can only be apprehended by looking at how the Central Precinct’s political role shifted from independent to submissive. While it would not be a good idea to move away too far too often from the studied area, comparisons with other places will greatly aid in the study of Chan Cahal. Especially in its earliest history, few features left archaeological traces, so that it will be beneficial to draw parallels with similar contemporaneous contexts that yielded better insights in the respective community. 62

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community likely that many structures remain unseen. The percentage incorporated to tackle these two problems in this study is thus quite low compared to most other demographic calculating formulas: we shall add 20% to our original house count. An exception will be made for the Preclassic period where the amount of non-platform structures is deemed higher: roughly following Arlen Chase’s (1990) estimate of 37.4%, we will add 33% for the Late Preclassic.

be an exception. We can thus consider the percentage of structures occupied simultaneous to be quite high. Closely affiliated with the contemporaneity issue is the problem of disuse. The difference between these two is that while the former concerns long-term abandonment, the latter is about short-term abandonment, a maximum of 10 years (Culbert et al. 1990). Webster and Freter (1990) state that the disuse number could be around 10%, but that, just like the contemporaneity, it is hard to make estimations based solely on archaeological data, which mostly do not suffice to get a grasp on such small periods. An opposing view holds that, due to the fact that population in most centers was mostly growing instead of declining during the majority of their existence, no structure would be left unused and that disuse of residences would be insignificant (Culbert et al. 1990). Combining the contemporaneity - which is deemed quite high for Chan Cahal - and the disuse problems, a percentage of 10 will be subtracted.

Non-residential structures also remain an important issue. In Chan Cahal, the majority of non-residential constructions are likely to have functioned as outhouses, but some of the larger non-residential structures are known to have had a religious function. There are some scholars who have tackled this issue, but many fail to emphasize the difference between several kinds of residential groups. The situation regarding the number of non-residential structures in agrarian communities, for example, is likely to have been very different from elite based residential groups or city centers. In Chan Cahal’s case we know that certain buildings were not of a residential nature: for example the Imcolel-group, which functioned as a community shrine, or several smaller mounds serving as a base for ancillary structures. This gives us a basic idea of which structures were residential and which were not. Therefore, instead of estimating a percentage of nonresidential structures, it is more interesting to look at each structure individually and judge whether it is likely that it functioned as a residential structure or not.

In order to make a decent estimation, it is vital to have a good idea of how many people were housed in one residence. Though there are of course exceptions and objectors, there is a broad consensus - partly based on ethnographic correlations - that the average family size per residence was between 4.9 and 5.6 individuals (Ashmore 1990; Guderjan 2007; Haviland 1972; McKillop 2004; Rice and Culbert 1990). I will use an estimated average of 5.5 persons per residence in the demographic calculation.

An important topic in every archaeological inquiry is trying to get as accurate a date as possible. At Chan Cahal, this has been done mainly by use of ceramics found in relation to its structures, but sometimes the artefacts are difficult to interpret. For instance, some constructions or occupations could be securely dated to the Early Classic, while for some, we can only say that they must have been occupied somewhere in the Classic period without further specifications. This of course greatly jeopardizes the accuracy of estimates. Furthermore, especially since some ceramic complexes tend to cover a long period, two structures linked to for instance the Río Hondo ceramic complex which lasts for approximately 350 years, do not necessarily have to have been occupied simultaneously. This problem, dubbed the contemporaneity issue, might be one of the biggest challenges archaeologists studying demography are faced with (McKillop 2004; Rice and Culbert 1990). The fact that this is a major problem can be illustrated by the fact that different researchers have quite differing ideas considering the percentage of houses that were occupied simultaneously, varying between 25% and 93% (Rice and Culbert 1990). In Chan Cahal, and the majority of other residential groups at Blue Creek, residences are occupied for a very long time. A structure built in the Early Classic, occupied throughout the Late Classic, and finally abandoned in the Terminal Classic, for instance, would certainly not

Finally, only about 55% of the structures of Chan Cahal were excavated. In order to have a better understanding of the residential group as a whole, we will multiply the last number with 1.8. This number will be rounded up to get our final population estimate. Our formula to estimate population for Chan Cahal will therefore be: Late Preclassic period: # population count = 5,5*[1,8*x + 0,33*(1,8*x) – 0,10*(1,8*x + 0,33*(1,8*x))] Classic period: # population count = 5,5*[1,8*x + 0,20*(1,8*x) – 0,10*(1,8*x + 0,20*(1,8*x))] Whereby x = # counted residential structures in the current era There are two important statements to make about this population estimate formula, but they adhere to other similar formulae as well. Firstly, such calculations are – or should be – designed for specific situations. One should be very cautious in applying them to contexts for which they are not designed. It would not be considered a good idea to blindly apply this formula to other sites or even other residential groups in the Blue


Dominick Van den Notelaer Creek polity. Secondly, as we have seen, due to the nature of Maya settlements and demographics in general, there are many problematic factors to be incorporated in our formula. This means that our population estimate is one where the emphasis lies on estimate. The main use for our estimations is to make population growth and decline more tangible and should thus not be considered as fixed truths.

developed from the Middle Preclassic period on. Nonetheless, these distinctions might also be accounted to differences in the amount of excavated area, excavation strategies and even sheer luck (Barrett 2004). The further lithic assemblage does not seem to hint at some sort of differentiation, as all communities appear to have a similar access to local and regional resources (Barrett 2004).

Middle Preclassic

The desire to import goods into the polity could have had an important consequence for the economic activity of the polity. Where in the earliest years economic activity – hunting, farming, etc. – was aimed predominantly at self-sufficiency, importing goods implies the production of surpluses with a certain focus on trade. Due to Chan Cahal’s focus on agriculture in later periods and because of the presence of highly productive soils, we could therefore expect an expansion and perhaps intensification of the farmlands, even though this is yet undetected in the archaeological record. A small part of the ditched field system around Chan Cahal was likely already being used in this period, albeit without the presence of the later characteristic ditches. It is likely that slash and burn was the dominating agricultural strategy, which is attested by the presence of ash layers in these fields’ subsoils (Beach et al. 2002; 2009; Luzzadder-Beach and Beach 2009). Because of the high amount of chloride and phosphate in the groundwater - which is detrimental to crops like maize - it was originally thought that other plants were cultivated here (Guderjan 2007; Luzzadder-Beach and Beach 2008). Later pollen analysis has demonstrated that maize was in fact grown here during the later periods (Beach et al. 2013). This pollen analysis did not cover the Middle Preclassic period, but the focus on self-sufficiency and maize being the main staple for the Maya, makes it not unlikely that milpa’s – the Maya cornfields – were already being worked at Chan Cahal from the Middle Preclassic period on.

Since there is not much data covering this period either, the Middle Preclassic period is only a little bit better understood than its predecessor. In fact, we see no new contexts emerging in this period, though this might say more about the sampling methods and readability of Middle Preclassic contexts than it does about the evolution of the site. For the greater Blue Creek area, there are some notable finds that help clarify our knowledge of the earliest phases of this polity though. From this period on, there is more evidence of activity in the site core. The Middle Preclassic core lacks any form of permanent architecture, but middens and other deposits illustrate that people inhabited this zone during this period (Haines 1996,1997; Haines and Wilhelmy 1999). To date, no residential group of the Blue Creek polity other than the Central Precinct and Chan Cahal proved to possess signs of Middle Preclassic occupation. In the Middle Preclassic the first interregional trade networks in the Maya area appear to have been established (Hammond 1992). This is apparent in the Middle Preclassic data set of Blue Creek as well. Some contexts found in the Central Precinct dating from this period contained goods such as jade and obsidian, which would have to have been imported from afar (Haines 1996, 1997). Whether these were imported via the Río Hondo harbor, which would later become one of the main contributors to Blue Creek’s wealth and served as a trading point between Chetumal Bay and the inland Maya lowlands, cannot be fully assured (Barrett 2002; Barrett and Guderjan 2006; Guderjan 2012). However, it should be noted that other Middle Preclassic sites in the area containing obsidian all were riverine cities as well, supposedly profiting from their geographical setting to get hold of more exotic goods, making it likely that riverine trade at Blue Creek was already happening to a certain degree in this period (Haines 1997). Riverine and coastal trade routes would furthermore remain vital to the obsidian trade throughout the later Maya world (Dreiss and Brown 1989; Haines 2000; McKillop 1996).

One could rightly ask whether the entire Chan Cahal community consisted of farmers, or that there were other types of economic specialization as well. While there is no direct evidence of other economic specialization apparent, Christopher Tilley (1981, p. 137) illustrates that people carrying out different professions do not always leave marks that would distinguish one from another. While we can safely assume that agriculture was the dominant economic activity, we cannot exclude the possibility that a minority of other types of economic specialization were apparent as well. The growth in population in the subsequent periods would raise these chances significantly, though there is no differentiation visible in the economic specialization of the commoner households from an archaeological perspective.

Apart from the knowledge that can be derived concerning trade routes, the presence of these artefacts also implies that certain elements in society acquired a distinct social status and wealth. The fact that these goods were found in the Central Precinct and not in Chan Cahal seems to suggest that power and authority in Blue Creek were already being

In contrast to our modern-day Western notion of ownership, the Maya are more likely to have thought much in terms of communal ownership (De Landa 1987; 64

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community see also Hodder 2012). Whenever there was land that was not already in use, persons of Chan Cahal could probably claim those lands on the basis that they worked the soils, incorporating them into their community (Hodder 2012). A similar system where farmers can claim soils for their community on the basis of the labor performed on them is still in place in some contemporary Maya villages, sometimes in a form where the individual could “borrow” pieces of land from the town, free of charge, for as long as they wanted to work them (Schwartzfopf 2008). This system of communal land claims in a region with abundant fertile soils resulted in a steady expansion of the agricultural lands surrounding Chan Cahal. Neither the pace of this expansion nor the boundaries of the fields in these early periods can be read in the archaeological record.

However, since all buildings with Middle Preclassic activity were still inhabited during the subsequent eras, it can be argued that, though some of them might indeed be somewhat older than others, it is likely that by the end of the Middle Preclassic all were simultaneously occupied. Structure U50 was the only residence bult of masonry suggesting more elaborate status in this period. Since only few artefacts could be securely assigned to the Middle Preclassic, it is uncertain whether the people of this building indeed had a higher status by means of artefact analysis. Geographically, MPC-B appears to have had a far less favorable location than MPC-A. The fact that its buildings were located next to the drain which separates the northern and the southern section of Chan Cahal combined with the low elevation of the ground on which they were constructed, implies regular issues of waterlogging. This might also suggest a slightly worse social position. Everywhere at Blue Creek, there is a clear pattern in which the most affluent members of Blue Creek’s society chose to reside on more elevated grounds whereas the more humble people lived on the lower ones. While flooding hazards were definitely one of the major reasons why those with a higher class chose to live on more elevated grounds, this also had purely psychological and strategical reasons such as using the escarpment as a boundary and having an overview over the surrounding lands (Van Den Notelaer, this volume). Nonetheless, a midden related to the U9 structure did yield –apart from the usual household refuse material - a jade bead and three marine shell beads (Popson et al. 1998).

The only form of permanent architecture was structure U50, which was constructed in the Middle Preclassic period as a masonry substructure. Though there are no other constructions that can be designated to this period, some later buildings - namely U6, U8, U9, U14, U17, U18, U49, U54 and U56 - did have Middle Preclassic ceramics associated with them (Giacometti 2002). It is likely that in their earliest phases, these were perishable thatch and pole residences. By the Late Preclassic, all of them had become residences built on masonry substructures. A single Middle Preclassic sherd was found underneath structure L-20, but this evidence is too meagre to state that this structure also originates in the Middle Preclassic period (Giacomettia 2002). It would also have been an isolated structure, since in contrast to the other Middle Preclassic contexts, there are no other concomitant finds in its direct environs. Middle Preclassic evidence of occupation can be grouped in two clusters: MPC-A and MPC-B. Possibly, these clusters represent two extended families. Such extended families were one of the main social components of Maya – and by extension Mesoamerican (Flannery 2002; Robichaux 1997; Taggart 1975) social organization and consisted of a few households which had close, presumably patrilineal, family ties (Demarest 2004; Gillespie 2000; McAnany 1995). While a nucleated Maya elite family would live in a palace, courtyard or patio group, the more humble nucleated families resided in a couple of informally clustered houses (Kurjack 2003). In such clusters, each individual house is likely to have been the dwelling of one nucleated family (Haviland 1972).

In summary, like the early part of the Middle Preclassic, the latter part is ambiguous due to scarcity of material remains. Nonetheless, we can say some important things about the site’s earliest history. The two inhabited zones, Chan Cahal and the site core, consisted of a few perishable houses. At Chan Cahal, these are clustered in two groups, representing two extended families. While no class differences are discernable between those groups, one might have had a slightly higher social position. Though there is no evidence of this, it can be safely surmised that agriculture – supposedly predominantly based on selfsufficiency with a small amount of the yields orientated towards export – was the main economic activity. This situation whereby there was no monumental architecture, no major stratification and very low population density, is typical for the Middle Preclassic Three Rivers Region (Adams et al. 2004a; Sullivan and Valdez 2004).

It is important though to acknowledge some problems concerning this extended family cluster-theory in Chan Cahal. On the one hand, we only see a fraction of the actual situation because not the entire residential group has been subjected to excavations. On the other hand, occupation at those buildings was not necessarily simultaneous since the Crystal Creek ceramic complex, which served as the main designator of Middle Preclassic activity, was in use for at least 300 years.

Late Preclassic In the Late Preclassic, a significant population growth, which initiated important shifts in Maya life, is apparent


Dominick Van den Notelaer throughout the Maya lowlands. As a possible consequence of this population boom, it appears that the onset of widespread institutionalized social stratification took place (e.g. Bartlett and McAnany 2000; Hammond 1986), although there are sites such as Blackman Eddy (Garber et al. 2004) or Cuello (Cartwright-Gerhardt 1988; Hammond and Cartwright-Gerhardt 1990; Robin 1989) which exhibit clear signs of differentiation prior to the Late Preclassic. Though the rise of Classic Maya civilization was once regarded as an anomalous and sudden evolution, we now know that a great deal of the characteristics of the later eras are already found in the Late Preclassic period, or at least have their roots in this period – if not in earlier periods. Many Maya lowland cities saw a widespread emergence of monumental architecture and urbanization in the Late Preclassic (e.g. EstradaBelli 2011; Hammond 1986; Houston and Inomata 2009). The Maya hieroglyphic writing system, long regarded as one of the prime cultural achievements of the Classic period, now has many parallels in the Late Preclassic period. Although we lack inscriptions referring to individual rulers, divine kingship seems to be institutionalized from this period on. Also in Blue Creek, this meant the installment of a royal lineage (Guderjan 2005b). Many religious beliefs of the Maya, although never ever really homogenized, can be traced back to at least the Late Preclassic period, as demonstrated by the famous San Bartolo murals whose iconography contains Gods such as the Maize God and the Hero Twins, as well as references to ritual actions such as penis perforations or the dance of the Maize God (Taube et al. 2004). For Blue Creek, the Late Preclassic period was one of great growth and prosperity. Most of its residential groups appear to have been founded in this period. The places that were already inhabited likewise witnessed a serious population increase. For Chan Cahal, this means that both the northern and the southern portion are now being inhabited. Though we do not have an estimation for the previous era to compare with, the Late Preclassic population estimate of 190 persons must have been a substantial increase in population number and density.

episodes. Nevertheless, the size of the construction alone is sufficient to derive that at the time of its initiation, U2’s residents were economically thriving. Artefacts retrieved from this structure include ceramics, lithics, groundstone and obsidian (Giacometti 2002). The most salient aspect of this house was the high number of burials: no less than five internments were discovered underneath the structure’s plastered floor, all of which stem from the Late Preclassic. Three burials were secondary internments, suggesting the remains of the deceased were at some point used in a ritual involving ancestor veneration (Popson et al. 1998; see also Astor-Aguilera 2010; Fitzsimmons 2009; Houston et al. 2006; Novotny and Kosakowsky 2009). Two of these reburials had associated grave goods: one contained two jade beads, while the other contained a chert biface fragment, a mano fragment and an obsidian blade fragment. A fourth burial was uncovered, but remains elusive due to the terrible state of preservation and lack of preserved grave goods. The last grave contained the remains of an adult in a cist-type burial. This person was given a vessel and an obsidian blade as grave goods (Popson et al. 1998). Because all five entombments occurred during the Late Preclassic and since they contained at least one adult and one subadult, the excavators suggested that this was the internment of an entire household (Popson et al. 1998). During the Late Classic period, the Str. U5 grew to be the house of one of the most powerful people of Chan Cahal, as will be discussed later. During the Late Preclassic, there is no evidence of such a privileged position, with only ceramic deposits indicating Late Preclassic occupation (Giacometti 2001, p. 13). In this period, the structure U5 was constructed as a perishable residential construction, and only by the Early Classic, it was converted into a larger structure. Though there are signs of earlier activity, nonperishable architectural constructions at structure U6 were started during the Late Preclassic. Many further construction episodes were encountered – including at least four raisings of the plastered floor -, but for none of them a date could be ascertained, making interpretations of this construction very difficult (Popson et al. 1998). The artefact assemblage of this structure comprises only ceramics, lithics and groundstone (Giacometti 2002; Popson et al. 1998). It appears that structure U6 was not residential, but rather had an ancillary function (Giacometti 2002).

Of the southern part, only four places proved to date to the Late Preclassic period, though this low number could be explained by less extensive excavations in comparison with the northern portion. Of these four, only two can securely be designated a residential function. This means that it will not be possible to discern extended family-clusters in this part of Chan Cahal, though the possibility that there were such clusters is likely. Late Preclassic Cluster A

Very little is known about structure U8 during this period. Though it appears that there was no nonperishable construction at this place prior to the Early Classic, ceramic evidence does hint at a Late Preclassic occupation (Lichtenstein 2000)

In the Late Preclassic, Str. U2 was one of the largest residential structures to be found at Chan Cahal. Apart from the Late Preclassic initiation date, excavations were unable to discern possible additional construction

The U49 construction, which was likely preceded by a Middle Preclassic perishable construction, was initiated as a small structure in the Late Preclassic (Popson and Clagett 1999). While the size of this earliest structure 66

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community led the excavators to suggest that it was initiated as an ancillary building, it was greatly expanded during the course of the Late Preclassic which, combined with the finds, suggest a residential use from at least the later phase of this period. Though these further construction phases proved hard to designate a date to, two Late Preclassic caches related to later additions to this structure suggest at least two additional building phases occurred in the Late Preclassic (Popson and Clagett 1999).

clean (Popson and Clagettt 1999). The high amount of lithic debris, which includes obsidian fragments, biface fragments, primary reduction flakes, and extended cores, might suggest that U50’s denizens were involved in lithic tool production, either commercially or for self-sufficiency (Clagett 1997; Popson a nd Cl a get t 1999). Again not unlike the structure U49, this structure did not prove to possess activity outlasting the Late Preclassic period. If the hypothesis that the concentration near structure U49 being a termination deposit holds true, it might have been a ritual in which both the people of U49 and U50 - perhaps even more families of the adjacent, but unexcavated structures - participated, which would make the high amount of jade a bit less anomalous.

One cache proved to contain non-utilitarian ceramics, three perforated stone disks, remains of 24 jade beads, a ceramic stamp, a bark beater, and an obsidian fragment (Clagett 1997; Popson and Clagett 1999). The second likewise contained intruiging goods such as three flat round stones – sometimes referred to as “hamburger stones”, jute shell and five jade bead fragments (Popson and Clagett 1999). It is also interesting to note that this was a lip-to-lip cache, a type of ritual deposit consisting of pairs of vessels where the bottom vessel is topped by an inverted vessel, a ritual deposition which is found regularly in various residential groups of Blue Creek (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004; Guderjan 2005b) and throughout the area of northern Belize.

The U54 residence was constructed during the Late Preclassic as a cobblestone platform supporting a perishable structure (Lichtenstein 2000). Two small and one major construction phases were executed during the same period (Lichtenstein 2000). Two middens were uncovered – one on top of the other, separated by a cobble floor – which are both notable for their abundance in pomacea flagellate shell. This fresh water snail was most likely harvested from one of the natural water reservoirs or springs adjacent to Chan Cahal and appears to have been a common addition to the diet of Chan Cahal’s people. Furthermore, the midden also yielded lithic material and utilitarian ceramics, including one Sierra Red spouted vessel – which might have been used in the preparation of cacao (Lichtenstein 2000; see also Hurst et al. 2002). The density of these pomacea shells might suggest that these remains were the refuse of ritual feasting (see also Preston 2007; Pyburn 1989; Yaeger et al. 2012). In contrast to the decadent banquets

Furthermore, nearly hundred jade artefacts were retrieved from a Late Preclassic ceramic concentration in relation to this construction (Clagett 1997; Guderjan 2004a). Because the high amount of valuable goods contradicts that this concentration was waste material, combined with the observation that there is no data testifying to Early Classic occupation, this might represent a disturbed termination deposit. While such termination deposits are not uncommon in Blue Creek, it would be the earliest example of this type of activity in this polity. The presence of the caches, elaborate goods, and the occurrence of several construction episodes suggest that the people living here had a very comfortable economic position. However, the exhibited wealth is too meagre to really testify to a position at the top of Blue Creek’s socio-political region. Structure U50 (Figure 5.1) shares many of its characteristics with the adjacent structure U49. It was likewise a Late Preclassic substructure that was built on a place which saw Middle Preclassic activity and contained conspicuous goods – albeit in lesser amount – as well. After its erection in the Late Preclassic, it witnessed at least two further Late Preclassic construction phases, but modern disturbances made it impossible to discern possible further modifications with certainty (Popson and Clagett 1999). One midden, which was later covered by expansions to the building, contained pomacea shell and animal bone, but would have predominantly contained perished organic material. The intermediate area of this structure proved to contain a high amount of lithic and ceramic debris, pomacea shell and animal bones, which might be the result of sweeping the direct area around structure U50

Figure 5.1. Structure U50 stripped to its earliest non-perishable construction phase. seen on pottery, such feasts were not necessarily very expensive, making it possible that they could be 67

Dominick Van den Notelaer carried out even by those with a low socio-economic position (Yaeger and Robin 2004). Nonetheless, the architectural modifications executed during this period, do testify to a privileged economic position.

Preclassic were uncovered at structure U9, materials recovered from a midden related to the later architectural remains do indicate there was occupation during the Late Preclassic (Popson et al. 1998). These materials follow the typical household refuse-pattern, as they include ceramic material, lithic refuse and pomacea shell. Also one metate, several bifaces, hammerstone, obsidian fragments and one jade fragment were discovered in this midden (Popson et al. 1998). Since the midden material consists of both Middle and Late Preclassic material, it is unclear to which period these materials should be ascribed.

U56 is strictly speaking not a structure. Rather, it is a large midden and garbage concentration located at the most northern part of Chan Cahal’s residential area (Clagett 1997). The material encountered here comprised predominantly lithic refuse, which led the excavators to conclude that this – somewhat isolated – area was used to discard hazardous lithic waste, possibly from households such as that of the nearby structures U49 or U50 (Clagett 1997; Popson and Clagett 1999). It is therefore not unlikely that one of these two households’ lithic production exceeded the household level and that it crafted lithics to exchange within the Chan Cahal community, but that the waste was swept from the residential area (Sheets and Simmons 2002).

Though not too much information is available on structure U14, the midden that was discovered in relation to this structure can give us some information regarding its inhabitants. Nonetheless, because it contains both Late Preclassic and Early Classic material, its temporal specifics remain ambiguous.The most peculiar finds in this midden was lithic debitage, suggesting a household production of lithic material, four obsidian blades and a jade flare and bead, suggesting access to long-distance trade (Popson et al. 1998). Furthermore, samples from this midden were taken for biosilicate analysis. This has produced evidence of the presence of maize, squash, bean and cacao (Bozarth and Guderjan 2002). While the presence of maize, squash and beans are not surprising – they were and still are three basic components of the Mesoamerican diet – the evidence for cacao needs some further elaboration. Based on epigraphic and iconographic accounts, it has often been stated that cacao was a drink that was reserved for the upper classes (Graña-Behrens and Grube 2006; Grube 2006; Houston and Inomata 2009; Stone and Zender 2011). Since such sources generally remain silent on the non-elite part of society, some reservation in statements of exclusive access is recommended. Surely, evidence of cacao consumption is much rarer in the lower social classes, but it is not non-existent. In Joya de Cerén, remains of cacao beans and processed cacao were discovered in a very humble context (Gonlin 2004; Schaeffer s.d.; Sheets and Simmons 2002). Closer to Blue Creek, a midden in Lamanai yielded spouted vessels, linked to the preparation of cacao drinks (Powis 2004). In fact, the broader region in which Blue Creek was situated is one of the few areas in Mesoamerica where the production and export of cacao could be economically profitable (Coe and Coe 1996; Grube 2006; Masson and Peraza Lopez 2004). This would have made cacao relatively easily accessible to a large group of people living in this area. Furthermore, the samples taken at the bottom of this midden also produced evidence of grass species, which could have been used in the construction of roofs, for example (Bozarth and Guderjan 2002). The midden related to structure U14 is also the only context in Blue Creek which testified of the presence of chico sapote, a species that has a long and still lasting tradition of being planted for its fruits and gum (Bozarth and Guderjan 2002).

Structure U69 was constructed in the Late Preclassic as a small cobblestone platform (Lichtenstein 2000). Though it is thought to have been residential in nature (Giacometti 1999), its small size could also hint at an ancillary function. Associated with structure U69 is a midden with a remarkable artefact density, consisting almost exclusively of ceramic material, with a small amount of lithic waste. In summary, compared to its situation in the Middle Preclassic, LPC-A appears to have expanded significantly, now comprising structures U2, U5, U6, U8, U49, U50, U54, U56 and U69. Following its Middle Preclassic situation, the richest people still exhibited considerable wealth. The household level manufacturing of lithics nevertheless suggests that these were not part of an affluent elite class, but still were economically orientated towards producing activities. Due to the size of this extended family, there is a clear distinction between the most enriched and the more humble members of the family. Furthermore, this growing size and differentiation may have led to the extended family gradually splitting up, although this is not discernable in the geographical dispersion of the cluster. Northeast of Chan Cahal: Structures U62 and U65 Little data a r e available on structures U62 and U65. Located at the north-eastern frontier of Chan Cahal, these two structures originate in the Late Preclassic, though the architectural remains of U65 appear to date from the Early Classic (Lichtenstein 1999). These two structures are not included in the maps of Chan Cahal because their positions in relation to the rest of the residential group are not clearly recorded. Late Preclassic Cluster B Though no architectural remains dating to the Late


Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community The 2 x 2 m test excavation at structure U17 likewise did not yield much information concerning the construction history of this structure. However, one lip-to-lip cache, designated “Cache 43” was encountered during these excavations. More specifically, Cache 43 comprised three sets of two Aguila Orange vessels and apart from the lip-to-lip deposition also one cylinder jar, also of the Aguila Orange type (Popson et al. 1998). It appears that this cache was deposited late in the Late Prelassic, during the Late Preclassic-Early Classic transition period (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). The vessels of this cache proved to contain four limestone beads, two jade beads, a shell bead and one unworked shell (Popson et al. 1998). Apart from these finds, the vessels also held an earthy substance. Two samples of this substance were later subjected to biosilicate analysis. These two produced similar results as both samples consisted predominantly of palm, grass, and other tree and bush phytoliths with a small amount of maize phytoliths (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). In contrast with other tested caches of Blue Creek – which all came from more enriched contexts -, the Chan Cahal cache did not possess an abundance of sponge phytoliths (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). This might be the result of such exotic goods being less easily accessible to the residents of U17 (presuming that these were responsible for the material of the cache). However, equally valid hypotheses are that this could be attributed to differences in the nature and purpose of the ritual or to the sampling methods, since they give us only an idea of one of the three lip-to-lip sets of Cache 43. An additional test for phytoliths was carried out using samples from a – further unreported – midden located at structure U17. Its results were generally speaking in accordance with that of structure U14 as there was evidence of typical Maya alimentation, combined with some evidence of cacao consumption (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). Apart from the data concerning food consumption patterns, this midden also yielded evidence of agave (Bozarth and Guderjan 2004). Today still, agave plants are being used in manufacturing ropes and needles or to brew alcoholic beverages from their leaves.

features were unearthed. This building also had many lithic debitage refuse related to it, but unlike other structures at Chan Cahal, this also included evidence of obsidian processing, among which was one obsidian core (Popson et al. 1998). The ascertainment that one household engaged in crafting obsidian blades for selfsufficiency, while others opted to use prefabricated obsidian might illustrate that the trade routes had a relatively opportunistic, informal nature. Two burials were retrieved from underneath structure U19’s plaster floor. While one of the inhumations presented a lot of valuable information, the other only contained badly preserved bone fragments without any preserved grave goods (Popson et al. 1998, p. 9). The deceased from the grave with good preservation had been inhumated in a flexed position, with grave goods deliberately placed around the head (Popson et al. 1998). Since the Maya perceived the head as the bodypart reflecting individualism, it is presumed that these grave goods reflect the deceased’s personality or role in society (Fitzsimmons 2011; Houston et al. 2006; Popson et al. 1998). The preserved artefacts included a perforated ceramic disk, part of a limestone mano, a chert biface, a jade plaque and some obsidian blade fragments (Popson et al. 1998). A last artefact associated with this internment was a hematite tooth inlay (Popson et al. 1998). While it used to be thought that such dental modifications were indicators of class status, dental modifications probably occur too frequently to be real signs of an elaborate status (Tiesler 1999). Notwithstanding the possible inability to derive status from it, these beautifications should be seen as statements concerning personal identity (Tiesler 1999). The U44 construction was initiated in the Late Preclassic as a small platform, elevating the topping perishable construction by 0.25 metres (Lichtenstein 2000). Finds related to this structure include a range of utilitarian ceramics (Lichtenstein 2000). Summarizing, structures U9, U14, U17, U18, U19 and U44 comprise the LPC-B, which arose out of MPC-B. I have attested above that this extended family was probably one of the poorest ones of whole Blue Creek during the Middle Preclassic. In the Late Preclassic, some aspects of their socio-economic position changed. While architecturally their residences were not impressive, these people did acquire some wealth and status – this especially becomes legible towards the end of the Late Preclassic – and supposedly had some form of ritual autonomy, as apparent in the cache and burials. In particular structure U17 and U19 exhibited clear evidence of an elaborate commoner status. On an individual base, the wealthiest persons of LPC-B are comparable to those of LPC-A, but due to the size of the cluster, the overall wealth acquired by LPC-A as a whole was significantly larger. Likely because of its size, there is more difference in wealth and status discernable in LPC-A. Because we do not know whether the extended family-identity was predominantly built on the cluster as a whole, or if the

Structure U18 dates back to the Late Preclassic era. A natural depression in the bedrock next to this house mound was used as a midden (Lichtenstein 2000). During the Late Preclassic-Early Classic transition period, a second construction phase was carried out, covering the earlier structure and the associated midden (Lichtenstein 2000). One piece of jade was recovered from the structure, but it is unknown whether this was deposited during the structure’s Late Preclassic or Early Classic occupation period (Guderjan 2004a). Structure U19 was initiated in the Late Preclassic and underwent no further expansions during this period (Popson et al. 1998). Following the pattern of its surrounding structures, only poor architectural remains were uncovered, though interesting non- architectural 69

Dominick Van den Notelaer prestige of a few individuals influenced the entire perception of the cluster, we do not know how this difference was perceived by the Chan Cahal people. Regardless of this position, it appears that LPC-B’s inhabitants were farmers who engaged in crafting of tools for self-sufficiency.

this time makes it hard to assess such a function with certainty. Moving to the west side of what was previously named Sayap Ha, K34 is a small cobblestone platform with a plastered floor which was built during the Late Preclassic and saw a second construction phase at the end of this period (Lichtenstein 1999). The size of this platform suggests it served as an ancillary structure, possibly related to the nearby residential structure K33 and K32 patio group (Lichtenstein 2000). Since kitchen structures would be expected to have been located directly next to the residential structures, it is likely that structure K34 functioned as a storage shed.

Earliest Activity in Chan Cahal’s Southern Portion Sometime in the Late Preclassic, a patio surface, which became the base for the structure L24 group, was plastered directly on the ground surface (Giacometti 2001). Stone foundation walls at the south part of this plastered floor illustrate the presence of a structure that had elsewise not been recognized by archaeologists. It is presumed that a perishable construction stood atop this surface. Somewhat later, a structure was built atop the north part of this patio floor, covering a pit that had previously been used as a midden (Giacometti 2001). Another pit between the two structures that had been used as a hearth was left uncovered and was most likely still being used. At the end of the Late Preclassic, invasive reconstructions were performed at the L24 composition. The southern structure was demolished and almost the entire plaza surface was being replastered, heightening the surface with 0.10 meters (Giacomettii 2001). The absence of postholes suggests that the previously built structure at the north of the patio was the only structure present at that time. A considerable amount of censer pieces were retrieved which, combined with the proximity to the L26 ritual group, might suggest L24’s inhabitants’ occupation was closely intertwined with religious activities (Bown et al. 2002; Graña-Behrens and Grube 2006; Giacometti 2001; Schwarz 2013). Resin burning in incensarios might however also occur on a household-level, possibly even without ritual purpose (Schaefer s.d.). In later periods, the evidence stating a close relation between the inhabitants of structure L24 and ritual practices at the structure L26 complex will be clearer. The status that would come with this connection in one of the residential group’s most important ritual structures could also explain the high amount of material in and around the L26 composition, which includes a high amount of Late Preclassic and Early Classic ceramics and lithics (Giacometti 2001; 2002).

Discussion When looking at masonry architecture and construction episodes, there is a clear distinction between the northern and the southern part of Chan Cahal. At the northern part, we see that there is an increase in the amount of substructures, which supported the perishable constructions. The situation in the southern part of Chan Cahal, also known as Sayap Ha, is much more ambiguous during the Late Preclassic period, since only two structures can be securely designated a residential function, while two others presumably had a non- residential function. It is also important that, although the upper and lower part are to be considered as one single residential group, this does not have to imply that there was no distinction in identity. Drawing parallels with contemporary situations, people could easily identify with a certain city, but specifically identified themselves with, for example, the western part of that city. It should thus be kept in mind that administrative entities are not parallel to identities. The drain that separates the northern and the southern part would be an effective visual and physical boundary constituting this psychological distinction. Following the pattern of dispersion of goods such as obsidian and jade which are found as common in ChanCahal as in the central precinct during this period, Popson (2000) suggests that the core was unlikely to have had much control over the periphery. There are some important objections to be made to this observation though. Firstly, counting pieces of jade and comparing them between residential groups can indeed be a useful tool in looking at the dispersion of wealth and ultimately control, but it overlooks the quality of these objects. After closer examination, it does appear that much of these conspicuous materials at Chan Cahal were of lesser quality and craftsmanship compared to the ones found at the core (Guderjan 2004a). Secondly, if certain status-markers are to be found ubiquitous in one polity, we should consider that its status-connotation was perhaps less active as in other polities which had a more restricted access to these goods. In their study of trade in early medieval emporia

About a hundred metres southwest of the L24 building stands structure L26. This structure is part of the structure L26 complex, which is also known as the Imcolel complex. Though the construction itself dates to the Early Classic period, ceramics suggest that there was already activity preceding this Early Classic construction (Giacometti 2001). Contexts in which Late Preclassic ritual structures became buried underneath Early Classic temples or shrines are not uncommon in the Maya area (Hendon 1999). Therefore, since in later periods structure L26 and the adjacent L27 functioned as a ceremonial complex (Giacometti 2001), it appears likely that its Late Preclassic predecessor likewise had a ritual function, although its perishable nature during 70

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community in the North Sea area, Loveluck and Tys (2006) state that, because of their location, cities serving in coastal or riverine trade routes had more access to prestigious goods eventually leading to such goods being available to large parts of the society, hence being less suitable in discerning status and wealth. Admittedly, they are talking about a totally different region, but nevertheless, the situation at Blue Creek might be similar. Indeed, jade was found relatively frequent in Blue Creek in various contexts all over the polity, the most striking one being the cachings related to structure 4, which can be counted as one of the largest jade caching events ever uncovered in the Maya world (Pastrana 1999).

phenomena, a connotation of the owner being socially and ideologically dominant might have been apparent. After a while, this practice becomes commonplace and falls into a system of in- or exclusion in the Chan Cahal community: more and more people would have wanted to be included in this system. The very fact that these commoners wanted to acquire jade thus illustrates its social relevance to the society as a whole and the individuals operating in it, although they themselves might perhaps not be consciously aware of these motivations (Giddens 1986). However, elites would not be elites if one of their main characteristics – certainly speaking from an archaeological point of view – was a drive to distinguish themselves from the plebs. In Blue Creek’s case, we can differentiate them from restricted items such as marine shell, which for Chan Cahal only appears in the K40 group, that according to architecture and artefacts belonged to one of the most privileged Chan Cahal households (Lichtenstein 2000), and in a midden near structure U9, which likewise showed presence of prestigious artefacts as jade and obsidian, but are more commonly found in the elite residential groups on top of the Bravo escarpment. The hypothesis that luxurious items functioned as an expression of political bonds as is apparent at some other sites (Hirth 1992; Yaeger 2000), does therefore not appear to fit the situation at Chan Cahal since their relative ubiquity would infirm strong socio-political statements.

A thorough study to determine whether conspicuous artefacts were indeed more accessible in polities serving in coastal or riverine trade routes in the Maya area could help clarify this matter, but is unfortunately beyond the scope of this thesis. That being said, we also should not take the opposite stance and consider the presence of such goods at Chan Cahal as insignificant. The ritual and burial contexts in which these objects were found do emphasize their value. Indeed, a religious connotation of jade – especially the leaf green version, which is reminiscent of fresh maize leaves – is apparent, but its socio-economic implications can likewise hardly be overemphasized. Because of the intrinsic value of this material to the Maya on religious, social, economic and aesthetic levels, the exposition of jade can be labelled as a total social fact, and its true meaning can thus only be comprehended when considered in its totality (Mauss 1925). There is some disagreement about the access of jade in the lower classes. While one group sees jade as an economic factor, acquirable to all people with sufficient funds, the other considers jade to be a restricted item, only affordable to those with a distinct status, explaining the jades in lower classes to be the result of a gift-economy where conspicuous goods were given to express relations between the elite and non-elite (For an overview, see Guderjan 2004a). Evidently, the theory does not exclude the possibility of gifts to express relationships either.

Depositions of such goods linkable to one’s residence, often under the form of a ritual or burial, as apparent in structures U2, U17, U19, U49 and U65, has important implications regarding the perception of identity as well. Indeed, different layers of identity can be discerned in our modern world, and this was probably not very different for the Maya. While the construction of a residential group-identity will be discussed in the Early Classic chapter, the deposition of prestigious goods in relation to residences operates more on a micro-level. One of the first researchers to investigate the construction of identity in relation to the physical entity of the house was Claude Lévi-Strauss. According to him the house is “a corporate body holding an estate made up of both material and immaterial wealth, which perpetuates itself through the transmission of its name, its goods, and its titles down a real or imaginary line, considered legitimate as long as this continuity can express itself in the language of kinship or of affinity and, most often, of both” (LéviStrauss 1982). By depositing prestigious goods and even burials of important ancestors underneath or next to the house, the ideological connotation and tangibility of these materials could enhance the selfidentification with the abstract notion of a house (Gillespie 2000). Although it might have been one of the initial reasons to do so, such deposits had little effect on the prestige of the lineage living in the houses. Nonetheless, it seems to be a reflection of social status, often of just a single individual: the deceased (Guderjan 2007). This can be illustrated by looking at various burials at Chan Cahal and Kín Tan.

By trying to discern the individual motivation behind non-habitual actions that resulted in the data encountered by archaeologists, we can try to discern the significance of the remarkable amount of jade and obsidian to the Chan Cahal community. Because of the intrinsic value of jade to Maya society, it originally circulated mainly in elite rankings. The display of jade can thus be regarded as a top-down movement, which lower classes could employ as an attempt to enhance social status. For Chan Cahal this also is true for items such as obsidian and more elaborate burial practices. The initial goal of doing so was to distinguish themselves from their direct neighbors, much as some people today would buy a fancy car or expensive clothing. Following the knowledge that jade, as well as certain burial practices and to a lesser extent obsidian were total social 71

Dominick Van den Notelaer The residents of Kín Tan had strong relations with the rulers living in the central precinct. By contrast, such powerful bonds were not apparent with the great majority of the Chan Cahal people. While after many ritual deposits and internments, the Kín Tan people continued to exhibit clear signs that they could be considered as one of the most powerful people, similar contexts in Chan Cahal could not impose a more elaborate status on the inhabitants of the concerning lineage, however highly regarded a certain individual may have been. In other words, power in the elite residential groups such as Kín Tan was derived from a long tradition of bonds between the lineage and the rulers in the site core, which also ensured these bonds to persist, while the power of individuals at Chan Cahal was not based on such long lasting bonds and therefore did not last when the individual died.

Blue Creek’s elite class was probably based on control over the available recourses – the fertile soils – and the trade routes. Beginning in the Late Preclassic period, the upper echelons of Maya society actively engaged in using elaborate pottery to express their social status (Robertson 1983). Nonetheless, it is impossible to directly link elaborate ceramics to elaborate status since ceramic types that are labelled as “elite-ceramics” can also be found at very humble contexts, as for instance in Lamanai (Powis 2004). Because the ceramics recovered from Chan Cahal are mainly secondary deposits, little information regarding status differentiation can be derived from them (Kosakowsky, personal communication, 2014). From this period on, the people of this residential group buried their deceased underneath their residences. Human remains that were uncovered in anatomical correct positions at Chan Cahal always were found in a flexed position. Supposedly, this position is the result of the bodies being tightly wrapped in cloth before being buried (Fitzsimmons 2009; Morley and Brainerd 1956; Reese-Taylor et al. 2006). Changes in burial customs were not limited to Blue Creek alone: in K’axob for example, there is a shift from individuals lying down to individuals in a flexed or seated position in the Late Preclassic (McAnany 1995). The ever growing trade network and environmental changes that were occurring, would have led to various migrations which might have been the cause of these shifts and later led to more uniform religious views and practices. Blue Creek’s geographical location and focus on trade did make it very sensitive to stylistic innovations, as demonstrated by various architectural contexts.

Economically, Chan Cahal began to focus more and more on producing agricultural surpluses. This economic specialization does not mean that no other activities took place here. Evidence of lithic production – in most cases reshaping of earlier acquired lithic tools – is abundant. This would not have been the only economic activity directed towards self- sufficiency. Sheets and Simmons (2002) note that at Joya de Cerén commoners also engaged in working kitchen gardens, gathering firewood or harvesting non-food items such as grass and agave to meet their personal needs. In most other archaeological contexts such activities have little chance of leaving traces that are easily readable, but it seems unlikely that at Chan Cahal similar practices did not take place. Also fresh water snails, predominantly pomacea and jute snail were found ubiquitous, suggesting that these were cultivated and harvested in the natural water reservoirs that were present at Chan Cahal. (Lichtenstein 2000; Popson 2000). The diet of Chan Cahal’s people consisted mostly of the produced agricultural goods, complemented with fresh water snails. Their practical function aside, these common activities also aided in creating a shared social identity (Hendon 2004).

The presence of ancestors buried underneath houses also has important implications regarding social identity. This way, the Maya engaged in creating a tangible sense of family relations, possibly with the house as an instrument propagating kinship awareness (Gillespie 2000). Since the amount of interred ancestors is far too low compared to the people that resided in these houses, the family had to make an important decision which family member would be important enough to be venerated for years to come and which ones would face the inevitable fate of oblivion (Astor-Aguilera 2010; Chase and Chase 2004b; Guderjan 2007; McAnany 1995; Webster 2002). The transition from Late Preclassic to Early Classic is regarded as a period of distress in which many large Preclassic cities were abandoned.

The Late Preclassic period marked the onset of reasonably easy discernable social stratification at Blue Creek on both a polity and a residential group level. At other places in the Maya world, water management was one of the reasons by means of which the elite class could justify and maintain their privileged positions (e.g. Lucero 2002; Scarborough 1998). Due to the ubiquity of water resources at Blue Creek, this view is not applicable here. Another view, which does not have to contradict the former, holds that the religious dominancy of elites established a superior socioeconomic position. However, this perspective denies the relative religious independence exhibited in commoner contexts (e.g. Novotny and Kosakowsky 2009; Robin 2009). Furthermore, when adopting this dominant ideology perspective, one must be cautious not to fall into Marxist-inspired views that regard religion as a mere instrument to exert dominance over a large part of society (Jansen 2004; Rappaport 1999).

Intriguingly, these are the earliest burials encountered at Chan Cahal. It is yet unknown how the Chan Cahal people treated their dead prior to the Classic era. It has been suggested that there could have been a, yet unlocated, communal burial place at some distance from the residential group. The site core’s structure 1 for 72

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community instance, is one of the earliest known colonnaded structures – already a rare architectural composition in the Maya lowlands (Driver 2002, 2008). While many researchers regard the presence of such buildings as a sign of intrusion of Central Mexican cultures – where such colonnaded structures are more frequent -, it is far more likely that this trait evolved independently in the Maya area (Driver 2002, 2008). Furthermore, Blue Creek’s ballcourt proved to be one of the first ballcourtconstructions in the region (Guderjan 2005a; Lohse et al. 2013).

specifics of these constructions diagnostics (Lichtenstein 1999).

or yield more

Early Classic Cluster D During the Early Classic, the Imcolel complex grew out to be one of Chan Cahal’s most important and elaborate compositions. While the initial Late Preclassic composition consisted only of perishable constructions, much energy was invested in creating a ceremonial complex that reflected the wealth and authority of Chan Cahal’s leading men (Fig. 5 . 2 ). During the start of the Early Classic period, a 0.6 meter high platform, which later saw minor extensions enlarging the platform to approximately 140 square meters in its final composition, was constructed (Giacometti 2001; Guderjan 2007). Somewhat later, but still in the early phase of the Early Classic, three constructions – L26, L27 and a circular platform - were erected on this platform.

Early Classic In contrast to most polities in its direct environs, Blue Creek continued to prosper and grow exponentially during the transition from Late Preclassic to Early Classic (Adama et al. 2004b; Beach et al. 2002; Guderjan 2005b). In this period, an invasive period of drought afflicted much of the Maya lowlands (Bonnafoux 2011; Estrada-Belli 2011; Hodell et al. 2001). Robert Fry (1989) states that during the Early Classic, a settlement shift from the Río Hondo to the New River valley is discernable. While this might be the case for the lower Río Hondo, this does not hold true for the entire upper Río Hondo and its tributaries. Due to the Preclassic drought, the settlements upstream would have needed to divert a great amount of water from the already less voluptuous river, which caused the downstream polities serious problems with water supply. While a similar pattern can be expected for the New River, much more water is transported through this stream, making it able to support a larger population.

Structure L26 was initiated as a two-roomed masonry structure atop a substructure. In the Middle Early Classic, its rooms were filled with small cobbles and sherds, while a staircase was constructed next to them in order to transform the room structures to a heightened pyramidal platform (Giacometti 2001; 2002; Guderjan 2007). Towards the ending of the Early Classic period, another major construction phase took place at structure L26. The tiered platform and the adjacent staircase were both expanded (Giacometti 2001). At the same time as one of these invasive constructions, “Problematical Deposit SH3” was deposited (Giacometti 2002). This context was situated around an earlier deposit – possibly a ritual deposit such as a cache that was later removed – and consisted of more than 4000 ceramic sherds, 52 lithic flakes, limestone, groundstone and quartzite objects, shell, obsidian blades and a ceramic disk evidence of contact between regular contacts with Central Mexico (Kosakowsky, personal communication 2014; see also Guderjan 2007). Furthermore, it appears that Blue Creek was not positioned near important routes between this Mesoamerican metropolis and other Maya sites which have attested bonds with it (Estrada-Belli 2011). Including all these deposits, structure L26 yielded the highest amount of ceramics, chert and obsidian of all Chan Cahal structures.

The problems occurring elsewhere gave Blue Creek a very beneficial economic position, because it could continue to grow and keep up its display of wealth and conspicuous goods. This is also reflected at Chan Cahal, where we see the initiation of monumental architecture. These “hinterland plaza complexes” were initiated as important foci for the most elaborate and solemn rites performed at the Chan Cahal residential group. Apart from the hinterland plaza complexes, there is another religious innovation in the construction of non-perishable shrines. It is unknown whether Preclassic Chan Cahal did not have shrines, or if these had been built of perishable materials and have therefore gone unnoticed.

Structure L27 was a 2 meter high pyramidal platform with a very pronounced staircase. At the base of this staircase, the plaster platform was paved with cobbles (Giacometti 2001). Though they are not well understood, there were various construction episodes to this building, albeit less profound as those apparent at structure L26 (Giacometti 2001).

By entering the Classic period, an additional problem to the goal of this thesis rises. Some of the structures yielded very eroded material, only diagnostic to the Classic period, without further specification. This makes them unusable to investigate temporal dynamics at Chan Cahal. Therefore, these structures – namely U35, U37 and U38 - will not be discussed in this thesis, nor will they be incorporated in the demographic estimate. It is notable that all of these structures were subjected to small test pitting, so that future excavations at these structures could give us a better idea of the 73

Dominick Van den Notelaer and could only be performed by authorized persons

Fig. 5.2: Excavations at the Imcolel complex Fig. 5.3: Detail of the circular platform of the Imcolel complex Apart from the two aforementioned structures, the Imcolel complex also contained a circular platform with a height of 0.5 m and a diameter of 6.5 m. It was built in a single construction episode (Giacometti 2001). Similar constructions have been found at various other sites such as Altun Ha (Pendergast 1982), Blackman Eddy (Brown and Garber 2005), Chan Chen (Sidrys and Andresen 1978), Cahal Pech (Aimers et al. 2000), Cuello (Cartwright-Gerhard and Hammond 1991; Hammond et al. 1991), Gran Cacao (Lohse and Sagabiel 2006; Lohse et al. 2013), Río Azul (Hendon 1999) and Uaxactun (Hendon 1999). Such circular platforms are sometimes also referred to as “keyhole structures” since the ground plan of the circular platform and its accession ramp roughly reminisce a keyhole. These structures are hypothesized to have been platforms on which ritual dances – most likely with a restricted audience - took place (Aimers et al. 2000; Hendon 1999; Pendergast 1982; see also Inomata 2006b). There are numerous kinds of dances in Maya society, and though there is no way to tell which particular ones were performed at the Imcolel dance platform, there is a general agreement that ritual dances were likely related to deity impersonation (Houston 2006; Houston et al. 2006; Miller and Taube 1993; see also De Landa 1987). The assertion that the dance platform was closely linked to one of the most enriched residential compositions of the residential group, combined with its restricted nature, suggests that the rituals performed here were of an elaborate nature

(see also Rappaport 1999). By executing these dances at this platform, the persons in the highest politicoeconomic rankings of Chan Cahal could express and legitimize their position. However, there was more to it than only legitimation of power and performing religious duties since witnessing the spectacle of dance also created a sense of community (Freidel et al. 1999; Inomata 2006a; 2006b; Rappaport 1999). Also, participating in such rituals constituted social bonds between all its participants (Rappaport 1999). The Imcolel complex was the focus of both restricted and communal rituals and events (see also Gonlin 2007). Persons involved with Imcolel had a much power in the Chan Cahal residential group. The exerted power, however, should not be seen as direct control over subjugated lineages, but rather as control over the economic resources and bonds with the political leaders (Weber 1922). Both Structure L26 and L27 were undergoing modifications at the time of their abandonment (Giacometti 2001, 2002). This suggests that the dilapidation of the complex was quick and unforeseen. Since it can be safely surmised that the rituals performed at the Imcolel complex were the responsibility of a lineage of elites in this residential 74

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community group, it is not unlikely that the disuse of the Imcolel complex coincided with shifts in power and control at Chan Cahal. The fact that at the same time important political shifts also took place at the site core is not likely to be a coincidence. This will be discussed in further detail later.

during the Early Classic are to be found in this cluster, making it likely that the strongest power in the Chan Cahal residential group was exerted by this extended family. Blue Creek’s ruling class appears to have risen to a strong position of power during this period, and this cluster’s might have been established and maintained through good relations with the leading men in the site core. In particular L28 proved to be the most complex Early Classic residential unit, illustrating the wealth and status of its residents – though no jade or elaborate graves were reported from it. Since there is a clear uniformity in burial practices – all internments in this group were directed with their heads towards the South – a shared worldview that might have differed slightly from that in other clusters is presumable. In explaining which lineages grew to be the most influential and why, many Mayanists apply Patricia McAnany’s (1995) “First Occupancy Hypothesis”, which states that those who settled first in a given area could claim access to the most valuable recourses and forge bonds with the other powerful lineages, hence having the greatest odds at an elaborate socio-economic and political position. Since the earliest evidence – which did not show signs of such a strong position - of activity in this area of Chan Cahal dates back to the Late Preclassic, this does fit the data encountered at Chan Cahal. While indeed the “First Occupancy Hypothesis” offers valuable insights in how and why status could arise, it is important to bear in mind that the ways to power were diverse, often opportunistic and involved a great amount of human agency. Furthermore, an area such as Chan Cahal, where there was no scarcity in water, no special recourses such as lithic crops, and in which the other powerful lineages were just recently emerging, made that first occupancy was something which could be easily overcome when a newly emerging lineage played their cards well.

The L24 construction was heavily modified during the Late Preclassic, a pattern that persisted in the Early Classic, as the surface floor was heightened and expanded during this period. Five intrusive burials and two partial burials – most likely reburials – were reported in relation to this expanded surface floor, three of which were subjected to excavations (Giacometti 2001). All three of these investigated burials were still in an anatomical position and were found tightly flexed positioned with their heads to the South (Giacometti 2001). Very few artefacts were associated with these burials: one completely lacked grave goods, another – which probably contains the remains of an infant or small child – included a plate and an obsidian fragment and in the last likewise a plate and a pomacea shell were found (Giacometti 2001). This latter grave also yielded a tiny shell fragment, which might have been an inlay fragment (Giacometti 2001). South of L24 a midden, only containing Early Classic ceramic material was uncovered (Giacometti 2001). Structure L25, near the Imcolel complex, was tall substructure. Apart from the Early Classic construction, no further architectural alterations were found (Giacometti 2001). One intrusive burial chamber was excavated. Grave goods consisted of two Early Classic plates, a jade bead and a crescent-shaped pendant (Giacometti 2001). The L28 group was originally constructed in the Early Classic as a patio group, but subsequent architectural modifications transformed this patio group into a courtyard before the end of the Early Classic. The architectural complexity of the composition suggest a high status in Chan Cahal. Though the L28 group is less impressive in both architectural composition and artefact assemblage, courtyards are normally found in the high status precincts of Blue Creek such as the site core and Kín Tan, and are generally associated with those who had considerable power (Guderjan et al. 2003a). This status, combined with its proximity to the Imcolel complex suggest that L28’s inhabitants were closely connected to the activities performed at this ceremonial complex. Though we have already assessed that water management was not a means to power in Blue Creek, the L28 group did possess an aguada, which would have given them the privilege of a personal water reservoir (Lichtenstein 2000). Finds follow the pattern of typical household refuse with a notable amount of obsidian material (Lichtenstein 1999, 2000).

Early Classic Cluster A In the Early Classic, constructions begun at structure U5. Following the earlier perishable construction, the Early Classic construction was unimpressive compared to monumental architecture as found at the Imcolel complex, but compared to most contemporaneous mounds found in Chan Cahal, this one meter high ashlar substructure did attest to some display of monumentality. One internment of a person in flexed position was uncovered and left for future excavations, but these have not yet been carried out (Giacometti 2001). The lack of occupational household debris led Antoine Giacometti (2001) to conclude that during the Early Classic, this construction probably functioned as shrine. Structure U6, an ancillary structure built in the Late Preclassic, was supposedly closely linked to the adjacent structure U5. The many construction phases at this building could not be dated. Possibly, these expansions could be related to the growing power and needs later in the history of the structure U5 lineage.

Together, structures L24, L25, L28 and the Imcolel ceremonial complex constitute the ECC-D cluster. Much of the religious duties and accumulation of wealth


Dominick Van den Notelaer While in the Late Preclassic structure U8 was still a pole and thatch house, by the Early Classic it had been constructed as a cobblestone base for a perishable construction (Lichtenstein 2000). At some point in the Early Classic, an additional construction episode took place, heightening the platform with 0.30 m (Lichtenstein 2000). Most associated artefacts comprise utilitarian ceramics such as bowls and jars (Lichtenstein 2000).

era was gravely disturbed by modern agricultural activity (Popson et al. 1998). Nevertheless, ceramic evidence does testify to later activity. In contrast to the two Late Preclassic caches, there is no sign that such ritual activity took place in later periods at U17. During the Late Preclassic-Early Classic transition period, an additional construction phase was carried out at the Late Preclassic structure U18 (Lichtenstein 2000). This covered the earlier construction and its associated midden.

Activity in Early Classic Cluster-A was only located in structures U5, U6 and U8. Of these three structures, only U8 was designated a residential function during this period (in later periods, U5 will also be transformed into a complex that was home to a family). At first sight, it appears that the population of this cluster greatly diminished during the Early Classic. Nonetheless, many structures in the southern portion of this cluster, such as U1, U2, U3, U25, U68, U69, U70 and U71, remain unexcavated, so that it is more probable that this cluster was still inhabited by a much larger amount of people than discernable in past excavations. Moreover, the construction of the U5 shrine, the usage of the ancillary structure U6, and the likely connection between this cluster and the L1 shrine, would be very anomalous if it had been executed by only one nuclear family which did not display wealth in any other way. The Early Classic population and ritual focus on the southern part of Chan Cahal may have led this cluster to move to a more southern position. Assuming that the structure U8 family was representative for the greater part of this cluster, agrarian activities would be the main economic activity in this cluster. After all, it was the cluster located closest to the fertile Chan Cahal farmlands.

The two burials uncovered underneath structure U19 were already discussed in the Late Preclassic chapter, but due to the difficulties with dating these internments, it is equally possible that one or both are in fact of Early Classic date. According to Popson et al. (1998), the inhabitants’ labour as obsidian manufacturers may have given them some status. However, apart from one of the two burial contexts, there is little evidence of such a position, though as sole obsidian processor might have given them some economic security. Regardless of their possible importance as obsidian workers, the people of structure U19 appear to have left during the Early Classic. Little Early Classic data was retrieved from structure U44. It appears that this humble residence was forsaken early in the Early Classic period (Lichtenstein 2000). In short, it appears that ECC-B witnessed a serious setback in the Early Classic era. While in the Late Preclassic there was a considerable display of wealth not exceptional in terms of the Chan Cahal display of wealth, but compared to most Maya commoner societies quite enriched -, there is no evidence of such behaviour in the Early Classic period. Moreover, some of its residences seem to have been abandoned during the Early Classic period while no new constructions appear to have been erected. A closer look at architectural modification tells us that only one structure underwent expansions, which might confirm the decline in economic position. How can this setback be explained? It is possible that the causes which led many polities to deteriorate in this period, also got hold of this cluster. It could also be that their effects influenced the position of this extended family indirectly. Many people from other polities might have moved into this area since it had better prospects, which could also to some degree explain the demographic stability when at least one cluster witnessed depopulation. Because of this population number, there would have been a more intense economic competition as well. Indeed, from the Early Classic period on, the gap between the richest and the poorest – though still relatively low compared to Maya society as a whole – became larger. This could have led ECC-B, which in the previous periods already had an unstable socioeconomic position, to decline. Theoretically, it is also possible that some of the families in ECC-B moved to other places because of marital bonds or such. If this was the case, the depopulation of the cluster would not

Early Classic Cluster B During the Early Classic the U9 house mound was constructed, covering the midden that attested earlier occupation (Popson et al. 1998). A possible second construction episode was encountered, but as the excavators suggested, more work needs to be done before the specifics of this structure can be comprehended (Popson et al. 1998). There is scarce data of Early Classic occupation at structure U14. Architectural modifications nor artefacts dating to the Early Classic era were reported. However, the garbage concentration deposited on the bedrock near this construction did contain Early Classic ceramics (Popson et al. 1998). Admittedly, this concentration might in part be attributed to natural runoff as well, rather than entirely representing a human deposition (Popson et al. 1998). Nonetheless, it is unlikely that this whole deposit can be attributed to natural processes, so that Early Classic occupation of structure U14 can reasonably be expected. Stratigraphic evidence hints that much of the remains of occupation at structure U17 postdating the Preclassic 76

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community have to be a reflection of a disadvantaged socioeconomic position. This last scenario is less likely though, since the decrease in status and wealth markers do hint at such a downfall of wealth and prestige.

powerful position. According to the excavator, the size and elevation of the platform made it possible to stage public rituals and performances at this structure as well (Giacometti 2001). If this holds true, the ceramic flute fragment uncovered near this construction might have had a role in such activities. Regarding elaboration and construction material, this structure is very similar to structure U5. Moreover, both contained one burial, which unfortunately remain ambiguous in both cases. Therefore a similar function as a shrine – perhaps even ritual foci of two rivalling lineages – is probable.

Northeast of Chan Cahal: Structure U62 and U65 Structure U62 and U65 are closely related considering their close proximity and shared isolated position in the Chan Cahal residential group. Though ceramic evidence illustrates earlier occupation, the U65 housemound was erected in the Early Classic without further construction phases occurring to this building (Lichtenstein 1999). Structure U62 proved to be a small residential patio dating to the Late Preclassic period with two further construction episodes in the Early Classic (Lichtenstein 1999). One badly preserved adult burial was retrieved from underneath structure U65, but date nor any other specifics could be discerned (Lichtenstein 1999). While their composition might hint at a position as an upper low class, their isolated location might also suggest some form of marginalization. These do not have to contradict each other though. Their distance from the rest of the Chan Cahal residential group might have resulted in a position that was less controlled by authorities and a greater amount of economic independence. Shrines in Central Chan Cahal

Early Classic Cluster C Modern disturbance by agriculture made it hard to discern the specifics of structure L8 (Giacometti 2001). Postholes underneath the construction indicate the presence of an earlier perishable construction, but it is unsure whether the postholes can be traced back to the Late Preclassic or that this perishable construction stems from the Early Classic (Giacometti 2001). Possibly due to the farming activity in this region, only few artefacts have been retrieved from this house mound. Structure L9 and L10 comprise a patio group that was erected in the Early Classic (Lichtenstein 2000). The two structures are roughly the same in size and share a large basal platform. Whether the function of the L10 group was residential or ancillary is not entirely clear, though the most recent excavations tend to favour an ancillary function as a public shrine (Giacometti 2001 2002). One intrusive chamber was found in structure L9, but its function and temporal aspects remain unclear since time restraints prevented investigation of this feature (Lichtenstein 2000).

Structure L1 was a large platform supporting the remains of a single-room masonry structure (Giiacomett 2001). Finds related to this structure comprise mainly ceramic sherds and remains of jute shell, with a small amount of lithic material, groundstone and obsidian (Giacometti 2001). It is somewhat isolated, with structure U11 as its closest neighbour, and possibly had a similar function as a shrine or ancillary building (Giacometti 2002). Interestingly, as Giacometti (2002) notes, the distance from structure U11 and L1 to respectively structure U5 and L10 – two other important Early Classic shrines – are the same, though it is unclear how this should be interpreted. All of these shrines were constructed in the Early Classic, though U5 appears to have had an earlier predecessor.

On the surface, the L11 construction seemed unexceptional. It proved to be a residential structure erected in the Early Classic and underwent a second construction episode in the same era (Giacometti 2001). On the east side of this platform, a context which at first glance appeared to be a large midden, containing a high amount of ceramic fragments, lithics and over thirty obsidian blades, was discovered (Giacometti 2001). The traces of wear on the obsidian blades were consistent with some specialist activity such as carving (communication between R. Trachman and A. Giacometti, cited in Giacometti 2001). Underneath this context the remains of a male in a flexed position, estimated between 20 and 30 years at the time of death, with various elaborate grave goods were discovered (Giacometti 2001; Guderjan 2007). Since more elaborate, but elsewise similar deposits in the shaft of cist-type graves are seen, for example, at La Milpa and Kakabish, the upper deposit should not be regarded as garbage disposal, but rather as an inherent part of the internment ritual (Guderjan 2007; 2009). This grave – named Burial SH2 – contained many grave goods exemplary of a status that surpassed the standard commoner status. Near the throat, a bone head with a pierced hole on its sides and several

The ascertainment that there were structures in the area between what was previously seen as two distinct residential groups – Chan Cahal and Sayap Ha – made clear that this was in fact one single residential group. One of the constructions that helped clarifying this was structure U11, a large mound of high workmanship. It is built up of a broad masonry platform supporting a second masonry substructure (Giacometti 2001). Apart from the initial construction, a second construction phase was apparent, both of which were dated to the Early Classic period (Giacometti 2001). One burial was discovered, but due to its bad preservation, no specifics regarding this internment could be determined. Though the artefacts found in relation to structure U11 were not of an elaborate nature, the size of the construction and the additional construction phases do hint at a


Dominick Van den Notelaer bone beads, presumably all remnants of a necklace – were found (Giacometti 2001). Similar carved heads, often named bib-heads, are found much all over the Maya area, including five jade ones in a cache related to Blue Creek’s structure 4 in the site core (Driver 2008, Guderjan 2004a; Pastrana 1999). Nonetheless, bib-heads appear to have been a restricted item and are generally thought to convey an iconographic message that is related to the royal authority (Guderjan 2004a; 2007; 2009b; Hammond 1986; Schele and Freidel 1990). The person interred in burial SH2 was not royal, nor did his status – though high in Chan Cahal terms – come close to that of those who reigned the polity. Indeed, as Thomas Guderjan notes (2007, 2009b), if this person would have had such a status, a more esteemed material such as jade instead of the animal bone of which it was crafted, would have been used. Another peculiar aspect of this grave were two bone disks, one found at each side of the skull, which were the ear jewellery of the interred individual (Fig. 5.4). These bone disks had jade, bone, shell and hematite inlay and each one had a carved representation of a seated person wearing a backpack, which is most likely the representation of a trader. This image carved into this ear jewelry reminisces Teotihuacan imagery (Guderjan 2005b; 2007), though it is most likely crafted locally in an exotic style. It is tempting to see this as a representation of the profession of this person being a merchant, which could explain his privileged position in Chan Cahal, but this remains very hypothetical. Furthermore, an almost identical piece was looted from one of the caves in the Belize Valley region, suggesting these objects were circulating as trade goods, which might suggest that the depiction on it had little to do with the profession of the individual. This burial does suggest that individuals could climb up the social ladder due to personal actions, even without previous strong bonds with those of a high status (Guderjan 2007, 2009b). However, because this prestige was acquired by the individual rather than by corporate efforts, this prestige also disappeared together with the individual in SH2 (Guderjan 2007; Lohse 2014).

The structure L20 group is comprised of one large platform supporting a central structure and four smaller structures. As is the case with many other structures in its environs, modern agricultural clearing had greatly damaged the composition, making it difficult to read the archaeological remains. Nonetheless, at least two architectural phases could be discerned: one Early Classic initiation phase and a second phase also occurring in the Early Classic (Giacometti 2001). In its earliest phase, the central building was a circular platform, not unlike the one found at the Imcolel complex, though smaller in size. The second construction episode involved a squaring of the round shape, creating a rectangular construction (Giacometti 2001). It is likely that this remodelling also implied a change in function, which might mean that its original function as a keyhole- shaped platform for dances and performances was relocated to the Imcolel complex. Since such performances and dances also included music, the discovery of a fragment of a flute in the L20 complex is not too surprising (Giacometti 2001; Houston 2006; Houston et al. 2006). The composition of this complex coincides with a quincunxpattern, something that is of much significance to the Maya. The nearest parallel may be found in the Quincunx group, located about 4.5 km southwest from Chan Cahal and likewise an agricultural residential group under the administration of Blue Creek. This Late Classic composition consists of one central rectangular three-roomed structure, enclosed by four circular mounds (Zaro and Lohse 2005). However, while the Quincunx observatory functioned as a solar observatory, no such function has been recognized at the L20 complex, and the fact that it had a different orientation suggests that it did not, or at least was not directed towards the summer solstice as was Quincunx. Nonetheless, quincunxes are deeply embedded in the Maya cosmology and worldview (Zaro and Lohse 2005), suggesting that the L20 complex had important ritual functions. Furthermore, the effort put in creating a platform of such a considerable size – measuring about 50 x 50 m – and its location on top of one of the residential group’s hills are suggestive of its importance. Whether this importance was of a shared communal nature or that it concerned only a few – possibly of elaborate status – cannot be asserted, though its central location, high visibility and lack of clear connections to a single household might be indicative of the former. The L8, L9, L10, L11 and L20 constructions make up ECC-C, but it is likely that many of the abutting structures which weren’t investigated were also being occupied during this period. This cluster appears to have been initiated in the Early Classic, and possibly represents a small migration from elsewhere into the Blue Creek polity. Though other reasons cannot be entirely excluded, ecological factors, such as the drought that occurred during the Late Preclassic-Early Classic transition period, are likely to have been the main instigators of commoner migrations (Inomata 2004). I envision an entire extended family to have

Fig. 5.4. Two shell disks, a bone head and four beads discovered in burial SH2 78

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community moved s i multaneously into this area as a result of environmental distress in their place of origin. This decision did offer this lineage good prospects since, though the lineage itself never attained a high status, some of its members – in particular the person in burial SH2 – were able to accumulate some wealth and status. It is unsure that it was due to such a status of certain individuals that this cluster was able to construct two ritual constructions with communal functions. Economically, this extended family was still part of a producing class. It appears likely that their activity was mostly agricultural in nature, though some other forms of specialization might also have been apparent. Specifically, the person interred in burial SH2 appears to have been active in non-producing economic activity. His duties were likely to have involved diplomatic relations with the high and mighty, perhaps exerting some control over the production or export in Chan Cahal.

K44 was constructed late in the Early Classic period as an ancillary structure connected to the K40 patio group (Lichtenstein 2000). Apart from the initiation phase no further alterations were performed on this structure. Discussion During the Early Classic, many shrines were constructed at Chan Cahal. Most shrines in the Maya area do not possess burials (Gonlin 2007), and Chan Cahal’s burials in such structures should probably be regarded as a local variant which included ancestor veneration. Not unlike Roman state funerals (Acre 2000) - though operating on a very different scale -, these burial shrines, placed in important places and preceded by communal burial rites, indicate a sociopolitical importance of the interred individual which could be acknowledged by the entire community, or at least reflect the opinion of the people who interred the body, who obviously considered this person to have been an important person. Shrines were most likely already present during the previous eras, but under the form of perishable constructions. The construction of several non-perishable shrines during the Early Classic might be explained by a stronger position of Chan Cahal’s leading men, architectural or religious innovations, or both. Possibly as a response to the earlier view that saw the elites as a religious dominant group and commoners merely as passive agents in ritual practices and innovations, some scholars have regarded such commoner shrines and related signs of commoner rituals as explicit expressions of ideological autonomy. Though indeed I would argue in favour of the religious independence of commoners, it is not a good idea to conceive these contexts as deliberate statements of religious independence. Rather than seeing implicit socio-political messages in such contexts, these should be approached from a perspective in which active participation of the individual was inherent in the religious beliefs.

Patio Groups in Chan Cahal’s SW Frontier Structure K32 in the south-western area of the residential group only yielded scarce evidence of Early Classic activity. No new construction episodes occurred, but ceramic evidence does suggest the structure remained occupied throughout the Early Classic period (Lichtenstein 1999). Ancillary structure K34 was erected in the Late Preclassic and saw a second construction phase during the Late Preclassic-Early Classic transition period (Lichtenstein 1999). Typological analysis of the artefact assemblage suggests this structure became desuetude halfway during the Early Classic period (Lichtenstein 1999). The only excavation at the K40 patio group are two test pits, hence only limited data concerning this architectural composition can be presented. This patio group is situated on the escarpment on the western extremity of Chan Cahal and thus overlooks much of the residential group. Its structures are positioned on a large platform that has not been subjected to excavations, but the Early Classic initiation date of one of the constructions on top of this platform serves as a terminus ante quem for the platform construction. Nonetheless, it is unclear whether at this point in time the platform already had its final size or that it was still gradually modified over time. In the north-eastern corner of this platform, a chultun was located. Only one of the tested structures of the K40 patio group, namely K42 yielded evidence of Early Classic activity as it appears to have been initiated at the end of this period (Lichtenstein 2000). Though indeed the limited excavations do not suffice to make too much allocations concerning periods of activity, the scarcity of Early Classic material in relation to the abundant Late Classic material found during the excavations as well as surface collections (Lichtenstein 2000), are in accordance with the view that most of the activity in this group took place in the Late Classic period.

The construction of large ritual constructions and the rituals performed here helped in creating a sense of community in Chan Cahal. These edifices were monitored by those with a high status in the Chan Cahal community who by doing so could legitimize their position. However, this legitimization should not be regarded as the prime reason for these construction efforts, as they would always originate from a religious impulse. If there were more buildings constructed without such platforms in this period, it is likely that they were small ancillary buildings, serving as storage sheds. There are however ancillary structures build atop substructures present at Chan Cahal. Many of them can be linked to the more enriched families. It is possible that more – perhaps all - extended families had such ancillary buildings, but that only those with sufficient means invested in constructing them on nonperishable platforms. Alternatively, it is also possible 79

Dominick Van den Notelaer that these few ancillary structures atop substructures were the only ones apparent at Chan Cahal. If the second hypothesis proves to be true, it is still unsure whether the goods stored here were property of governing families who might have sold them to other people - in the Chan Cahal community or elsewhere -, or that they housed communal goods whose distribution was controlled by the enriched families – a subtle, yet important distinction which is not likely to be easily detectable in the archaeological record.

found to the North or East. A similar shift from a western to a northeastern influence, supporting this supposition, is discernable in some Late Classic architectural modifications such as the remodeling of structure 9 in the Central Precinct, which was transformed from a Petén style pyramid to one that resembles the style of the Belizean coastal plains (Driver and Kosakowsky 2013; Guderjan 2007). As observable in various epigraphic accounts, the Late Classic was a time of intense political competition and transition (Martin and Grube 2008). Blue Creek was only a small pawn in this political landscape, though its position on the Río Hondo trade route and capacity to produce agricultural surpluses made that it was not one to be overseen.

The Early Classic was a very dynamic period in Chan Cahal’s history. The entire residential area of the residential group became inhabited during this period, a demographic rise that can be at least partly explained by immigration processes. This population increase also led to more socio-economic competition, resulting in an increase in the internal stratification. This probably made that the lineage with the least affluent position, living in ECC-B, witnessed serious problems and a demographic downfall during the Early Classic. The Early Classic population estimate of 193 persons may thus appear to reflect a stable situation regarding the Late Preclassic estimation of 190 persons, but it should be kept in mind that this represents an overall estimation of a period of about 250 years in which at some times the actual population number might have been significantly lower or higher. Following the pattern of initiation and abandonment in Chan Cahal, it is safe to say that this was certainly a very dynamic period.

Since the large population of the Maya lowlands continued to grow during the second half of the Classic period, there was an increasing demand for food products (Adams et al. 2004b). This is why we can discern a peak size and intensity of the farmlands, leading to the almost complete vanishing of the earlier infield/outfield system (Dunning 2004). It is during this period of intensification that Chan Cahal’s ditched field complex appears to have been constructed. The End of the D Cluster Structure L24, L25, L28 and the Imcolel comprised the ECC-D in the Early Classic. Apart from one context, no signs of Late Classic activity were retrieved from this area. In the environs of structure L24, many test pits were excavated, all testifying to intense Late Preclassic and Early Classic, but all but one lacking Late Classic diagnostics (Giacometti 2001). This one context attesting to Late Classic activity was a midden located about twenty meters southwest of structure L24, which contained a notable amount of material that could be designated to the early part of the Late Classic period (Giacometti 2001). However, considering the general lack of Late Classic material in contrast to the abundant Late Preclassic and Early Classic artefacts in this area, it is most likely that this refuse concentration was deposited by people living in a nearby cluster, after the structures of ECC-D were abandoned. Similar Late Classic ceramics, accompanied by one jade bead were uncovered from the Imcolel complex (Giacometti 2001). Just like the Late Classic contexts near structure L24, these should be considered as post-abandonment deposits, possibly representing refuse or occasional ritual deposits.

The end of the Early Classic was an important transition in Blue Creek’s history. While the rulers in the site core could operate relatively independently until the Early Classic, by the start of the Late Classic, Blue Creek entered its “subjugation period”. Late Classic Various actions at the site core suggest that Blue Creek shifted from an independent to a subordinate polity during the Early Classic-Late Classic transition period. Not only Blue Creek’s political history changed dramatically during this period, but other nearby sites, such as Río Azul or La Milpa saw invasive shifts in power as well, as both became respectively subordinate and highly influenced by Tikal, which was expanding its sphere of influence (Adams et al. 2004b; Houk and Lohse 2013; Martin and Grube 2008). However, Tikal’s influence greatly diminished when it was defeated by its arch enemy Calakmul in AD 562, an event that also lead Tikal’s allies to experience a downfall (Martin and Grube 2008; Houston and Inomata 2009; H o u k and Lohse 2013). Because no such process is discernable at Blue Creek, it is unlikely that Blue Creek’s subjugator was – or was closely linked to – Tikal. Since ceramic studies have pointed out that after the subjugation, Blue Creek’s trade networks had changed from the Petén to the Campeche-Río Bec area (Kosakowsky and Lohse 2003), Blue Creek’s subjugator was probably to be

The abandonment of these structures has important implications to the social and political affairs in Chan Cahal. Considering the absence of Late Classic material, while in the Early Classic this seemed to be the homes of a steady affluent lineage, combined with the ascertainment that the Imcolel complex was being derelict halfway construction efforts, suggests that this area witnessed a sudden depopulation. Considering the


Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community social position of the residents of these structures and the relations with the site core that came with it, this depopulation coincided with the shifts in power in the central precinct is significant. This lineage possibly fled or was exalted after the subjugation of Blue Creek. This contrasts greatly with other powerful lineages in Blue Creek, most of which continued to thrive after this event. There may have been many causes: this lineage may have had a bigger loyalty to its previous rulers; that it was not supported by the rest of Chan Cahal, hence having lost much of its legitimation; that bad relationships with higher elites in other residential groups made that its position became untenable after the connection to the royal elites disappeared; or that personal and charismatic qualities were (coincidentally) less present in the individuals of this lineage than in some in the other residential groups like Kín Tan. Importantly, an internal competition for power as well was most likely apparent in Chan Cahal, as the power vacuum created by the dilapidation of this area was filled by the people living in structure U5.

platforms did not outlast the Early Classic period and were often transformed into other types of constructions (Hendon 1999). The fact that this round structure was constructed this late may reflect a political strategy to prevent the commoners of Chan Cahal from protesting against the shifts in power. Nonetheless, following the disuse of such structures elsewhere, the round paved platform was incorporated in a room structure, testifying to a change in function. The most invasive modifications at structure U5 took place in the second phase of the Late Classic. A large plastered platform of about 2400 square meters was constructed, which evened out the sloping terrain. Another small structure was built atop this platform, but it remains to be excavated. West of this plaza, a large midden, containing large amounts of Late Classic sherds and obsidian artefacts was uncovered (Giacometti 2001). Obsidian was a valuable good that would have to be imported from far outside the Blue Creek region. The high amounts of obsidian in this midden, combined with the ascertainment that almost no debitage or other signs of obsidian processing were discovered, might suggest that these people exerted some control over the obsidian import in Chan Cahal. This would aid in achieving and maintaining their high status. An alternative hypothesis is that obsidian artefacts, because of this exotic nature, functioned not

Fig. 5.5 Detail of the limestone slabs of U5's circular paved structure

Late Classic Cluster A While in the Early Classic, structure U5 functioned as a small local shrine, it witnessed a great expansion to facilitate its new function as a hinterland plaza complex in the Late Classic. In the early phase of the Late Classic, a circular platform paved with slabs of high quality limestone (Fig. 5 .5 . and 5 .6 ) was constructed on the west side of the earlier shrine (Giacometti 2001). The fact that there was a freestanding circular platform near structure U5 is greatly reminiscent of the keyhole structure of Imcolel, though it is of a much smaller size. This ascertainment is significant to investigate the power shifts and religious continuity during the transition from Early to Late Classic. Because of the abandonment of the Imcolel complex, its ritual functions, such as the dances performed at its circular structure, also disappeared abruptly. The family housed in structure U5 could have taken on the political duties of the ECC-D lineage, and as a legitimation hereof would have needed to ensure a continuation of the associated ritual obligations. Elsewhere in the Maya world, we see that circular dance

Fig. 5.6. Structure U5’s northeastern corner with left the circular paved platform only as utensils but also as a means of display of wealth and status. This could a l s o explain the lack of signs of reworking since, in contrast to tools, prestigious goods would be used less and therefore would seldom need to be reworked. Evidently, these people could both control the obsidian trade and use obsidian to express their status. On top of the plaster platform, east of the – by now enclosed - circular platform, a superstructure consisting of two rooms was built (Giacometti 2001). The front room contained two large benches positioned in an Lshape. Benches are found ubiquitously in Maya residences and palaces and are generally considered as


Dominick Van den Notelaer attributes of residential structures of the upper class (e.g. Reents-Budet 2001; Schwarz 2013). Various iconographic variations of rulers sitting on such benches - often lavished with pelts - while receiving dignitaries, are well-known and intensively documented. Melted plaster had been recovered from the area around the doorway and is interpreted as remains of decorative elements (Giacometti 2001).

Houston and Stuart 2001; Webster 2002). No epigraphic material was recovered from any residential group of Blue Creek, so that we cannot be sure about the exact title these people bore. While that of batab might have emerged only later in Maya history, and that of sajal might be unlikely because the distance between the site core and Chan Cahal was quite small, it can be presumed that the duty of U5’s residents was very similar to both of them. Furthermore, the construction efforts, elaboration, and general luxurious artefacts associated with this plaza complex are in accordance with a high status.

This structure cannot be seen from much of the Chan Cahal residential area, providing its inhabitants with a greater amount of privacy than most of Chan Cahal’s denizens, but at the same time much of the agricultural lands north of Chan Cahal can be overlooked from its plastered platform (Popson et al. 1998). It might therefore not be coincidental that most if not all of the ditched field system was being constructed when the structure U5 lineage rose to power.

According to Thomas Guderjan (2007), the royal elites in the site core exerted control over the Chan Cahal – and other – fields, which was one of the bases of their power. A similar situation can be seen in U Xulil Beh. While there was little stratification in this residential group, it’s most elaborate building – though still a humble residential structure – oversaw the agricultural terraces west of the residential group (Van Den Notelaer 2013). My opinion is that, rather than the royal elites, the lineage in the U5 plaza complex oversaw and monitored the activities in these fields. The site core’s rulers could have meddled with the affairs of Chan Cahal’s agricultural lands at certain times, but the actual executives appear to have been the members of the U5 lineage, who from their homes oversaw much of the agricultural fields. Economically, U5’s power appears to have relied mainly on the mobilization of labor forces and control of the agricultural complexes, presumably with a small amount of control over the import at Chan Cahal, while that of the site core was based predominantly on tax collections, control over the most viable trade routes and the economic results of political bonds. For one of the most peculiar aspects of the U5 plaza complex - the large plastered platform - no sufficient explanation has been formulated yet. Without contradicting the obvious implications concerning display of status and wealth, a more functional purpose must have been apparent as well. An important observation in designating a function to this platform is the ascertainment that there were several middens near the platform, all yielding ceramics and lithics, though little evidence of processing were found – even if the hypothesis formulated below would be rejected, it is believed that these offer one of the keys to its function. The very existence of marketplaces in the Maya area has been a heavily debated subject, not in the least because of the difficulties inherent in projecting the western view of a marketplace onto non-Western societies (Shaw 2012). Furthermore, the plazas in the centres of the polities could have served as marketplaces, but this was certainly not an exclusive function and the associated activities left little recognizable traces. Following the earlier ascertainment that trade was controlled by elites in Blue Creek, it is

Fig. 5.7. The U5 Plaza complex and its plastered platform

What was the exact duty of the people living in U5? Ethnographic data illustrates that during the Contact period, some of the most powerful non-royal elites were batabob. A batab had important economic and administrative duties and he functioned as an intermediate between the lower classes and the rulers, some of his prime tasks comprising tax collections and organization of ritual and economic affairs (Chase 1992; Inomata 2006b; Shaefer s.d; Webster 2002). Another important title, actually one of the few Classic non-royal titles that is adequately apprehended, is that of sajal. Attested epigraphically to have been present predominantly in the Late Classic period, a sajal was a person whose duty was to serve as a deputy of the ruler in far-off centres (Houton and Inomata 2006; 82

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community likely that the distribution of goods was carried out in a few specialized places. However, since local elites also had some authority over import and export in their residential groups, small places designated as markets could have been apparent here as well. Some architectural compositions similar to the U5 plaza complex, with a heightened plaza surface and one dominating structure, have been suggested to have been marketplaces, though this designation remains to be proven (Shaw 2012). If the platform did function as a distribution centre, the U5 lineage, who from their homes literally looked out over this platform, could have very actively controlled or even taxed goods coming in and out of the residential group, while the connection to the most elaborate building would also make it easy for foreign traders to find this locus (Hare and Masson 2012). This marketplace would have been one for commodities such as pottery, lithics or salt, instead of one where luxurious goods were traded. Goods found in the middens near the platform ceramics and lithics - were in fact the goods that needed to have been imported in great numbers from outside the Blue Creek polity. Admittedly, this is a very weak argument, since these also happen to be the materials with the highest preservation chances. Nonetheless, a close examination of wear patterns on the material is highly advisable in this case, since this could tell whether the material was used, or that it was rather thrown away when it was still “fresh”, suggesting it might have been discarded because occasional damage made it unmarketable, hence supporting the hypothesis that the U5 platform was indeed a marketplace. Apart from close examination of the material and its context, it is essential that our knowledge of Maya marketplaces expands in order to prove or disprove the theory of U5’s platform being a centre of distribution within the community.

Fig. 5.8: Schematic outline of the basis of U5's power Though the only construction episodes at this building were carried out in the Early Classic, structure U8 was still occupied throughout the Late Classic era (Kosakowsky 2002; Lichtenstein 2000). The lack of construction episodes, combined with the absence of status markers – only basic utilitarian artefacts were excavated from this structure, suggest that the people living in this structure were humble farmers. The two investigated structures that appear to have been residential in LCC-A reflect both the highest and the lowest social strata of Chan Cahal. It is however unclear how structure U5 relates to the rest of this cluster, whose uninvestigated structures appear to have closer resemblance to U8 than to U5. One hypothesis is that, while the majority of the extended family in this cluster were basic common people, the U5 structure was the home of the lineage head. Such lineage heads, in later times referred to as “Ah Kuch Kabob” were held in very high esteem, even though the rest of their lineage could have had a very low social position (Chase 1992; McAnany 1995). Interestingly, Ah Kuch Kab means “He with the authority over the land”, a title that would be very apt indeed for the people living in this hinterland plaza complex. An alternative view is that there are no family bonds between the lineage in structure U5 and the rest of LCC-A. The new rulers of Blue Creek could have installed a new lineage on this strategic elevated place which looked out over the Chan Cahal farmlands, to monitor the activities in this residential group. The modification of an ancestral shrine to a residence of a non-related family however, would have been something which potentially could invoke much discontent in the LCC-A lineage. This, combined with the knowledge that this lineage was one of the oldest and apart from the Imcolel-lineage one of the more powerful, makes the former hypothesis more likely.

Structure U6 was an ancillary structure closely related to the U5 complex. Though for many of its construction phases a date could not be ascertained, many of them can be hypothesized to have been simultaneous with the expanding U5 constructions. What the exact purpose of this ancillary structure was, remains unclear though a function as repository appears likely.

Late Classic Cluster B LCC-B poses a very uniform pattern. We have already established that during the Early Classic this cluster became more impoverished, leading to the abandonment of some of its constructions. The structures that were still inhabited nevertheless persisted throughout the entire Late Classic era. All excavated structures of LCC-B, namely U9, U14 and U18 tell a similar story. None proved to possess Late Classic alterations, burials or other ritual contexts. Further artefact composition shows no signs of non-utilitarian or restricted items connected to Late Classic activity. While activity until the Early Classic had been attested for structure U17, its upper portions were heavily damaged by modern activity. While this makes that no Late or Terminal Classic occupation could be attested, this is within the lines of expectation and the structure


Dominick Van den Notelaer will therefore be included in the Late and Terminal Classic demographic calculations. Throughout all of its history, this cluster housed the least affluent lineage of Chan Cahal, a tendency that is repeated throughout the Late Classic period as this was home to very humble farmers.

While in the Early Classic, the splendorous burial SH2 was interred in structure L11, no signs of affluence were found here during the Late Classic. In fact, the only proof of Late Classic occupation in this structure comes from ordinary occupational debris (Giacometti 2001). Since this comprises Tepeu 1 ceramics, but no later diagnostics, it appears that this structure was abandoned halfway the Late Classic.

Shrines in Central Chan Cahal The U11 shrine, constructed in the Early Classic, continued to be a place of worship and ritual during the Late Classic period. No further construction episodes were apparent at this construction, but Tepeutype ceramics illustrate that this place still witnessed activity during the latter part of the Classic period (Giacometti 2001). During the Early Classic, this shrine was probably connected to activities taking place at structure U5. Since structure U5 grew in importance during the Late Classic period, it could be surmised that the relevance of the U11 shrine to the Chan Cahal residential group likewise increased.

Like the adjacent L8, the structure L20 composition was heavily damaged as a result of agricultural land clearing (Giacometti 2001). While the earliest phases of this ritual complex were found relatively intact, the upper portion of it was unreadable. Therefore, though Late and perhaps Terminal Classic activity is within the lines of expectation, it cannot be fully assured. Structure U65 was initiated as a small patio in the Late Preclassic. While the adjacent and closely related structure U62 was abandoned in the Early Classic, structure U65 was still inhabited and even saw an additional construction episode during the Late Classic (Lichtenstein 1999). Late Classic finds mainly comprise utilitarian ceramics, though they also included a considerable amount of fine wares, suggesting its residents were still able to access and display precious goods.

The L1 shrine witnessed a similar evolution. Likewise, no Late Classic architectural phases were recognized, though Tepeu 2 and Tepeu 3 ceramics illustrate that this shrine was still active as a place of reverence (Giacometti 2001). While the U11 shrine might have been associated to structure U5 or even the entire cluster in which U5 was situated, the L1 shrine might have had a connection to structure L20 and its cluster. It is possible that the rites performed at these two shrines were representative of a rivalry between two lineages.

Patio Groups in Chan Cahal’s SW Frontier Refuse material and other occupational evidence indicate structure K32 was still inhabited during the Late Classic era (Lichtenstein 1999; 2000). Because no other excavations have been conducted at the other constructions of the K32 patio group, it is unclear how these observations relate to the rest of the Chan Cahal residential group.

Late Classic Cluster C Due to modern disturbances, the Late and Terminal Classic fate of structure L8 remains unsure. While it will thus not be discussed further in any detail, parallels with other nearby structures make it likely that this housemound was still inhabited during these periods. Even though contemporaneous occupation is not confirmed, it will be included in the calculation of the Late and Terminal Classic population estimate.

The Early Classic structure K42, a part of the K40 patio group, remained occupied during this period. Many of the recovered artefacts illustrate its residential nature, but also testify to an elaborate status and access to exotic goods such as Central Yucatecan Slatewares, jade, obsidian and one carved shell pendant (Lichtenstein 2000). While jade occurred more frequently during the previous periods, it is less apparent in the Late Classic, and its presence in this structure is therefore even more an indicator of wealth and prestige than the pieces of jade that circulated in the previous periods. The scarcity in jade is not unique to Chan Cahal, as seen in Blue Creek as a whole and even throughout the area during this period, so that no connotations of impoverishment should be deducted hereof (Guderjan 2004). The presence of marine shell is also important as an indicator of status. Such items are very scarce in Chan Cahal, but appear more often in the contexts in the elite residential groups such as the Central Precinct and Kín Tan. Since the trade of these items is therefore likely to have been monitored by the more powerful

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In the beginning of the Late Classic, the L9-L10 complex witnessed two additional construction phases (Lichtenstein 2000; Giacometti 2001). These concerned both of the structures, which further underscores the close relation between them (Lichtenstein 2000). The artefact assemblage is consistent throughout the entire occupation period, and hints at a primary residential function, with some proof of household rituals (Lichtenstein 2000.). The presence of Central Yucatecan Slatewares illustrates that the people living in these structures were active in long distance trade networks for at least the Classic period. One intrusive burial, postdating the last construction effort, was reported, but left unexcavated (Giacometti 2001). Therefore it is unknown if this internment dates to the Late or the Terminal Classic.


Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community elites, not only status, but also close connections to these powerful elites might be apparent.

demographic diminution is that during the Early Classic-Late Classic transition, the people connected to the Imcolel complex, located in the south of the residential group, left their original homes. As already discussed, this is likely to have had political rather than social or economic reasons.

K39 was not extensively investigated, but the available data suggest that this structure was initiated in the Late Classic (Lichtenstein 2000). Considering that structure K42 was initiated in the Early Classic, while K39 appears to have been erected in the Late Classic, this might reflect that the K40 patio group was initiated in the Early Classic – a time in which many lineages in Chan cahal acquired some wealth -, but saw intensive construction episodes during the Late Classic, hence suggesting the wealth of this patio group reached its maximum during this period. Nevertheless, since only a small portion of this structure has been investigated and most of the K40 patio group’s structures did not see any excavations, we should be cautious in making any statements concerning this group, though the proportions of Late Classic material in contrast to the few early Classic artefacts do hint at more activity in this period (Lichtenstein 2000).

Patricia McAnany (1995) has stated that the loss of independence of a polity often posed a considerable burden on its households. It should be kept in mind that the elite control over the commoners could vary from polity to polity and the effects of subjugation on households should therefore be evaluated on a site to site basis (González 2013). Nevertheless, for Chan Cahal, the subjugation period indeed brought an impoverishment of the common people. Power in Chan Cahal became more exclusive in the Late Classic period, with all of the might and wealth centred in the U5 plaza complex, possibly with the K40 and K32 patio group as the only other places which exhibit a more affluent position. Both patio groups require more extensive excavations though. The lack of construction episodes, exotic or conspicuous goods and internments in all other residences not only suggests that these extended families were in less of a position to accumulate wealth, but also that individual status was not being acquired anymore.

Structure K44 was not physically connected to the K40 patio group, but was still closely related to it as suggested by its proximity alone. It most likely functioned as a kitchen structure or a storage shed. It is unclear whether or not the structure K40 patio group outlasted the Late Classic period. So far, no Terminal Classic diagnostics were uncovered at this patio group or its ancillary building, but this could also be attributed to the limited investigations here. In this case, more extensive excavations should be considered, as these could give us a more insights in the changes that occurred during the later period of Chan Cahal’s existence the development of strong lineages and power in Chan Cahal and Blue Creek during the Classic period, as well as give us a better idea of how exclusive the position of the U5 plaza complex was.

Regardless of the wealth becoming less dispersed, Blue Creek and Chan Cahal appear to have had a profitable economy. This all came to pass during the Terminal Classic. Terminal Classic For many Mayanists, the Terminal Classic is one of the most fascinating parts of the Maya past. Great problems and distress caused many centers of the central and southern lowlands, including Blue Creek, were being abandoned. While the specifics of this depopulation still remain a highly debated topic, current thinking links these events with a major drought, which supposedly initiated famines, intensified warfare, peasant revolts, and the collapse of sociopolitical stability and trade routes. However, a few major centers – Lamanai being the one closest to Blue Creek - did in fact outlast the Terminal Classic period and even continued to thrive throughout the Postclassic (Graham 2004).

Discussion Regardless of its subjugation, Blue Creek was economically thriving during the Late Classic period. In fact, it is suspected that it never had as high a population density as it did in the Late Classic (Guderjan 2007). Its elite class expanded as well (Guderjan et al. 2003a). Since this conspicuous and non-producing class became larger and thus posed a bigger stress on the producing class, this might have become one of the major problems in the Terminal Classic.

Abandonment of the lowlands followed various patterns: some cities such as Palenque (Martin and Grube 2008; Stuart and Stuart 2008) gradually faded away, while others like Aguateca (Inomata and Stiver 1998) or Caracol (Chase and Chase 2004a) witnessed a more abrupt and violent ending. This illustrates that various reasons for the abandonments should be sought and that different polities reacted in different ways to the changes that were occurring during the Terminal Classic (Aimers 2007; Demarest et al. 2004; Webster 2002). Generally speaking, the abandonment of sites

Nonetheless, Chan Cahal’s population estimate declines with about 20 percent to only 150 persons was projected for the Late Classic. This downfall should not be regarded as a sign that the situation at Chan Cahal was becoming problematic. Indeed, we see less indications of a wealthy status in most households, but this can be explained by the fact that a few acquired the majority of the profits, while the large majority could only meet their basic needs. The major reason for this 85

Dominick Van den Notelaer in northwestern Belize appears to have been rather gradual compared to some other regions (Aimers 2007). In Blue Creek we can even discern different residential groups responding in various ways, some profiting of the downfall of other residential groups (For a detailed description of the internal power shifts in Blue Creek during the Terminal Classic, see Guderjan and Hanratty 2007; Van Den Notelaer 2013). The Rosita group even appeared to thrive throughout the Terminal Classic with new and innovative constructions being carried out throughout this period and Ya’ab Muul as well appears to have attracted new people while other residential groups were being depopulated. Nonetheless, by the beginning of the Postclassic period, all of Blue Creek’s residential groups were forsaken.

lineage members were sometimes temporally removed from the tomb in order to be used in rituals and ritual dances (Fitzsimmons 2009; Houston et al. 2006). Such performances can easily be imagined in the case of the structure U5’s burials as well. The ascertainment that the opening of neither of the burials was properly replastered or enclosed in another way other than the provisional filling, seems to suggest that these internments happened not long before the abandonment of the complex. A concentration of material with signs of burning consisting mostly of ceramics, but also containing for instance one pink marine shell bead and a partial vessel with pseudo- glyphs - was discovered near the central and western structure and appears at least partially to represent an intentional deposit rather than a concentration of garbage (Giacometti 2001). This context greatly reminisces the termination deposit found at Chum-Balaam- Nal (Preston 2011). This ritual deposit likewise marked the end of occupation of an important residential composition and also showed a great amount of smashed material which appears to have been burned afterwards. Both have a lower artefact density compared to the termination deposits of the Central Precinct and Kín Tan.

Terminal Classic Cluster A The U5 plaza complex continued to express its social position by continued architectural expansions and other deposits. Its circular structure was razed and replaced by a large rectangular room which – in contrast to the main structure – had a perishable thatch and wooden roof (Giacometti 2001). The central structure of U5 as well saw modifications as a third bench was idded to its front room, while a portion of one of its walls was destroyed and rebuilt (Giacometti 2001). At the same time, a new s m a l l structure was erected at the north side of U5. Finds related to this addition include storage jars and fragmentary remains of a very badly preserved burial.

In the place where the headless burial was discovered, the material of the termination deposit was pushed aside. According to the excavator, this suggests that the internment dates to after the abandonment of the U5 complex (Giacometti 2001). Though this is a possibility – ephemeral Postclassic reoccupation after the depopulation of the Terminal Classic has been attested , the material could also have been replaced due to a reopening of the burial.

The central structure of U5 also yielded two burials, both tightly flexed and without any apparent grave goods. A first interred in a pit in the back room’s floor was badly deteriorated, making it hard to discern the further specifics of this internment. Though no grave goods were uncovered, one metate was found covering the fill of the grave’s shaft (Giacometti 2001). The second burial was found intrusive in one of the benches of the front room and had a much better preservation. Intriguingly, no head was found with this burial. Though such decapitated, tightly flexed human remains are very reminiscent of the human sacrifices reported by the colonial Spaniards, other hypotheses should be considered too. Similar situations in which the deceased is missing his head do appear in several contexts, all in elaborate burials (Fitzsimmons 2011; Martin and Grube 2008; McAnany 1995). Importantly, the head was seen as the most distinct element of the human body, having religious capacities that continued to live on after death (Fitzsimmons 2011; Houston et al. 2006. The reentering of tombs of powerful, often royal, lineage members is something that is attested by both epigraphic and archaeological evidence (Astor-Aguilera 2010; Fitzsimmons 2009; Novotny and Kosakowsky 2009). Furthermore, the sixteenth-century Spanish friar Diego de Landa (1987) tells of heads of important persons being preserved, displayed and revered in Colonial times. In Classic times, the heads of important

As already discussed in the previous chapters, ancillary structure U6’s construction episodes could not be dated. No special non-architectural features such as burials or ritual deposits of Terminal Classic date were retrieved, though ceramic evidence suggests that this structure was still in use (Kosakowsky 2002). No architectural modifications were carried out at structure U8, but the presence of Terminal Classic occupational ceramic debris indicates that it was inhabited (Kosakowsky 2002). The three constructions of this Terminal Classic cluster are very diverse. Nevertheless, all three continue to carry on the pattern they exhibited during the Late Classic. There were presumably more structures inhabited in this cluster, but more excavations are necessary to confirm this. To mark the end of occupation at structure U5, a termination ritual was conducted. Such rituals are found at various high-status residences throughout Blue Creek and the entire Maya world. Archaeologically, these rituals are visible by vast quantities of smashed material. From an economic perspective, these rituals were very conspicuous – one


Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community found at Kín Tan for instance comprised almost 235 kg of ceramic material alone (Hanratty 2008). We must however also be aware of the possibility that several households were contributing to a single ritual (see also Brown et al. 2002). Consequently, while in such situations a ritual linked to a certain house might tell us something about the social position of its residents, it does not necessarily reflects its economic situation. Various construction efforts conducted at the U5 plaza complex do hint at a wealthy economic position, but it is unknown how much time passed between the architectural modifications and the dilapidation of U5.

attest to a substantial change during the transition between Late and Terminal Classic. Both structures retained their ritual function, did not undergo architectural modifications, and did not have a different artefact assemblage indicative of a change in the nature of the rites performed. Both structures appear to have been forsaken without much ado with the abandonment of the settlement, as no signs of abandonment ritual or such were uncovered. Patio Groups in Chan Cahal’s SW Frontier Chan Cahal’s southwestern portion poses an image that is in accordance with the rest of the residential group. All structures that were inhabited during the Late Classic were still in use at the beginning of the Terminal Classic, but none showed evidence of outlasting it. Furthermore no noteworthy aspects of Terminal Classic date, such as burials, construction episodes, or other special contexts, were encountered at structure K32, K39, K42 and K44. While this follows the tendencies of most other Terminal Classic activity zones, it should be kept in mind that excavations were very limited here, hence it is possible that more remarkable Terminal Classic contexts in this zone have gone unnoticed.

Terminal Classic Cluster B Terminal Classic Cluster B continues to exhibit the same pattern that it did in the Late Classic. All structures that appear to have been inhabited during the Late Classic, namely U9, U14 and U18 – continued to yield signs of Terminal Classic occupation. As discussed in the Late Classic chapter, modern disturbances made it hard to discern activity after the Early Classic at U17, though this thesis will consider this structure to have been inhabited during the latter periods. Following the pattern of the Late Classic, no burials, construction episodes or signs of wealth or status were retrieved from either of its structures. As had been the case in the past, this cluster housed basic farmers who showed little signs of affluence.

Ditched Fields as Indicators of Abandonment Ditched field systems require a high maintenance as they can quickly fill with sediment. Analysis of contemporary ditches in Mesoamerica illustrate that ditches have to be cleansed between twice a year and every three years to prevent them from clogging (Baker 2003, this volume). This makes that the filling in of those ditches can give us a good idea of when these stopped being maintained. Analyzed samples of the sediment in the ditches suggest the filling in had started at least by 1000 BP, which corresponds with the end of the Terminal Classic (Beach et al. 2012, p. 3649). The dilapidation of Chan Cahal’s ditched field system appears to have coincided with the abandonment of the residential group – which is indeed not all too surprising.

The Northwestern Cluster Structure U65 yielded very little data which attested to Terminal Classic activity. In fact, the lack of construction efforts and scarcity of artefacts postdating the Early Classic made that it was initially thought to have been abandoned during the course of the Early Classic era (Lichtenstein 1999). Later re-analysis of the material however has suggested occupation throughout the entire Classic period (Kosakowsky 2002). Nonetheless impoverishment is apparent, which makes that the U65 patio group is in accordance with the evolution apparent in most of Chan Cahal’s residences. Shrines in Central Chan Cahal

Since there is evidence of Postclassic reoccupation in Chan Cahal’s residential area, it is possible that these fields witnessed some cultivation at that time as well. Remnants of a wooden field house have been discovered at fields located approximately 6 km south of Chan Cahal and have been dated to the beginning of the Postclassic (Preston and Majewski 2010). This illustrates that abandoned farmlands were sometimes reclaimed during Postclassic reoccupations. Such small wooden field huts should furthermore be envisioned for most if not all farmlands, though they have small chances of having been preserved.

The L9-L10 complex yielded Terminal Classic diagnostics, but no architectural modifications were performed to this structure during this period. One burial chamber, intrusive in a Late Classic architectural construction phase, was uncovered here, but since it was not excavated it is unclear whether it is of a Late or a Terminal Classic date (Giacometti 2001; Lichtenstein 2000). Throughout their entire history, the shrines in central Chan Cahal evolved parallel to each other. This holds true for the Terminal Classic as well, as both U11 and L1 have attested Terminal Classic activity (Giacometti 2001). Moreover, the encountered material does not

Abandonment – With Which Prospects? While at the start of the Terminal Classic there was no


Dominick Van den Notelaer visible discontinuity with the Late Classic period, at the end of this approximately 150 year period, Chan Cahal – and entire Blue Creek for that matter – was completely abandoned. Just like the causes of the collapse, the faith of the Terminal Classic people is not entirely agreed upon, with theories comprising massive starvation, small portions of people fleeing into the forest or to nearby cities, or a massive migration towards the cities of northern Yucatán such as Chitzen Itza or Uxmal (migrations to the highlands of southern Guatemala have been suggested as well, but are due to the great distance less likely for Blue Creek). While this is not the place to discuss the large scale transformations that occurred during this period in great detail, a detailed analysis of the abandonment contexts will prove to be helpful in investigating how Chan Cahal fared during these transitions.

such as bioturbation or flooding, or human, which is certain for modern times and possible in Postclassic times. After closer examination of the available sources it has been decided that only structure U9 was suitable to be approached from this perspective. The on-floor assemblage of structure U9 consisted of four scattered concentrations of refuse material, though smaller fragmentary portions of garbage were also uncovered. These fragmentary portions could have been disturbed parts of the concentrations, or they could have been deposited separately. Furthermore a large concentration of pomacea shells was situated at the corner of the structure. For this approach, the location of the material is vital. The concentrations of material are scattered randomly throughout the entire structure. If the material would have predominantly been retrieved from the sides of the structure, this would be suggestive of pots and other material being placed on wooden shelves that decayed, hence indicating the inhabitants of this structure planned to return after some time, but did not (Lamoureux St-Hilaire 2013). Conversely, the people of structure U9 did not anticipate a quick – if any – return. The concentration of shell material is in fact situated close to a wall, but this should be approached differently. Firstly, it is uncertain whether these shells concern a human deposit, or that the wall just happened to be an attractive location for these snails. Unfortunately, it is not reported if the shells were “opened”, indicative of consumption. If it would concern a human deposit, it is more likely to have been a post-abandonment refuse deposit rather than a storage of food-items since these snails were cultivated abundantly in Chan Cahal and would therefore not have to have been stored in great quantities. The lack of ceramic material in the pomacea shell concentration likewise debunks the hypothesis that these were stored on a shelve that collapsed. This data hints that no noteworthy material was left when the people of U9 left their homes and that the material found here was garbage deposited after abandonment by people of nearby structures. Consequently, U9’s people appear not to have anticipated a swift return.

Recently, Maxime Lamoureux St-Hilaire (2011, 2013) has tried to discern the implications of the on-floor assemblages of abandoned Maya residences. His premise is that people tend to leave their houses in different conditions depending on their future prospects: if they plan never to return, they will leave their homes in a different condition than if they plan to return after a few weeks, months or years, and this can ideally be read in the archaeological contexts. This is a new approach in Maya behavioral studies, and will therefore need to be tested in a wide range of contexts, and possibly be adjusted. Nonetheless, it has much potential in understanding not only the Classic Maya collapse, but also that of other apparent abandonments. When we apply this to Chan Cahal, one of the most revealing abandonment deposits is the large concentration at U5, which has been hypothesized to have been a termination deposit. Such rituals were intended to kill the building’s Ch’ulel – a concept similar to that of a soul, which is inherent in both humans, animals, and inanimate objects -, though in some contexts it was followed by a rededication ritual, invoking a renewed Ch’ulel to the building, making it functional again (Freidel et al. 1993; Lamoureux StHilaire 2011; Miller and Taube 1993). Though there is indeed a Postclassic reoccupation at U5, no such rededication is apparent, making it probable that the intention of the termination ritual was indeed never to return, or at least having no prospects to return very soon. This reoccupation also makes that the onfloor deposits could have been intensively disturbed – how intensively is unsure, since the exact length of the reoccupation could be as little as a day or so.

Only two structures have been examined to get an insight in the prospects of Chan Cahal’s people during the Terminal Classic exodus, which is very little to make allocations on a residential group-level. Nonetheless, considering that the depopulation was an interregional phenomenon, the supposition that this depopulation was one in which a return was not anticipated, is a valid one, and is now supported by the data from structures U5 and U9. If not looking to come back, where would these people have settled? Though unverifiable, it is likely that some of them initially did not move outside the Blue Creek area. Some residential groups, specifically Rosita and Ya’ab Muul, appear to have profited from the declining power in the upper elite regions of Blue Creek to reinforce their own position (Van Den Notelaer 2013). This is amongst other things illustrated by the construction of new commoner house mounds in these places, contrasting with the pattern of

It is important not to look only at the data of the most elaborate complex of Chan Cahal, the humble house mounds also deserve attention. Not all excavations have been extensive or documented in great detail, which is indispensable for this approach. Because of this, only the (unpublished) field drawings of the 1998 sojourn will be used. Interpretation is furthermore hindered by disturbances that were either natural, 88

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community depopulation in the other residential groups. It is not unthinkable that many of Chan Cahal’s migrants chose not to move too far away and settled in these areas. If they did, it was not a successful relocation, since after a while, these residential groups became derelict as well. Some of them could also have moved to the nearby city of Lamanai, a city which interestingly had comparable economic affiliations as it also relied heavily on wetland agriculture and (inter-) regional trade – which would have made for a less invasive transition -, and retained a strong position throughout the entire Terminal Classic and subsequent periods. Furthermore, as already discussed, migration to the North and into the forest are amongst the possibilities as well.

Conclusion The approach adopted in this research firstly focussed on a detailed analysis of the individual structures as to work our way up to the analysis of the entire Chan Cahal residential group. As an intermediate between the nucleated family or household and the entire community, clusters of extended families were hypothesized to be an important socio-economic element. While the main way of discerning these extended families by locating clusters of structures in close proximity to each other does allow for errors and misinterpretations, most extended family clusters have their own distinct character – especially in the periods before the Late Classic -, which does seem to suggest that the discerned clusters adhere to a specific socioeconomic entity.

Discussion The Terminal Classic was a catastrophic era in which cities and settlements were massively depopulated. Some polities, virtually all of them located near rivers or other bodies of water, persisted though (Aimers 2007; Lucero 2002). Whatever the reason of this survival – a combination of water consumption, irrigation water and riverine trade routes seem fairly convincing – it did not ensure Blue Creek’s survival.

The earliest evidence of activity of Chan Cahal dates to the Early Middle Preclassic. The little data belonging to this period encountered here is suggestive of a small egalitarian community living in perishable structures and is concentrated in the northern portion of the later residential group – with the exception of one ceramic sherd found in relation to structure L20. They would mainly have been subsistence farmers, though their main activity would have been interspersed with a fair amount of hunting and gathering. Since we have proof of activity starting in the Early Middle Preclassic, Chan Cahal appears to have been the earliest inhabited zone of Blue Creek. The Blue Creek polity thus appears to have been initiated as an agrarian settlement, and only later an institutionalized inequality emerged and with it the dichotomy between a ruling class and a producing class.

If one was to look at Chan Cahal’s Terminal Classic data as an isolated case, the encountered impoverishment might be interpreted as one of the symptoms of the oncoming depopulation. Nonetheless, when seen in its chronological context, it becomes apparent that there is actually little difference between the Late and the Terminal Classic data: only the U5 plaza complex underwent invasive architectural modifications and exhibited signs of wealth, while other residential units did not yield signs of an elaborate status and its people were not able – or uninterested – to invest in construction efforts. While time periods such as Late or Terminal Classic are useful, and the fact that these periods roughly overlap with ceramic complexes can be beneficial, it should always be kept in mind that ceramic complexes should not be equated to social, political or any other changes.

This pattern generally carries on in the rest of the Middle Preclassic. In fact, every structure that yielded Early Middle Preclassic material appears to have been occupied in the rest of the Middle Preclassic era and vice versa. While all other contexts suggest the presence of perishable constructions, the U50 structure was already built atop a non-perishable substructure during the Middle Preclassic. Apart from Chan Cahal, some Middle Preclassic contexts in the site core hint a small population was budding in here as well. There were no signs of permanent construction dating to this period, but finds such as obsidian suggest that these people had access to interregional trade routes. Since such items are not found in Middle Preclassic Chan Cahal, the base for later power relations might have already been laid out.

Following the Late Classic period, there is little to suggest that new people were immigrating into this region or that there was a significant population growth. In fact, the Terminal Classic demographic estimate of 139 persons is very close to that of the Late Classic, for which 150 people were calculated (see p. 106-107). The estimate of 139 might appear very high in regard to the downward demographic spiral in this period. Due to the nature of our estimate, which was not able to incorporate a calculation for the Terminal Classic depopulation since it remains unknown how rapid this decrease was, this estimate is one that adheres to the situation at the beginning of the Terminal Classic. We know that population had decreased to zero at the end of this period, but when this decrease started, and how long it took to come to an end, cannot be ascertained.

In the Late Preclassic, Blue Creek emerged as an important node between the Belizean coast and the Petén region and as a producer of agricultural surpluses. This corresponds with a substantial population in the inhabited areas and the initiation of new residential groups. As in many other contemporary places in the Maya world, this also brought forth institutionalized inequality, both on a


Dominick Van den Notelaer polity and a residential group level. Thanks to, or despite this elite class, the farmers in Chan Cahal also got hold of a certain amount of wealth. This is true for both clusters that were inhabited in the Middle Preclassic, though there is some difference in how this wealth was divided within them. For both of them however, there are some residences that had a privileged socio-economic position. It is not unthinkable that these were the homes of the lineage heads or other people who had some authority in the cluster. Both clusters appear to have grown in population compared to the Middle Preclassic. The population growth of Chan Cahal is not only discernable in the earlier inhabited clusters, but the residential group’s southern section as well appears to have been inhabited from this period on. No clusters could be discerned in this newly inhabited area during the Late Preclassic, which could be a reflection of its social organization, but could also be attributed to the fact that less excavations were conducted here or because much of the residences in this period could still have been simple huts without a supporting substructure, and therefore might have gone unnoticed.

While the economic output of Chan Cahal did not undergo much changes during this transition, its internal socio-economy did witness a heavy transformation. The lineage located south of the residential group left their homes, and the created power vacuum was quickly filled by the people living in the U5 plaza complex. These people seem to have controlled the fields north of the residential group and heavily profited from its economic gains, while the rest of Chan Cahal’s inhabitants appear only to have been able to fulfil their basic needs. Archaeological data indicating wealth or high status, such as burials, construction efforts, or prestigious goods, became virtually absent in the majority of Chan Cahal’s residences. The pattern exhibited during the Late Classic was maintained throughout much of the Terminal Classic period. All power and wealth was still concentrated around the U5 plaza complex, while the rest of the people living in this residential group left behind traces typical for impoverished farmers with little evidence of affluence. The collapse that was occurring throughout much of the lowlands did not leave Blue Creek unaffected. Slowly, all of its residential groups, including Chan Cahal, were deserted. The exact pace of this process cannot be ascertained, but the fact that some abandoned structures were used as garbage disposals of household refuse from other nearby structures illustrates that this was no massive overnight depopulation. There is no clear pattern of economic decline in the Terminal Classic data of Chan Cahal. This does not mean there was no such downward spiral, as the vast majority of the residential structures already appeared economically depleted since the start of the Late Classic, and the U5 structure which did yield signs of opulence, might have done so to express its social position, even in times of economic decline. Furthermore, the major drought and the vanishing trade routes would have made that Blue Creek’s economy was unable to support their elite class. It is likely that these same problems lead to Chan Cahal’s people leaving their homes in search for better prospects.

As time passed, the southern portion of Chan Cahal became more densely populated. In fact, much of the power – both social, economic, political, religious and symbolical -, became concentrated in this southern portion by the Early Classic. Not all power arose from the same processes though. The power exhibited by for example the lineage connected to the Imcolel complex, operated on a lineage level. This makes that the members of this family had a privileged position because of the prestige of the lineage, even if the individual lacked charismatic or diplomatic qualities. Another way to prestige was the individual one. Despite the relatively low position of their family, some people could acquire a high socio-economic position by personal achievements. The most expressive utterance of individual prestige in Chan Cahal is certainly the burial in structure U11, though less elaborate examples, demonstrating the differences in acquired prestige, are apparent as well. Overall, exotic and prestigious goods seem to have been fairly easily accessible to the people of Chan Cahal, which might have been due to Blue Creek’s position near an important trade route. The expressions of wealth and status aside, Chan Cahal’s organization relied heavily on the exploitation of agricultural grounds. The economy of Blue Creek was focussing in no small part on the exportation of the surpluses produced in the farmlands near Chan Cahal and other residential groups. This suggests these fields were controlled by elites, while the farmers who toiled these lands also cultivated house gardens to meet their needs.

One of the main goals postulated at the beginning of this thesis was to contradict one of the main stereotypes of Maya commoners: that these constitute a homogenous, passive, stable, and to put it bluntly, rather uninteresting aspect of Maya society. At the end of this thesis, it should be apparent that neither of these prejudices are true, as clearly demonstrated by the Chan Cahal data. In regard to the enrichment of its lower social components, one researcher even referred to Blue Creek’s population as defying the boundaries of standard Mayanist interpretations (Schaefer s.d.). The Chan Cahal data is indeed exceptional, but it should be kept in mind that Maya archaeology only recently began throwing off the yoke of a top- down, elite-centered approach. It is hoped that in the future, more comparative detailed data on agricultural residential groups will emerge, so that it will be possible to get a better idea of how exceptional Chan Cahal’s position and Blue Creek’s organization actually were.

While great shifts occurred in the political organization of Blue Creek during the transition from Early to Late Classic, its economic base appears to have been retained – its thriving economy may in fact have been one of the reasons why another polity wanted to subjugate it. 90

Chan Cahal: Socio-economic Dynamics in an Agrarian Maya Community Acknowledgements: A first word of thanks goes out to the staff and volunteers involved with the Maya Research Program. Without their efforts and relentless enthusiasm, this thesis could never have been written. The director of this program, dr. Tom Guderjan, in particular has had faith in me from the start and was willing to answer all of my questions and requests for more data. My endeavour into Maya archaeology would not have been the same without his help. We will share a Belikin very soon!

willing to clean out his attic to see whether he could find something that was useful to me – he did. Furthermore, I would also like to express my gratitude to Laura Kosakowsky for her helpful comments and suggesting literature that greatly benefitted this thesis. Likewise, dr. Araceli Rojas has proposed readings that shed interesting lights on the Chan Cahal data and contributed in forming my perspectives on Mesoamerican archaeology in general. I would also like to thank. Dries Tys for his faith in me and allowing me to follow the path that I have chosen.

I am greatly indebted to Ine Jacobs for her great job monitoring me. Moreover, I am still glad she was willing to supervise a subject that is situated far beyond her area of expertise and hope she has enjoyed this journey into Maya archaeology. Her advice helped shaping me as an archaeologist. Not unimportantly, she also deserves credit for introducing me into the world of gintonic.

My friends, family and fellow classmates not only aided me throughout this entire thesis- process, but remain a constant support. Finally, my love goes out to my wonderful girlfriend Sofie. Without her I would probably not even have started the Art History and Archaeology program. She is both my biggest supporter as well as my biggest critic, for which I am very grateful. More than anyone – including me – she will be happy that this thesis is finally finished.

The aid of Antoine Giacometti has proved invaluable to the completion of this thesis. I am very thankful he was

Chan Cahal Population Through Time 250 200 150 100 50 0 1





Figure 5.9. Chan Cahal population Through Time. (1=Middle Preclassic (N= 50), 2=Late Preclassic (n=190); 3 = Early Classic (n=193); 4 = Late Classic (n=150); 5= Terminal Classic (N=139).


Dominick Van den Notelaer

Figure 5.10. Map of Northern Chan Cahal, by Thomas Guderjan and Joe Brown, redrawn by Lance Trask.

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Tiesler, V. 1999 Head Shaping and Dental Decoration Among the Ancient Maya: Archeological and Cultural Aspects”, in: Mesoweb (online), 1999, adshaping.pdf (Accessed on April 10th, 2014). Tilley, C. 1981 Economy and Society: What Relationship?, in: A. Sheridan and G. Bailey (eds), Economic Archaeology, Towards an Integration of Ecological and Social Approaches, Oxford. Turner, B. L. and P. Harrison 1978 Implications from Agriculture for Maya Prehistory”, in: P. Harrison and B. L. Turner Prehispanic Maya Agriculture, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. Voorhies, B. 1982 An Ecological Model of the Early Maya of the Central Lowlands”, in: K. V. Flanney (ed.), Maya Subsistence, Studies in Memory of Dennis E. Puleston, New York. Weber, M. 1922 Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Tübingen. Webster, D. 2002 The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse, Thames and Hudson, London, Webster, D. and A. Freter 1990 The Demography of Late Classic Copan, in: P. T. Culbert andD. S. Rice (eds), Precolumbian Population History in the Maya Lowlands, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque Webster, D. and N. Conlin 1988 Household Remains of the Humblest Maya. Journal of Field Archaeology 15:2:169-190. Yaeger, J. 2000 The Social Construction of Communities in the Classic Maya Countryside, Strategies of Affiliation in Western Belize”, in: M. A. Canuto and J. Yaeger (eds), The Archaeology of Communities, A New World Perspective, London and New York. Yaeger, J. and C. Robin 2004 Heterogenous Hinterlands: The Social and Political Organization of Commoner Settlements near Xunantunich, Belize. in: J. C. Lohse and F. Valdez Jr. (eds), Ancient Maya Commoners, University of Texas Press, Austin. Yaeger, J., S. Kurnick, C. Dyskstra and M. Peurmaki-Brown 2012 Charting the Histories of Hinterland Settlements around Buenavista del Cayo. Research Reports in Belizean Archaeology 9. p. 15-28. Zaro, G and and J. C. Lohse 2005 Ancient Agricultural Rythms and Rituals: Ancient


Chapter 6 Environmental Assessment of Blue Creek: Preliminary List of Woody Tree Species Encountered in the Region Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña precinct, the Welker Courtyard, the Blue Lake mangrove swamp, the roadside flora along the Blue Lake Road (just south of Blue Creek Village), the flora along the principle road between Blue Creek Village and Tres Leguas, and the bajo and cenote behind the MRP base camp. In addition, we also visited and surveyed the Alacranes Bajo and a riparian hillside forest at Quatro Leguas, both northwest of Blue Creek. We include our findings from these sites, as this project is not necessarily restricted to the MRP research site. Following is a brief description of these sites, with some discussion of the characteristic woody trees in each. Table 1 presents the currently known tree species. Included in the forest locality description we have indicated whether a tree species is economically, medicinally, and/or domestically important. We have also indicated, where possible, the animals and other creatures observed to be feeding on the trees.

Introduction A study of the vegetation occurring in northwestern Belize has been initiated as part of a broad environmental assessment. The following is a preliminary list of woody tree species found within the research sphere and is based upon field observations and identifications. Surveyed habitats are also briefly described. Further contributions to this plant list will be made on an ongoing basis, and habitat descriptions refined as we achieve greater familiarity with the site. Many thanks are extended to the Mennonite community for permission to survey their properties and for their warm reception of our research goals. The study area is in the Orange Walk District of northwestern Belize, and encompasses an area approximately 100 ha² in size. The region is characterized geologically by karst limestone formation. The village of Blue Creek and the Blue Creek Maya site is located on the eastern edge of the Río Bravo Escarpment, approximately 60 to 150 meters above sea level. Steep hills, deep gorges, and rolling fields typify the land formations of the escarpment, and give rise to a range of vegetation types, including moist and dry upland forests, swamp mangrove, bajos, agricultural and pasture fields, as well as recovering (fallow) areas. Much of the present flora is rapidly dissappearing as a consequence of extensive land clearing by the Mennonite community for agricultural purposes 1. In many instances, clearings have been made to the lowest contours of steep hills. On lower hills, the vegetation has often been completely replaced or is in a state of recovery (fallow lands, or wamil, as it is known by the local Maya). Logging of mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla King, Meliaceae) and cedar (Cedrela mexicana Roem., Meliaceae) has undoubtedly altered the structure and composition of the remaining hillside forests, and clearing has removed some of the lower altitude vegetation. Substantial and vegetatively diverse tracts of forest do exist, however, and these are the foci of the following work.

The study sites The Blue Creek central precinct is roughly located within squares 98-00 x 75-77 (Belize, Sheet 9, 1993); the highest point is approximately 140 meters above sea level. The site core consists of both dry and moist upland forest with a fairly uniform height of approximately 30 meters. The site is located on the edge of the Río Bravo Escarpment and commands a dramatic view of the plains to the east. Drainage to the east side of the site is excellent, while to the west, within the settlement area, the forest is damp, with apparently less drainage. Ramón (Brosimum alicastrum Sw., Moraceae) is common throughout the site, particularly on the temple and settlement mounds. Among the other common species found in the site core are the copal tree (Protium copal (Schlect. & Cham.) Engl., Burseraceae), chichem negro or black poisonwood (Metopium brownei (Jacq.) Urb. Cast., Anacardiaceae), which often occurs in association with gumbo-limbo or chacah colorado (Bursera simaruba (L.) Sarg., Burseraceae) and cojones de toro (Stemmadenia donnell-smithii (Rose) Woodson). Numerous leguminaceous tree species are also present. The site core also possesses the only specimens of the rubber tree (Castilla elastica Cerv., Moraceae), an economically important species, that we have seen in our field studies to date.

Several sites within the research area were briefly surveyed in order to obtain an initial list of woody trees and to learn about the ethnobotany of the forests (results in preparation). Those sites are: the Blue Creek central According to D’Arcy (1977:97), little primary forest remains in Belize. Annual deforestation rates in the 1

1970s were estimated to be about 90 km², with the heaviest clearings in the north. 103

Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña The Welker Courtyard is located in square 99-00 x 7778 (Belize, Sheet 9, 1993). The trail to the site ascends from the local airplane hangar, through a cattle pasture, and to the summit, approximately 120 meters above sea level. The trail is exemplary of the subtropical forest in and around Blue Creek and possesses numerous Maya structures, especially at the summit. We strongly encourage MRP to develop the area as a medicine/nature trail for future students, benefactors, and visitors. The lower levels of the forest may be described as moist, while the upper zone is decidedly dry with strong drainage. The canopy height is diverse, with numerous levels and breaks, especially from gaps (treefalls). The highest level may be about 15-20 meters in height. Small groups of cohune palms (Orbignya cohune (Mart.) Dahlg. Ex Standl., Arecaceae) are found throughout the forest (larger groupings of this species are called cohune ridge, a vegetation form). Among the more common tree species found on the Welker Courtyard Trail are jobo (Spondias mombin L., Anacardiaceae), gumbo-limbo, cojones de toro, negrito (Simaruba glauca DC, Simaroubaceae), and white gumbo-limbo or chacah blanco (Dendropanax arboreus (L.) Decne & Planch., Araliaceae). The summit itself has striking columnar trees: ramón, gumbo-limbo, cedar (Cedrela mexicana Roem., Meliaceae), and chicle majico (Chrysophyllum cainito L., Sapotaceae), for example. A single small ceiba (Ceiba spp., Bombacaceae) was observed in the vicinity.

yet tried to identify the current northeast boundary. The mangrove habitat extends south and eastward to the Río Bravo. The structure of the mangrove swamp is simple, consisting of two to three distinct layers, the highest of which is about 3-7 meters in height. The number of species present in the mangrove swamp are few, and the mangle or red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle L., Rhizophoraceae) is, by far, the dominant woody tree. Oreja de John Crow (Plumeria spp., Apocynaceae) is also common. Two as yet-unidentified tree species are also present: one is a willow-like, tall tree, and another is known, thus far, only as mahahua, one of at least three distinct trees to whom this name is given. The primary forms of vegetation along the road in Tres Leguas is composed of rice fields, recovering fields (Maya wamil), and scattered remnants of upland rainforest. A new road (not on Belize, Sheet 9, 1993) to the east of the Gallon Jug Road leads deep into interior (about two or three miles) before ending in bajito vegetation. Intact lowland and upland forest is predominant on the east side of the road. Cultivated fields extend westward to the foot of taller forest ridge. The Alacranes Bajo is located approximately ten miles from the Mexico-Belize-Guatemala border, along the Blue Creek Highway. The habitat is not specified on Belize, Sheet 8 (1992), but is marked, instead, as medium jungle and pastureland (approximately squares 77-79 x 81-83). The bajo presumably extends north to Blue Creek. Drainage appears to be good and the area inundated with water only periodically. The largest tree species in the area is Quercus spp., occurring on elevated hammocks. Other tree species present are the bullet tree (Bucida buceras L., Combretaceae), tinta (Haemotoxylon campechianum L., Fabaceae, Caesalpinioideae), higo (Clusia spp., Clusiaceae), craboo or nance (Byrsonima crassifolia (L.) Kunth, Malphigiaceae), and chichem blanco (Cameraria latifolia L., Apocynaceae). There is a greater diversity of epiphytes (mosses, lichens, orchids, and bromeliads) at the Northwestern Bajo than were observed at other sites, as well as some very dainty herbaceous plants growing on fallen trees.

The Blue Creek Road, from Blue Creek Village to Quatro Leguas, was also surveyed for woody tree species. Not surprisingly, very little intact forest remains along the roadside. The dominant vegetation type is typical of highly disturbed areas, and may be classified as pioneer or secondary growth characterized by grasses, herbaceous and numerous woody shrubs. Forest was observed along the roadside at one locality, however (between Blue Creek and Tres Leguas). Tree species growing there include chechem negro, guarumo (Cecropia peltata L., Moraceae), dzalam (Lysiloma bahamensis Benth., Fabaceae, Mimosoideae), mata palo (Clusia spp., Clusiaceae), and negrito. Numerous trees are planted as ornamentals or as fruit sources in Blue Creek. Notable among these plantings are mahogany, mango (Mangifera indica L., Anacardiaceae), cedar, and ziricote (Cordia dodecandra DC., Boraginaceae). A single specimen of guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum (Jacq.) Griseb, Fabaceae, Mimosoideae), while not planted purposefully, has been protected in a field close to the Mexico-Belize border crossing at La Uñion.

The final site surveyed for this study is a tract of riparian-hillside forest in Quatro Leguas. The area is located at the very end of the principle road in Quatro Leguas, very near to the hydroelectric dam on Blue Creek (square 89-90 x 86-85). Intact forest at the site currently occurs to the right of the hydroelectric facility, along a north-running road, and parallel with the river, and finally, to the upper heights of the hill, approximately 60 meters above sea level (Belize Sheet 9, 1993). Extensive clearing is taking place in the immediate area and there is evidence of a former logging road. A new agricultural field has recently been made directly below the forest (on the floodplain banks) and is likely to impinge on the higher forest contours in the future. Across the river and to the east (Mexico), is a great deal of wamil, or recovering forest.

The mangrove swamp forest considered in the present study is located on the Blue Lake Road; the sample site consists of vegetation in sanding water. Extensive clearing of the land has reduced forest from the north. The current northwestern boundary of the swamp begins on the Blue Lake Road (approximately squares 00-01 x 75-76, Belize, Sheet 9, 1993) and is marked by two west-east drainage canals, with a north-south canal intersecting these on the western boundary. We have not 104

Environmental Assessment of Blue Creek The vegetation at Quatro Leguas may be described as moist upland forest and is quite diverse. Initial observations implied that there are numerous tree species represented by few individuals. For example, only one to three individuals of "cherry" (Psuedolmedia spuria (Sw.) Griseb, Moraceae; the identification of this species is not certain) were found, and both close to the river. The same held true for silión or silly young (Pouteria amygdalina (Standl.) Baehni, Sapotaceae), redwood (Simira salvadorensis (Standley) Steyerm.), ceiba (Ceiba spp., Bombacaceae), and Santa Maria (Calophyllum brasiliense Camb., Clusiaceae). Other species are quite common: tabaquillo (Alseis yucatenensis Standley, Rubiaceae), chicle (Manilkara zapota (L.) van Royen), mapola (Psuedobombax elliptica (Kunth)Dugand), milady (Aspidosperma spp., Apocynaceae), and higo (Clusia spp., Clusiaceae). Species typically associated with good drainage were observed near the top: gumbolimbo, ramón, allspice, and nargusta (Terminalia amazonia (Gimel.) Exell, Combretaceae).

proposal that the Blue Creek-Río Bravo area may constitute an important ecotone, placed as it is between the well-farmed areas to the south and east, the Yucatán Peninsula to the north, and the Petén to the west. Future studies will take this question under consideration. The forest surveyed in this preliminary study were found to be rich with wildlife2: collared peccary (Pecari tajacu, Tayassuidae) have been sighted close to Blue Lake; a small troupe of howler monkeys (Alouatta villosa, Cebidae) live on and near the site core, as do spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi, Cebidae); a reliable sighting of a jaguar (Felis onca, Felidae) on Structure 4 was reported in 1995 and the skeleton of a juvenile was found and recovered from a quarry near the lake in early June of this year. Yagouaroundi (Felis yaouarundi, Felidae), ocelot (Felis pardalis, Felidae), and marguey (???) have also been reported by MRP staff members. Anteaters (Myrmecophagidae), opossums (Didelphis marsupialis and other genera, Didelphidae), coati (Nasua narica, Procyonidae), tayra (Eira barbara, Mustelidae), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus, Cervidae) and red brocket deer (Mazama americana, Cervidae), and numerous bat species (Order Chiroptera) are present in the MRP research area.

Results and discussion Lundell (1942) and Standley (1936) were among the first botanists to study the flora of Belize. Recently, Gentry (1978) estimated that the total number of vascular plant species in Belize was 2,500-3,000, while Dwyer and Spellman (1981) estimated that there are 2,500 species of dicotyledons. Standley and Record (1936) proposed 138 endemic plant species for the country, and IUCN (1982) estimates exceed 150 species, or 4.6-6% of total plant species. We have identified 94 woody tree species in Blue Creek, of which ten are presently unknown. There are additional trees in the area which were not recognized by either author and remain to be identified; in addition, numerous "common" trees were disregarded by Magaña in the course of our field studies and will be classified in future studies. In the future, more formal ecological studies may be implemented in Blue Creek a la Brokaw and Mallory (1993), who found that the Río Bravo Conservation and Management Area, adjacent to Blue Creek, consisted of a total of 118 total tree species. In each ha² plot studied (based upon forest type), they found that fifty percent of the woody stems were composed of only five to six species, while the remaining fifty percent consisted of 41 to 53 species. In each plot fifteen to nineteen species were represented by only one individual; thirty-one species of 118 total species were found in all plots (Brokaw and Mallory 1993:6). In comparison, other work by Brokaw et al. (need cit. and data) found that there were approximately ### of woody plant species in the Maya Mountains in Southern Belize. We believe that Blue Creek is comparable to Río Bravo in tree species composition and richness, despite logging. We are intrigued by a

There is rich bird life as well3: jabiru (Jabiru mycteria, Ciconiidae), king vultures (Sarcoramphus papa, Cathartidae), vultures (Cathartidae), one harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja, Accipitridae) has been sighted in the site core, laughing falcons (Herpetotheres cachinnans, Falconidae) and other identified falcons, crested guan (Penelope purpurascens, Cracidae), chachalaca (Ortalis vetula, Cracidae), great curassow (Crax rubra, Cracidae), ocellated turkey (Meleagris gallopavo, Phasianidae), quails (Odontophoridae), doves (Columbidae), scarlet macaws (Ara macao, Psittacidae)have been reported in the past but have not been seen recently, yellow-lored parrots (Amazona xantholora, Psittacidae), cuckoos (Cuclidae), groovebilled ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris, Cuclidae), nighthawks (Caprimulgidae), swifts (Apodidae), hummingbirds (Trochilidae), trogons (Trogonidae), motmots (Motmotidae), kingfishers (Alcedinidae), keelbilled toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus, Rhamphastidae), woodpeckers (Picidae), great kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus, Tyrannidae), scissor-tailed flycatchers (Tyrranus forficatus, Tyrranidae) and numerous other flycatchers, brown jays (Cyanocorax morio, Corvidae), tanagers (Thraupidae), blue-black grassquits (Volatinia jacarina, Emberizidae), and greattailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus, Icteridae). More detailed ornithological studies are recommended. Snakes are also common in the Blue Creek area 4. A tentative list includes, but is not limited to, the boa



See Olsen (19641982) for a list of some mammals found in Belize. 3 See Peterson and Chalif (1973) and Edwards (1998) for bird species in Belize.

See Garel and Matola (1995) for snake species in Belize.


Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña constrictor (Boa constrictor, Boidae), mahogany ratsnake (Pseusted poecilonotus, Colubridae), and the fer de lance (Bothrops asper, Viperidae), seen in the site core, and the green-headed tree snake (Leptophis mexicanus, Colubridae), and bead and coral snake (Urotheca elapoides, Colubridae), observed at the MRP base camp.

Edwards, E. P. 1998 A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas: Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Austin: University of Texas Press. Garel, T. and S. Matola 1995 A Field Guide to the Snakes of Belize. Belize [Central America]:The Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center.

In summary, the subtropical flora and fauna in and around Blue Creek is rich and diverse, and highly deserving of further study. Ecological, ethnobotanical, and taxonomic investigations of the modern flora are encouraged. In addition, numerous economically important species known to have been important to the ancient Maya can be found in Blue Creek; future macroand microbotanical studies from archaeological contexts will seek to identify which of these species is present in the stratigraphic records. A study of the history of land use (e. g., farming and logging) in the area by the Mennonite community is also warranted. Cooperative sharing of our findings about the natural flora studies and a study of land uses by the Mennonite community may foster some conservation practices as well as stronger ties between both parties.

Gentry, A. H. 1978 Floristic knowledge and needs in Pacific Tropical America. Brittonia 30:134-153. IUCN 1982

Directory of neotropical protected areas. Morges, Switzerland.

Lundell, C. L. 1942 The vegetation and natural resources of British Honduras. Caribbean Forestry 6:45-70. Olsen, S. J. 1964 Mammal Remains from Archaeological Sites. Part I: Southeastern and Southwestern United States. Cambridge [MA]: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

References cited Arvigo, R. 1992 Rainforest Medicine Trail Field Guide. San Ignacio [Belize]: Ix Chel Research Foundation.

Olsen, S. J. 1982 An Osteology of Some Maya Animals. Cambridge [MA]: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Brokaw, Nicholas V. L., and Elizabeth P. Mallory 1993 Vegetation of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, Belize. Manomet Bird Observatory, Massachusetts, and the Programme for Belize, Belize City, Belize.

Pennington, T. D. and J. Sarukhan 1968 Tropical Trees of Mexico. Mexico: National Forestry Research Institute and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Brokaw, N. V. L., E. P. Mallory, and P. W. Alcorn 1990 Trees of Río Bravo: A Guide to Trees of the Río Bravo Conservation and Management Area, Belize. Manomet [MA]: Manomet Bird Observatory.

Peterson, R. T. and E. L. Chalif 1873 A Field Guide to Mexican Birds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Standley, P. C. and S. J. Record 1936 The forests and flora of British Honduras. Field Museum of Natural History 12:1-432.

Brokaw, N. V. L., and E. P. Mallory 1993 Vegetation of the Río Bravo Conservation and Management Area, Belize. Manomet [MA] and Belize [Central America]: Manomet Bird Observatory and Programme for Belize. D'Arcy, W. G. 1977 Endangered landscapes in Panama and Central America: the threat to plant species. pp. 89104 in G. T. Prance and T. S. Elias, eds., Extinction is Forever. New York: New York Botanical Garden. Dwyer, J. D. and D. L. Spellman 1981 A list of Dicotyledonae of Belize. Rhodora 83:161-236.


Environmental Assessment of Blue Creek

Scientific name5

Common name


Orbignya cohune (Mart.) Dahlg. Ex Standl.



Crysophila argentea Bartlett

Give and take, escoba


Sabal morrisiana Bartlett

Botán, thatch palm


Acoelorraphe wrightii H. Wendl. Ex Becc. ? Roystonea oleracea Cook

In the tail


Royal palm


Bactris sp. Jack From Scop. Cocos nucifera L.

Porkonoboy, hahuacte Coconut


Casuarina Cunninghamiana Miq. Quercus spp.



Holm oak

Brosimum alicastrum Sw.

Site located/Economic (E), domestic (D), ornamental (O), or medicinal (M) use, wildlife (W)6 Common in site core, moist upland forests and field. Common. (E=oils; D=hearts of palm; W=monkeys?) Common at Cuatro Leguas, Blue Lake. (D=brooms; M=styptic, anaesthetic) Common in fields in Blue Creek, Welker Courtyard Trail, Cuatro Leguas. (E, D=thatch) Found in mangrove swamp on Blue Creek Road.


Throughout Blue Creek yards, aguadas, and bajo edges. (D=hearts of palm; W=guan) Welker Courtyard Trail, Cuatro Leguas hillside. (W=peccary) Yards in Blue Creek. Introduced. (D=oil, meat) Cultivated in yards in Blue Creek Village. (O)

Brokaw: 26


Northwestern Bajo. (E=lumber; W=peccary, acorn woodpecker)

Ramon, breadnut


Cecropia peltata L.

Guarumo, trumpet tree


Psuedolmedia spuria (Sw.) Griseb



Common throughout hillsides and archaeological sites. (D=food, animal fodder; W=monkeys eat young leaves, great curassow, chachalaca) Common in disturbed habitats, new gaps, riparian forest, etc. (M=cardiac tonic, diuretic) Common at Cuatro Leguas, site core, and Blue Lake. This identification is problematic

Brokaw: 44; appropriate species not in P&S Brokaw: 27; P&S: 122


Brokaw: 25; species not in P&S Brokaw: 25; not in P&S Brokaw: 26; species not in P&S Brokaw: 27; not in P&S

Brokaw: 25 Brokaw: 25 Not in Brokaw; P&S: 102

Brokaw: 27; species not in P&S Brokaw: 28, 37; not in P&S (see 134)


Scientific and plant family names are arranged according to phylogenic relationships rather than alphabetical order and follows that of Pennington and Sarukhan (1968). Common names are those supplied by Ruperto Magaña, followed by those cited in Brokaw et al. (1990) for the Río Bravo Conservation Area (monitored by the Programme for Belize). Some herbaceous plant species and epiphytes are included, especially as habitat or humidity indicators. Authorities for taxonomic names follow those in Pennington and Sarukhan (1968) except where species are not included; we have then relied on Brokaw et al. (1990). On occasion, neither author is in agreement as to authority; in these instances, we cite both taxonomic authorities. Note that in some instances only the common name is known; further attempts at identification continue. After the first cited references we abbreviate Brokaw et al. (1990) as Brokaw, followed by the page number. The same convention is followed for Pennington and Sarukhan (1968). 6

Economic uses include wood for construction or woodworking, domestic uses include fruits used as oil sources (often sold locally in stores) or food. Medicinal uses are varied and are usually prepared and distributed locally (sources are Ruperto Magaña and Arvigo (1992)). Wildlife observed to consume tree parts is indicated when possible.


Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña

Castile elastic Cerv.

Rubber, hollow


Coccoloba belizensis Standley

Wildgrape, berries


Annona glabra L.

Bob?, wild soursop custard apple, bobwood


Licania platypus (Hemsl.) Fritsch Acacia cookie Safford

Monkey apple


Tzubil, bullhorn acacia, cockspur Subin

Fabaceae (Mimosoideae)

Acacia dolichostahya Blake? Enterolobium cyclocarpum (Jacq.) Griseb. Inga edulis Mart.


Fabaceae (Mimosoideae) Fabaceae (Mimosoideae)

Bitz, guamo, bribri

Fabaceae (Mimosoideae)

Lysiloma bahamensis Benth.?


Fabaceae (Mimosoideae)

Pithecellobium arboretum (L.) Urban?

Tamarindito, wild tamarind

Fabaceae (Mimosoideae)

Poinciana spp.

Fabaceae (Caesalpinioideae) Fabaceae (Caesalpinioideae)

Bauhinia sp.

May, flame tree Warree, peccary, or cattle wood Cowfoot

Haemotoxylon campechianum L.

ink, dyewood, logwood

Gliricidia sepium (Jacq.) Steud. Lonchocarpus castilloi Standl.

mother of cocoa

Piscidia communis (Blake) I. M. Johnson

black room

Fabaceae (Papilionoideae)

Platymischium yucatanus Standl.


Fabaceae (Papilionoideae)

Caesalpinia gaumeri Greenm.

Cabbage bark, machich

Fabaceae (Caesalpinioideae) Fabaceae (Caesalpinioideae) Fabaceae (Papilionoideae) Fabaceae (Papilionoideae)


because fruit descriptions do not completely match descriptions of primary sources. (D=food; W=birds) Rare. Only a few individuals found on forest road leading to site core and past Structure 25. (E=latex; D=raincoats; W=many birds) Upper hillside at Cuatro Leguas. (D=wine) Edge of cenote at MRP base camp, Blue Lake roadside near stream, near mangrove swamp on Blue Lake Road. (W=iguanas) Welker Courtyard Trail Common in old grazing fields, occasional in site core, Cuatro Leguas forest. Roadside banks on road from Blue Creek to Tres Leguas Specimen in field close to customs and Belize-Mexico border. Edge of Blue Creek at Cuatro Leguas forest. (D=soap; W=turtles (Maya=jiciti)) Common at site core, Cuatro Leguas river, field edges in Blue Creek. Common at site core. Occurs with numerous other similarlooking mimosoids. Not at Cuatro Leguas. Common cultivated plant in Blue Creek Village. (O) A couple of individuals in the Northwestern Bajo. Wood smells like peccary urine. Road between La Milpa and Tres Leguas. Flowering. Northwestern Bajo. Not common. Protected and rare. (E=dye) Near mangrove swamp on Blue Lake Road. (O) Field stream along Blue Creek Village Road. Flowering July. (E=chassis and wood frames for cane trucks) Common on field edges and secondary forest throughout Blue Creek and near MexicoGuatemala-Belize border. One individual at site core. (E?)

Brokaw: 27; P&S: 124

Brokaw: 29; species not in P&S; 138 Brokaw: 42; P&S: 326

Brokaw: 30; P&S: 162 Brokaw: 30; not in P&S Brokaw: 30; P&S: 164 Brokaw (31)

Brokaw: 31; species not in P&S Not recorded in Brokaw; P&S: 178 Brokaw: 31; P&S: 180

Not in Brokaw et al. or P&S Brokaw: 32; P&S:190 Brokaw: 31-32; not in P&S Brokaw: 32; P&S: 198 Not in Brokaw; P&S: 210 Brokaw: 33: P&S: 212

Not in Brokaw; P&S: 218

Brokaw: 33; P&S: 220

Environmental Assessment of Blue Creek Zanthoxylum spp. (Z. procerum Donn. Smith or Z. belizense) Simaruba glauca Aubl.

Prickly yellow


negrito, palo de hombre, yellow wood gumbo-limbo, chacah colorado


Protium spp.



Mexican cedrela L.



Swietenia macrophylla King



Byrsonima crassifolia (L.) Kunth Astronium graveolens Jacq.

Yellow craboo, nance Jobillo


Mangifera indicates L.



Metopium brownei (Jacq.) Urban

Chechem negro, poisonwood


Spondias mombin L.



Sapindus saponaria L. Allophyllus cominia (L.) Sw.





Hampea sp.



Ceiba aesculifolia (L.) Gaertn. Ceiba spp.

cow, kapok




Bursera simaruba (L.) Sarg.




Rare. One individual growing on fence on Blue Lake Road; another on trail to Welker Courtyard. Common in site core. (M=dysentery, glandular secretions; W=all birds) Very common on well-drained slopes. Cuatro Leguas, Blue Lake, Welker Courtyard, site core. Occasional in drier areas of mangrove swamp. (D=fence posts; M=antidote to chechem poisoning, skin problems) Moist forest edge at Cuatro Leguas and roadside forest at Blue Lake. (D=incense, traditional ritualism; M=antimicrobial, dental cavities; W=parrots, yellowtail oripendulas) Roadsides, field edges, riverside at Cuatro Leguas. Infrequent on higher sites. (E=lumber) Common along roadsides, moist forests at Cuatro Leguas, Blue Lake. Protected during clearing. (E, M) Northwestern Bajo. Moderately common in Cuatro Leguas forest. Diminutive of jobo (Spondias mombin). Cultivated and protected in yards and fields in Blue Creek Village. Introduced. (O) Common in upland and swamp forests. Often associated with Bursera simaruba in the former. Poisonous. (E) Field edges and higher hillside sites at Cuatro Leguas, Welker Courtyard Trail. (M) Occasional in site core. Forest at Cuatro Leguas, occasional at site core and Blue Lake. This identification is problematic because fruit descriptions do not completely match descriptions of primary sources. MRP base. Common along roadsides throughout area. (D) New farm road south of Tres Leguas. Hillside forest on Welker Courtyard Trail, Cuatro Leguas, large specimens in pasture below site core.

Brokaw: 3334;species not in P&S: 23 Brokaw: 34; P&S: 232 Brokaw: 34; P&S: 234

Not in Brokaw; P&S: 236

Brokaw: 42; P&S: 238

Brokaw: 34; P&S: 244

Brokaw: 35; P&S: 248 Brokaw: 36; P&S: 260 Brokaw: 36; not in P&S Brokaw: 36; P&S: 262

Brokaw: 36; P&S: 264 Not in Brokaw; P&S: 270 Brokaw: 28; not in P&S

Brokaw: 38; P&S: 284 Brokaw:38; P&S: 290 Brokaw: 38; P&S: 290

Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña Pachira aquatic Aubl.

Swamp mapola, provision tree


Pseudobombax elliptica (Kunth) Dugand Guazuma ulmifolia Lam. Calophyllum brasiliense Camb.



Bay cedar, pixoy Santa Maria


Clusia spp.



Clusia spp.

donkey ear


Clusia or Ficus spp.

Mata number, strangler fig


Carica papaya L.



Cassipourea guianense Lundell? Rhizophora mangle L.



Mangle, red mangrove


Bucida buceras L.

Bullet tree, pukte


Terminalia amazonia (Gmel.) Exell Pepper dioica (L.) Merrill

From Nargus


Allspice, cinnamon tree


Psidium guajava L.



Dendropanax arboreus (L.) Planch. & Decne. Chrysophyllum mexicanum Brand ex. Standl.

Chakah blanco, white gumbolimbo Chicle t-shirt


Manilkara zapota (L.) and King's Pouteria spp. Q. peasant? (=Leucuma campechiana Kunth) Pouteria amygdalina (Standley) Baehni

Sapodilla, Zapotillo gum?


Silión, silly young




Standing water in mangrove swamp on Blue Lake Road and river bank above Blue Creek at Cuatro Leguas. Pedicels deep red. Hillside below Welker Courtyard.

Brokaw: 38; P&S: 294

Common in pasture edges, lower areas near water. (D) Riparian forest at Cuatro Leguas, moist forest at Blue Lake. (E) Fields, hillside forests. Common.

Brokaw: 39; P&S: 300 Brokaw: 29; not in P&S: 308

Common component of swamp mangrove forest on Blue Lake Road. Riparian forest at Cuatro Leguas, moist upland forest on Welker Courtyard Trail, fairly common in Northwestern Bajo. Fairly common on well-drained sites. (O, D) Upper hillside at Cuatro Leguas. Predominant species in mangrove swamp on Blue Creek Road. Field edges, former bajos (MRP), MRP cenote, riversides, pond edges. Common. (E) Upper hillside at Cuatro Leguas, site core. Infrequent in well-drained, upland sites. Cuatro Leguas, Welker Courtyard Trail. (M) Cultivated. Occasionally planted in yards of Blue Creek Village. (O, D) Site core.

Uncommon at site core and more common at Four Leagues Forest. According to Brokaw et al. report this as Chrysophyllum cainito L. Riparian forest at Four Leagues, hillsides. Frequent. (E) Riparian forest at Four Leagues and trail to Welker Courtyard. Clarify Distribution. Blue Lake roadside, occasional at site core, Four Legs forest. Looks like sapodilla bark, with buttresses and resin.



Brokaw: 27; P&S: 296

Brokaw: 39; Clusia spp. Not included in P&S Not in Brokaw or P&S Brokaw: 40; not in P&S

Brokaw: 40 Brokaw: 41; not in P&S Brokaw: 41; P&S: 316 Brokaw: 41; P&S:318

Brokaw: 41; P&S: 324 Brokaw: 42; P&S: 326 Not in Brokaw; P&S: 328 Brokaw: 42; P&S: 334 Species not reported in Brokaw; P&S: 342 Brokaw: 43; P&S: 344 Brokaw: 43; P&S: 346

Brokaw: 43; not in P&S

Environmental Assessment of Blue Creek Pouteria reticulate (Engler) Eyma?



Aspidosperma spp. megalocarpon? Cameraria latifolia L.



Common at Four Leagues, site core, and trail to Welker Courtyard. Frequent at Four Miles. (SAY)

Chichem blanco, white poisonwood Flor de John Crow, zopilote


Northwestern Bajo.


Mangrove swamp on Blue Lake Road. Fairly common. (O)


Outstanding specimen in field at Chan Cahal. (O) Common throughout site core, trail to Welker Courthyard. Less common at Cuatro Leguas forest. Protected and sold by weight. Chocolate and white wood. Cultivated along main road in Blue Creek Village. Single individual at Cuatro Leguas, close to roadside? Occasional in Northwestern Bajo. (E, O) Welker Courtyard Trail

Plumeria obtusa L. ?

Plumeria rubra L.

Stemmadenia donnell-smithii (Rose) Woodson

Bull drawers, horse eggs


Cordia dodecandra D. C.



Parmentier edulis DC. Vitex gaumeri Greenm.

Bignoniaceae Ya’axnik, fiddlewood


Alseis yucatenensis Standley



Sickingia salvadorensis Standl.? Simira salvadorensis (Standley) Steyerm.? Trichospermum campbelli Sprague (=Belotia mexicana (DC.) K. Schum or B. campbellii?

White chacah






Moist areas (MRP’s former bajo), hillside forest (near quarry) at Blue Lake. (M) Fairly common throughout hillside forests at Cuatro Leguas, Blue Lake, and site core. Uncommon at site core.

Forest at Cuatro Leguas. Some individuals noted at site core. MRP base.

Unknown species or common names only Unknown

Brokaw: 43; not in P&S Brokaw: 44; P&S: 354 Brokaw: 44; not in P&S Brokaw: 44; species not in P&S Species not in Brokaw; P&S: 356 Brokaw: 44; P&S: 358; Standley(1928 (24, 4): 1152) Brokaw: 44; P&S: 364

Not in Brokaw; P&S: 376 Brokaw: 45; P&S: 370 Brokaw: 46; P&S: 386

Not reported in Brokaw; P&S: 392 Brokaw: 46; not in P&S Brokaw: 37; P&S: (as B. mexicana): 276

Site core. Habin blanco

Need collection.


Site core. Occasional at site core and hillside forest at Quatro Leguas. Site core. Red fruits “like cherry” (Don Ruperto). “Grows only in bajo.” Mangrove swamp on Blue Creek Road.


Unknown Té Sak pah


Need collection. Need collection.

Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña Mahahua

Unknown Unknown

Edge of swamp mangrove on Blue Lake Road. Bark strips strong, used for tumplines, pack straps. Site core. White wood, white latex. Site core. Site core.

mountain rue


Non-woody species Cyperus spp.






Poaceae Cyperaceae

Northwestern Bajo. Indicator species? Common throughout mangrove swamp. Seen only in mangrove swamp. Swamp mangrove on Blue Lake Road. Indicator species? Northwestern Bajo. Blue Lake hillside forest

Cycadaceae Taciste, pimento Fern

Ageratina spp. Pinuela and others Triple de diablo


Asteraceae Bromeliaceae Cactaceae

Orchidaceae Bougainvillea spp.



Table 6.1. Species Found in Study Area.


Site core, Northwestern Bajo, swamp mangrove on Blue Lake Road. Northwestern Bajo edge. Bajos, humid forests, terrestrial and epiphytic forms. Epiphytic habit. Columnar stem wrapped around trunk. Moist forests at Cuatro Leguas, Northwestern Bajo. Blooming 6/13/99 at site core. Bajos, humid forests, terrestrial and epiphytic forms. Cultivated and protected in yards and fields in Blue Creek Village. (O)

Need further collection.

Not in Brokaw or P&S.

Not in Brokaw or P&S

Environmental Assessment of Blue Creek Cocos nucifera, 8 Cohune, 8 Cojones de toro, 14 Combretaceae, 12 Copal, 11 Cordia dodecandra, 4, 14 Cowfoot, 10 Chrysophila argentea, 8 Custard apple, 10 Cycadaceae, 16 Cyperaceae, 15 Cypress, 15

Index of species and common names Acoalorraphe wrightii, 8 Ageratina, 16 Allophyllus cominia, 12 Allspice, 14 Alseis yucatenensis, 6, 15 Anacardiaceae, 11 Annona glabra, 10 Annonaceae, 10 Apocynaceae, 14 Araliaceae, 10 Arecaceae, 8 Aspidosperma, 6, 14 Asteraceae, 16 Astronium graveolens, 11

Dendropanax arboreus , 3 , 14 Dzalam , 10 Oak , 8 Enterolobium cyclocarpum , 4 , 10 broom , 8

B. campbelli, 15 Bactris, 8 Bay cedar, 12 Belotia mexicana, 15 Bignoniaceae, 14 Bitz, 10 Bombacaceae, 12 Boraginaceae, 14 Botán, 8 Bougainvillea, 16 breadnut, 10 bribri, 10 Bromeliaceae, 16 Brosimum alicastrum, 2, 10 Bucida buceras, 5, 12 Bullet tree, 12 bullhorn acacia, 10 Bursera simaruba, 2, 11 Burseraceae, 11 Byrsonima crassifolia, 5, 11

Fabaceae (Caesalpinioideae), 10 Fabaceae (Mimosoideae), 10 Fabaceae (Papilionoideae), 11 Fagaceae, 8 Fern, 16 fiddlewood, 15 flame tree, 10 John Crow flower, 14 give and take, 8 Gliricidia sepium, 11 Granadillo, 11 guamo , 10 Guanacaste, 10 Guari wood, 10 Guarumo, 10 Guava, 14 Guazuma ulmifolia, 12 Gumbo-limbo,

Cabbage bark, 11 Cactaceae, 16 Calophyllum brasiliense, 6, 12 Cameraria latifolia, 5, 14 Carica papaya, 12 Caricaceae, 12 Castilla elastica, 3, 10 Casuarina cunninghamiana, 8 Casuarinaceae, 8 Cecropia peltata, 4, 10 Cedar, 11 Cedrela mexicana , 1, 3, 11 Ceiba, 3, 6, 12 Chacah colorado, 11 Chakah blanco, 14 Chamaedorea oblongata, 8 Chechem negro, 11 Cherry, 10, 12 Chichem blanco, 14 chicle, 14 Chicle majico, 14 Chrysobalanaceae, 10 Chrysophyllum cainito , 3, 6, 14 Chrysophyllum mexicanum, 14 cinnamon tree, 14 Cypress, 8 Clusia, 4, 5, 6, 12 Clusiaceae, 12 Coccoloba belizensis, 10 cockspur, 10 Coconut, 8

White bean, 15 Black bean, 11 Haemotoxylon campechianum, 5, 10 Hahuacte, 8 Hampea, 12 Fig, 12 horse's eggs, 14 hule, 10 Inga edulis, 10 soapstone, 10, 12 Ankle, 11 Job, 11 Juncaceae, 15 Lycania platypus, 10 Lonchocarpus, castilloi, 11 Lysiloma bahamensis, 4, 10 Machich, 11 Cocoa mother, 11 Mahahua, 15 Mahogany, 11 Malphigiaceae, 11 Malvaceae, 12 Mangifera indica, 4, 11 Mangle, 12 Mango,


Kirsten Tripplett and Ruperto Magaña Manilkara zapota, 6, 14 Apples, 12 Number of flowers, 12 May, 10 Meliaceae, 11 Metopium brownei, 2, 11 Milady, 14 Mold, 12, 15 Monkey apple, 10 Moraceae, 10 Myrtaceae,

Mountain Ruda, 15 Rush, 15 Rutaceae, 11 Morrisian Sabal, 8 Sak pah, 15 St. Mary's, 12 Sapindaceae, 12 Sapindus saponaria, 12 Sapodilla, 14 Sapotaceae, 14 Sickingia salvadorensis, 15 Silion, 14 silly young, 14 Simaroubaceae, 1 Simaruba glauca, 3, 11 Simira salvadorensis, 6, 15 Spondias mombin, 3, 11 Stemmadenia donnell-smithii, 14 Sterculiaceae, 12 strangler fig, 12 Subin, 10 Suprecalle, 15 Swamp apples, 12 Swietenia macrophylla, 1, 11

nance, 11 Daffodil, 14 Black, 11 Nyctaginaceae, 16 Orbignya cohune, 3, 8 Orchidaceae, 16 Donkey's ear, 12 Pachira aquatica, 12 Palmetto, 8 Man's stick, 11 Dye stick, 10 Papaya, 12 Parmentiera edulis, peccary, 10 pepper, 16 Dioic pepper, 14 Pinuela, 16 Piscidia communis, 11 Pithecellobium arboretum, 10 pixoy, 12 Platymischium yucatanum, 11 Plumeria, 4, 14 Poaceae, 15 poisonwood, 16 Pornboy, 8 Pottery, 14 Pouteria amygdalina, 6, 14 Pouteria reticulata, 14 Prickly yellow, 11 Protium, 11 Protium copal, 2 provision tree, 12 Psidium guava, 14 Psuedobombox elliptica, 6, 12 Pseudolmedia spuria, 6, 10 pukte,

Tabaquillo, 15 Taciste, 16 Tamarindito, 10 Té, 15 Terminalia amazonia, 6, 14 thatch palm, 8 Tiliaceae, 15 Tinta, 10 Trichospermum campbelli, 15 Triple de diablo, 16 trumpet tree, 10 Tzibal, 15 Tzubi, 10 Verbenaceae, 15 Vitex gaumeri, 15 Warree, 10 Waterwood, 12 Waya, 15 White chacah, 15 white gumbo-limbo, 14 white poisonwood, 14 Wild grape, 10 wild soursop, 10 wild tamarind, 10

Quercus, 5, 8

Xate, 8

Ramón, 10 red mangrove, 12 Redwood, 15 Rhizophora mangle, 4, 12 Rhizophoraceae, 12 Royal palm, 8 Roystonea oleracea, 8 Rubber, 10 Rubiaceae, 15

Ya’axnik, 15 Yellow craboo, 11 yellow wood, 11 Zacate, 15 Zanthoxylum, 11 Zapotillo, 14 Ziricote, 14 zopilote, 14


Chapter 7 Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) Jeff Baker

The first raised field complexes were identified at Blue Creek in 1995 during an aerial survey of the Blue Creek area (Figure 7.1). In subsequent years, additional complexes were discovered within the vicinity of Blue Creek. The first complex of fields identified at Blue Creek, termed here Raised Field #1 (RF #1), was the focus of investigations between 1996 and 2000. This chapter describes those excavations as well as observations on the water table at Blue Creek and the implications of this data set for Maya archaeology. Before discussing the archaeological data, this chapter will briefly define the terms used in this chapter followed by an examination of the ecology of the Blue Creek area, and modern disturbances to the area.

northern Belize is drained (although individual platforms within a single complex might be drained). It should be noted that Denevan and Turner’s definition does not imply where the material came from to raise the fields, a position contrary to the stance taken by some Mayanists who have assumed that the material to create the raised platform came from outside of the wetland (cf. Puleston 1978). As argued elsewhere (Baker 2003), the material used to create the raised planting surface came from the ditches. Raised fields are composed of two features, the ditches and the planting surface or platform. In ethnographically documented raised fields, the platforms comprise between 40 and 70 percent of the total complex (Heider 1970; Pospisil 1963; Wilken 1968). Similar to wetland agriculture, a number of different schemes have been proposed for defining wetlands (Baker 1993, 2003; Cowardin et al. 1979; Kunen et al. 2000; Pope and Dahlin 1989). Elsewhere I have proposed a modified version of the US Fish and Wildlife Services wetland classification (Cowardin et al. 1979) for use in the Maya Lowlands that relies upon both vegetation and hydroperiod (Baker 2003: 107114). Because of the modern landscape changes in the Rio Bravo Depression, this type of classification is difficult to apply to the Blue Creek area. Therefore, this chapter will divide wetlands into perennial and seasonal wetlands. In a perennial wetland, the water table never drops more than 2 m below the ground surface, while in a seasonal wetland the water table drops more than 2 m below the ground surface in most years1.

Figure 7.1 Raised Field Complexes by the Blue Creek Airstrip

Terminology A variety of different schemes have been proposed for wetland agricultural fields (Baker 2003: 20-34; Denevan and Turner 1974; Mathewson 1985; Siemens 1998; Sluyter 1994; Turner and Denevan 1985). Following Denevan and Turner (1974), this paper will use the term raised fields for the wetland fields identified here. Denevan and Turner (1974: 24) define a raised field as “any prepared land involving the transfer and elevation of soil above the natural surface of the earth in order to improve cultivating conditions.” Although others have argued that all Maya wetland fields are drained rather than raised (Antoine et al. 1982; Bloom et al. 1985; Pohl et al. 1990), this is based upon a misinterpretation of both Denevan and Turner’s definition and the stratigraphy of raised fields in northern Belize (Baker 2003: 271). Currently, there is no evidence that any wetland agricultural complex in

Ecology of the Blue Creek Area Blue Creek sits at the boundary between two of the major physiographical regions within the Maya Lowlands, the Belizean Coastal Region and the Peten Physiographic Region (King et al. 1992; Lundell 1937). In Belize, the Peten Physiographic Region is known as the Bravo Hills. In the Blue Creek area, the To a certain extent, this follows Pope and Dahlin’s (1989) wetland classification scheme. Pope and Dalhin, however, include elevation above sea level as a significant difference between seasonal and perennial wetlands. For reasons discussed below, elevation is not considered relevant to determining whether a wetland is seasonal or perennial. 1


Jeff Baker Rio Bravo escarpment, a 150-250 m high escarpment marks the boundary between the two regions and for purposes of this chapter will be considered a separate physiographic region (Figure 7.2). Each of these regions has been broken down into a series of ecological zones (Baker 2003; Brokaw and Mallory 1993)2. The portion of the Blue Creek sustaining area within the Peten Physiographic Region is part of the Lalucha Uplands, an area of rolling hills and interspersed flat lands, with some steep hills and lower lying flat terrain that is seasonally flooded (Brokaw and Mallory 1993). The portion of the Coastal Region within the Blue Creek area is termed the Rio Bravo Depression. Prior to 1958, the Rio Bravo Depression was dominated by a series of wetlands with interspersed islands of dry land. As noted elsewhere (Baker 2003, 2007), the Lalucha Uplands, the Rio Bravo Escarpment and the Rio Bravo Depression can be further subdivided into a series of ecological niches. As the focus of this chapter is on the Rio Bravo Depression, no further discussion of the ecological niches in the Escarpment or the Lalucha Uplands is included here (for a detailed breakdown of niches in this area see Baker 2003, 2007; Guderjan et al. 2003).

All three types of dry land contain evidence for prehispanic occupation.

Figure 6,3 East-West Cross section of region.

It is not currently possible to subdivide the wetlands in the Rio Bravo Depression, but research elsewhere in northwestern Belize has documented the existence of at least nine different types of wetlands (Baker 2003: 110-111). Prior to modern agricultural activities, the wetlands within the Rio Bravo Depression were probably highly diverse. Archaeological excavations, discussions with local farmers and personal observations have provided some insight into the variability present in the wetlands within the Rio Bravo Depression. This discussion will concentrate upon the three wetlands for which we have the most information, the wetlands containing the RF #1, RF #2 and RF #3 complexes (referred to here as the RF #1, RF #2 and RF #3 wetlands). The natural vegetation present in all three wetlands is not known in detail, although work in the Blue Creek area since 1996 has provided some clues. Excavations into the RF #1 wetland recovered cohune (Orbignya cohune) nuts and spines from the Bactris sp. palm, indicating that both plants were growing in the wetland prior to modern agricultural activities. In 1996 and 1997, RF #2 contained a variety of trees, including royal palms (Roystonea oleracea) and cohune palms over 15 m high. Unfortunately, no effort was made to inventory the species present within the wetland before it was cleared in 1997. Based upon observations made subsequent to that activity and discussions with the Mennonite farmers, it is clear that this was not the first time that trees growing in the wetland were cleared. Patches of 15 – 20 m high forest both north and south of the RF #2 wetland also have been previously cleared by the Mennonites. The RF #2 wetland is fed by a series of springs located at the south end of the wetland. A small stream used to drain the wetland at the north end, with the stream flowing north and then west before flowing into the northern portion of the RF #1 wetland. Based upon observations of the hydrology and geology of the escarpment base, it seems probable that a stream used to flow into the RF #2 wetland from the south. Because of the modern land modifications, we cannot currently determine conclusively that a channel flowed into the RF #2 wetland from the south.

Figure 7.2 View of Bravo Escarpment from the east. In very simplistic terms, the Depression can be divided into wetlands and drylands, with three types of drylands existing in the Rio Bravo Depression: Bravo outliers, fluvial islands and the escarpment shelf (Figure 7.3). Bravo outliers are steep hills that are outliers of the Bravo Hills. These features are haystack hills, a geologic formation characteristic of karst landscapes. The fluvial islands are low-lying, gently sloping ridges that were created by fluvial action, while the escarpment shelf is a strip of land extending out from the base of the escarpment. This shelf varies in width from a few meters to approximately 500 meters. 2

Brokaw and Mallory use the term physiographic regions for the areas I am calling ecological zones. Lundell (1937) previously described the Belizean coastal plain and the Peten physiographic area as zones, an approach that will be followed here.

In addition to the channel flowing from the RF #2 wetland, the RF #1 wetland was fed by two springs located along the escarpment, one located at the base of 116

Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) the escarpment and a second located approximately 20 m above the Rio Bravo depression. In 1997, the remnants of a small dam were observed adjacent to the upper spring. This dam was probably a prehispanic construction, although we lack the evidence to prove this. Shortly after its discovery, the dam was destroyed during Mennonite land clearing operations. Unfortunately, no photographs or drawings of this construction were ever made. The two springs located along the escarpment fed a second drainage that also flowed in a westerly direction, but this drainage flowed along the southern edge of the RF #1 wetland, rather than through the center of the wetland. Near the center of the wetland, this stream appears to have turned to the north, and is lost in the maze of channels associated with the raised fields. At the western edge of the RF #1 wetland, a single stream emerged from the wetland, where it turned north to flow into Blue Creek, upstream from the confluence between Blue Creek and the Rio Bravo.

good yields. Years of above average rainfall produced a different result. Heavy rains would flood most of the fields resulting in the loss of most of the crop. In response to the flooding problems, the Mennonites began to construct a series of hydrological constructions in the Rio Bravo Depression in an attempt to minimize the flooding problems 3. The stream flowing from the RF #2 wetland to the RF #1 wetland was heavily modified, with a 2 m+ deep eastwest oriented drainage ditch excavated through the natural, north-south flowing channel, thus severing the long-standing link between the RF #1 wetland and the RF #2 wetland. In addition, a dike was constructed in the middle of the RF #2 wetland, with a drainage ditch being excavated from the wetland in a southerly direction. This channel redirected the northwardly flowing water from the springs in a southern direction, dumping the water directly into the Rio Bravo, rather than into Blue Creek. As noted above, two drainage ditches also were excavated through the RF #1 wetland (refer to Figure 7.1).

There are no known springs associated with the RF #3 wetland, which is located northeast of the RF #2 wetland. The RF #3 wetland was fed by a single stream flowing into the wetland from the south. How water exited this wetland is unknown. The portion of the Rio Bravo Depression immediately north and west of the RF #3 wetland has been heavily disturbed by modern activities. Currently, the RF #3 wetland is the driest of these three wetlands, and the only one of the three wetlands that can be characterized as seasonal today. This was apparently not always the case. Informants note that the RF #3 wetland used to be too wet “to drive a backhoe through even during the dry season.”

The Mennonites also rechanneled the water that used to flow into the RF #3 wetland into an artificial pond, deepened the channel of the Rio Bravo, and constructed a dam and spillway just upstream from the intersection between the Rio Bravo and the Blue Creek. It should be noted that the primary purpose of the spillway was to generate electricity, not to control flooding. The hydraulic constructions were only minimally successful in controlling the flooding. The continued flood prone nature of the Depression has been demonstrated by three events that occurred between 1994 and 2000. Based upon information from local informants, heavy rain in 1994 flooded the Depression, requiring people and vehicles to be ferried across the flooded landscape for several weeks. At the beginning of our fieldwork in May of 1996, 15 straight days of afternoon showers led to the flooding of the entire RF #1 wetland, with several cm of water covering the entire ground surface. In 2000, when Hurricane Keith struck Belize, most of the Rio Bravo Depression was flooded. Aerial photographs of the Depression immediately after Hurricane Keith reveal the presence of limited areas of dry land (Figure 7.5).

Mennonite Landscape Modifications At the start of the 1996 season, we knew only the most basic details about the Mennonite use of the Rio Bravo Depression. We were aware that the Mennonites had used the area for the cultivation of maize and other dryland crops. In addition, we knew that the Mennonites had constructed two drainage canals through the RF #1 wetland. Because of flooding problems, much of the crop land in the Rio Bravo Depression was converted to pasture, with agricultural fields moved to the Lalucha Uplands. Shortly after work started in 1996, it became apparent that the Mennonites had modified the landscape to a greater extent than we had known, with additional details becoming apparent over the next four years. A failure to understand the nature and extent of the modern landscape modifications could lead to erroneous conclusions about the nature of the wetland stratigraphy and wetland hydrology.

Because of continued problems with flooding of the Depression, the Mennonites shifted their agricultural activities to the Lalucha Uplands. While crop yields in the Uplands never reach the levels achieved in the Depression during good years, they also are never as low during bad years. In other words, the land above the escarpment produce reliable yields every year. The fields within the Rio Bravo depression were converted

When the Mennonites settled at Blue Creek in 1958, they initially concentrated their agricultural efforts in the Rio Bravo Depression. The vegetation in the Depression was cleared with the aid of steel-wheeled tractors and horses (Hinckley 1997). Initially, the extremely fertile soils of the depression produced very


The exact sequence of events is not known to us. The order of constructions given here is not meant to imply any chronological sequence. 117

Jeff Baker to cattle pasture, with many of the fields being bulldozed to level the areas out. The entire RF #2 wetland and most of the RF #1 wetland were leveled by bulldozers at this time. East of the Rio Bravo, the land was leveled and converted to rice paddies. It is not known if raised fields were present in this area.

A barbed wire fence marks the western boundary of both RF #1A and RF #1B. West of this fence line, no fields show up in the aerial photographs, but ground survey in 1997 showed that raised fields are still clearly visible on the ground. This area is termed RF #1C. Unlike the other parts of RF #1, this area has not been bulldozed, with fields and ditches showing a 30 to 50 cm elevational difference. The northern boundary of RF #1B is, like its western boundary, marked by a barbed wire fence. The aerial photographs suggest that the ditches continued north of the fence line, but the traces of these ditches are no longer visible. Immediately north of the barbed wire fence, the remnants of several of the ditches can be seen on the ground. This area is, however, adjacent to the Blue Creek runway and the hangars used to store the planes. As one moves closer to the hangars, the modern ground disturbance increases noticeably, making it difficult to tell the extent of prehispanic land modifications in this area. This area has been termed RF #1D and it is apparent that some fields were present in this area, although neither surface investigations nor aerial observations could determine the true extent of prehispanic agricultural features in this area. It is possible that trenching could reveal additional evidence for Maya agricultural activities.

North of the urban core of Blue Creek, every centimeter of forest within the Rio Bravo Depression has, at one time or another, been cleared over the last forty years. While the initial clearing of forests in the 1950s and 1960s utilized saws and horses, more recent practices have involved chaining. Chaining consists of dragging a large anchor chain between two bulldozers, with the chain being used to pull the trees down. This type of practice creates a great deal of disturbance within the root zone of the trees. As noted above in regard to the discussion of the RF #2 wetland, some areas that were cleared in the early years of the Mennonite occupation of the area were allowed to grow back, with the vegetation maturing enough to be difficult to distinguish from mature, primary forest that has never been cleared in modern times. Excavations Into RF #1 The fieldwork undertaken between 1996 and 2000 can be broken down into two phases, an early exploratory phase between 1996 and 1998, and a second follow-up phase between 1999 and 2000. The focus of the initial work at Blue Creek was testing various hypotheses associated with the Pohl-Bloom model (Baker 2003). While the phase II work continued to examine certain aspects of the Pohl-Bloom model, this second phase of research was principally geared toward answering questions specific to Blue Creek that had been raised by the initial work at Blue Creek. The 1996 To 1998 Fieldwork The 1996 fieldwork concentrated upon RF #1, with work conducted in 1996 and 1997 allowing us to divide RF #1 into five sections based upon a combination of ecology, and modern activities. RF #1A, is the southern portion of the RF #1 complex immediately adjacent to the escarpment. This part of the complex shows up clearly on modern aerial photographs (refer to Figure 7.1). On the ground, there is little elevational difference between the field platform and the ditches. RF #1B, located north of RF #1A, also shows up on aerial photographs. Like RF #1A, the elevational differences between the ditches and fields are minimal. These two parts of the RF #1 complex are separated by a wide expanse of land with no ditches visible in it. This central part of the wetland, where no patterns are visible in aerial photos, was the first area to be flooded during the heavy rains in May of 1996. The current interpretation of this area is that it was a shallow lake sometime in the past, an area that the Maya did not attempt to convert to agricultural fields because the water was too deep.

Figure 7.4 Generalized Profile of the 1996 Excavations Into RF 1. RF #1E is a small complex of fields located in a bend in an old stream bed, east of the main part of RF #1. Like RF #1A and RF #1B, there are minimal elevational differences between the planting platforms and the ditches in complex RF #1E, although the ditches show up clearly on aerial photographs. In 1996, two trenches were excavated into RF #1A and two trenches into RF #1B. All four trenches excavated in 1996 exposed three main stratigraphic units over the platforms (Figure 7.6). Unit I, the lowest unit underneath the platforms is a dark gray clay. This unit was only visible in a single trench (the deepest of the four trenches), but, bears a resemblance to strata identified by Beach et al. (2006). In the 1996


Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) excavation, this unit contained no artifacts. Unit I probably consists of a unit that was deposited at a time when the sediment remained moist throughout the dry season, but, exposed above the water table in most years. Above Unit I is Unit II, a thick bluishgray clay that contains no artifacts and a fairly high density of Pomaceae snails. In three of the four trenches, the lower portions of this unit contained iron-manganese banding and calcium carbonate/gypsum nodules. Units II consists of natural sediments deposited when the water table never dropped far below the ground surface. The iron manganese banding represents an old, dry season surface, with the iron-manganese precipitating out of a shallow layer of water that was present on the surface of the wetland during the dry season. The absence of surface water during the dry season (the period when evaporation exceeds precipitation) would preclude the formation of iron manganese bands in the sediment. Across the wetland, the iron-manganese banding occurs at varying elevations, suggesting that local processes played a significant role in creating the iron manganese deposits. The calcium carbonate nodules would have been precipitated out of water within the existing sediment profile. The water would have been moving up through the profile via capillary action. The presence of calcium carbonate nodules above and below the iron-manganese banding is not evidence for a change in the elevation of the water table, but, a reflection of the year-to-year variability in the dry season elevation of the water table. In dry years, the calcium carbonate nodules would be precipitated out below the iron-manganese banding, while in wetter years, it would be precipitated out above the banding.

After the fields were abandoned by the Maya, the edge of the fields slumped into the ditches, creating Unit IIIb. The calcium carbonate nodules found in Unit IIIb developed in the sediment after the slumping had occurred as a result of the evapotranspiration of water from the sediment when the water level dropped below this elevation. Because both the calcium carbonate nodules in stratum IIIB and the iron manganese banding and calcium carbonate nodules in stratum II occur at approximately the same elevation, this is evidence that there was not a significant change in the elevation of the water table between the time that Unit II was deposited and the abandonment of the fields by the Maya. Unit V is a black clay that lies on top of Unit IIIb. This deposit also contains some prehispanic artifacts, although the density of artifacts in this unit is not as high as the density in Unit IIIb. Unit V is the sediment that slowly accumulated in the ditches following abandonment. This deposit was created through a combination of three processes: (1) Sediment eroding out of the ditches; (2) Sediment carried in via water flowing through the ditches; (3) Sediment created by the in-situ decomposition of plant and animal remains. The upper most unit in the ditches is the same Unit IV that is found on top of the platforms, a modern, heavily disturbed deposit. All four of the trenches excavated in 1996 show two episodes of ditching, with a small ditch located on one edge of the larger trench. Several pieces of evidence indicate that the small ditch is earlier. The profiles demonstrate that, prior to 1960, the large ditch had not filled in completely, with the sediment having filled in the large ditches near to the elevation of the small ditch. The small ditch, on the other hand, was completely filled in and did not contain any sediment from Unit IV. This suggests that the small ditch is earlier. A close examination of the profiles also supports this interpretation (refer to Baker 2003). In some of the profiles, the large ditch clearly originates at a higher elevation than the small ditch.

Above Unit II, is Unit IIIa, a dark black clay that contains prehistoric artifacts and few Pomaceae remains. This unit is fairly thin and discontinuous. Unit IIIa rarely exceeds 5cm thickness. Unit IIIa, a cultural deposit, is the remnant of the agricultural sediment created by the prehispanic Maya when they constructed and cultivated the fields. The final unit above the platforms, Unit IV, consists of a mottled gray and black sediment, which contains a mix of both prehispanic and modern artifacts. Unit IV is also a cultural deposit, although this deposit was created by the Mennonites. This deposit is a mix of the original Units II, III and V and sediment that had been deposited on the surface of the wetland since the Maya abandoned the wetlands. The modern Unit IV was created by the Mennonites through a combination of clearing the vegetation from the wetland, plowing and bulldozing.

This brings up the question of why farmers would have increased the size of the ditches in the field. One possibility is that rising water levels forced the farmers to increase the size of the ditch. Neither the evidence from the excavations nor more recent evidence on sea level changes provide any evidence for a significant rise in water levels between 1000 BC and AD 900 (Baker 2003; McKillop 2007; McLaren and Gardner 2000). There is, however, a second explanation for the change in ditch size. This second hypothesis is based upon an ethnographic example from the Lake Titicaca Basin (Erickson 1993). When farmers began to re-use raised fields in the Lake Titicaca Basin, farmers initially constructed relatively small ditches. During dry years, the water table dropped below the level of the ditches, leading farmers to increase the size of their ditches to gain access to the water table for splash irrigation. It is suggested that a similar process was at

Similar to the platforms, three units also were present within the ditches. Unit IIIb, the lowest unit found in the ditches is a dark black clay that contained prehispanic artifacts. In a few trenches, this unit also contained calcium carbonate nodules. Unit IIIb originated on the platforms as a portion of Unit III. 119

Jeff Baker work in the Blue Creek area, and responsible for the change in the size of the ditches.4

modern disturbances than the fields in RF #1A and #1B; (2) Determine how extensive the clay-marl deposit identified by Cox and Bozarth is; (3) Determine if small ditches are present in this part of the wetland, and hopefully provide more conclusive evidence for the relative age of the small and large ditches; (4) If small ditches are present, determine if the spacing between the small ditches is less than the spacing between the large ditches. The last item is based upon Clark Erickson’s (1993) excavations into prehispanic raised fields in the Lake Titicaca Basin. Excavations into the fields in the Lake Titicaca Basin identified small ditches that preceded the construction of large ditches. The spacing between the small ditches was considerably less than the spacing between the large ditches.

In 1998, an additional trench (Op. 34F) was placed into RF #1B for the purpose of collecting soil samples for phytolith analysis. The samples were collected from the fill at the bottom of the prehispanic ditch, material that was thought to have slumped down from the edge of the fields into the ditches. It was not possible to determine if the sediment originally came from a preconstruction context, a prehispanic agricultural context, or a post-abandonment context. The analysis of the soil samples by Steve Bozarth uncovered palm phytoliths from Bactris sp. palms, but no phytoliths from cultigens (Bozarth pers. comm. 1999). Three possible hypotheses exist to explain the presence of the palm phytoliths in the soil samples: (1) The sediment collected predates construction of the fields, with the palms growing naturally in the wetland prior to the Maya modification of the area. (2) The sediment samples collected in 1998 represent a postabandonment deposit, with the palms having colonized the wetland after the Maya abandoned their wetland fields. (3) The deposit is contemporaneous with the Maya use of the wetland. The palms were planted on the edge of the field by the Maya to stabilize the field surface. Ethnographically, modern farmers will plant trees on the edge of raised fields to stabilize the edge of the planting surface (Coe 1964; Denevan and Bergman 1974). There is, unfortunately, no evidence to discern between these three hypotheses.

In addition, the two trenches excavated by Cox and Bozarth that exposed the relatively unique strata were re-examined by the author. Based upon this reexamination, the marl and clay deposit was determined to be a natural, not a cultural deposit. For this deposit to have been created culturally, each layer of sediment would had to have been leveled off after being deposited. The presence of Pomaceae snails that span several layers is an indication that this did not occur. It also is unlikely that farmers would have adopted this sort of procedure in creating an agricultural field, particularly in the wetland. The layers of marl would have helped to trap water within the rooting zone, a process farmers would not have wanted to occur in a field. In prehispanic agricultural deposits, where cultural filling is clearly present, individual basket loads of sediment are visible with there being no attempt to level out the sediments between each dumping episode (e.g. Baker 2003: 194). The alternating layers of clay and marl represent a varve-like deposit, with the clay likely having precipitated out of standing water during the rainy season, while the marl was deposited during the dry season as water evaporated from the wetland leaving calcium carbonate deposits behind.

1999 and 2000 Excavations In 1999, Kim Cox and Steve Bozarth excavated eight backhoe trenches into RF #1. Six of the trenches exposed stratigraphic sequences similar to the sequences identified in 1996. The other two trenches uncovered vastly different sequences. One trench (Op. 34G) excavated into RF #1C exposed a deposit consisting of alternating layers of marl and black clay. In 1999, Cox and Bozarth interpreted this deposit as cultural, arguing that the deposit was created by the Maya. The second trench that exposed a unique stratigraphic sequence was located near the base of the escarpment at the western end of RF #1A. This trench (Op. 34N) contained a gravel deposit over a meter below the modern ground surface. Prehispanic sherds were identified mixed in with the gravel deposit.

The 2000 hand excavation (Op. 34Q) placed approximately 10 m north of the trench containing the marl-clay deposit did not encounter a marl and clay deposit (see below). Similar deposits at sites like Albion Island and Pulltrouser Swamp also are highly localized (Baker 2003: 243-245). The highly localized nature of these deposits is an indication that, contrary to some researchers (e.g. Antoine et al 1982; Pohl and Bloom 1996; Pope et al. 1996), the marl deposits were created by local processes, rather than regional processes. This type of deposit is probably created within shallow depressions in the wetlands, where pools of water last into the dry season. At Blue Creek the modern water level drops below the bottom of the marl deposit during the dry season and covers it during the rainy season. If a similar depression was present in the wetland today, a similar deposit would be capable of forming at the same elevation. In other words, there is no need to invoke a rise in the water table, whether

In 2000, the author conducted additional excavations into RF #1, placing trenches into RF #1A and RF #1C. The trench excavated (Op 34Q) into RF #1C was excavated for several purposes: (1) Determine if the fields in area RF #1C had been exposed to fewer


It is possible that a similar situation happened at Albion Island, where researchers have reported the presence of both small and large ditches (Pohl 1990: 401). The profiles showing these multiple episodes of ditching have never been published. 120

Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) regional or localized, to explain the creation of a marlclay banded deposit. The depression could have formed from a variety of processes: (1) the depression could be the remnant of an abandoned, natural channel within the wetland; (2) the depression could have been created by a tree fall; (3) the depression could have undetermined cultural origins that appear to be unrelated to the construction of raised fields.

being laid down, we would expect to see a relatively uniform density of snails. The paucity of Pomaceae in Units II and III and on the modern ground surface is an indication that these sediments are, in general, too dry for Pomaceae. The final wetland excavation (Op. 34R) in 2000 was directed toward exposing the gravel feature identified by Bozarth and Cox in 1999. An examination of the profile exposed in 1999 suggested that the deposit is not natural, although the 1999 exposure does not provide clear evidence as to the function of this feature. The 2000 excavations only managed to expose the upper surface of the gravel deposit before rising water levels forced us to abandon the excavations.

Based upon the 2000 excavation, it is clear that, similar to areas RF #1A and RF #1B, much of the prehispanic planting surface in RF #1C was disturbed by modern agricultural activities. The stratigraphy exposed in the 2000 trench was very similar to that exposed in 1996, although Unit II is much thicker on top of the platforms in RF #1C than was exposed in the trenches in RF #1A and RF #1B. Unit III is, however, thinner on top of the ditches in RF #1C than in RF #1A and RF #1B. During the excavation of Op. 34Q, a lead bullet was found 2025 cm beneath the modern ground surface on the edge of the platform. This bullet is graphic evidence of the extent of disturbance in this area, although the disturbance was not as great as the disturbance to areas RF #1A and RF #1B. Area RF #1C was only plowed, while the other portions of the RF #1 complex were both plowed and bulldozed. Subsequent to our excavations, the plowing of this area was confirmed by the modern inhabitants of the area. One additional disturbance to RF #1C was the construction of a cattle tank that obliterated several platforms. This tank shows up clearly in aerial photographs (refer to Figure 7.1).

The sediment directly above the gravel deposit is a dark gray clay, that appears to be a colluvial deposit. Small gravels were mixed in with this deposit along with prehispanic sherds. The dateable sherds from this deposit were Tepeu 2/3 sherds (Kosawkosky pers. comm. 2000). This deposit appears to be an erosional deposit, probably the result of deforestation of the escarpment. It should be noted that similar, colluvial deposits were not noted in any other trenches, although Ops. 34N and 34R were placed closer to the escarpment than any of the other trenches. Above the dark gray clay was another deposit of dark gray clay that contained both prehispanic sherds and modern artifacts. Unlike the other trenches in RF #1, there was no trace of the original planting surface in this excavation. The modern disturbances in this area extended to a greater depth than it did in other areas of RF #1.

We did not uncover any evidence for the presence of smaller ditches in the 2000 excavation. There are two possible explanations for the absence of small ditches in this area: 1) ditches in this part of the wetland were constructed later, and postdate the time period when farmers had discovered the utility of digging the bigger ditches. 2) A small ditch was excavated here, but the excavation of the larger ditch destroyed all trace of the smaller ditch. The absence of dateable ceramics from the 1996 excavations and the 2000 excavation into RF #1C precludes us from determining which of these hypotheses might be correct.

Aerial photographs do suggest that a planting platform was present in this area. If this area was used as a raised field, it was not used any earlier than Tepeu 2/3 times. Given the extreme contrast between the stratigraphy in this area and other portions of RF #1, it would be unwarranted to argue that the rest of the RF #1 complex was not constructed until Tepeu 2/3 times. Further research is needed to determine if this particular platform was constructed late in the history of the RF #1 complex, or if the entire complex was constructed late in the history of Blue Creek.

In 2000, the trenches were subdivided into a series of 1 m x 1 m excavation units, with sediments in excess of 10 cm being arbitrarily subdivided into 10 cm levels. All Pomaceae snails (apple snails) were collected from these units, with the collection of snails allowing us to document an initial increase in snail density within Unit I, followed by a gradual drop off in snail density. Pomaceae are highly sensitive to changes in moisture levels and can be an accurate guide to historic changes in moisture levels (Covich 1983: 124-125). Apple snails prefer wet, aerobic environments, and will move up and down a profile to keep within a wet and aerobic zone5. If the water level was rising while Unit I was

Although our excavations did not fully expose the gravel feature, we can make several observations about this construction. The shallow nature of the feature as exposed in the Bozarth-Cox trench would suggest that the feature was not a dam. It is, however, possible that this trench 34N clipped the edge of a dam, with the feature being considerably thicker in other locations. The gravel feature was clearly not placed in a prehispanic ditch. It is possible that the feature may have been an initial attempt to redirect the stream flowing along the south edge of the RF #1 wetland. Another explanation is that the dam failed, with the


During the 2000 excavations, live snails were found up to 30 cm below the modern ground surface, although they were,

in general, a small percentage of the snails collected from any level.


Jeff Baker stream destroying the upper portion of the dam. Clarification on these issues will have to await further excavations in this area.

coastal aquifers. Implicit in this definition is the assumption that all perennial wetlands are in direct contact with coastal aquifers. The water table in seasonal wetlands on the other hand fluctuates wildly with permanent aquifers lying over 100 m or more below the surface. It should be noted that botanists working in the Maya Lowlands in the 1930s identified perennial wetlands in the Peten that were located over 200 m asl (Bartlett 1936).

Wetland Hydrology Despite the volume of literature discussing both the modern and prehispanic water table (Adams et al. 1990, Antoine et al. 1982; Bloom et al. 1985; Pohl et al. 1990, 1996; Pope and Dahlin 1989; Siemens 1978; Turner 1993) there is little solid data on modern water tables in the Maya Lowlands, in particular those associated with wetlands. It is, however, worth reviewing some of the models and the minimal data that is available, as well as presenting new data from Blue Creek. Understanding wetland hydrology is critical to understanding wetland agriculture.

Other depictions of the wetland hydrology in northern Belize assume that the annual cycle of water level changes within a wetland is regular, with the water level bottoming out at the same time every year and at the same elevation (Pohl et al. 1996). Researchers also assume that the water table is at a uniform elevation across a wetland.

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Two models have attempted to relate wetland variability with the construction of raised fields in the Maya Lowlands (Pope and Dahlin 1989; Siemens 1978). Siemens (1978) notes differences between rivers in karstic environments and those in non-karstic environments within the Maya Lowlands. The primary difference that Siemens focuses upon is the annual variation in water levels, with karstic streams having a variation of less than 1 meter, while non-karstic streams generally had a variation on the order of ten meters (Siemens 1978: 123). Siemens implies that raised fields will not be found in non-karstic terrain. There are several problems with this proposal: (1) Upstream from the Rio Bravo escarpment, Blue Creek appears to have a variability in water level in excess of 1 m, yet this is clearly a karstic environment. (2) In other parts of Mesoamerica, raised fields are found in non-karstic terrain (Siemens 1992). Siemens’ breakdown works better if a distinction is made between vertically and horizontally expanding water tables, rather than karstic versus non-karstic. In areas where the slope is fairly shallow, and streams tend to meander, the water tables will predominantly expand in a horizontal direction following heavy rains. In areas where slopes are steep, streams and rivers tend to be entrenched, with heavy rains causing the water table to expand vertically. Following the discussion of the evidence from Blue Creek we will briefly return to the distinction between vertically and horizontally expanding water tables.

The assumption that the water table in low-lying wetlands of northern Belize is tied to sea level is based upon Dennis Puleston’s research at Albion Island. Puleston installed a water gauge in a wetland at Albion Island to monitor seasonal fluctuations in water levels (Bloom et al. 1985). The initial analysis of the water gauge noted noted twice daily fluctuations in the water level, which researchers assumed was related to tidal changes (Antoine et al. 1982: 228). This evidence was used to argue for a close connection between sea level and the water table at Albion Island, located 70 km from the coast6. A subsequent re-analysis of the water gauge data noted that changes in the readings on the water gauge closely correlated with sunrise and sunset rather than tidal changes (Bloom et al 1985: 21). This led researchers to conclude that the pattern observed in the Albion Island water level gauge was not influenced by tides, but by the heating of the gauge in the morning when the sun rose, and the cooling off of the gauge in the evenings when the sun set. In spite of this reanalysis, researchers continue to assume that there is a close tie between sea level and the water table of freshwater wetlands in northern Belize (e.g. LuzzaderBeach and Beach 2008; Pohl et al. 1996). Based upon data from Ambergris Cay, it is unlikely that tidal changes off the coast of Belize have a significant influence on the modern water table at Albion Island. On Ambergris Cay, tidal changes on the seaward side of the island are 45 cm, while those on the mainland side are less than 37 cm (Ebanks 1975: 243). In intra-island lagoons on Ambergris Cay, the “maximum tidal range was 0.5 ft (15 cm), and more often, almost nil” (Ebanks 1975: 243). If tidal changes barely influence the lagoons on Ambergris Cay, less than two kilometer from the sea, it is difficult to conceive of tides influencing the water levels at Albion Island, 75 km from the coast. There is currently no evidence that tidal changes or sea level changes

Pope and Dahlin (1989: 91) expanded Siemens scheme to encompass wetlands. Based upon hydrology, Pope and Dahlin identify five types of wetland ecosystems in the Maya Lowlands: (1) Perennial swamps associated with karstic rivers. (2) Perennial and seasonal wetlands associated with non-karstic rivers; (3) Perennial swamps associated with depressions that have a permanent high water table; (4) Seasonal swamps associated with depressions that have a seasonally perched water table; (5) Coastal wetland ecosystems. For Pope and Dahlin, the water table in perennial wetlands fluctuates between 1 and 2 meters during the year, with the water table reflecting changes in the


Seventy km is not an unheard of distance for tidal wetlands, but it is near the upper limit (Mitsch and Gosselink 1992: 269). 122

Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) influence (or influenced) any inland water table in northern Belize (Baker 2003). This does not mean that tidal changes do not influence any wetland in northern Belize, simply that there is no evidence documenting the relationship between the tides and the water table in any wetland. A connection between inland water tables and sea level must be established independently for each wetland studied. In some wetlands, a connection between sea level changes and the water table will probably be demonstrated. In other wetlands, there will be no connection between sea level and the water table (Baker 2003: 189).

wetland would not have converted a perennial wetland into a seasonal wetland (Figure 7.6). This would only be possible if the wetland had a perched water table. There is, therefore, no possibility that the water table within the RF #3 wetland was influenced by sea level changes.

Pope and Dahlin’s typology assumes that perennial wetlands will be in direct contact with regional water tables, while seasonal wetlands will have a perched water table. Evidence from northwestern Belize calls this assumption into question. Data from the site of Sierra de Agua in northwestern Belize provides unambiguous evidence that a perennial wetland can be associated with a perched water table (Baker 2003: 189). At this site, a perennial wetland is located at a higher elevation than an adjacent seasonal wetland (Figure 7.6). If the water table associated with the perennial wetland rested on sea water, we should expect the seasonal wetland (at a lower elevation) to be perennial as well.

Figure 7.6. Depiction of the Variability in Perched vs. Regional Water Tables. In the upper figure, the wetland penetrates the regional water table. Redirecting a stream that flows into this wetland would have no significant effect on the water table at this location. The lower figure contains a perched water table. Redirecting a drainage that feeds this wetland would have the potential of “draining” the wetland. It is argued that this is the situation present in RF 3 at Blue Creek.

Although there is currently no evidence to allow us to determine whether other wetlands in the Rio Bravo Depression are perched, it is this author’s opinion that the water tables in the other wetlands at Blue Creek and elsewhere in northwestern Belize are also perched. The variable water chemistry characteristic of wetlands in northwestern Belize supports this interpretation (Luzzader-Beach and Beach 2008). At Blue Creek, the combination of perched water tables and Mennonite modifications to the landscape should give pause to those researchers who assume that the water chemistry observed today is identical with the water chemistry the Maya would have dealt with. In the case of both the RF #1 and RF #2 wetlands, aerial photographs clearly show the existence of old lagoons in the center of the wetlands. Before these lagoons were filled in, they would have served as a reservoir of freshwater that could have helped to offset the somewhat toxic nature of the spring water. In regard to the RF #2 wetland, we also can not rule out the possibility that a stream flowed into the wetland from the south, carrying additional freshwater into the RF #2 wetland (and, ultimately, into the RF #1 wetland).7

Figure 7.5. Idealized Topographic Profile Across the Terrain at Sierra de Agua. The wetland on the left hand side of the figure is a perennial wetland, while the wetland on the right is a seasonal wetland (Not drawn to scale).

Data from the RF #3 wetland at Blue Creek also provides evidence that the water table is perched. Between 1997 and 2000 this wetland remained dry as late as the first week in July (observations of this wetland after the first week in July have not been made, although it appears to have flooded following Hurricane Keith). Yet, as noted above, local informants describe this wetland as a perennial wetland prior to the redirection of the drainage that supplied the wetland. This wetland was never drained by the Mennonites, they simply redirected water around the wetland. In fact, the landscape modifications undertaken by the Mennonites have removed any trace of an external drainage from the wetland. If the RF #3 wetland had been in contact with the regional aquifer, then simply redirecting a stream that flowed into the


At Sierra de Agua, an aguada also is associated with the raised field complex. Today, this aguada is almost completely filled in. 123

Jeff Baker

Research at Blue Creek also has provided information on spatial and temporal fluctuations of the water table within a single wetland. On May 21, 1996, the RF #1 wetland was covered by a thin layer of water following several weeks of afternoon showers8. On June 15, 2000, the water table in an open backhoe trench (Op 34R) was 0.72 m below the modern ground surface. Another backhoe trench (Op 34M), located 44 m away from the Op. 34R, penetrated to a depth of 1.37 m without encountering the water table.9

If the approach used by Pohl and others had been utilized at Blue Creek, different results would have been achieved depending upon whether RF #1 was studied in 1996 or 2000. Although the excavations discussed here did not find any evidence for a buried soil10, we will, for the sake of this argument, assume that one exists 1.0 m below the modern ground surface. Based upon the water level on May 21 of 1996, we would have argued that the water table, and hence the sea level, had risen by over 1.0 m since the buried soil had been deposited. If we had studied Blue Creek in 2000, our results would have varied depending upon where in the wetland we conducted our studies. In Op. 34R, we would have concluded that the water table had risen by less than 0.4 m, while in Op. 34M, we would have concluded that the water table had dropped by over 0.4 m. Using the methods of Pohl and others, we would have reached different conclusions depending upon not only when, but where the water table was monitored. It is worth returning briefly to the discussion about vertically and horizontally expanding water tables that initiated this discussion. It is clear that in some areas of the Maya Lowlands, the water table primarily expands horizontally while in other areas, the water table expands vertically. The Rio Bravo Depression sits at the boundary between the horizontally expanding water table of the Belizean coastal plain and the vertically expanding water table of the Peten physiographic region. Although we have no solid data on the fluctuations of Blue Creek or Rio Bravo east of the escarpment, the channel of Blue Creek is regularly two m or more below the floodplain at the beginning of May. Yet, it is known that the river will top its banks during the height of the rainy season. A river with a vertical rise over two m is not consistent with the criteria Siemens and Pope and Dahlin established for horizontally expanding streams. In addition, at least one wetland within the Rio Bravo Depression has both a perched water table and raised fields.

Figure 7.7. Drawing Depicting the Elevation of the Water Table within RF 1 at Blue Creek in 1996 and 2000.

This clearly indicates that the water table within a single wetland may vary in its elevation on a single date. This data also calls into question the approach used by Pohl and her colleagues in studying changes in wetland hydrology (Antoine et al. 1982; Bloom et al. 1985; Pohl et al. 1990, 1996). Pohl and others use a research design based upon sampling single points in a wetland one time only, with the timing being in late May, when they assume the water levels are at their lowest (Pohl et al. 1996: 364). In the research conducted by Pohl and her colleagues, water levels are measured relative to the modern ground surface, with no attempt to identify variability in the elevation of the water table across a single wetland, much less between two different wetlands.

In the Peten physiographic region, wetlands are usually described as seasonal, with a very deep aquifer (e.g. Pope and Dahlin 1989), yet perennial wetlands are present (Bartlett 1936). More recent evidence in the Peten has demonstrated that some of the seasonal wetlands used to be perennial in the past (Dunning et al. 2002; Jacob 1995). Although I would agree with Siemens that raised fields are going to be associated with horizontally expanding water tables, rather than vertically expanding water tables, it is clear that even in areas where the predominant water table is vertically expanding, there are wetlands with perched water tables. The perched water tables are predominantly


Over the next month, rain became less frequent and the water table dropped by approximately 70 cm. Unfortunately, we did not attempt to record the absolute elevation of the water table in June 1996, and thus can not accurately compare the elevation in late June of 1996 with data collected in other years. 9 Although our evidence from the Rio Bravo Depression is based upon different times of the year, the conventional wisdom would place the water table on June 15 at a higher elevation than it would be on May 21. It should be noted that, even in 1996, the water table dropped between May 21 and June 15. We do not, however, have any data on subsurface water elevations in the locations of Trenches R and M from the middle of June 1996.


Research elsewhere at Blue Creek has provided evidence for a buried soil horizon around 1.25 m below the modern ground surface (Beach et al. 2004; Luzzader et al. 2012). 124

Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) horizontally expanding. Wetlands with perched, perennial water tables can and do contain raised fields.

References Cited Adams, R.E.W., T.P. Culbert, W.E. Brown, P.D. Harrison and L.J. Levi 1990 Rebuttal to Pope and Dahlin. Journal of Field Archaeology 17: 241-243.

When studying the water table and its relationship to the various strata in a wetland, researchers need to be aware of the influence that year-to-year variability in rainfall has on the water table and on the various processes occurring within the wetland.

Antoine, Pierre P., Richard L. Skarie and Paul R. Bloom 1982 The Origin of Raised Fields Near San Antonio, Belize: An Alternative Hypothesis. In Maya Subsistence: Studies in Memory of Dennis E. Puleston, edited by Kent V. Flannery, pp. 227-236.

Finally, although I have not provided an in-depth discussion (see Baker 2003: 157-166) of sea level changes, several comments need to be made regarding the water table in northwestern Belize: (1) Current research posits the sea level of the eastern coast of the Yucatan as being no more than 1 meter below modern levels at 3,000 years ago, with most researchers arguing for a sea level at or above modern levels 3,000 years ago (Mazzulo et al. 1987; McLaren and Gardner 2000; Pohl et al. 1996; Westphal 1986). (2) Archaeological research off the coast of Belize (both immediately adjacent to the main land and on the Keys) has found the remains of Late Classic structures that are up to one meter below modern sea level (Guderjan 1995; McKillop 1995, 2007: 21). (3) Researchers who argue that rising sea levels impacted wetlands during the Preclassic and/or Classic Periods need to explain how they reconcile a model of sea level rise with items (1) and (2).

Baker, Jeffrey L. 1993 Maya Wetlands Project: Ecology and Subsistence in Prehispanic Belize. Dissertation Research Proposal. Document on file with the Anthropology Department, University of Arizona.

Summary and Conclusions Research into wetland agriculture between 1996 and 2000 produced unambiguous evidence that the rectilinear patterns observed in aerial photographs are the remnants of prehispanic agricultural features. Although no decisive evidence was recovered to date the features, at least one platform at Blue Creek was constructed near the end of the Late Classic or possibly in the Terminal Classic. There also is absolutely no evidence for any significant change in the level of the water table in any of the Blue Creek wetlands.


Maya Wetlands: Ecology and Pre-Hispanic Utilization of Wetlands in Northwestern Belize. Ph.D Dissertation. UMI, Ann Arbor.


The Wet or the Dry?: Agricultural Intensification in the Maya Lowlands. In Seeking a Richer Harvest: The Archaeology of Subsistence Intensification, Innovation and Change, edited by Tina Thurston and Chris Fisher, pp. 63-90. Springer Science, New York.

Bartlett, Harley H. 1936 A Method of Procedure for Field Work in Tropical American Phytogeography Based Upon a Botanical Reconnaissance in Parts of British Honduras and the Peten Forest of Guatemala. In Botany of the Maya Area, edited by Cyrus Lundell, pp. 1-26. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication 461. Washington, D.C.

This research at Blue Creek also exposes several myths associated with wetland agriculture. Based upon the research discussed in this chapter, researchers can no longer assume that the water table in a single wetland is associated with sea level. It also should be apparent that the elevation of the water table on the date when field work takes place can not be used as a proxy elevation for extrapolating prehistoric changes in water levels. Finally, we cannot assume that water tables have a uniform elevation across the wetland.

Beach, Timothy and Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach 2004 Blue Creek 2004 Field Season Report: Geomorphology, Pollen, and Hydrology Investigations. In 2004 Season Summaries of the Blue Creek Regional Political Ecology Project, Upper Northwestern Belize, edited by Jon C. Lohse and Kerry L. Sabebiel, pp. 4353. Report Submitted to the Institute of Archaeology, National Institute of Culture and History, Belmopan, Belize. Maya Research Program, Ft. Worth and University of Texas at Austin.

Work in the Blue Creek wetlands has also exposed the fallacies of assuming that natural processes occurring in a wetland are uniform across the wetland. Research into wetland ecology has amply demonstrated how autochthonous processes can be mistaken for allochthonous processes such as climate change (e.g. Frenzel 1983). Maya archaeologists would be wise to take these lessons into account when studying wetlands.

Beach, Timothy, Sheryl Luzzader-Beach, Nicholas Dunning, John Jones and John Lohse 2006 Bajo and Wetland Agriculture Around Blue Creek and the Three Rivers Region, Belize. Paper Presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of 125

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Bloom, Paul R., Mary Pohl and Julie Stein 1985 Analysis of Sedimentation and Agriculture Along the Rio Hondo, Northern Belize. In Prehistoric Lowland Maya Environment and Subsistence Economy, edited by Mary Pohl, pp. 21-33. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 77. Harvard University, Cambridge. Brokaw, Nicholas V.L. and Elizabeth P. Mallory 1993 Vegetation of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, Belize. Manomet Bird Observatory, Manomet, MA. Coe, Michael 1964 The Chinampas of American 211: 90-98.


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Scientific Guderjan, Thomas H. 1995 Maya Settlement and Trade on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Ancient Mesoamerica 2: 147159.

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Guderjan, Thomas H., Jeffrey L. Baker and Robert J. Lichtenstein 2003 Environmental and Cultural Diversity at Blue Creek. In Heterarchy, Political Economy, and the Ancient Maya: The Three Rivers Region of the East-Central Yucatan Peninsula, edited by Vernon L. Scarborough, Fred Valdez, Jr., and Nicholas Dunning, pp. 77-91. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Cowardin, Lewis M., Virginia Carter, Francis C. Golet and Edward T. LaRoe 1979 Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States. Wildlife Service Publication 79/31. U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

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Denevan, William M. and R. W. Bergman 1974 Karinya Indian Swamp Cultivation in the Venezuelan Llanos. Yearbook, Association of Pacific Coast Geographers 37: 24-33.

Hinckley, Katherine 1997 A Mennonite Landscape: The Blue Creek Community. Occasional Paper 1, Maya Research Program, San Antonio.

Denevan, William and B.L. Turner II 1974 Forms, Functions and Association of Raised Fields in the Old World Tropics. Journal of Tropical Geography 39: 24-33.

Jacob, John 1995 Archaeological Pedology in the Maya Lowlands. In Pedological Perspectives in Archaeological Research, pp. 51-80. Special Publication 44. Soil Science Society of America, Madison.

Dunning, Nicholas P., Vernon L. Scarborough, T. Patrick Jones, John G. Jones, Sheryl Luzzader-Beach, and Timothy Beach 2002 Arising from the Bajos: The Evolution of a Neotropical Landscape and the Rise of Maya Civilization. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92(2): 267-283.

King, R.B., I.C. Baillie, T.M.B. Abell, J.R. Dunsmore, D.A. Gray, Jr., J.H. Pratt, H.R. Pratt, H.R. Versey, A.C.S. Wright and S.A. Zisman 1992 Land Resource Assessment of Northern Belize. Natural Resource Institute Bulletin. Overseas Development Administration, United Kingdom.

Ebanks, William, Jr. 1975 Holocene Carbonate Sedimentation and Diagenesis, Ambergris Cay, Belize. In Belize Shelf – Carbonate Sediments, Clastic Sediments, and Ecology, edited by Kenneth F. Wantland and Walter C. Pusey III, pp. 234126

Wetland Investigations at Blue Creek: The Early Years (1996-2000) Kunen, Julie, T. Patrick Culbert, Vilma Fialko, Brian R. McKee and Liwy Grazioso 2000 Bajo Communities: A Case Study from the Central Peten. Culture & Agriculture 22(3): 15-31.

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Lundell, Cyrus 1937 The Vegetation of the Peten. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 478. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.

Pohl, Mary D. and Paul R. Bloom 1996 Prehistoric Maya Farming in the Wetlands of Northern Belize: More Data From Albion Island and Beyond. In The Managed Mosaic: Ancient Maya Agriculture and Resource Use, edited by Scott L. Fedick, pp. 145-164. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

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Pohl, Mary D., Paul R. Bloom and Kevin O. Pope 1990 Interpretation of Wetland Farming in Northern Belize: Excavations at San Antonio Rio Hondo. In In Ancient Maya Wetland Agriculture: Excavations on Albion Island, Northern Belize, edited by Mary D. Pohl, pp. 187-254. Westview Press, Boulder.

Luzzadder-Beach, Cheryl, Timothy Beach, Jon Lohse, and Sara Millspaugh 2006 Water Chemistry and Human Impacts on Environmental Change in Blue Creek, Belize. Paper Presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Thursday, April 27, 2006. San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Pohl, Mary D., Kevin O. Pope, John G. Jones, John S. Jacob, Dolores R. Piperno, Susan D. deFrance, David L. Lentz, John A. Gifford, Marie E. Danforth and J. Kathryn Josserand 1996 Early Agriculture in the Maya Lowlands. Latin American Antiquity 7: 355-372. Pope, Kevin O. and Bruce H. Dahlin 1989 Ancient Maya Wetland Agriculture: New Insights From Ecological and Remote Sensing. Journal of Field Archaeology 16: 87106.

Mathewson, Kent 1985 Taxonomy of Raised and Drained Fields: A Morphogenetic Approach. In Prehistoric Intensive Agriculture in the Tropics, edited by Ian S. Farrington, pp. 835-849. BAR Reports, Internation Series 232. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford. Mazzullo, S.J., A.M. Reid and J.M. Gregg 1987 Dolomitization of Holocene Mg-calcite Supratidal Deposits, Ambergris Cay, Belize. Geological Society of America 98: 224-231.

Pope, Kevin O., Mary D. Pohl, and John S. Jacob 1996 Formation of Ancient Maya Wetland Fields: Natural and Anthropogenic Processes. In The Managed Mosaic: Ancient Maya Agriculture and Resource Use, edited by Scott L. Fedick, pp. 165-176. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

McLaren, Sue and Rita Gardner 2000 New Radiocarbon Dates from a Holocene Aeolianite, Isla Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico. The Holocene 10: 757-761.

Pospisil, Leopold 1963 Kapauku Papuan Economy. Yale University Publications in Anthropology, Vol. 67. Yale University Press, New Haven.

McKillop, Heather 1995 Underwater Archaeology, Salt Production and Coastal Maya Trade at Stingray Lagoon, Belize. Latin American Antiquity 6:241-228.

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Ancient Mariners on the Belizean Coast: Stingrays, Seafood, and Salt. Belizean Studies 29(2): 15-28.

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A Favored Place: San Juan River Wetlands, Central Veracruz, A.D. 500 to the Present. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Sluyter, Andrew 1994 Intensive Agriculture in Mesoamerica: Space, Time and Form. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84: 557-584. Turner, B.L. II 1993 Rethinking the “New Orthodoxy”: Interpreting Ancient Maya Agriculture and Environment. In Culture, Form and Place: Essays in Cultural and Historical Geography, edited by Kent Mathewson, pp. 57-88. Geoscience and Man, Vol. 32. Geoscience Publications, Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. Turner, B.L. II and William M. Denevan 1985 Prehistoric Manipulation of Wetlands in the Americas: A Raised Field Perspective. In Prehistoric Intensive Agriculture in the Tropics, edited by Ian S. Farrington, pp. 1130. BAR Internation Series 232. British Archaeological Reports, Oxford. Westphal, M. J. 1986 Anatomy and History of a Ringed-Reef Complex, Belize, Central America. M.Sc. Thesis. University of Miami. Wilken, Gene C. 1968 Drained-Field Agriculture in Southwestern Tlaxcala, Mexico. National Research Council, Washington, D.C.


Chapter 8 The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock noted. This trend indicates a Late Formative period (400 BC – AD 250) shift from the widespread use of San Martin Jilotepeque to a greater reliance on El Chayal obsidian, which lasted throughout the Early Classic period (AD 250 – 900) and into the Late Classic (AD 600 – 900). During the Late Classic period, there was an increased use of obsidian from the Ixtepeque source which continued into, and became more pronounced during, the early Post Classic period (AD 900 – 1200).

Introduction That “man doth not live by bread alone” is as true for the Maya as it was for the ancient populations of the Middle East. Although foodstuffs, such as maize, beans, squash, and other comestibles, undoubtedly formed a central part of the Maya economy, it is primarily other, non-perishable materials that comprise the bulk of the material recovered in archaeological contexts. Among the most enduring of these nonperishable items are those made from ceramic or stone. Considerable research has focused on these materials over the years (Hester and Hammond 1976; Hester and Shafer 1991; Kerr and Kerr 1990, 1994, 2000; Rice and Sharer 1987; among others), aptly demonstrating that objects manufactured from these materials were traded between sites and with some being exchanged on an inter-regional scale.

This pattern, however, is based on a bi-variant paradigm, one that focuses strictly on source and temporal context and excludes other variables such as function and archaeological context. It is the opinion of the authors of this work that other variables, particularly function as ascertained by depositional context, affect the type of obsidian utilized. Recent studies advocating a broader tri-variant model (one that includes function as well as the traditional source and time variables) have demonstrated correlations between obsidian sources and contexts that may indicate the use of different trade networks during the Classic period (Brown et al. 2004; Haines 2000). Moreover, the tendency in previous works to assay material from a limited type of contexts (generally elite and/or ritual in nature) and generally from a single site, may have inadvertently created a skewed pattern of obsidian consumption during the Late Formative and Classic periods and obscured more nuanced subtleties inherent in the obsidian exchange process.

Of these non-perishable goods, obsidian is perhaps the best for clearly elucidating the geographical distances encompassed by these long-distance exchange networks. A naturally occurring volcanic glass, obsidian was highly valued in many parts of the world for its sharp cutting edge (Ambrose and Green 1972; Ambrose and Duerden 1982; Ammerman 1985; Ammerman and Andrefsky 1982; Ammerman et al. 1978, 1990; Dixon et al. 1968; Elam 1993; Hatch et al. 1990; Leach et al. 1978; Stanish et al. 2002; Tykot 1992, 1996; Yacobaccio 2004). Among the Maya, obsidian had both a ritual as well as utilitarian value (Awe and Healy 1994; Dreiss 1989; Ford 1997; Mitchum 1989; Spence 1996; Moholy-Nagy 1989). As part of the formation process, obsidian develops distinct elemental compositions that can be used to trace artifacts back to their geographical origin. In Mesoamerican studies, this information has been used to predict trade routes (Hammond 1972) and to propose possible methods of exchange (Dreiss and Brown 1989; Tourtellot and Sabloff 1972; Thompson 1964).

Using the material from the Blue Creek Ruin, Orange Walk, Belize this paper serves to broaden the scope of Maya obsidian studies by presenting material from a wide range of contexts. Focusing on the material excavated from the site core and settlement area between 1992 and 1997, this paper demonstrates the significance of including function as a variable in obsidian studies for furthering of understanding of how obsidian was exchanged among the Maya.

The vast majority of obsidian found at Maya sites comes from sources in what is now the Guatemalan Highlands, although some material originated in the Basin of Mexico. Previous studies have focused primarily on identifying when various sources were utilized in order to examine variations in the patterns of obsidian exchange and consumption (Andrews et al. 1989; Fowler et al. 1989; Hammond 1978; Healy et al. 1984;), and as such, focus on the temporal distribution patterns of material from the various obsidian sources exploited. Through these studies, a distinct trend in the obsidian consumption of the ancient Maya has been

The Geography and Geology of the Maya World The Maya region encompasses an area from the Yucatan Peninsula south into the Sierra Madre Mountains, west into the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas, and east into Honduras. The topography of the area is highly diverse, ranging from volcanically active metamorphic mountains in the south that rise over 3000 meters, through low rolling limestone and karst hills as one moves north, then out onto the broad, low limestone shelf that, at less than 129

Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock 200 meters above sea level, forms the majority of the Yucatan Peninsula (Bateson and Hall 1977; Hammond 1983; Lene 1997; Wright et al. 1959; Sharer 1994:1943). This territory is traditionally divided into two larger resource zones, referred to as the Highlands and the Lowlands, with elevation, vegetation and cultural variations form the defining criteria for these zones.

crystalline formations also gives obsidian an edge so sharp it is “cleaved to the last particle of matter” (Crabtree 1968:471). When this material is expelled in molten form into the surrounding region, it attracts and retains traces of various mineral elements from the surrounding rocks. As these mineral elements are collected, each obsidian source acquires a distinctive composition of elements. These elements form the basis for the chemical compositional analysis. Although differences are greatest between different obsidian sources, smaller differences may occur between different outcrops within the same source, allowing for the identification of material to specific areas or quarries (Braswell 1996:124-126; Braswell and Glascock 1992; Glascock et al. 1988).

The Highlands comprise the southern part of the Maya realm, and are defined geographically as those areas over 2000 feet (600 meters) (Borhegyi 1965a, 1965b). The mountains of this region are part of the volcanic ranges that make up the Sierra Madres. They consist of both relatively young, rugged and still volcanically active mountains, as well as older, timeworn volcanic complexes. Contained within the older mountains at elevations of 5,000 to 8,000 feet (1500-2400 meters) are fertile valleys and plateaus of pine and oak trees (Borhegyi 1965a). The younger mountains are more rugged and correspondingly more dramatic, rising to elevations of 13,000 feet (3900 meters) (Borhegyi 1965a). Volcanic activity in the Sierra Madres resulted in the creation of obsidian deposits that were later utilised by the Maya for tools. Other mountainous resources were also utilised by the Maya, including iron pyrite, specular hematite, cinnabar, albite and jade (Borhegyi 1965a; Hammond et al. 1977; Sharer 1994; Thompson 1990).

Because of its igneous nature obsidian sources are limited to the volcanic zones of the Sierra Madres that form the Maya Highlands, as well as areas of Central Mexico. Obsidian does not occur on the limestone shelf that forms the base of the Lowland Maya realm and any pieces found in this area were imported from one of two regions. Obsidian sources in Mesoamerica are generally divided into two regions, referred to as Central Mexico and the Guatemalan Highlands. The Mexican sources stretch from the Pacific Coast of Jalisco and Nayarit east through northern Michoacan into north-central Veracruz. The Guatemalan sources start along the Mexican-Guatemalan border and extend south-east through the Sierra Madres and into the southwestern corner of Honduras (Figure 8.1). While these areas contain numerous obsidian deposits, only a few were utilised by Mesoamerican populations (Sidrys et al. 1972).

Consisting of low limestone and karst hills in the south, the Maya Lowland regions opens out into a wide, low limestone shelf to the north and forms the largest part of the Yucatan Peninsula and correspondingly the largest section of the Maya realm (Sharer, 1994:19-43). Two distinct biomes are present in the Maya Lowlands, the high canopy of the Central or Peten Region in the south and the lower xerophytic vegetation of the Northern Yucatan and Coastal areas (Sharer 1994:3334; Wright et al. 1959:204-232). While divisions between the Highland and Lowland areas are often gradual and include transition zones, some areas, such as the Maya Mountains and, to a lesser extent, the Northern Escarpment in Belize, are quite dramatic (Bateson and Hall 1977; Hammond 1983; Lene 1997).




Ritual Burial Domestic


Waste/Domestic Waste Indeterminate


A Brief Background on the Nature of Obsidian


Obsidian is a naturally occurring glass created by pyroclastic volcanic action. This action allows for two very disparate, and rather contradictory, processes to occur: first, volatile components are able to escape, a process which involves rock cooling slowly, and second, the formation of crystals is prevented, an event which occurs when the rock cools rapidly (Glascock 1994). When a balance between these actions occurs (i.e., when there is a rate of cooling slow enough to allow for the emission of the volatile components but rapid enough to preclude the formation of a crystalline structure), the result is obsidian. The absence of a crystalline structure offers stone craftsmen a material without pre-determined planes of cleavage that fractures under less force than chert. This absence of





Figure 8.1. Assayed Obsidian by Functional Context

A Prelude to the Blue Creek Obsidian Study Obsidian was recognized from the earliest days of Mesoamerican archaeology as an imported trade good worthy of separation from the general ‘lithic’ category (Fuller 1927; Holmes 1900; MacCurdy 1900). Hampered however, by a lack of reliable means with which to accurately ascertain the original source of the obsidian these early studies could do little but describe 130

The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize the pieces. Color and inclusions were frequently used as descriptive indices but with the exception of Pachuca obsidian (a distinctive green/gold) this attribute could do little to aid in identification of the geological point of origin.

not consider the selective nature of human behavior and its effects on long-distance trade networks and demands for goods. In the late 1970’s and 1980’s, a shift in the general obsidian research paradigm occurred with many researchers choosing to focus their attention on material from a single site (Braswell et al. 1994; Ford et al. 1997; Fowler et al. 1989; Graham et al. 1972, 1978; Hammond 1983; McKillop 1989, 1995; McKillop and Jackson 1988; Mitchum 1994; MohoyNagy 1976, 1989; Neivens and Libby 1976). As increasing numbers of studies used INAA or XRF to document obsidian consumption patterns, the corpus of information regarding types of obsidian present at different sites in different time periods expanded and a pattern emerged with startling clarity. Sites throughout the Maya lowland with identifiable Middle and/or early Late Formative period deposits revealed that San Martin Jilotepeque material was common during these periods. At some point during the latter part of the Late Formative, the use of this material appeared to decline and El Chayal obsidian became the preferred obsidian source as evinced at sites with strong Classic period components.

The possibility of tracing artefacts back to their original source has implications for understanding inter-site relations, resource procurement, and distribution networks. Consequently, many different types of tests have been investigated, including fission track analysis (Duranni et al. 1971), measurement of artefact density (Reeves and Armitage 1973), thermoluminescence (Huntley and Bailey 1978), Mössbauer spectroscopy (Longworth and Warren 1979), and measurement of natural radioactivity (Leach et al. 1978). During the latter part of the 20th century, scientific methods were developed that allowed for elemental analysis of geological material. The three primary scientific means that were ascribed to by archaeologists were X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (XRF), Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA), and Proton Induced X-Ray Emission (PIXE). The latter technique (PIXE), although popular initially, has been used less frequently than the other two methods. Both XRF and INAA have prevailed in obsidian sourcing studies during the later half of the 20th century and virtually all Mesoamerican obsidian analyses conducted during this time period have employed one of these techniques. The majority of analyses conducted in the past decade have used the INAA procedure.

Theories put forth to explain the shift in obsidian consumption pattern have tended to focus on activities at the production end (Brown 1977; Santley 1983; Sidrys and Kimberlin 1979), with competition between the two highlands sources, motivated by desire to control the highland obsidian export industry, affecting the availability of lowland resources (Arnaud 1990; Michels 1976; Nelson 1985; Sanders 1977; Sidrys and Kimberlin 1979). Although the ultimate outcome of this competition is considered to have been the domination and closure the San Martin Jilotepeque source by those utilizing the El Chayal source (Arnaud 1990; Brown 1977; Michels 1976; Nelson 1985; Sanders 1977; Santley 1983; Sidrys and Kimberlin 1979), recent work by Braswell has discovered that the San Martin Jilotepeque source was not quite as marginalized or abandoned as previously thought (Braswell 1996, 2002). While the region did suffer a population decline at the end of the Late Formative, this was only a temporary occurrence with Early Classic occupations revealing a dense and well developed site hierarchy. As many of these Early Classic settlements are located in close proximity to obsidian quarries and have yielded large amount of highly specialized debitage it seems clear that the occupants of these San Martin Jilotepeque sites were producing obsidian artifacts for exchange during the Early Classic and Late Classic periods. So the question we must now ask ourselves is not were San Martin Jilotepeque obsidian artifacts being produced for export in the Classic period, but rather where were the San Martin Jilotepeque obsidian artifacts going during the Early Classic period?

Using these techniques archaeologist are able to trace obsidian artifacts back to their source of origin, allowing for more in-depth discussions of obsidian exchange to occur. One of the first concerted efforts to understand obsidian exchange networks was presented by Hammond in the seminal work Obsidian Trade Routes (1972). In this work Hammond, while acknowledging contemporaneous utilization of material from different sources, focused on the proximity to rivers or other passages to explain the distribution of obsidian through the Maya realm. This “ease of access” outlook adopted a practical view of obsidian exchange that precluded obstructions resulting from territoriality or political interference, of which very little was known at this time. As the Maya primarily relied upon human carriers to transport goods between regions, the use and importance of rivers in the Maya trade networks has been acknowledged as an accepted fact (Adams 1978; Chase and Chase 1989; Edwards 1978; Guderjan 1988, 1993; Guderjan and Garber 1995; Hammond 1976; Johnson 1976; McKillop and Jackson 1988; Rathje 1972; Rathje et al. 1978; Sidrys 1977; Vail 1988). Another predictive model put forth to explain obsidian distribution was based on “mass-distance measures” (Sidrys 1979), but again this simplistic approach, did

Using the material from the Blue Creek Ruin, Orange Walk, Belize this paper serves to answer this question 131

Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock by broadening the scope of Maya obsidian studies by presenting material from a wide range of contexts. Focusing on the material excavated from the site core and settlement area between 1992 and 1997, this paper demonstrates the significance of including function as a variable in obsidian studies for furthering of understanding of how obsidian was exchanged among the Maya. The remainder of this paper will focus on the Blue Creek site, with detailed explanation of the material excavated and how it can help refined our currently held beliefs about obsidian distribution and consumption patterns.

obsidian artifacts albeit in varying quantities. A total of 1127 pieces of obsidian were recovered between 1992 and 1997 inclusive (Appendix 1). The artifacts were found in a wide range of archaeological contexts throughout the site and surrounding settlement zone. From this collection, 212 pieces were selected for chemical testing. As the aim of this research was to provide a broad overview of consumption patterns both within and around the site core, pieces were selected to equitable represent the wide spectrum of archaeological and social contexts present at the Blue Creek Ruin. These pieces were sent to the Missouri University Research Reactor (MURR) for instrumental neutron activation analysis conducted by Michael D. Glascock.

Obsidian from Blue Creek – 1992 to 1997 Situated atop the Rio Bravo Escarpment in Northwestern Belize, Blue Creek commands a spectacular view of the northern Belizean Coastal Plain. The confluences of the Rio Bravo and Blue Creek River are clearly visible as is the juncture where they join to form the Rio Hondo. These rivers were undoubtedly a prosperous trade route during the Classic Period, and were probably an important factor in the creation and settlement of the site.

Instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) is a destructive process requiring only a very small amount of material (ideally 100 mg, but as little as 5 mg is possible), and is viable for virtually all pieces of obsidian (Glascock et al. 1994). In the standard procedure, the material required for testing is removed from each artifact using a small trim saw (Glascock 1994, 1998, personal communication 2000). Once the material has been collected from the artifact it is weighed and fractured into smaller pieces before being placed in clean, high-density polyethylene vials (Glascock 1994). Standards are also prepared in the manner, one from Obsidian Rock (SRM-278), and the second from Coal Fly Ash (SRM-19633a) (Glascock 1994, 1998, personal communication 2000). Both the samples and the standards are irradiated (the process being conducted in pairs), for a duration of five seconds in a thermal neutron flux of 8 x 10 13 neutrons cm-2 s-1 in the MURR reactor (Glascock 1994). A decay period of 25 minutes follows the irradiation process, after which the gamma rays emitted from the material are counted for 12 minutes in front of a highpurity germanium detector (Glascock 1994).

As discussed in previous chapters and elsewhere, the Blue Creek Ruin possesses two large plazas aligned roughly north-south along the limestone ridge that forms the Rio Bravo Escarpment (Lene 1997). A third, less well defined plaza, lies slightly to the south of these two, larger and more developed groups (Clayton et al. 2005). The three plazas form the core of the site, with elite residential compounds incorporated both within the site core as well as located on several prominent hills to the west. Additional evidence of non-elite residential occupation was found in the ploughed fields to the west, above the escarpment, and to the east, below the escarpment (Clagett 1997; Litchenstein 1999; Popson and Clagett 1999).

Once counted, the material from the artifacts is compared with the standards, and the concentrations of six elements are ascertained. These six elements are Barium (Ba), Chlorine (Cl), Dysprosium (Dy), Potassium (K), Manganese (Mn), and Sodium (Na). Elements are examined in bivariate plots with 95% confidence ellipses surrounding the course groups and with artifacts projected against these ellipses. Using this technique, obsidian artifacts from northwestern Belize can be assigned to a geological source with a success rate in excess of 95%.

Occupation below the escarpment consisted of two types of architectural groups. The first were low residential platforms arranged in clusters (Clagett 1997; Popson and Clagett 1999). These platforms or substructures would have supported perishable structures made of pole and thatch. The second type of house encountered consisted of simple packed earth and plaster floors that would have once supported simple pole and thatch domicile. Little architectural material from these structures remain beyond traces of plaster floors which are generally surrounded by scatters of domestic refuse material. Identification of these ‘invisible’ houses was possible due to the plowing of the settlement area for farming. Residential complexes on the escarpment were more diverse, including both types found in the fields below the site as well as more elaborate courtyard complexes likely indicative of higher status individuals (Lichtenstein 1997, 2000).

The remaining non-INAA tested material was examined visually, and an additional 514 pieces were identified to source using visual techniques. Although this method is not widely accepted, advocates of the technique have reported a high degree of accuracy (Clark 1988; Clark et al. 1989; McKillop 1995; Braswell et al. 2000). Haines, in a study of 91 pieces, visually identified 51 pieces. Subsequent NAA testing revealed that 49 of the 51 pieces had been correctly identified to their original source, an accuracy rate of 96 per cent (Haines 2000).

All areas at the Blue Creek Ruin (site core, lower settlement zone, and upper settlement zone) yielded 132

The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize It should be noted that the method advocated by Haines, and used here, does not attempt to identify all the material within the collection visually. Rather it is believed that many pieces are characteristic of their site of origin (such green Pachuca obsidian) and that artefacts manufactured from these pieces may be identified, or culled, from the assemblage. It is these 514 pieces combined with the 212 artifacts assayed by INAA testing that will be discussed in the remainder of the paper.

system. Under the first model, as advocated by Barrett for the chert economy at Blue Creek (2005; personal communication 2005), the material is being brought in through an open market system where everyone has equal access to the material. The elites, who have more buying capital are simply able to purchase more of this material for use in rituals. The second model would have the material entering the Blue Creek community through a series of direct or indirect elite exchanges akin to the tribute networks noted by Foias (2002:237238). Once within the community, the material would be primarily consumed by elite ritual activities with some of the material filtering down to households for domestic use.

Discussion of Blue Creek Obsidian Consumption Patterns Obsidian from the Blue Creek Ruin was recovered from a wide range of archaeological contexts that span the Middle Formative period (ca. 600 BC) through to the end of the Late Classic period (ca. AD 900) (Haines 2000) (Table 1). Upon initial examination, the diverse nature of the contexts makes the data appear random, however, a closer examination of the various functions of these contexts reveals a distinct pattern. These function contexts were defined as indicating ritual activities, burials (including personal and mortuary offerings), domestic uses, and waste deposits. A fifth category was deemed necessary for the classification of material from indeterminate contexts (sensu Haines 2000).

Alternatively, it is possible that the material did not flow through a single economic network, but rather through two or more complementary systems of exchange. The bulk of the material used for ritual activities moved through a political exchange network but additional material may have passed directly into the hands of domestic consumers through traveling merchants (Hammond 1978), down-the-line household exchange, or the open market proposed by Barrett (2005). Although one, or all of these models, may explain the obsidian trade from a source, do they explain the trade from all the obsidian sources to which the Blue Creek residents had access? Can we reasonably expect to find a blanket model that will provide the panacea to sooth all the economic exchange models? Or should we consider different models of exchange for different sites? And if this is the case, then what rationale motivated traders to pass the obsidian from different areas through different exchange networks when a single network would be easier and more efficient?

Of the 726 pieces assigned to sources (by INAA or visually), it is clear that the El Chayal obsidian dominates in all periods (Table 2). But is this an accurate representation of the consumption behavior of the residents at Blue Creek? Can we confidently state that the Blue Creek inhabitants consumed El Chayal obsidian in such large quantities because Teotihuacan and Kaminaljuyu controlled the highland obsidian export industry? And what about the material being produced at the SMJ settlements?

When evaluating the means of exchange employed it is important that the mysterious material from San Martin Jilotepeque not be forgotten. At the Blue Creek community, the greatest amount of San Martin Jilotepeque material was recovered from the Late Formative period. But, lesser amounts of this material still appear throughout the Early Classic and Late Classic periods. Additionally, more of this material may be present but undetected due to the large number of artifacts not assayed and the generic matrix of this material that makes visually assaying problematic. What is striking about the SMJ pieces identified is that with the exception of one piece (Table 3), none of the material appears in burial or ritual contexts. The one piece that was assigned to ritual context was recovered from a severely disturbed cache located in the center of the Structure 25 residential courtyard. The cache contained numerous obsidian blades and cores originally placed in, and potentially above, a lipto-lip cache. These vessels were shattered postdepositionally by the roots of a ceiba tree and the material was consequently found dispersed through the construction fill. Consequently, it is possible that the

Closer inspection of the Blue Creek material reveals an interesting trend. Although the El Chayal material is clearly entering the community in large quantities, to which everyone seems to have access, the bulk of the material is being used in ritual activities and burials (Figure 1). During the Late Formative and Early Classic periods, 70 percent of the material is consumed by these activities. This drops to a scarcely lower 63 percent during the Late Classic period. The large proportions of the El Chayal material being used in ritual contexts indicates that the elites were able to monopolize the El Chayal material entering the Blue Creek community. But how did they manage to gain control of the lion’s share of the obsidian? Three economic models exist that may potentially explain the mechanisms, and machinations, behind the obsidian distribution pattern noted at Blue Creek; open market exchange, a political economy, or a dual system that combines a political economic model with either an open market or down-the-line household exchange 133

Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock stray piece of SMJ obsidian was not part of the original cache, but part of the platform fill.

of the Blue Creek site were using both El Chayal and San Martin Jilotepeque obsidian (among others) during the Classic period (Haines 2000).

But if this is the case, then we are left with a proverbial “glass ceiling”, one that restricts the use of San Martin Jilotepeque obsidian from burials and caches, the two most desirable, and frequently tested, Classic period deposits. It is the opinion of these authors that a sampling bias in the selection of obsidian for testing, one that favors these more auspicious deposits. has resulted in obscuring valuable information about the distribution of San Martin Jilotepeque material.

Moreover, use of this tri-variant model revealed that although San Martin Jilotepeque material continued to be used during the Classic period, it appears in a limited number of contexts (common households deposits, domestic refuse, and general construction waste/fill). As the obsidian recovered from more widely sampled contexts (i.e., burials, caches, ritual deposits) was found to be almost exclusively El Chayal. Haines postulates that the preference for testing the more “significant” deposits (caches and burials) has led to a sampling bias that created the false impression that the San Martin Jilotepeque quarries were suppressed or shut-down during the Classic period.

Based on the evidence from the Blue Creek Ruin it seems clear that while the San Martin Jilotepeque material undisputedly declines proportionally to the El Chayal material in the Early Classic period, this shift can be correlated to functional context. El Chayal obsidian is used overwhelmingly in ritual or ceremonial deposits and as a mortuary good, while San Martin Jilotepeque material is restricted to more secular and mundane contexts. The continued presence of San Martin Jilotepeque obsidian at the Blue Creek Ruin during the Classic period supports Braswell’s finding that production in the San Martin Jilotepeque area continued through the Early Classic and Late Classic periods.

We argue it is clear that dual or bi-variant analytical models (ones that exclude contextual information in favour of broad source/time period assessments) obscure valuable information about obsidian production and consumption patterns (Haines 2000). We believe that in order to fully understand the nature of obsidian exchange during the Formative and Classic periods the context in which the obsidian is used must be a key factor in the analysis. A study on the obsidian from Cuello by Brown and others (2004) supports our assertion that context had a major impact on the type of obsidian.

Moreover, the contextual restrictions of the San Martin Jilotepeque material (domestic and other non-ritual deposits), would seem to support Braswell’s contention that the San Martin Jilotepeque material was being moved “though acts of dyadic exchange conducted in a down-the-line fashion” (Braswell 2002:301). This type of exchange network is more likely to supply households and/or lower status domestic groups (Hammond 1978), as oppose to the more restrictive elite tribute networks (Foias 2002). Braswell’s contention that down-the-line exchange mechanisms were used move the San Martin Jilotepeque correlates well with the presence of this material in households and lower status domestic groups. Other types of obsidian may have moved through similar networks, but based on the quantities of the El Chayal material present in ritual and burial contexts it is more likely that the bulk, if not all of this material, was exchanged through a more direct political economic system.

Acknowledgements The authors would like to express their appreciation for the assistance afford them by various institutions whose support made this work possible. We are both particularly grateful to the Government of Belize and the members of the Institute of Archaeology, Belize, first for granting the Maya Research Program permission to excavate, and second for allowing us to export the obsidian for testing at the MURR laboratories. We are especially grateful to National Science Foundation for their grant to Michael D. Glascock (SBR 95-03035) which underwrote much of the cost for the INAA testing. We would also like to thank the University of London for the Central Research Fund grant awarded to Helen R. Haines to cover the additional testing expenses.

Conclusions Based on the evidence presented above it seems clear that the previous models used to explain obsidian consumption patterns in the Classic period need to be reexamined. It is the opinion of these authors that a bias in the selection of obsidian for testing has resulted in obscuring valuable information about the distribution of San Martin Jilotepeque material. Haines’ analysis of the Blue Creek obsidian broke from the traditional analytical model that relied strictly on source and time period and demonstrated through the use of a tri-variant paradigm – one that incorporated context into the analysis process – that the inhabitants

We would also like to extend our thanks to Dr. Thomas Guderjan, Director of the Maya Research Program for allowing us access to the Blue Creek obsidian, and all the countless staff, students, volunteers, and Belizeans who labor produced this obsidian collection.


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The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize 2004

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Archaeological Context Cache Collapse Construction Fill Construction Fill/Collapse Floor Fill Floor Surface H/FS Humus Humus/Collapse Humus/Construction Fill Midden Mortuary Good Other/Indeterminate Plough Zone/Surface Special Deposit Grand Total

Middle Formative

Late Formative 160

4 1


Proto Classic 470


Early Classic 85 1 20

Late Classic 21 1 6

5 8

9 1

1 14 3 7 6 4

99 4 3 6




6 2 2


6 1 73 143

No Date 1 4 16 1 2 2

Total 737 6 52 1 17 25 3 15 11 4 123 8 32 17 76 1127

8 5 11 1 21 10 3 85

Table 8.1. Blue Creek Obsidian by Context and Time Period.

Obsidian Source

Middle Formative

Late Formative


Early Classic

Late Classic

El Chayal








No Date Total

San Martin Jilotepeque












Total Saragossa

1 1





1 59


Table 8.2. Assayed Obsidian by Source and Time Period.

Appendix 1: Obsidian by Structure and Operation

Plaza A

Below is a presentation of all the obsidian collected from the Blue Creek Ruin (assayed as well as unidentified pieces). The material is presented by structure and operation in numerical order. Pieces that have been assigned to source are noted as is the method by which they were identified.

Plaza A is the main compound at the Blue Creek site. Several excavations were conducted in different regions around this plaza. Those that were conducted on the discrete structures are listed below by there structure number. However, those that were conducted into the platform itself are presented here. Of these


Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock excavations two, Operations 35 and 38 yielded obsidian artifacts.

Ixtepeque material and weighed 1.0 grams. All but two pieces were recovered from the construction fill of the building. The two exceptions were El Chayal blades that comprised part of the mortuary assemblage buried in Tomb 4 (see details below).

Operation 35 This excavation yielded one piece identified as a blade fragment. This piece was discovered mix in the general construction fill of the platform and as such no date is yet available for this layer. The piece was sent to MURR for INAA testing, a process which revealed that the piece was Ixtepeque in origin.

Two Late Formative piece were also recovered from general construction fill layers. One piece was a blade fragment manufactured from San Martin Jilotepeque material the second piece was a proximal blade fragment visually identified as being manufactured from El Chayal obsidian. The remaining undated objects consisted of two blade fragments recovered from construction fill and were identified by INAA testing to the El Chayal source.

Operation 38 Two pieces were discovered in different deposits within this excavation. One piece was found in collapsed fill while the second was recovered from an indeterminate context. No dates were available for either of these contexts. Of these two pieces, both proximal blade fragments, only one has been identified to source, this was done visually and determined to be El Chayal.

Tomb 4 The two obsidian blades found in the tomb were placed with bone skewers in a group above the skull (Driver 1995). One blade was intact while the second had been broken in situ. As both blades appeared to be visually identical only the fragmented blade was sent for INAA testing. This blade was identified as being manufactured of El Chayal material, a result that supported the visual assessment of the second piece.

Structure 1 This structure, the largest building at the Blue Creek site, was modified several times during its lifetime (Driver 1996). Of these, Structure 1-IV is the most unusual of the construction epochs. What made this building unusual was the superstructure was a thatched building constructed with two rows of eight columns 1.5 meters in diameter and at least 2.4 meters in height (Driver 1999).

Operation 4 This excavation was conducted to the north (behind) Structure 1, in the narrow alley that runs between Structure 1 and the Ball Court platform (Driver 1996). One piece of obsidian (BC146) was recovered from construction fill in this operation. Unfortunately, this piece was not available for analysis so no data beyond the recovery context is available.

Another feature of note was the discovery of a tomb located in Structure 1-2nd (Driver 1996). This tomb contained the remains of an individual in an extended position with two jade ear flares, three vessels placed on and around the body, and two obsidian blades that were recovered with “bone skewers” from a grouping above the skull (Driver 1995). These blades are discussed separately below.

Structure 2 This structure, one of a pair of small, pyramid shaped buildings, is located on the east side of the platform. Due to intensive looting activities that resulted in a destabilization of the structure core, excavations at this building were limited to exposing the basal course of stones and determining its relation to the building (Structure 3) to the south.

Operation 1 A total of 14 obsidian pieces were recovered from excavations into the structure. Three of these pieces were from contexts determined to be Late Classic in origin, seven were from Early Classic deposits, two were considered Late Formative, and two were recovered from contexts for which no date is yet available.

Operation 36 A single, proximal obsidian blade fragment was found in the miasma of collapse and construction fill that surrounded the structure. This piece was identified by INAA as being constructed of Ixtepeque obsidian. No date is currently available for this deposit.

The three Late Classic pieces were found in construction fill or mixed humus/construction fill deposits. INAA testing revealed that two pieces, both blade fragments, were San Martin Jilotepeque in origin. The third object was a small, intact notched point that was visibly identified as being manufactured from Ixtepeque material.

Structure 3 This structure has been viewed as being a ‘twin’ to Structure 2 to the north, however this structure is slightly smaller than its neighbor to the north (Driver 1999). This structure yielded an interesting architectural feature not previously found at the Blue Creek site. This was a niche, possibly a small room, recessed into the base of the staircase. Within this niche was an irregular shaped burned stone, surrounded

Early Classic pieces consisted of seven blade fragments, six of which were identified as El Chayal in origin, five by INAA testing and one by visual analysis. The seventh piece was visually identified as 142

The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize by the shattered remains of hundreds of vessels (Clayton et al. 2005). The exact importance of this stone has yet to be determined. Within the smashed material around the stone several obsidian fragments were discovered.

of the cache it appears that the greatest majority of the material was placed the lower layer. The obsidian material included in the cache consisted of 27 cores, three core fragments, three flakes or miscellaneous fragments, and 436 blade or blade fragments. Almost three-quarters of the material (324 pieces) was identified, either visually or through INAA testing. All the of the objects identified were found to have been produced from El Chayal material. Twentysix cores were identified through INAA testing, while two of the core fragments were identified visually to this source. INAA testing was used on 37 blades with another 287 blades and one flake being identified visually. Of the remaining four Late Formative obsidian objects, all blade or blade fragments, two came from the construction fill and were not identified. The other two pieces were identified by INAA testing as being El Chayal in origin and came from indeterminate contexts.

Operation 5 A total of 13 obsidian artifacts were recovered from this operation, of which 12 were recovered from the small enclosure surrounding the burnt rock, and one from an undated layer of collapsed material. This later object was a medial blade fragment identified by INAA testing as being made from El Chayal material. The 12 pieces of obsidian discovered in association with the burned stone included two blades, five proximal blade fragments and five medial blade fragments. Seven of the pieces were identified to original source, four being visually identified as El Chayal, while two were identified by INAA as El Chayal obsidian, and one by the same technique as Ixtepeque material. Initial examination of the ceramics discovered in this assemblage suggest a Late Classic date for the deposit.

Obsidian recovered from Early Classic contexts consists exclusively of blade or blade fragments. Seven objects were recovered from contexts dated to this period, one of which was identified by INAA as El Chayal material the second was identified visually as being Ixtepeque obsidian. These two objects along with three others were found in cache contexts. A additional two unassayed blade fragments were recovered from indeterminate contexts.

Structure 4 Structure 4 is a long range building located at the southern edge of the Main Plaza. Excavations at the structure were initiated in 1992 with a small investigation into the plaza immediately in front of the structure, then continued, and expanded in the succeeding years to include work on the north-west corner, trenching of the primary axis of the structure, exposure of the superstructure and an expansion of the work conducted in the plaza floor (Guderjan 1993; Weiss 1995, 1996).

Only two obsidian blade fragments were recovered from Late Classic deposits, both from the upper humus/collapse layers of the structure. Both of the pieces were sent for INAA testing which revealed that one had been manufactured from El Chayal material while the second was made from Ixtepeque obsidian.

Operation 2 Excavations at Structure 4 produced a surprising total of 492 pieces of obsidian, the majority of which (469 pieces) came from a single Late Formative cache (Cache 21). In total 473 pieces were recovered from Late Formative period contexts, while substantially smaller quantities were recovered from subsequent Early Classic period and Late Classic period deposits (seven and two objects respectively.

Structure 5 Although only five meters in height the structure was over 50 meters in length, making this the longest range structure discovered at the site (Pastrana 1995, 1996). The superstructure was equally unusual in that it was a single room running the length of the building, possessing seven doors across the front (east) side, and no north wall (Pastrana 1995, 1996).

Cache 21 was located beneath a plaster floor immediately in front of Structure 4-3 and contained the largest collection of obsidian recovered from this building, and from the site of Blue Creek. The 469 pieces comprises just under half the total obsidian collected between 1991 and 1997 (41.6%). The cache consisted of two layers, one placed above a rounded limestone rock and another below. Objects from above the rock consisted of chert bifaces, jade, coral and obsidian fragments. Material recovered from the second layer contained additional chert, coral and jade artifacts, along with several shells, a “shred of white fibers” and obsidian blade fragments and cores (Weiss 1996). Although obsidian was recovered in both parts

Operation 3 This operation yielded a single medial blade fragments from an undated deposit on the floor surface. Testing by INAA showed that this piece was manufactured from El Chayal material. Structure 6 This building, a small range structure, in conjunction with Structure 5, defines the western edge of Plaza A (Pastrana 1996). Operation 21 A total of six pieces of obsidian were recovered from this structure, four belonging to the 143

Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock Late Formative period, one from an Early Classic period deposit, and the sixth from a non-dated context. Three of the four Late Formative pieces were sent for INAA testing which revealed that two were manufactured from El Chayal obsidian and one was Ixtepeque in origin. The fourth pieces was identified visually as being El Chayal in origin.

recovered (Haines 1996b, 1997; Haines and Blom 1999). Operation 9 Excavations at Structure 9 yielded a total of 117 pieces of obsidian, of which only one piece was not recovered from the operations in the front platform. This isolated, proximal blade fragment was recovered from the humus layer during excavations of the north trench (Op 9b). Material recovered from this layer were determined to be Late Classic in origin.

The Early Classic piece was assayed by INAA and found to have come from the El Chayal outcrop. The non-dated piece was recovered from a cache context, but this piece was not available for analysis.

The 116 obsidian artifact recovered from the platform excavation included material spanning the Late Formative period to the Late Classic period, as well as some undated objects. Two items were found to date to the Late Classic period, one a blade fragment the other a proximal blade fragment. Only one piece was identified to source, and this piece was identified by INAA testing as being El Chayal in origin.

Structure 7/8 – Ball Court Situated to the north, or behind, Structure 1, these two buildings (Structures 7 and 8) functioned as a ball court at the Blue Creek site. Excavation at these structures was located in the playing alley between the two buildings (Guderjan et al. 1994). Operation 6 A total of 13 obsidian artifacts were recovered from this operation. Two were not dated while 11 were determined to be of Late Formative origin. The two, non-dated pieces were found in construction fill and indeterminate contexts. Both were determined to have been produced of El Chayal material, one by INAA testing the other visually.

Nine piece were recovered from contexts determined to be Early Classic in nature; five of these pieces were from floor fill, three were from construction fill, and one was recovered from the surface of a floor. Three pieces were identified by INAA testing as having been manufactured from El Chayal material while another two, also assayed by INAA testing, were shown to be Ixtepeque in origin.

The 11 Late Formative period artifact was recovered from the construction fill. Of these pieces two were sent for INAA analysis and determined to be El Chayal in origin, another four were identified visually to this source while five were not sourced. Ten of these pieces were five were proximal blade fragments and the other five were medial blade fragments.

The bulk of the obsidian recovered from Structure 9 (97 pieces in total) came from a Late Formative period midden buried deep beneath the basal platform. Another five pieces were dispersed through a variety of Late Formative period contexts; one piece was from a floor surface, two were from floor fill, one was from construction fill, and a fifth one was a mortuary item.

Structure 9

Of the 102 Late Formative artifacts, 38 were selected for INAA testing, the results of which revealed that 14 pieces were El Chayal in origin while 24 were produced from San Martin Jilotepeque material. An additional two pieces were visually identifiable as also coming from El Chayal.

Structure 9 is a pyramidal structure approximately 11 meters tall situated on a discrete platform roughly two meters high. Two ramps connect this structure to other areas of the site, one leading to the north adjoins the Structure 13 courtyard, the other leads to a large open area to the west between Structure 9 and the ball court (Haines 1995). Like many others at this site, this structure was severely looted with six trenches being discovered, two of which may have been the result of additional tunnels collapsing. These trenches were located on all four sides, with the south side being the worst hit with a total of three trenches. However, these trenches impacted primarily on the bedrock upon which the structure was created.

Only four pieces were not identified to a time period. These pieces, a blade fragment, a chunk and two pieces that were not available for analysis, were recovered in contextually indeterminate deposits. Structure 13 Courtyard The Structure 13 is a residential complex, consisting of five structures (10, 11, 12, 13 and 14). Linked by way of a sloped ramp to the Structure 9 platform, this courtyard complex forms the southern terminus of Plaza B. Structure 10 is located in the south-west corner of the courtyard and was possibly an ancestor shrine (Gilgan 1996, 1997; Guderjan et al. 1993, 1994). Situated on a low sub-structural platform the Structure 12 residence defines the eastern edge of the courtyard; a long low building (Structure 11) constructed directly on the courtyard surface, extends westward from the

Excavations started in 1993 with mapping of the structure and continued through the years at various different points on and around the structure (Guderjan et al. 1993, 1994; Haines n.d., 1994, 1995, 1996a). The last years of excavation at the structure concentrated on the platform in front of the temple where virtually all the obsidian from this structure was


The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize south-west corner of Structure 12 and forms the southern limit of the residential courtyard. Structure 13, is the largest, and likely focal unit of the complex. Located on the north side of the courtyard this building separates the residential courtyard space to the south from the larger, more public Plaza B to the north. Structure 14 abuts the south wall of Structure 13 and serves to define the western limit of the courtyard (Gilgan 1996, 1997; Guderjan et al. 1993, 1994).

the pieces were assayed (two by INAA testing and three by visual testing) and determined as having come from the El Chayal obsidian source. The remaining four Late Classic obsidian artifacts were also manufactured from the same source. Of the four artifacts from non-dated contexts three were identified by INAA, two to the El Chayal source the third to the Ixtepeque source, while the single biface fragment recovered from the plowzone was visually identified as also originating at the Ixtepeque outcrop.

Operation 7 – Structure 11 This operation consisted of a meter wide trench excavated on a northsouth axis through what was the likely center of the room. Three pieces of obsidian were recovered from this operation, one of which was not dated, and two which were from Late Classic contexts. Those artifacts belonging to the Late Classic period were sent for INAA testing, a procedure that revealed one, a proximal blade fragment, was manufactured of El Chayal material while the other, a blade fragment, was of Ixtepeque obsidian. The third undated piece was also identified by INNA testing as being El Chayal in origin.

Operation 105, Sub-Op d Three pieces of obsidian were recovered from undated layers of construction fill. None of the pieces were sourced either visually or by INAA. Operation 13 – Structure 13/14 One blade fragment, identified by INAA, as San Martin Jilotepeque in origin, was recovered from a Late Classic context in this operation. Structure 15 Structure 15 is a long low range building that defines the southwest side of Plaza B. Initial investigations of the structure suggest that the building was possibly an elite residence (Guderjan and Driver 1995: 7)

Operation 19 -- Structure 12 Four obsidian artifacts (a blade fragment, a proximal blade fragment and a unifacial tool) were recovered from a Late Classic special deposit. INAA testing determined that all three pieces were produced of El Chayal material.

Operation 23 One blade fragment manufactured of El Chayal obsidian and assayed by INAA testing, was recovered from the collapsed material of this structure. Ceramics from the deposit yielded a date of Early Classic for the material.

Operation 20 – Structure 12 Platform This operation yielded a total of 19 pieces of obsidian, 16 from Late Classic contexts and one from an Early Classic deposit. The single Early Classic piece was a blade fragment recovered from the construction fill that was identified visually as having been manufactured from El Chayal material.

Structure 19 Courtyard

Thirteen of the 16 Late Classic artifacts were identified as having been produced from El Chayal material; Of these pieces, six were assayed by INAA testing while seven were identified visually. Of the 16 objects recovered 10 were from special deposits, while four were recovered from construction fill, and one came from each humus and humus/collapse contexts.

Located in the approximate center of Plaza B this structure is a residential complex consisting of several range structures, with roughly 14 interconnected rooms, surrounding two internal, private courtyards (Lichtenstein 1997). Although constructed with rubble filled and cut stone walls the structure appears to have possessed pole and thatch roofs (Lichtenstein 1997).

Operation 10 – Structure 13 A total of 15 obsidian objects (13 blades or blade fragments, one bifaces, and one uniface) were recovered from excavations at Structure 13. A single unassayed blade fragment was recovered from an Early Classic Special Deposit. This piece represented the only Early Classic obsidian artifact found in conjunction with this structure.

Operation 22 A total of 33 obsidian artifacts were recovered from this structure, of which 28 were found in Late Classic contexts. One artifact was found in an Early Classic deposit and four pieces were recovered from undated contexts. The single Early Classic piece, recovered from floor fill, was visually identified as El Chayal in origin. Of the four undated pieces, single pieces were found in the construction fill and a burial, while two were found in mixed humus/collapse context. All four pieces were identified as having been manufactured of El Chayal material, two by INAA testing and two by visual analysis.

Ten artifacts were recovered from a variety of Late Classic contexts including six from Special Deposits, two from the construction fill, one from the humus/collapse material, and one from an indeterminate context. All of the artifacts recovered from Special Deposits were blade fragments; five of

A total of 28 obsidian artifacts were recovered from Late Classic contexts. Source analysis by INAA 145

Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock revealed 15 of these objects to have been produced from El Chayal obsidian while visual examination identified another seven to this source, leaving six pieces unidentified as to their original source. Late Classic artifacts were recovered from a wide range of contexts including four pieces from the humus layer, 14 from the surfaces of floors, one from collapsed debris, one from floor fill, three from mixed humus/floor surfaces deposits, three from mixed humus/collapsed material and two from indeterminate contexts,.

San Martin Jilotepeque in origin. A further 108 blades, two cores, and three flakes were visually assayed as also having been manufactured from El Chayal obsidian. The remaining 12 objects, all blade fragments, that were recovered from the Structure 25 courtyard consisted of eight artifacts from Late Formative noncache deposits, three blade fragments from Early Classic layers, and a single blade fragment from a Late Classic period deposit. The single Late Classic artifact was recovered from the humus layer and was identified by INAA as having been manufactured from Ixtepeque obsidian. The two Early Classic artifacts recovered from the construction fill were visually identified as being El Chayal in origin while the third piece, which was recovered in association with a floor, was identified by INAA as also being manufactured from El Chayal obsidian.

Structure 25 Courtyard The Structure 25 Courtyard is a small residential compound located on a limestone outcrop approximately 100 m east of the Structure 13 courtyard. This courtyard is composed of three structure, all one room, rectangular structures. Structures 26 and 27, which form the west and south sides of the courtyard respectively, were with pole walls and thatch roofs. Structure 25 defines the northern edge of the courtyard.

Two Late Formative pieces were also found in association with a floor, one of which was assayed by INAA testing as having been produced from El Chayal material. Another pair of blade fragments also manufactured from El Chayal obsidian (one identified with INAA testing the other visually) were included as mortuary goods in a Late Formative period burial. The remaining four objects were found scattered throughout the midden that comprised the bulk of the Late Formative deposit. Two of these pieces were identified visually as being El Chayal material while the remaining two were not assayed to source.

Operation 17 A total of 248 obsidian artifacts were recovered from excavation in the Structure 25 courtyard. A Late Formative period cache was discovered containing a total of 236 obsidian objects, along with five marine shells, and one red coral pendant (Haines and Wilhelmy 1999). This deposit, Cache 38, formed the second largest single concentration of obsidian recovered at the Blue Creek site during the 1992 to 1997 seasons. The cache suffered severe post-depositional disturbance as the result of root activity from a ceiba tree which made it difficult to determine what objects, beyond the marine shells, were located within the confines of the lip to lip vessels and what items were placed around the vessels. Although a third of the obsidian objects were found mixed into the Early Classic layer immediately above the remains of the vessels it is believed that these are the result of root turbation and not suggestive of the cache being a Classic period intrusive deposit as the two vessels that served as the central container have been identified as Late Formative period ceramics (Kosakowsky: personal communication).

Structure 37 Courtyard This complex consists of seven structures, numbered 31 to 37, arranged around two small courtyards. The northern courtyard (“A”), is composed of Structures 36, 37 and 35, this last structure divides Courtyard A from Courtyard B to the south (Hanratty and Driver 1997). This southern courtyard is bounded by Structures 35, 34, and 31, with Structures 32 and 33 being located further to the east (Hanratty and Driver 1997). These structures are situated on a limestone outcrop roughly 500 meters north-east of Plaza A (Hanratty and Driver 1997).

A variety of different obsidian objects were found in association with the cache, including 196 flakes (97 of which were proximal ends), 10 expended cores, 20 core fragments, and ten flakes or small fragments. Several of the cores were multi-directional, a practice that left the pieces with no visible striking platform (Andrefsky 1998). Other cores were fragmented during blade production revealing large inclusions of friable reddish material, and some of these cores appear to have been utilized as tools when they could no longer function for blade manufacturing. A total of 21 objects were sent to MURR for INAA testing: the results from these tests revealed that 16 blades, three cores, and one flake were manufactured from El Chayal obsidian. One blade was identified as being

Operation 27 A total of 79 obsidian artifacts were recovered from this operation, 15 pieces were encountered in non-dated contexts, one piece was from an Early Classic period deposit, and the remaining 63 pieces were excavated from Late Classic period deposits. Among the 15 objects from the undated contexts were four blade fragments recovered from construction fill, one of which was visually identified as being El Chayal in origin. Two blades, one identified visually as El Chayal obsidian, were encountered in indeterminate contexts. An additional seven artifacts (six blades and one core), were recovered from the mixed humus/architectural collapse of the structures. Two blades were identified by INAA as El Chayal obsidian with another two blades being 146

The Other Side of the Looking Glass? Obsidian from Blue Creek, Belize visually assigned to this source. The core, which was also assayed by INAA as being El Chayal obsidian, was fractured length-wise due to a mis-strike; rather than discard the damaged core it appears the owners of the piece utilized it as an informal tool and wear is apparent along the raw, fractured edges. The remaining two undated blades were listed as having come from a Special Deposit. Both of these pieces were identified as being manufactured from El Chayal obsidian, one by INAA the other visually.

Of the 19 Late Formative artifacts 14 were blade fragments, three were proximal blade fragments, one was an exhausted core, while the last piece not available for analysis. Three pieces were sent for INAA testing, and one piece was identified to each of the following three sources: El Chayal, Ixtepeque and San Martin Jilotepeque. Another five pieces were identified to the El Chayal source by visual analysis. Operation 37 – Structure U-5 Two blade fragments were recovered from Late Formative mortuary contexts in this operation. Neither of these pieces were identified to their original source.

Late Classic material amounted to 63 obsidian artifacts, 21 of which were found in a cache and the remaining in a Special Deposit. The cache consisted exclusively of blade fragments, 15 of which were visually identified as being manufactured from El Chayal obsidian. The Special deposit consisted of 40 blade fragments, one core and an unusual flat circular piece with a chipped edge that may have been used as a decorative inlay. Ten pieces were sent for INAA testing which showed that nine objects (including the core) were manufactured of El Chayal material, while one piece was of Zaragoza obsidian. This latter piece was the first piece of obsidian from a Mexican source discovered at the Blue Creek site. Another 16 pieces (including the circular object) were identified visually to the El Chayal source.

Structure I-1a Located on a limestone outcropping approximately half-way between the escarpment the Rio Bravo, this excavation focused on test pitting a layer of occupation debris revealed by Mennonite quarrying and construction. This debris was located beneath an east west trench originally intended for use a the basement of a modern structure. The removal of the concrete slab at the base of this trench provided access to Formative deposits consisting of two plaster floors and accompanying fill (Haines and Suther 1997). Operation 30 A total of 12 pieces were recovered from a layer of occupational debris, or midden material. Ten of the pieces were identified as blade fragments and the remaining two were proximal blade fragments. The two pieces sent for INAA testing yielded a result of El Chayal. A further six pieces were visually identified as being manufactured from El Chayal material, while four pieces were not identified to source.

Structure 41 Operation 29 Only one object, a proximal blade fragment, was recovered from this operation. This piece was visually identified as having originated at the El Chayal source and was recovered from an undated plough-zone/surface layer. Chan Cahal – Structures U-1 to U-65

Settlement Zone Chan Cahal, or “place of little houses” was the name given to a residential area to the east of the site core, at the foot of the escarpment. This area is located on a raised terrace approximately one km north-east of the site core, and surrounded by ditched fields. Thirty-nine mounds were recorded on the roughly hour-glass shaped terrace that measured approximately 700 meters along its north-south axis and 400 meters east to west. Constructions in this area appear to have consisted of low stone platforms or substructures that would have supported perishable pole and thatch structures (Clagett 1997).

Research in the settlement zone consisted primarily of small scale excavations (usually a single unit), situated in areas of potential residential occupation. Excavations were conducted into both settlement areas, those above as well as those below the escarpment. Operation 112 This operation yielded four obsidian artifacts, all blade fragments, none of which are dated. Two of the four objects were sent for INAA testing which revealed the source to have been El Chayal, while the other two were identified visually as being from the El Chayal quarries.

Operation 28 A total of 21 pieces were recovered from this operation. One piece came from a Late Classic context, one was not dated, and 19 pieces were found in Late Formative deposits. The Late Classic piece (a blade fragment), was recovered from the plough-zone layer of the operation. It was sourced by INAA to the El Chayal outcrop. The single undated object came from a midden and was not assayed either visually or chemically.

Operation 114 Only one piece, a proximal blade fragment, was recovered from the non-dated construction fill of this operation. The piece was identified visually as being from the El Chayal source. Operation 116 One proximal blade fragment was recovered a contextually indeterminate and undated deposit. This artifact was visually identified as El Chayal in origin.


Helen R. Haines and Michael D. Glascock Operation 118 Two obsidian artifacts, both proximal blade fragments were recovered from the undated plow-zone layers of this operation. Both pieces were sent for INAA testing and shown to be manufactured of El Chayal material. Operation 122 Two obsidian blade fragments were recovered from this operation, both from undated plough-zone contexts. One of these pieces was sent for INAA testing and shown to be of Ixtepeque material, while the second was visually assayed to be El Chayal in origin. Operation 127 This operation yielded one blade fragment weighing 1.4 grams from construction fill context. This piece was neither dated nor sourced. Operation 128 Six pieces of obsidian were recovered from this operation (four blade fragments, one distal fragment, and one blade). Three pieces were sent for INAA testing and determined to have been manufactured of El Chayal material, as were the two pieces that were visually identified. No source was determined for the sixth piece. All six pieces were recovered from midden context which is as yet undated. Structure J-14 This structure is one of the residential courtyards to the west of the site core. In 1996 brief excavations were conducted there as part of a field school. Operation 26 Only one piece of obsidian was recovered from these excavations. This piece was not available for analysis. Miscellaneous Pieces This category includes objects that for one reason or another are without provenance and therefore undated. The usual cause of this condition is the objects being recovered from looters back dirt or during backfilling of operations. Six pieces fall into this category, four are blade fragments, one is a proximal fragment, and one is a small, flat disc that may have been used as an inlay. Three of the pieces were identified by INAA as being manufactured from El Chayal material (one coming from Operation 11 a surface collection), and one was visually identified as Ixtepeque obsidian. The source of the inlay was not determined.


Chapter 9 Maya Political Economy: A Spatial, Temporal, and Contextual Analysis of Jade Deposits throughout the Southern Lowlands Christina G. Marroquin Lowlands? 5) Was jade’s distribution in the vertical economy via gift exchange, serving as part of political and social strategies, or was jade’s distribution largely controlled by market forces, where regional mores permitted its simultaneous functioning as a medium of exchange (currency) and as an item of ritual and social significance? Finally, the compiled and normalized data are made available online for use and review by other researchers (Marroquin 2008).

Introduction This study examines jade utilization of eight Maya polities with well-documented collections of jade artifacts within the Southern Lowlands, a region with contextually secure jade deposits dating between 400 B.C. and A.D. 900 (Figures 9.1 and 9.2). Although nineteenth-century explorations of abandoned sites, with structures covered in dense jungle vegetation, and twentieth-century fieldwork led to the realization of the cultural unity of the Maya and later to a theory of a single, widespread Maya collapse, these polities did not rise and fall as a single empire (Sharer 1991). Instead, polities rose, fell, and rose again over time, exhibiting considerable political, economic, and social variation. Jade, a long-traded rare exotic, was the most valued material throughout Mesoamerica. The regional variation in jade quantity, utilization, and quality attests to the diversity in social structures, polity prestige, and elite power. The regional variation over time attests to the changes in the perception and value of jade. Increased jade utilization arguably signified the expansion of jade’s ritual and social value, and eventually, ostentatious displays of jade seem to have become a measure of the power, authority, and prestige of a polity’s ruling elite. Ultimately, though, jade disappeared from the Southern Lowlands, ostensibly correlating to the dissolution of centralized authority and the withdrawal of the elites from the social structure. Therefore, control of jade procurement, distribution, and consumption was essential for polity elites maneuvering for prestige in the complex Maya social structure, and the study of jade’s occurrence patterning is a valuable tool for studying Maya political economy.

Jade and its Significance for Studies of the Maya Political Economy Political economy encompasses “the ways in which economic production and exchange are manipulated to support the power of a society’s leaders” (Masson 2002), or simply, any economic activity that effects political authority, power, and prestige. To explain how a society was able to meet both utilitarian and nonutilitarian needs over the vast and diverse geography of the Southern Lowlands, Sheets’ (2000) studies at Ceren suggest the existence of both a “horizontal economy” within the non-elite social class that supplied utilitarian needs through unregulated local exchanges and a “vertical economy.” It is the vertical economy that cross-cut social strata and included not only tribute of agricultural products but also the exchange of the laborintensive, long-distance exotics, such as obsidian and jade. At Ceren’s non-elite structures, artifact classes from the horizontal economy display heterogeneity while exotics from the vertical economy display greater homogeneity in “manufacture and morphology” (Sheets 2000). This model suggests that goods from the vertical economy became much more rigidly controlled across the Maya region over time, affecting even those areas, such as Ceren, without local markets or secondary elite control of the local exchanges. An analysis of jade data from across the region may be able to determine the extent and timing of this control.

Recovered jades from multiple well-documented sites have been consolidated and normalized into contextual, spatial, and temporal variables. These data fields have been analyzed for patterning. This study then integrates the data analysis with comparative archaeological work in Maya ceramics, existing social evolution theory, and social economic concepts to produce a holistic picture of jade’s changing value over time, in order to place it in the broader scope of Maya social, political, and economic evolution. This study hopes to answer the following: 1) How was jade perceived and utilized over time? 2) At what point did the control of jade become important to political power? 3) What was the extent of the elites’ control of jade over time? 4) What is the significance of jade’s disappearance from the Southern

Jade, or jadeite, is especially appropriate to studies of Maya political economy, because it is not only geologically rare but culturally significant to several regional societies (Garber et al 1993). The shared tradition seems to relate to the significance of the color green and its association with maize and the green-blue Caribbean water (Garber et al 1993). Jade (NaAlSi2O6) is a hard, white, metamorphic rock that is rarely found in pure form; however, it is considered jade if it is composed of 90% or more of NaAlSi2O6 (Harlow 1993). 149

Christina G. Marroquin Iron and chromium impurities impart the green hue (Curtiss 1993). Jade is formed in geologic zones of unusually high pressure and low temperatures, such as those near tectonic faults. Currently, there are only nine known jade sources in the world (Harlow 1993). The only identifiable source for the Maya is the Motagua Valley of Guatemala, though the great compositional variation of jade artifacts promotes debate concerning the possible existence of other sources (Lange 1993) (Figure 9.1). Jade’s regional significance but limited geological occurrence suggest studies concerning the control of jade may be especially effective in providing insights into the social evolution and the increasing manipulation of complex economic, political, and exchange systems by competing polity elites.

Similarly, gifts to gods in the form of caches would compel reciprocation (Mauss 1990; Hubert and Mauss 1964). Gifting to non-elites may have served as a reward system or as an indication of higher rank among the non-elites (Guderjan 2007), perhaps compelling reciprocity in labor, loyalty, or production. Gift exchange of jade may have helped to establish and reinforce inter-dependencies and hierarchical relationships among all social strata. Another perspective suggests that jade was a “conceptual nexus,” where jade simultaneously served as “a currency, a treasure, and a source of magical power” and that a jade bead could be used as a medium of exchange at one moment and placed at the bottom of a cache the next (Freidel 1993). Spanish accounts from Contact times suggest that greenstone was functioning as a fungible currency (Tozzer 1941), and this seems to be supported by stronger evidence of cacao beans used as currency at that time as well (Freidel 1993). Jade’s long-established regionally recognized value may have enabled the concept and evolution of jade into a regionally recognized medium of exchange to be readily adopted, perhaps functioning as a fungible currency well before Spanish Contact.

Distribution -- Gift Exchange vs. Medium of Exchange While there are several theories for the rapid Maya social evolution in the Late Preclassic, such as external stimulants, other researchers suggest the environmental diversity and differential resources of the lowlands fostered site-specific specialization (Reese-Taylor and Walker 2002; Scarborough and Valdez 2003). Those egalitarian societies experiencing great success may have developed “de facto elites” to manage this specialization (Freidel 1993). The differentially timed development of social stratification meant that communities with de facto elites were still surrounded by egalitarian communities. Freidel and Schele suggest that the friction between these community types may have resulted in an “adaptive cultural response” whereby the remaining egalitarian communities emulated the evolving communities around them and established their own quasi-stratified societies (1990).

Previous Research and the Need for Regional Synthesis Due to the diverse nature of individual polities, much of Maya archaeological work is site-specific, although with the decipherment of hieroglyphs, much has been learned about the sociopolitical traditions of the region. However, much is still debated or unknown. While studying a single artifact type may have its limitations, jade’s geological rarity and cultural significance seems especially appropriate to study Maya political economy. Yet, reporting for many sites only includes summary data or limited information, including intersite comparisons, on the most spectacular finds. Lange notes that “the data on excavated jade artifacts are very limited” and “a complete catalog of contextually secure jade and greenstone artifacts is essential” (1993b). In noting the lack of regional published artifact data, FAMSI (2008) has expressed interest in funding projects that analyze previously excavated materials.

However it evolved, the social stratification eventually emphasized rank and the display of status symbols, such as rare exotics like jade. While polities differentially adapted to their unique economic circumstances and physical environments, jade had a long-established regional ritual tradition maintained by an ancient trading network. Therefore, the display of jade would have been regionally-acknowledged and equated with an elite’s power to obtain the rare material (Freidel 1993). More elite power equated to more food production, constructions, and warriors. Archaeological evidence, including data in this analysis, however, demonstrates that jade is not only recovered from elite contexts in this period of increasing social stratification but in non-elite contexts as well. It appears that jade was distributed and consumed in capacities other than as insignias of elite power, and two main perspectives have been advanced to explain the distribution of jade in non-elite contexts.

While Maxwell (1996) presents a synthesis of caches from four sites and Welsh (1988) presents a synthesis of burials across the lowlands, the perspective of these reports and the presentation of data do not permit dynamic analysis. However, this study collects data from original sources and normalizes data into typologies, in separate fields, to allow regional comparisons. While nuances from the diverse polities will be lost in the normalized data fields, this is necessary in creating a catalog of finds that will not only allow comparative work but will allow dynamic reporting and analysis by researchers with diverse research goals. This study provides the initial data for such a catalog, serving as a type of template by

One perspective is that jade was a vital part of the elitecontrolled vertical economy that also included a prestige economy of gift exchange that supported the authority of kings. Jade gifting strategies among elites most likely were a form of “social deceit,” where social norms, disguised in ritual, compelled progressive reciprocation. 150

Maya Political Economy suggesting the minimum required data fields and standardized naming conventions, and hopes that any deficiencies can be addressed by the public availability of the data online (Marroquin 2008).

Geographical and Historical Context Although the geographical extent of the Maya area is vast and environmentally diverse, the Maya area is traditionally divided into four geographic zones as follows: the Pacific Coastal Plain, the Highlands, the Southern Lowlands, and the Northern Lowlands. This study concentrates on eight sites within the Southern Lowlands (in red, Figure 9.1), a region of high rainfall, high temperatures, tropical rain-forests, and low-lying seasonal wetlands (bajos) (Sharer and Traxler 2005).

Figure 9.2: Comparative timeline for studied sites -thick lines indicate public construction activity, while thin lines indicate occupation but reduced/negligible construction activity (periods not to scale)

Evidence for Maya expansion suggests a general settlement pattern from the south (Pacific Coastal Plain) to the north (Northern Lowlands) over time. However, actual site settlement and development is much more complex, with sites and even regions experiencing cycles of growth and decline. Sites in the Southern Lowlands generally reached their apogee in the Late Preclassic through the Late and Terminal Classic, with significant de-population and site abandonment throughout the Southern Lowlands around A.D. 800900. The Northern Lowlands saw population growth and evolving political structures into the Postclassic (Sharer and Traxler 2005). The timeline for the eight Southern Lowland sites in this study are compared in Figure 9.2, with several sites exhibiting a significant cycle of decline, termed the “Hiatus” by Willey, at the end of the Early Classic (1990).

The Sites: Site Maps and History Graphs General site information, a site map, jade summary, and a site history graph are provided for each of the eight sites in the study. The site history graphs depict in picture form a summary of the textual historical information from numerous sources, including a relative population trend. These site history graphs illustrate how groups of structures functioned at a given time, such as a site core or as a dispersed settlement zone. These graphs also facilitated the normalization of data for the group type field. For these graphs, the periods are not drawn to scale. Altar de Sacrificios Altar de Sacrificios is located on the south bank of the Rio Pasión, near where the confluence of the Rio Salinas and Rio Pasión form the Rio Usumacinta in the department of Petén, Guatemala (Figure 9.3). While it occupies a strategic position and has a long occupational history, it does not seem to have developed into a powerful site (Sharer and Traxler 1946) (Figure 9.4). Structurally, the site is composed of three political/ceremonial groups, Groups A, B, and C, with the majority of the smaller house mounds lying to the west of these groups. The vast majority of jade at the site occurred in Late Classic contexts (80.7%) and was in the form of beads (83.9%).

Blue Creek Blue Creek is located in northwestern Belize at the headwaters of the Rio Hondo near its confluence with the Rio Bravo. The site core sits at the eastern edge of the Petén atop the Bravo Escarpment, which rises 100150 meters above the adjacent coastal plain and serves as the physical boundary between the two zones. The site consists of several nucleated communities

Figure 9.1: Studied sites and the Motagua jade source– studied sites in red, jade source in green highlight 151

Christina G. Marroquin surrounded by agricultural fields, including the elite residential community of Ki’n Tan at the top of the escarpment, and the non-elite residential community of Chan Cahal at the base of the escarpment (Guderjan 2007) (Figures 9.5, 9.6). Although Blue Creek seems to have had a relatively low population density, it yielded the second greatest number of jades in this study and the fourth largest cache of jade in Mesoamerica (Guderjan: 2007). The majority of jade is associated with the “jade shaft caching events” in the Early Classic, either with the shaft’s construction or later filling (60.4%).

Figure 4: Site history graph of Altar de Sacrificios (data after Willey 1973; Smith 1972).

Figure 9.5: Site map of Blue Creek (Guderjan 2007)

Figure 9.3: Site map of Altar de Sacrificios (after Willey and Smith 1969)

Figure 9.6: Site history graph of Blue Creek (data after Guderjan 2007)


Maya Political Economy Cerros

(Sharer and Traxler 1946) (Figure 9.10). Although there have been two sets of archaeological expeditions (University of Pennsylvania in 1931-1939 and Brigham Young University/Universidad del Valle in 1997-2000), the majority of the data for this study are from the former excavations due to the yet limited published raw data for the latter. As a result of the relatively rapid social evolution of Piedras Negras and the 1930’s excavation strategies focusing on monumental structures, nearly all jades are from the site core, and all securely dated jades are from either the Early or Late Classic.

Cerros is located in northern Belize on the bank of Chetumal Bay. The site is comprised of three zones: the Central Precinct (Figure 9.7), the Core Area (inside the canal, but not the Central Precinct), and the Periphery (outside the canal). For this analysis, the site core is equated to the Central Precinct, the nucleated settlement zone is equated to the Core Area, and the dispersed settlement zone is equated to the Periphery. Cerros’ major period of occupation is the Late/Terminal Preclassic, with little disturbance from later periods, providing a unique study opportunity as most sites are heavily covered with Classic materials (Garber 1989) (Figure 9.8). The site also likely served as a transshipment point, with one structure most likely serving as a docking facility (Garber 1989; Scarborough 1991). No jades were recovered in burial contexts. Jade quality is high (Table 2), though many jades are broken (75.3%) and associated with the termination ritual deposits of the early village in advance of monumental constructions (Garber 1989).

Figure 9.9: Site map of Piedras Negras (after Weeks, Hill, and Golden 2005)

Figure 9.7: Site map of Cerros (after Scarborough and Robertson 1986)

Figure 9.10: Site history graph of Piedras Negras (data after Hruby 2006; Muñoz 2006; Johnson 2004; Sharer and Traxler 1946) Figure 9.8: Site history graph of Cerros (data after Garber 1989; Scarborough 1991).

San Jose San Jose is a small site located in northwestern Belize. Four structure groups were excavated, Groups A-D, which are all considered part of the site core in this analysis (Figures 9.1, 9.2). While there are questions regarding the dating of San Jose I ceramics and the use of the correlation versus the correlation, San Jose II is associated with Tzakol ceramics for both correlations, and San Jose I, despite its chronology, shows similarities to Chicanel/Uaxactun IB (Kidder 1947; Thompson 1939). However, jade was

Piedras Negras Piedras Negras is situated along the east bank of the Usumacinta River at the western edge of the Petén in Guatemala, where part of the Usumacinta forms the border between Guatemala and Mexico (Figure 9.9). Piedras Negras was the largest of the Usumacinta polities, dominating the area for most of the Late Classic 153

Christina G. Marroquin only discovered in San Jose II matrices and later, making the San Jose I discussion moot for this analysis. Although it is the smallest site in the study, San Jose has nearly twice the amount of recovered jade as Seibal. Jades from San Jose, though, may be affected by selective reporting, which focused on recording unbroken jades (pers. comm. Thomas Guderjan).

It has the lowest count of recovered jade in this study despite its size and prestige. In addition, several large raw jade boulders were recovered in stelae caches in the Terminal Classic – three of which were so large they had to be removed from size analysis since they were distorting the results.

Figure 13. Site map of Seibal (after Smith 1982)

Figure 9.11: Site map of San Jose (Thompson 1939)

Figure 9.14: Site history graph of Seibal (data after Willey 1990) Tikal Tikal is located in the department of the Petén, Guatemala. It was one of the largest and most heavily populated Maya centers (Figure 9.15). Its massive temples date from the Early and Late Classic periods, although several large public constructions date as early as the Preclassic (Figure 9.16). Several structures in the site core are connected by sacbeob (causeways). Tikal archaeologists instituted three major zones, based on Tikal’s last occupational phases, termed the Epicentral, Central, and Peripheral Areas (Moholy-Nagy 1994). This zoning was used in the data analysis and equated to group type, for jades found in appropriate periods, as follows: Epicentral became site core, Central became the nucleated settlement zone, and Peripheral became largely dispersed settlement zone or lesser ritual center as appropriate. Tikal has by far the largest jade sample, representing 79.7% of jades in this study. Care has been taken to address the possible skewing of the regional results to a Tikal-centric bias, however, it is important to note that this site did play a major role in jade utilization and acquisition within the Southern

Figure 9.12: Site history of San Jose (Thompson 1939)

Seibal Seibal is located near the great bend of the Río Pasión, upstream and to the east of Altar de Sacrificios, in the department of Petén, Guatemala (Willey et al 1975). The site is composed of three political/ceremonial groups, Groups A, C, and D, with dispersed settlements to the north, south, and east of these. Situated on a 100 meter escarpment overlooking the river, the groups are connected by T-shaped sacbeob (causeways) (Willey 1990) (Figure 13). Despite a lack of occupational continuity during the “Hiatus,” Seibal’s Terminal Classic “Florescence” suggests it was the capital of the Pasión region at that time (Figure 14). Seibal was also one of the last sites producing dated monuments (Willey 1990). Seibal jade stands out, therefore, for two reasons. 154

Maya Political Economy Lowlands and its influence should be included in any regional analysis. Tikal jade was mostly debitage (40.8%) or mosaic pieces (either loose or constructed into assemblages) (38.9%). While Tikal has large quantities of jade, it has the lowest quality jades of any site (Table 2).

lower quality when compared to the rest of the Uaxactun jade.

Figure 9.17: Site map of Uaxactun -- Groups A, B, C, D, E, F, with the largely empty space between ABC and DEF removed as indicated (after Smith 1973)

Figure 9.15: Site map of Tikal (base map after Tikal Reports 1-11 1958-1961 (TR11 1961); 3D inset from Tikal Park 2008; Epicentral Tikal, Central Tikal, and Peripheral Tikal redrawn from Moholy-Nagy 1994)

Figure 9.18: Site history of Uaxactun (Smith 1950) Discussion Although jade was an integral component of complex exchange systems and the Maya political economy, there is no catalog of recovered jade finds for Mesoamerica. Jade’s combined geological rarity and cultural significance allows for the study of longdistance procurement, vertical exchanges, ostentatious displays of prestige and power, and consumption patterns of polities far from the Motagua Valley source. The differential pattern of consumption noted at individual polities, such as Tikal’s jade debitage, Blue Creek’s jade shaft, Cerros’ termination deposits, and Seibal’s raw jade stelae caches, seems to suggest sitespecific jade consumption patterns developed over time, perhaps related to environmental diversity and differential social, economic, and political evolution. However, jade’s widespread and abrupt disappearance from the Southern Lowlands by the Terminal Classic, and its continued utilization in the Northern Lowlands, suggests some regional commonalities and perspectives persisted over time. Analysis of recovered jades throughout the Southern Lowlands may reveal a pattern of regional exchange and consumption that may be obscured by polity dynamics and site-specific studies.

Figure 9.16: Site history graph of Tikal (data from Schele and Freidel 1990; Sharer and Traxler 1996).

Uaxactun Uaxactun is located in the Petén, Guatemala, just north of Tikal and territorially separated from it by an ancient line of raised ditches. The site is composed of eight groups, Groups A-H, with the majority of the excavation work in Groups A, B, and E (Figures 9.17 and 9.18). Group E is known for the first discovery of structures serving as an astronomical observatory and henceforth all such similarly situated and designed structures are called “E-groups” (Sharer and Traxler 1946). While the quantity of jade is ranked third in the study, its relatively low quantity is surprising considering its great size, long occupational history, and inter-related politics with Tikal. However, its jade quality (Table 2) is much higher than Tikal, although Group E jades had a much

Methodology The data for each site were often contained in numerous reports and formats, each with their site-specific naming conventions and unique circumstances. Therefore, in 155

Christina G. Marroquin order to appropriately and consistently populate the data fields, each site’s history, structural layout, and previous research was carefully considered. Populated data was either normalized, which required formatting the sitespecific data into typologies, or was simply captured. The compilation of captured and normalized data permits inter-site spatial, temporal, and contextual analyses that previously had been impossible due to polity diversity and site-specific nomenclature.

production center of Cancuen, were not included in the analysis. Finally, sites with diverse sampling, such as elite and non-elite contexts or non-Classic period occupations, were desired. However, this goal was not fully attainable due to excavation strategies. Pure jade is often difficult to distinguish from non-jade greenstones, such as serpentine, and this distinction was rarely noted in the source materials. Therefore, the term “social jade” is commonly used to encompass non-jade greenstones that were utilized by ancient artisans in similar ways to “true jade” (Lange 1993b). Due to their separate consideration in the source materials, 24 instances of non-jade greenstones were identified, and though maintained in the data set, they were removed from the analysis. However, it should be understood that the analysis encompasses “social jades,” and many of the jades in this study may not be “true jade.”

Sites were chosen based on four considerations. First, the site had to be within the geographic boundaries of the Southern Lowlands. Second, the site’s reporting needed to be sufficiently well-documented to permit the population of a majority of the key data fields. These key data fields are group type, structure type, jade type, LOE, period, condition, and context. Sites with reporting that simply indicated jade presence and did not offer other contextual information could not be included in the analysis. There was no minimum sample size for a site to be included. Third, the site’s apparent and main function should have been as a sociopolitical center. Sites that had other major functions, such as the Site Name Altar de Sacrificios Blue Creek Sacrificios Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun

The recovered jade data for the eight Southern Lowland Maya sites in this analysis have been collected from sources. Table 1 lists the sources of data for each site.

Field Seaso 1958ns 19921963 1974ongoi Garber 1989; Robertson and Freidel 1986; Scarborough 1980; Scarborough 1991 1979, ng 19311981 Coe 1959; Weeks, Hill, and Golden 2005; Houston and Escobedo 2000; Houston et 1939 al. 1999a; Houston et al. 1999b; Houston et al. 2000 1997Thompson 1939 1931, 2000 Smith 1982; Tourtellot 1988; Tourtellot 1990; Willey 1978; Willey 1990; Willey et al. 19641934, 1975 1968 1936 Coe 1990; Coe and Haviland 1982; Moholy-Nagy 2008; Tikal Reports 1-11 195819561961; Welsh 1988 1969 1926Kidder 1947; Smith 1950; Smith 1973; Smith 1937; Ricketson and Ricketson 1937 1937 Description Smith 1972; Willey 1972; Willey 1973; Willey and Smith 1969 Blue Creek 2001; Driver 2003; Guderjan 2007

Table 1: Data sources and field seasons by site

The data for the analysis have been collected from the data sources and compiled into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. This process yielded 19,250 jade artifacts, contained in 2,729 rows of data, each with 51 data fields. However, not all fields are populated due to limited available information in the source materials.

field. However, most captured data fields contain extensive comments from the original sources. These extensive notes were used in making the typology determinations in the normalized data fields. All data analyses in this study, including the data in the tables, figures, and those simply cited in the text, originate from the compiled raw data table. Many of the 51 data fields are intuitive or commonly used in either Maya archaeology or data management, and therefore it is not necessary to review all 51 data field definitions. However, ten data definitions are provided here for those that were most complex or non-intuitive.

Jade data were simply captured, or collected, from the source materials. Additional fields were created to accommodate normalized data. The normalization process simplifies complex data into typologies that reduce the total number of options per field. While the normalized fields may marginalize nuances from individual sites, it is necessary due to site diversity and site-specific naming conventions.

Group Type (Normalized) An essential component of the normalization process included converting unique, site-specific structure grouping or zoning naming conventions into a comparable typology. Using the site history graphs (see

Captured data fields may contain simple data, such as whether the jade was broken or whole, and were utilized in the analysis without conversion to a normalized data 156

Maya Political Economy Introduction), a recovered jade was assigned to one of coded “site core” unless detailed stratigraphic six variables that correspond to the function of the information permitted the distinction. Where general area at a specific period (Table 2). For example, stratigraphic information was not sufficient to make this a jade recovered in an area with evidence of precise determination, the jade was assigned the higher occupational activity only and dated to the Middle group type for that period. For example, site core would Preclassic, but in an area that developed into the site core be chosen over nucleated zone if the group functioned by the Early Classic, would not be coded “site core” but as both within the same period. Therefore, location, coded “occupation.” If stratigraphic detail were stratigraphy, and period are essential elements in this sufficient, multiple group types per period and per site determination. were possible. For example, where two groups were operating as the site core within a single period, or one group was transitioning to another group, both were Group Type Data Definition Area of highest ceremonial importance; monumental, public, and 1 - Site Core ceremonial structures Area of concentrated ceremonial importance outside of, and distant 2 - Lesser Ritual Center from, the Site Core; public and ceremonial structures Area of concentrated residences and associated structures separated 3 - Nucleated Settlement Zone from the Site Core or Lesser Ritual Center Area of scattered residences and associated structures, usually most 4 - Dispersed Settlement Zone distant from the site core 5 - Occupation Area where evidence detects ephemeral occupation or activity only Area, Structure, Period, Context, or other key information was not 6 - Unknown provided in order to make this determination Table 2: Data definitions for group type Structure Type (Normalized) An architectural typology was created and individual structures were assigned one of seven variables that correspond to its form at a specific time (Table 3), similar to the methodology used for group type. Structure type is meant as a descriptor and not necessarily a comment about function. However, many range structures were most likely elite residences and were within the nucleated settlement zones. Similarly, many simple structures were likely non-elite residences and were within the dispersed settlement zones. While this typology assigns likely residential

units into only two types, Maya society has been shown to be a very complex social strata continuum. While the large public plazas were generally coded “Public/Ceremonial,” the work to build them may have required more man-hours than the monumental temples that towered above them (pers. comm., Thomas Guderjan). The categorical distinction between “Monumental” and “Public/Ceremonial” types emphasizes the perceived greater degree of visual, ritual, and social restriction of monumental structures.


Christina G. Marroquin

Structure Type 1 - Monumental 2 - Public/Ceremonial 3 – Range

4 - Simple 5 - Occupation 6 - Miscellaneous 7 - Unknown

Data Definition Large, ceremonial, masonry structures in, or associated with, the Site Core, such as ballcourts, ceremonial platforms, and large temples Special purpose, non-residential, masonry structures, such as plazas, low ceremonial platforms, and small temples Multi-room masonry structures that may have served elite residential, administrative, or ceremonial functions, including other closely associated structures, such as residential shrines and private ceremonial platforms Smaller structures of masonry or perishable materials, usually one or two rooms, that may have served non-elite residential functions, including other closely associated structures like kitchens or workshops Occupational activity only (no structural evidence); also includes structure re-occupation by a population without new constructional activity Special purpose structures, such as mortuaries and chultuns Area, Structure, Period, Context, or other information was not provided Table 3: Data definitions for structure type

Jade Type (Normalized) created based on the artifact’s apparent general utility. Jades were assigned one of three variables based on whether it was perforated or not (i.e. able to be worn or not) or whether it was a piece of raw jade (Table 4).

While jade forms, such as beads, figurines, and ear flares, are not as numerous as ceramic forms, sitespecific terminology resulted in an extensive list of unique jade designations. Therefore, a typology was

Jade Type Adorno

Non-adorno Raw

Data Definition Shaped forms intended as personal adornment, most with a bore hole for attachment, such as beads, pendants, ear flares, and dental inlays; this does not include “adornos” as coded in some source texts as structure (wall, floor) adornments Shaped forms that are not perforated, and not intended to be worn, such as bead blanks, mosaics (unless adhered to a perforated backing), celts, wall/floor or other structural “adornos,” and figurines Raw or initial working only, also includes debitage

Table 4: Data definitions for jade type were known. In rare instances, jade’s presence was simply noted with no mention of form, and accordingly, the LOE field was left blank. Due to the high volume of low LOE jades, careful distinctions were made between debitage, unshaped mosaics, and shaped mosaics. Mosaics were coded according to the level of effort of each individual piece and not of the final, and often elaborate, assemblage. Since, statistically, this typology is an ordinal scale with limited permissible mathematical operations, LOE analysis throughout this study often considers the quantity ratio of high-labor intensive jades (LOE>2) to total jades per period (lowlabor intensive jades are defined as LOE≤2).

Level of Effort (LOE) (Normalized) Individual jades were categorized into one of seven variables based on the intricacy of their final form (Table 5). No adjustments were made if the jades were broken or technological advances made one form easier to make over time. In many instances, there were no illustrations or additional description of the particular jade artifact, therefore, a generalization about the form was made. For example, if the presence of a jade bead were noted, the LOE would default to 4, per Table 5. However, if the bead were described as having zoomorphic carving, the LOE would be increased to LOE 5 or 6, as appropriate. The LOE for “worked fragments” was set to 1, even though many may be broken artifacts whose form is not identifiable and whose coding would likely be higher if the original form

Periods (Normalized) While Mesoamerican periods are relatively standard, the dating of each site’s ceramics often caused slight differences in the specific dates assigned to each period.


Maya Political Economy

LOE 0 None to Negligible

1 Low

2 Low to Medium

3 Medium

4 Medium to High 5 High 6 Very High

Data Definition / Examples Raw or very slightly worked; unperforated  Pebbles – Unworked or initial working  Debitage/Unworked Fragments  Painted Raw Jades Slightly shaped, ground, or polished; unperforated  Unshaped Mosaic Pieces – Simple mosaic pieces, slightly polished or ground; may be loose or part of an elaborate assemblage (LOE is not based on the assemblage but on the individual pieces)  Worked Fragment – Slightly worked or remains of unidentifiable broken artifacts  Pebbles -- Evidence of more extensive grinding/polishing  Incised Jades – Simple pieces with graffiti-type/simple etchings Shaped; unperforated  Shaped Mosaics – Simply shaped pieces, either loose or part of an assemblage, including those shaped like an animal paw, knot, eye, hand, etc., or those that served part of the border/frame  Simply Shaped Figurines (i.e. “Charlie Chaplins”)  Incised Jades – Shaped pieces with incised designs, more elaborate than etchings  Dental Inlays  Simple Disks Well-shaped/carved; unperforated  Bead Blanks or Spheres  Celts, Drills/Lancets, Stylus  Carved Jades – Shaped pieces with carved designs, more elaborate than incised jades Elaborately shaped/carved OR perforated  Plain/Simple Beads, Rings, and Pendants  Simple “Sewn-on Ornaments” or “Adornos” – Pieces with bore holes  Unperforated Plaques Elaborately shaped/carved AND often perforated  Carved Beads and Pendants – May have multiple bore holes  Ear Flares – Plain or simply carved  Plaques – Well-carved and shaped Very elaborately shaped/carved AND often perforated  Ear Flares – Elaborately carved  Elaborate Pendants/Plaques/Figurines/Statuettes/Sculptures

Table 5: Data definitions and examples for level of effort (LOE))


Christina G. Marroquin


Altar of Sacrifices

Blue Creek


black stones

San Jose

Cool Shade

1000- 1 - Middle Xe (900-600 (1000/800BC) 650 BC) 400 Preclassic St. Felix St. Philip (MPC) BC (600-300 BC) (650-350

Mamom (600-300 BC)

2 - Late Early Plancha Preclassic (300 BC-AD 1) (LPC)

AD 100250

3Terminal Preclassic (TPC)

Three Tongues (350 BCAD 100)

Linda Vista Late Iron (AD (AD 1-150) 100/150250)

Hol (500-300 BC)

Chicanel (300 BC-200 AD) (Ixtabai Abal (300 BC300-200 BC; AD 175) C'oh 200-50 BC; Tulix 50 BC-200 AD) Pom (AD 175350)

Early Cantutse (300 BCAD 1)

San Jose I (AD 317435)

Salt Lake (AD 150-450) Salt Lake/Early (Pre-vault) AD Ayn (AD Rio Hondo Mine (AD San ​​Jose II 4 - Early Tzakol (AD 150-540) (AD 250350-560) (AD 435Classic 250200-550) Late Ayn (AD 600) Balche (AD 633) (EC) 600 540-554) 560-620) We Will See (AD 554-573) Turbid Waters (Vault) St. Joseph III Chixoy (AD Yaxche (AD AD (AD 600(AD). 6335 - Late 573-613) Tepeu (AD 620-750) 750) 803) Classic 600Pasion (AD 550-950) Early Two-Mouthed "Transition (LC) 800 613-771) Jackal (AD 750III-IV" (AD 750-IV" 800) 830/850) Boca (AD Late AD 771-909) Rio Bravo Chacalhaaz 6San Jose IV 800- Terminal B-J (AD 771(AD Tepeu) (AD (AD 800-850) (AD 803948) 830/850550-950) Kumche (AD Classic 900/ 925) Jimba (AD 1000) 850(TC) 1100 909-948) Abandonment) New Town AD (AD 950San Jose V 7900/ 1250)




Real Phase Eb (800(Pre(900-600 600 BC) Masonry) BC) Tzec Mamom Escoba (600-350 (IA) (600(600-300 BC) 300 BC) BC)


400 BCAD 100


Chuen (Pre-Vault) (350 BCChicanel AD 1) (IB) (300 Cauac BC (AD 1AD278) 150)

Late Cimi Cantutse (AD 150(AD 1-270) 250)

(Pre-Vault) Chicanel (IB) (300 BC AD278)

Junco (AD (Vault I) 270-500) Manik Tzakol (II) Unknown (AD 250(AD 278(AD 500550) 593) 650)

I (AD (Vault II) Tepejilote 550-700) Tepeu (III) (AD 650Imix (AD (AD 593830) 700-870) 889+

(Vault IIg or Eznab II+) Bayal (AD (AD 870- Tepeu (III) 830-930) 950) (AD 593889+) Caban (AD 9501200)

Willey Thompson 1990: Fig. 8, MoholyKidder Wiley 1973: Guderjan Garber 1989: Muñoz 2006: 1939: Table 193-197; Nagy 1947: 2; 21, Fig. 3 2007: 12-14 Fig. 4 128-171 17, 221-222, Tourtellot 2008: 7- Smith 1950: 228, 232 1988: 37216 vi, 86-87 410

Table 6: Data sources -- includes site-specific ceramic chronologies


Maya Political Economy In addition, lack of ceramic differentiation caused the merging of periods at some sites, such as Uaxactun’s Tepeu pottery into a combined “Late/Terminal Classic,” just as the abundance of ceramic differentiation may permit the addition of a period at other sites, such as Tikal’s Ik pottery into an “Intermediate Classic.” Therefore, it was necessary to assign site-specific ceramics to a normalized period (Table 6). In most instances, site-specific and normalized periods were the same, even though dating of site-specific ceramics may not exactly align to the dates provided for the normalized period (for San Jose discussion, see Introduction). As necessary, stratigraphic or architectural information was considered to definitively assign jade to a normalized period. For example, vault style was considered in normalizing jades associated with Uaxactun’s long-spanning Tepeu pottery. Where a pottery style substantially overlapped normalized periods, stratigraphic data and other site information were carefully examined and adjustments were made as appropriate. For example, jades associated with Tikal’s “very early Ik/possibly Manik” (“Intermediate Classic”) pottery were normalized to “Early Classic” and not the “Late Classic” based on additional site information. Where a specific determination could not be made, all periods were listed, such as “04-05 Classic,” or “01-03 Preclassic,” or were listed as unknown. However, nonspecific (non-sp.)determinations precluded jade from analysis that considered specific periods. Finally,

Context Burial Cache

periods are abbreviated as indicated in Table 6; for example, the Middle Preclassic is identified simply as MPC throughout this study.

Condition (Captured) This field captures the current condition of the jade as mentioned in the original source text, whether it is “whole,” “broken,” or, though rarely noted, “intentionally broken.” The default value for this field was set to “whole” after careful consideration of all source materials – authors noted when jades were broken but never explicitly noted when they were whole. Debitage and fragments were coded “broken,” and mosaics were coded “whole,” even though many mosaics may be re-used pieces from larger broken artifacts. Context (Normalized) Jades are most often found in the ritual contexts of burials and caches, however, both offering types are ceremonial and at times difficult to distinguish. For example, burials may contain cache-like deposits and caches may contain human remains. In these rare scenarios, the deposits were carefully considered, and determinations were based on contextual information, author’s comments, and the site’s categorization.

Data Definition A burial is an internment of an entire human body, even if the entire skeleton is not recovered, and even if the burial is secondary or seems to have other ceremonial purposes. It includes everything associated with the internment. A cache is an intentional placement of an offertory deposit, not associated with a burial. It includes everything associated with the deposit.

Misc Find/Deposit

A miscellaneous find is a deposit that is not associated with a burial or cache, such as a single find in construction fill.

Problematical (Burial)

At Tikal, several disturbed deposits were identified as likely burials or caches that may have been part of a later termination ritual event. These deposits were segregated from other burials or caches due to the level of disturbance and the resultant questionable dating and/or original content.

Problematical (Cache)

Table 7: Data definitions for context or meaningful, such as ear flares, only that the jade form has additional symbols or motifs. While well-shaped jades, such as ear flares, may have symbolic embellishment, many carved designs also appear on otherwise unworked jades.

Symbology (Normalized) While green jade had social and ritual significance, some jades were additionally embellished with carved, painted, or shaped designs. This data field does not indicate if the form of the jade is especially symbolic


Christina G. Marroquin

Symbology Blank/Null Yes Yes – Simple Yes – Assemblage

Data Definition No visible embellishments or unknown Clear symbolic embellishments are present, such as glyphs or zoomorphic images Simple symbolic embellishments are present, such as graffiti-type etchings Individual mosaic elements that are not symbolic themselves but combine into a symbolic representation, such as a mosaic figurine or mask Table 8: Data definitions for symbology

deposits left immediately before new construction phases as “dedication” and only “termination” if there was appropriate evidence. Those determinations that remained questionable included a “?” in the designator. Because termination deposits are only recently studied and associated evidence is rarely noted in the source materials, termination determinations were largely limited to three sites for the data analysis (Tikal, Blue Creek, and Cerros).

Ceremonial Significance (Normalized) Termination or dedication determinations were especially difficult when they occurred between phases of construction, as the deposit may represent the termination for an earlier construction phase or the dedication for the upcoming phase. Therefore, strict adherence to the data definitions in Table 9 defined

Ceremonial Significance


Termination Sacrificial Offertory

Data Definition An offering made during construction or the initiation of a new building phase, presumably to sanctify the structure, therefore usually non-intrusive; may be intrusive into earlier construction phases but made at the time of, or “immediately” before, the new building phase; generally, any offering associated with a monument; evidence includes intact surfaces An offering made, presumably, to de-sanctify the structure; evidence includes ceremonial fires and the scattering of white ash and broken artifacts (such as jades and ceramics) An offering of an individual that is believed to be a sacrifice, and may be related to the structure or another buried individual An offering made through an existing surface after its construction and during occupation, therefore intrusive; evidential indicators include surface “patches” Table 9: Data definitions for ceremonial significance

Total Size (cm3) / Length, Width, Thickness (cm) / Weight (gm) (Captured)

from the same site. When this was done, the measurements were noted in red in the raw data. Consequently, patterning associated with size data, more than any other field, should be carefully considered and substantiated by additional research.

Where the source materials provided an estimate for a jade’s original/unbroken form, only its recovered measurements were recorded. While weight would have been the preferred method of comparison, it was rarely provided. In comparison to other fields, measurement data were the most often incomplete and rarely explicitly provided in the source materials. This data were most often obtained from measured drawings. Maximum length, width, and thickness measurements were multiplied to obtain an estimated volume or “total size.” However, jade pieces are often irregularly shaped. Therefore, this calculation methodology is not entirely appropriate, and “total size” should be considered an estimate. Thickness was rarely presented even in measured drawings, so it was often estimated based on drawing perspective or other similar forms

Data Not Captured While many data fields were captured, several data points of interest were not. Most notably, jade color was rarely indicated in the source material, despite its potential for studies concerning sourcing or differential consumption. Where color is noted, it follows sitespecific naming conventions. There is no standardized color system in place to consistently record either cursory field or thorough laboratory observation. Reworked jades were also rarely identified, despite the potential for studies concerning the increased use of nearly exhausted material. Finally, this analysis is 162

Maya Political Economy limited to recovered jades and their contexts. A comparison of associated non-jade items, or an examination of deposits where jade would be expected but is not found, such as otherwise lavish burials, would be valuable but outside the scope of this study.

The analysis provides an overview of the compiled jade data and then, in detail, examines burial and cache deposits, termination and dedication deposits, nonritually associated deposits, structure and group type deposits, and jades over time. The regional and site level analysis reveals changes in quantities and characteristics that appear to be related to a transition from caching to burial behavior concentrated between the EC and LC periods. Influences from the disproportionately high jade quantities from Tikal, and to a lesser degree Blue Creek, have been mitigated by site level analysis to confirm the regional patterning where appropriate. While the analysis of group and structure types seems to be most affected by early excavation strategies that resulted in small sample sizes in contexts other than site cores and monumental structures, the regional analysis tentatively suggests a greater spatial than social division in jade’s distribution. These results seem to provide insight into a portion of Maya social evolution that is not well understood – the bridging of the sociopolitical evolutionary gap from quasi-stratified to fully stratified societies.

Biases While past excavation strategies focused on monumental structures of site cores, recent excavation strategies have a broader perspective. However, there is still comparatively much less data from dispersed settlement zones and non-elite contexts. Where data have been reported for these under-represented contexts, it is often difficult to interpret due to the use of perishable materials. In addition, due to time or financial limitations, published reports may only include information on the extraordinary, elaborate, or unbroken jades from the more impressive burials and caches. While jade’s geological rarity and social significance make it a valuable tool for studying Maya political economy, other characteristics of jade may limit its suitability. Jade has a relatively small sample size compared to other artifact classes. Jade is durable, permitting it to be re-worked into new forms or to be retained as heirlooms over time. Jade is also portable. Therefore, assumptions based on its temporal, spatial, or contextual occurrence need to be carefully considered. Jade’s consumption patterning, based on compiled data relating to its deposition, reflects its final use context – termination, cache, and burial deposits may not reflect its intended or primary use context. Therefore, the life cycle of jade, when considering possible intended or primary use contexts, may be more complicated than indicated by the depositional patterning revealed in this analysis.

Data Analysis Data Overview -- Quantity, LOE, and Size The compilation of recovered jades yielded a quantity of 19,250 artifacts, which are summarized by site, period, and LOE in Table 10. As for all tables, null values indicate no jades met the specified conditions, however, zeros indicate a value that rounds to zero. Only 257 jades are assigned to a non-specific (non-sp.) period, such as “Preclassic.” Only 169 jades lacked sufficient descriptive data to permit the assignment of an LOE and were categorized as “unknown.” Because, statistically, the LOE typology is an ordinal scale that limits mathematical operations, simple frequency percentages of high LOE jades (LOE>2) compared to period quantities were also provided in Table 10. Throughout the analysis, the use of this % high LOE in varying circumstances is closely considered with sample size, as increasing the number of categorizations decreases sample sizes and possibly creates differences in percentages that may appear more significant than they really are. A summary of % high LOE by site is provided in Table 11. Tikal exhibits the lowest quality jades, with a % high LOE of only 21.8%.

Discussion While simply compiling a catalog of contextually secure jade artifacts is important, it does not permit regional analysis. Normalization of site-specific nomenclature into carefully considered typologies that balance the conservation of meaningful distinctions and the formulation of appropriate sample sizes is crucial in detecting insightful data patterning. While the concept of assigning jades to typologies, such as group type and structure type, is not new, the standardization of their definitions and consistency in use across Maya polities is new. Normalized typologies utilized in this study, such as LOE and jade type, are new and have been developed specifically to answer the thesis questions. The online availability of the compiled data and its reporting method will allow dynamic analysis by other researchers. The publishing of this data also hopes to generate attention to needed minimum reporting and naming convention standards.

The site-specific data for quantity, % high LOE, and size have been combined to provide a regional perspective (Figure 9.19). For all periods except the EC and LC, jade quantities remain relatively low. In the EC, quantities increase to their highest levels, while size and % high LOE decrease to their lowest levels. In the LC, quantities decrease but remain relatively high. However, instead of following the EC patterning, where size and % high LOE may be expected to remain relatively low or increase slightly, % high LOE and size greatly increase. While the dichotomy in proportions between the EC and LC jade assemblages may be highlighted by the large jade quantities at Tikal, and to



Christina G. Marroquin a lesser extent Blue Creek, its warrants further examination and may indicate a regional shift in jade utilization.

transition and whether a transition may explain the jade assemblage dichotomies between the EC and LC and the % high LOE values of individual sites.

In attempting to understand both the variation in the % high LOE by site (Table 11) and the regional shift in jade assemblage proportions between the EC and LC (Figure 9.1), an evaluation of the peaks in jade quantity by site over time, which presumably would correlate with a site’s centralizing power, and the main depositional contexts for jades (burials and caches) reveals a pattern (Table 13). Despite an early association of jade with burials in the Preclassic, sites with peak jade quantities in the EC or earlier, tended to utilize cached jade at peak utilization (in green highlight). Sites with peaks in jade quantities in the LC or later, tended to utilize burial jade at peak utilization (in blue highlight). There are two exceptions -- Seibal, whose samples are low, and Uaxactun, which seems to have a consistent presence of jade in burials over time. While the timeframe may differ between sites, a general transition from caching to burial behavior across the region seems to be concentrated between the EC and LC. Additional analysis will examine the apparent cache-burial

Burials and Caches

Jade size has been averaged by period and site in Table 3. However, size data were only available for 10,911 jade artifacts. Six large jades were skewing the results and were removed from size analysis. This resulted in the creation of an Altarwhich de Sacrificios “adjusted average,” was additionally noted in parenthesis. The smallest of the six is nearly twice as large, while the largest of the six is over ten times as large, as any other jade. This created a natural demarcation. The six removed jades are as follows: Seibal, TC, 936 cm3; Tikal, LC, 1,171 cm3; Tikal, EC, 2,915 cm3; Seibal, TC, 2,964 cm3; 3 Uaxactun, EC, 3,580 cmCreek ; and Seibal, TC, 5,474 Blue cm3. All figures throughout the analysis use “adjusted size.” Seibal’s largest size average is attributable in the TC to large raw jades, several in stelae caches, and in the MPC to one bloodletter and seven celts, which were all rare in the dataset. Tikal’s large average in the TPC is due to only two jade samples; one was a very large pendant.Site CerrosName

black stones

San Jose


LOE 0 1 2 4 5 Total 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Unknown Total 1 3 4 5 6 Total 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Unknown Total 0 1 2 4 5 6 Total 0 1 2 3

While jade is recovered in other contexts, such as in special finds in construction fill, Table 14 confirms that the main depositional contexts for jade are burials and caches. Problematical deposits, whether burial or cache, are included in other contexts. While sample sizes for burials and caches are comparable at a regional level, their ratios often vary significantly at a site level. Burials and caches will be examined to determine whether differences or changes in composition or placement exist that may account for the noted dichotomies. While Table 15 provides a summary of burial and cached jade quantities by site over time, Tables 6 and 7 additionally provide detail on jade LOE over time. These tables also provide the regional % high LOE by period.

Total Jade 54 26 22 563 5 670 534 12 16 7 887 62 3 11 1,532 50 1 142 33 5 231 64 63 41 9 283 29 3 151 643 1 4 16 55 5 2 83 8 6 3 11


Period EC 1 7 12 4 8

Nonsp. 18 13






33 5 1 1 2 19 2


18 5

5 144


182 3

30 1

9 9


2 28 46 1 90 27 5 169



28 375 10 15 4 645 53 3 1,105

LC 34 6 10 489 2 541 5 1


41 3 44

1 20 4

31 3

41 6 47 9 27 4 2 1


1 8 51


1 5



14 55 36 36 7 282 28 3 143 590 1 1 3 47 3 1 56

4 2 8


2 12 3 1 18 8 2

1 3


1 1 3

Maya Political Economy 4 16 Total 44 12 0 6,463 153 16 1 5,404 2 135 1 3 15 5 4 3,049 12 3 179 5 247 6 1 6 26 Unknown 7 2 2 Total 15,346 179 3 198 0 18 1 210 6 2 221 1 3 2 4 225 5 80 2 5 24 6 1 Total 701 12 80 2 19,250 257 105 415 29.9% 21.2% 95.8% 83.7%



Grand Total % High LOE (to pd total)

2 5,400 5,087 91 6 1 601 56 1 2 2 2 11,245 1 203 208 2 116 13 1 544 338 13,026 56.5% 12.0%

5 6 787 249 40 4 2,240 180 23 1 3,524 17 1 2

11 24 107 68 3

17 10

5 1

13 4



47 16 4,795 297 17 72.4% 28.6% 76.5%

Table 10: Jade quantity by LOE, site, and period

Site Name

Jades with LOE

% High LOE

Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun TOTAL

670 1,521 231 492 83 44 15,339 701 19,081

84.8% 63.1% 78.4% 65.9% 74.7% 61.4% 21.8% 35.9% 29.9%

Table11: Summary of % high LOE by site

Total Jade Altar of Sacrifices 541 Blue Creek 361 Hills 62 Piedras Negras 397 San Jose 12 26 Seibal (23) 9,035 Tikal (9,033) 477 Uaxactun (476) Site Name




10,911 (10,905)

Size (Adj) Non-sp. MPC 80.0 0.24 2.34 1.41 1.69 2.88 4.73 2.52 3.00 377.0 25.2 (18.6) 2.32 10.86 0.18 (1.86) 9.81 3.44 0.11 (2.31) 3.53 14.3 2.54 (1.97) --



Period LPC TPC EC 1.02 1.02 0.01 0.29 0.98 2.67 3.62 0.87 4.41 0.77


1.22 230

TC 4.82


2.21 2.30 2.39 1.58

4.50 683.5 (17.7)

1.38 3.89 1.65 (0.89) (3.46) 12.8 3.20 1.77 (2.74) 2.05 3.21 76.1 1.90 (1.05) (2.88) (4.06) 6,472 3,571 130 193 (6,470) (3,570) (127)



Table 12: Size of jade averaged by period and by site


LC 0.10 3.00

2.41 16

Christina G. Marroquin




12,000 10,000

3.0 2.5






Quantity Axis

LOE & Size Axis


1.0 2,000



(Video) Belize Watch Audrey Budd May 25, 2023





% High LOE (1.0=100%)



Size (adj)

PC Quantity

Figure 9.19: Quantity, % high LOE, and size of jade by period

Site Name Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun

Context Burial Cache Burial Cache Cache Burial Cache Burial Cache Burial Cache Burial Cache Burial Cache


LPC 18


2 26 31

TPC 2 2 106 133

EC 26 1 19 1,084

LC 499 35 1 25

2 49 4 2

432 158 52 4 2


176 3 1 1

4,388 6,699 514 30

2,840 634 23 24



2 8 3

TC 37


14 2 6 13 3

1 1


Table 13: Summary of cache and burial jades by period (highlights indicate jade quantity peak by site; green=cache; blue=burial)

Site Name Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun TOTAL

Jade in Caches Jade in Burials Jade in Other Contexts 38 583 49 1,271 138 123 38 193 207 434 2 9 71 3 21 10 13 7,482 7,412 452 55 634 12 9,121 9,282 847

Table 14: Quantity of jades in cache, burial, and other contexts


Maya Political Economy Total Jade Non-sp. MP 0 34 C Altar de 4 4 Sacrificios Total 38 0 497 1 10 2 7 3 3 Blue Creek 4 695 3 5 56 6 3 Total 1,271 3 1 14 4 17 Cerros 5 2 6 5 Total 38 0 64 1 55 2 19 Piedras 3 5 Negras 4 12 5 1 Unknown 51 Total 207 0 1 1 1 2 1 San Jose 4 5 5 1 Total 9 0 8 1 2 Seibal 3 8 8 4 3 Total 21 8 0 5,944 141 1 1,353 2 49 3 7 2 Tikal 4 95 5 28 1 6 4 Unknown 2 Total 7,482 144 0 17 1 9 2 2 3 1 Uaxactun 4 22 5 3 6 1 Total 55 Grand Total (Caches) 9,121 147 8 Site Name


% High LOE (to pd total)





Period TPC EC 2 2 114


16 3

26 14 10 2 5 31


1 1 374 10 7 3 638 49 3 1,084

LC 34 1 35 4



17 4 25 7 7

9 26 4 2 8 49

55 29 15 3 12 1 43 158 1 1

2 2

1 1 1 4

2 2 8 2


3 13



5,396 1,169 27 1 80 23 1 2 6,699


9 2 1 14 3 1 30 7,865

1 1


1 1 61

100% 68.9% 16.8% 10.5%

407 184 22 4 11 4 2 634 17

7 24 880 8.1%

Table 15: Jade quantity in caches by LOE, site, and period




33.3% 87.5%

Christina G. Marroquin

Site Name

Altar of Sacrifices

Blue Creek

black stones

San Jose




LOE 0 1 2 4 5 Total 0 1 2 4 5 Unknown Total 1 2 3 4 5 6 Unknown Total 1 2 4 5 6 Total 2 4 Total 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Unknown Total 0 1 2 3 4 5 Total

Total MP Jade Non-sp. C 1 7 22 550 1 3 583 1 2 1 8 120 9 4 3 1 138 9 1 8 21 4 271 27 3 100 434 1 15 50 3 2 71 2 8 10 374 3,870 79 3 2 2,866 3 196 22 2 7,412 2 3 1 195 218 1 198 80 21 634 80

Grand Total (Burial)


% High LOE (to pd total)

47.4 %



Period LPC





10 487 2 499

36 1 37





7 12 7


2 1

26 1


8 6 4


2 2


19 1


2 1 3


1 7 21 4 270 27 3 100 432 1 2 46 2 1 52

12 1 1 14

1 1

2 2 2 373 43 17

6 6

2,216 170 21


4,388 1 194 206 1 102 10 514



1 2


10 10 23

5 1 16




2 1 3,827 62 1 471 25 1

173 1 2 176

1 1 197



100% 100% 100% 96.4% 12.8% 87.2% 71.1% 100%

Table 16: Jade quantity in burials by LOE, site, and period

The site-specific data have been combined to provide a regional perspective in Figures 9.20 and 9.21. Figure 9.20 indicates a peak in jade caching in the EC with a

steep decline into the LC. While burial jade also peaks in the EC, it doesn’t exceed the expenditure in caches until the LC. While the quantity of cached jade 168

Maya Political Economy increases throughout the Preclassic and peaks in the EC, Figure 9.9. indicates its % high LOE decreases. In the Preclassic, the figures suggest that low quantities of

the LC, burial quantities remain relatively high, but % high LOE levels return. So, there appears to be a regional increase in jade utilization in the EC and LC, a transition from EC caching to LC burial behavior, and a LC ability to maintain both high burial quantities and elevated % high LOE that was not possible in the EC.

burial jade equate to maintained elevated % high LOE levels. However, greatly increased burial jade in the EC is equated with greatly reduced % high LOE levels. By



Burial 7,000 Cache 6,000

5,000 4,953



3,000 2,000 880

1,000 0




61 197

137 110




15 EC


8 1



Figure 9.20: Quantity of jade in caches and burials over time



100% 100%


96.4% 87.2%





60% 40%

33.3% 20%


Burial Cache

0% MPC

16.8% LPC




8.1% LC



Figure 9.21: Jade % high LOE in caches and burials over time to be of higher quality than those from the EC when An examination of burial and cache % high LOE by site examined at a site level. Regionally, cache patterning is seems to confirm the pattern seen in Figure 9.21 -similar between the EC and LC but does not appear burials typically have a greater % high LOE than caches consistent at the site level. However, the EC-LC burial (Table 3.8). This pattern exists for all sites, except patterning seems to explain Uaxactun’s lower burial % Uaxactun. In trying to evaluate the Uaxactun exception high LOE when compared to its cache % high LOE -- it and the dichotomy in burial % high LOE between the had a higher quantity of burial jade in the EC, at a lower EC and LC, Table 3.9 compares both cache and burial LOE. While LC burials do appear to contain higher % high LOE by site for both periods. Cerros has no quality jade than EC-LC caches and EC burials, this associated samples. Although sample sizes are limited, analysis does not explain why the % high LOE levels at Table 3.9 also suggests that burial jades in the LC tended sites often differ significantly.


Christina G. Marroquin

Site Name Blue Altar Sacrificios Cerros Creek Piedras San Jose Negras Seibal Tikal Uaxactun TOTAL

Cache % High LOE 10.5% 59.6% 63.2% 11.5% 66.7% 52.4% 1.8% 49.1% 10.8%

Burial % High LOE 94.9% 91.9% n/a 91.3% 77.5% 80.0% 41.7% 34.7% 47.4%

Other Context % High LOE 22.4% 67.8% 81.3% 50.0% 33.3% 61.5% 25.8% 41.7% 45.1%

Table 17: The % high LOE by site for caches, burials, and other contexts

Cache -- % High LOE Burial -- % High LOE EC LC EC LC Qty % HighQty % HighQty % High LOE Qty 100.0% 35 LOE 2.9% 26 26.9% 499 Sacrificial Altar 1 LOE 1.084 63.9% 25 84.0% 19 52.6% 1 Blue Creek 41 4.9% 115 13.9% 2 50.0% 332 Piedras Negras 2 100.0% 4 50.0% 4 75.0% 52 San Jose 2 Seibal 6,697 1.6% 634 3.3% 4,388 11.3% 2,840 Tikal 30 63.3 % 24 29.2% 514 22.0% 23 Uaxactun TOTAL 7.855 10.5% 837 8.1% 4.953 12.8% 3.749 Site Name

% High LOE 98.0% 0.0% 91.6% 94.2% 100.0% 84.8% 87.0% 87.2%

Table 18: The % high LOE by site for caches and burials for the EC and LC periods

In an attempt to understand the underlying differences between EC burials, LC burials, and EC-LC caches, a review of burial and cache variables is provided in Tables 15 and 16. Since jade is at times found in the mouths of the deceased (n=22), this is also tracked in Table 16, though period breakouts are provided in Table 17. Burial and cache variables are grouped by typology, such as group type, and have been segregated by alternating shading of rows. Site core and monumental deposits account for the majority of recovered jade, however, this may reflect early excavation strategies that focused on site core and monumental architecture.

These compositional differences of jade types would explain LOE dichotomies. A review of jade types for the EC and LC by site is provided in Table 18. Cerros has no samples and is not included. Since caches show little change other than quantity, they are summarized for both periods. However, separate consideration of EC and LC burials does indicate an increased presence of adornos and/or a decreased presence of non-adornos in the LC for all sites. Raw jades are most likely to be in caches. Table 15 also suggests cached jade was often broken. Therefore, Table 19 examines condition of jades in EC burials, LC burials, and caches at a site level. The table indicates that burials at all sites contain more whole jades than broken jades and that broken jades are not common in burials. The site level patterning is not as clear for caches.

The tables suggest that caches, EC burials, and LC burials are compositionally different. While caches exhibit a reduction in all jade types that corresponds to the reduced quantities between the EC and LC, though non-adornos to a greater degree, burials exhibit inverses in jade type between the EC and LC. Burial jades tend to be non-adornos, such as mosaics, in the EC and adornos, such as beads, in the LC. Raw jades are the most frequent jade type in caches for both periods.


Maya Political Economy Size % High (Adj) LOE Jade Quantity --% High LOE (to pd -10.8% Jade Size (adjusted) 2.71 -total) Site Core 1.89 47.0% Lesser Ritual Center 9.46 6.2% Nucleated Stlmt Zone 8.25 29.9% Dispersed Stlmt Zone --Occupation 1.31 100% Monumental 2.14 11.5% Public/Ceremonial 4.14 4.5% Range 2.63 3.1% Simple 0.82 75.0% Occupation 28.0 100% Misc -25% Raw 3.93 0% Adorno 8.70 100% Non-Adorno 1.05 1.6% Bead 4.43 100% Ear Flare 30.4 100% Pendant 23.0 100% Mosaic 0.17 0% Debitage & Fragments 0.24 0% Whole 3.09 29.8% Broken 1.09 3.9% Symbology 3.30 9.4% Symbology (not mosaic) 4.83 16.1% Lip to Lip Vessel 3.41 45.8% Lidded Vessel 1.44 5.9% Loose 2.39 7.0% Chamber 6.28 19.5% Crypt 3.15 23.7% Cist 3.86 10.6% Simple 1.88 5.2% Variables (Caches)

Period MPC LPC TPC EC 8 61 137 7,865 9,121 -- 100% 68.9% 16.8% 10.5% 28.0 3.93 7.50 1.47 -32 137 7,744 8,795 1 35 179 8 28 86 137 0 7 31 137 6,779 7,812 2 474 641 603 617 28 5 36 8 8 4 4 5 114 5,779 6,565 42 23 814 956 8 14 1,262 1,547 32 18 712 820 2 3 49 63 6 1 33 42 14 1,159 1,289 5 114 5,732 6,366 7 37 20 1,904 2,423 1 24 117 5,951 6,648 11 1 440 566 6 1 271 330 810 819 2 1,546 1,660 1 2 4,329 4,915 3,217 3,217 28 11 118 7 2 172 237 1 3 135 3,445 4,239


Table 19: Summary of cache characteristics


LC TC PC 880 15 8 8.1% 33.3% 87.5% 3.25 40.3 1.19 865 15 1 15 7 851 15 12 2


518 61 258 44 8 1 116 513 300 540 114 52 9 111 558

8 5 2 4

79 49 636

7 1 1

7 1 7

1 2 13 2

7 1

1 14



7 1

Christina G. Marroquin Size % HighTotal (Adj)LOE Jade Quantity --9,282 % High LOE -47.4% -Jade Size (Adjusted) 1.64 --Site Core 1.69 46.2% 8,544 Lesser Ritual Center 2.80 100% 2 Nucleated Stlmt Zone 1.03 44.7% 491 Dispersed Stlmt Zone 1.54 89.7% 156 Occupation 0.11 100% 80 Monumental 1.77 41.9% 6,490 Public/Ceremonial 1.21 51.9% 2,150 Range 2.67 85.5% 352 Simple 0.99 79.0% 62 Occupation 0.22 100% 84 Misc 1.91 90.1% 133 Raw 0.09 0.0% 378 Adorno 3.57 100% 3,804 Non-Adorno 0.26 12.2% 4,995 Bead 2.57 100% 3,549 Ear Flare 29.7 100% 102 Pendant 27.6 100% 27 Mosaic 0.18 0.0% 4,888 Whole 1.62 49.7% 8,697 Broken 4.00 5.4% 480 Symbology 0.51 13.5% 4,850 Symbology (not mosaic) 25.1 84.6% 65 Adult (Primary) 1.62 47.2% 8,816 Child (Primary) 0.95 97.1% 34 Infant (Primary) 3.54 12.9% 93 Male (Primary) 1.82 31.1% 6,210 Female (Primary) 0.66 98.6% 1,139 Extended (Primary) 1.72 48.9% 7,205 Flexed (Primary) 1.30 31.5% 1,433 Chamber 1.75 42.4% 8,084 Crypt 0.46 87.1% 817 Cist 1.99 22.9% 109 Simple 1.80 85.4% 268 Variables (Burials)

Qty in Period Mouth MPC LPC 22 85 197 100% 100% -0.11 0.42 -9 22 0 2 4 159 11 1 16 0 80 7 2 1 3 177 3 3 1 16 1 81 7 2 0 21 84 193 1 16 83 192 1 1 4 1 1 20 84 192 2 1 4 1 3 1 20 81 187 2 3 0 8 10 3 23 3 3 164 11 79 37 11 3 1 5 12 4 164 3 5 10 84 16

TPC 110 96.4% 1.32 4

EC 4,953 12.8% 0.87 4,714

LC 3,849 87.2% 2.85 3,733

TC PC 76 1 71.1% 100% 3.48 7.56 70 1

1 105

219 20

108 8



3,533 1,369 9 16

2,947 599 276 25

25 3 631 4,319 593 21 11 4,244 4,870 83 4,203 27 4,853

1 373 2,712 664 2,517 78 12 644 3,366 383 633 24 3,635 22

1 105 2 108 105 1 99 11 4 2 2 47 1 105 5

75 4,756 16 3,443 1,395 4,804 18 93 37

Table 20: Summary of burial characteristics

Site Name Altar of Blue Sacrifices Piedras Creek Seibal Negras Tikal Uaxactun

Period MPC LPC 1 3



EC 7 1 1

LC 1



1 1 3 2

Table 21: Burials with jade in mouth by site and period


1,387 947 3,553 8 3,163 618 8 60

4 66 3 3


66 10 50 2 1


75 1 12 12 56 8 10 39 7 46 24


17 3 56


1 1 1



Maya Political Economy

Site Name

Context Burial – EC Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Blue Burial – LC Creek Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Piedras Burial – LC Negras Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC San Jose Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Seibal Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Tikal Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Uaxactun Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Total Burial – LC Total Cache Total Grand Total

Altar of Sacrifices

Grand Total Adorno Non-Adorno 26 7 19 499 499 36 2 19 10 8 1 1 1,109 711 20 2 1 1 332 317 15 156 13 79 4 4 52 51 1 6 4 1 2


4,388 2,840 7,331 514 23 54 4,953 3,749 8,692 17,394

497 1,821 121 112 22 24 631 2,712 875 4,218

3,890 646 1,407 401 1 13 4,319 664 1,520 6,503

Context Burial – EC Altar de Burial – LC Sacrificios Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Blue Burial – LC Creek Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Piedras Burial – LC Negras Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC San Jose Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Seibal Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Tikal Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Uaxactun Burial – LC Cache (EC,LC) Burial – EC Total Burial – LC Total Cache Total Grand Total

Grand Total 26 499 36 19 1 1,109 2 332 159 4 52 6

Broken 5 1 597 7 21 1

2 3 373 5,850 74 2 23 83 383 6,491 6,957

Whole 21 499 36 18 1 512 2 325 138 4 51 6

4,385 2,467 1,481 440 21 31 4,870 3,366 2,204 10,440

Table: 23: Burial and cache jade condition


378 64 1

17 3 373 6,297 6,673


4,388 2,840 7,331 514 23 54 4,953 3,749 8,695 17,397

34 1

1 373 5,803 1

Table: 22: Burial and cache jade types

Site Name


Christina G. Marroquin An additional pattern noted in Table 16 seems significant. Burial jades were typically associated with a male (66.9%) as the primary internment and much less so with a female (12.3%). However, the combined consideration of context and quantity indicates that male and female burials became increasingly similar by the LC. In the Preclassic and EC periods, there are nine female burials. However, only one female burial is within a public structure. This burial only contained two jade dental inlays and was in a simple grave type. In contrast, there are 27 male burials in the same timeframe -- sixteen in public structures, twelve in non-simple grave types, and all with a variety of jade forms, many elaborate. By the LC, while there are only four female burials with jade, three are in public structures in nonsimple grave types, and they contain high quantities of jade (n=947), including many elaborate forms. In comparison, there are fourteen LC male burials with relatively similar jade quantities (n=1,387). Five of these are in public structures, and eleven are non-simple grave types. Although samples are low, this may indicate that status, by the LC, was deferred to both genders and may indicate the presence of a hereditary elite social segment.

where a deposit with any amount of jade is considered a single occurrence, may be informative as well. Lange (1993b) notes “we have little evidence (for or against) regarding either common or mutually exclusive occurrence of low- and high-intensity jades.” However, the LOE typology provides a mechanism for assessing jade in this way. Tables 21 and 22 categorize deposits into those with a single instance of jade (quantity=1) and those with multiple jades (quantity>1). For single instances, the jade was noted as high-intensity (LOE>2) or low-intensity (LOE≤2) – the same LOE differentiation for calculations regarding % high LOE. For multiple instances, jades were noted as all high, all low, or mixed intensities. Burial contexts with dental inlays as the only jades were excluded from the analysis, but this information was captured in the comments. While the mixing of high and low intensity jades did occur in both contexts, it occurred less frequently in burials. While burials exhibited a preference for mutually excluding high intensity jades (72.5%), caches tended to mutual exclude low intensity jades (39.7%) or to mix jades (30.7%). While at a site level, the burial patterning seems to align with the regional analysis, the cache patterning is not as clear, especially for multiple instances, and seems influenced by the Tikal data set.

Throughout the analysis, patterning has been identified for individual jade artifacts, but an analysis by instance,

Site (Caches) Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun Total Total Percentage

Single High Low 3 1 5 6 2 1 1 3 6 5 6 1 23 17 12.2% 9.0%

Multiple Total Comments Low Mixed Instances 1 1 6 4 15 24 n/a Cache Nos. not identified 1 14 6 42 15 = Unknown (camp fire) 1 1 5 2 3 9 5 40 32 88 5 3 15 18 58 58 189 9.5% 30.7% 30.7% -High

Table 24: Instances of caches with high and low intensity jades

Site (Burials) Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun Total Total Percentage

Single High 7 3

Multiple High Low 8 2 6

Total Comments Mixed Instances 1 18 1 3 15 2 = Unknown n/a No Burials with Jade 1 = Unknown 3 2 7 1 = Dental Inlays only 7 1 2 13 3 = Dental Inlays only 2 2 5 1 = Dental Inlays only 10 18 1 6 36 1 = Dental Inlays only 5 14 3 4 26 34 2 53 6 16 120 28.3% 1.7% 44.2% 5.0% 13.3% -Low

Table 25: Instances of burials with high and low intensity jades


Maya Political Economy While the previous burial and cache analysis centers largely on quantity, composition, and LOE differences, an examination of jade sizes suggest burial jades were smaller than cached jade. However, sample sizes for

Site Name Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun

Total Jade 0 184 38 134 3 15 (12) 1,770 (1,769) 26 (25)


2,170 (2,165)

Average Size (Adj) n/a 1.92 3.83 4.11 3.39 652.7 (34.7) 3.97 (2.33) 148.0 (10.7) 10.0 (2.71) --

caches are significantly less than for burials. The higher percentage of raw jades in caches may largely be responsible for the size differential, as jade working is a subtractive process.

Period Non-sp. MPC LPC




1.18 2.46



3.98 0.97

0.29 4.40

3.20 (1.14) 174.6 (12.5) 5.54 7.50 (1.47) 1,595 28 (1,593)

13.62 89.6


28.0 3.93






28.0 11.2


8.82 1,367 (48.2)


3.22 1.33 3.25 330

1,197 (40.3) 8 (5)

1.19 8

Table 26: Size of jade in caches by period and by site

Site Name

Total Jade

Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose

524 106 0 261 8


6 7,012 (7,011) 440

Tikal Uaxactun


8,357 (8,356)

Average Period Size Non-sp. MPC LPC (Adj) 0.24 1.02 0.42 1.59 n/a 1.69 3.00 0.22 1.88 (1.72) 1.80 1.78 (1.64) --




1.02 0.01 1.33 10.78



1.69 2.74





0.22 2.80

0.18 0.42





0.11 0.42

1.32 0.87






Table 27: Size of jade in burials by period and by site


3.98 (3.50) 3.73 3.21 (2.85) 3,205 (3,204)

0.50 1.77 3.48




Christina G. Marroquin








25 20 15


10 5 0














1.19 EC




Figure 9.22: Comparison of jade sizes in caches and burials over time

Finally, Tables 28 and 29 consider the placement of burials and caches. The tables are sorted on the combined composition attributes of condition (whole) and jade type (not raw). When evaluated in relation to vertical placement, a patterning emerges. Jades at

Location Variables (Caches) Terrace, Axial Summit /Terrace, Stair, Axial Summit Summit, Axial (all) SUMMIT / TERRACE Summit, Axial (w/o Blue Creek Jade Shaft Caches) Terrace Stair, Non-axial Non-Axial Altar or Bench Axial BASE Stair Base, Stair Base, Axial Stair, Axial Base, Stair, Axial

higher levels within structures, such as at terrace or summit levels, are highlighted in red. Jades at lower levels, such as at the base of structures, are highlighted in blue.

% Whole &% % % High% Not Raw Whole Not Raw LOE Dedication 100.0% 100.0 100.0% 50.0% 100.0% 55.8% 55.8% 56.8% 5.3% 83.2% % 50.2% 52.4% 67.3% 60.3% 11.1% 50.0% 51.5% 62.9% 62.9% 9.2% 49.7% 54.3% 66.3% 58.6% 15.2%

Total 24 103 1,100 1,016 1,159







38.8% 33.4% 30.5% 19.5% 19.3% 13.3% 11.8% 9.9% 7.9% 7.1% 5.2%

95.9% 34.7% 36.7% 22.0% 20.5% 14.0% 12.7% 10.6% 8.6% 8.0% 6.0%

42.9% 36.4% 33.3% 21.4% 24.1% 15.3% 14.0% 12.1% 9.9% 9.1% 7.3%

22.5% 5.8% 6.1% 3.1% 13.8% 2.1% 2.7% 1.9% 1.8% 2.0% 1.4%

95.9% 92.3% 33.7% 7.5% 77.8% 89.0% 98.2% 99.5% 95.0% 99.4% 100.0%

59 862 3,519 318 5,602 5,253 4,816 4,557 4,078 3,954 3,744

Table 28: Location and characteristics of cached jade -- sorted on % whole/not raw


Maya Political Economy

Location Variables (Burials) Terrace, Axial Terrace Base, Stair Base, Stair, Axial Summit/Terrace, Stair, Axial SUMMIT / TERRACE BASE Base, Axial Stair, Non-axial Summit, Axial (all) Axial Non-Axial Summit Stair Stair, Axial Altar or Bench

% Whole & % % Not Raw Whole Not Raw 100.0% 100.0 100.0% 100.0% 100.0 100.0% % 100.0% 100.0 100.0% % 100.0% 100.0 100.0% % % 99.9% 99.9% 100.0% 99.9% 99.9% 99.9% 99.2% 99.2% 100.0% 99.2% 99.2% 100.0% 97.7% 97.7% 100.0% 94.4% 94.4% 100.0% 94.2% 94.3% 94.3% 92.9% 93.0% 99.7% 90.5% 95.2% 95.2% 81.1% 81.1% 81.5% 78.5% 78.5% 78.6% 21.7% 21.7% 100.0%

% High % LOE Dedication 99.0% 100.0% 98.8% 99.7% 4.3% 0.5% 3.8% 0.5% 99.4% 100.0% 98.6% 99.9% 29.3% 3.2% 26.4% 0.4% 88.1% 0.0% 94.4% 88.9% 35.4% 78.7% 83.1% 59.5% 85.7% 90.5% 68.1% 75.2% 64.9% 87.0% 12.0% 16.3%

Total 1,375 1,381 184 183 892 1,402 249 239 219 18 7,101 1,183 21 1,619 1,400 92

Table 29: Location and characteristics of burial jade -- sorted on % whole/not raw

In examining cached jade placement (Table 29), the percentage of whole/not raw jade appears higher for caches at summit/terrace levels than at base levels. Caches at the base also had a lower % high LOE (2.1%) than those at summit/terrace levels (58.6%). However, those at the base were more consistently identified as dedicatory.

with 100% dedication determinations appear at the top and bottom of Table 28, which are differentially composed. Walker (as cited by Maxwell 1996: 42-43) discussed the possibility that some caches may be the “residue of ritual behavior, rather than its central focus.” These “caches” may contain artifacts that can’t be disposed of in the same way as other debris due to their ritual use and, thus, are disposed of in a way that appears to be a votive cache. Walker refers to these deposits as “ceremonial trash.” At Ceren, households stored obsidian blades for everyday use in the thatch of their roofs, just above the doors. However, each house also stored “a bundle of pristine blades at a higher location toward the peak of the thatch roof for future use” (Sheets 2000). The analysis and information from Ceren may indicate a cultural significance in vertical placement. Perhaps a re-evaluation of “dedicatory” and “cache” determinations with consideration of vertical placement, as well as altar/bench burials, may be warranted.

In examining burial jade placement (Table 29), the percentage of whole/not raw jade is high for all location variables, and the difference between summit/terrace levels and base levels is not significant. However, the % high LOE and the frequency of dedicatory determinations of base deposits is significantly less than for summit/ terrace deposits. Altar or bench burial jades, while low in quantity (n=92), do seem to be anomalous in composition. Tables 28 and 29 seem to suggest that burials and caches were differentially treated. Caches at summit/terrace levels seem to have a different composition than those at the base. While burials at the base were rarely dedicatory, caches at the base were often dedicatory. Inversely, burials at the summit/terrace levels were generally dedicatory, and caches at the summit/terrace levels were rarely dedicatory.

In summary, the regional dichotomy in proportions of quantity, size, and LOE seen in Figure 9.1 between the EC and LC seem to be related to a cache-burial transition. While cached jade peaks in the EC, burial jade peaks in the LC. In general, caches and burials also differ compositionally, permitting the discovery of the cache-burial transition. In addition, EC burials also differ from LC burials, emphasizing the transition patterning. The LC burials seem to contain increased quantities of higher LOE adornos. A summary of the cache and burial differences is in Table 30.

While the two tables indicate the differential treatment of caches and burials, it is possible that the tables may also be detecting recording biases. The traditional emphasis of axial placement in making dedicatory determinations may be encompassing more than one type of deposit. For example, cache location variables


Christina G. Marroquin

Quantity % High LOE Size (cm³) – (Adjusted)

Jade in Caches (All) 9,121 10.8% 2.71

All 9,282 47.4% 1.64

Jade in Burials EC 4,953 12.8% 0.87

LC 3,849 87.2% 2.85

Raw Adorno Non-Adorno

72.0% 10.5% 17.0%

4.1% 41.0% 53.8%

0.1% 12.7% 87.2%

9.9% 72.4% 17.7%

Symbology Symbology (LOE>2)

6.2% 0.6%

52.3% 7.1%

84.9% 0.5%

16.4% 16.2%

1.7% 98.3% 632 (0.8%)

10.2% 89.8% 3,271 (0.2%)

1.0% 12.7%

X 5.3% 54.0%

Jade Characteristics

Broken (all) Whole (all) Quantity of LOE>2 (% Broken) Predominance of Beads in the EC Predominance of Beads in the LC % of All Recovered Debitage/Fragments % of All Recovered Beads

72.9% 5.2% 26.6% 93.7% 981 (26.5%) 4,352 (0.6%) X X 6.4% 76.2%

90.5% 17.6%

Table 30: Jade composition of caches and burials

Termination vs. Dedication

Jade Characteristics Quantity % High LOE

At Cerros, Garber remarks on the atypical abundance of deposits of broken jades and refers to them as termination deposits, which typically consist of broken objects, remnants of fires, and scattered white marl found between construction phases or at building abandonments (1989). Garber et al. (1993) state that “the investment in this ritual of termination may actually exceed the investment in rituals of dedication.” Therefore, Table 31 compares the investments in these rituals, using LOE, condition, and jade type. Since termination deposits are only recently studied and rarely recorded, the analysis was limited to Tikal, Cerros, and Blue Creek (Table 32) and included those whose determinations were questionable.



1,462 57.1% 2.96 (n=238)

10,776 21.1% 1.78 (n=6,065)

Raw Jade Adorno Non-Adorno

27.2% 56.8% 16.0%

43.7% 15.6% 40.7%

Broken (all) Broken (LOE>2) Whole (all) Whole (LOE>2)

56.8% 22.1% 43.2% 35.0%

44.7% 0.6% 55.3% 20.4%

Size (cm3) - Adj

Table 31: Composition of termination and dedication deposits

While the percentages of broken and whole jades in termination and dedication deposits are nearly the inverse of each other, with termination deposits having a slightly higher percentage of broken jades, the quality of jades in termination rituals seems to be much greater. Broken high-labor intensive (LOE>2) jades occur 22.1% of the time in termination deposits, and only 0.6% of the time in dedication deposits. Whole highlabor intensive jades are also more prevalent in termination deposits (35.0% versus 20.4%). Jades in termination deposits also tend to be well-worked adornos (56.8%), while those in dedication deposits tend to be raw (43.7%) or non-adornos (40.7%). The % high LOE for termination deposits is over twice that for dedication deposits.

deposits. Although this is not consistent with the Tikal data, it is important to note that many “problematical deposits” at Tikal were believed to have been disturbed with the likely removal of high LOE jade jewelry (Coe 1990). While not conclusive, termination deposits seem to have the highest quality jades of all regional subgroups examined, except LC burials -- higher than all caches, all burials, and dedicatory deposits. However, additional data are needed. Non-ritually Associated Jade Ritually associated jades account for 19,007 jades in this study, as follows: 18,403 in caches and burials, 367 in problematical cache/burial deposits, 191 in miscellaneous finds that are termination deposits, and 46 in ceramic concentrations that may be termination deposits. Therefore, only 243 jades are most likely nonritually associated. One-third of these are whole adornos. When analyzed by structure type, 30.0% occur in simple structures, but these tend to be broken

While less conclusive, an examination at a site level (Table 32) seems to suggest that the investment in termination deposits does exceed that in dedication


Maya Political Economy (71.2%). Those in monumental and range structures tend to be whole (89.5% and 85.7% respectively). Table 3.20 summarizes these jade characteristics, and it is

interesting to note the similarity of composition to termination deposits (Table 31).

Termination Site Name Blue Creek Cerros

Total 908 185


369 1,462


Main Source

% High LOE


Main Source

% High LOE

Caches (n=907)



Caches (n=342)


Misc Finds (n=185)



Caches (n=38)


Problematical Deposits (n=365)





Burials (n=5,510) Caches (n=4,881)

37.0 % 20.4% 1.7% 21.1%

Table 32: Termination and dedication deposits by site Group Type and Structure Type

Quantity % High LOE Size (cm3) (adj)

Jades in Non-Ritual Deposits 243 56.0% 13.18

Raw Jade Adorno Non-Adorno

25.4% 53.0% 21.6%

Broken (all) Broken (LOE>2) Whole (all) Whole (LOE>2)

41.4% 20.7% 58.6% 35.3%

Jade Characteristics

Tables 37 and 38 summarize the occurrence of jade by group and structure type for each site. These tables demonstrate that recovered jades are heavily weighted to site core groups and monumental structures, perhaps due to the focus of early excavation strategies. Unlike context analysis regarding burials and caches, group and structure analysis is inhibited by sampling that is disproportionately weighted to a single variable. Therefore, analysis is at the regional level. In addition, not only do dispersed zones have a low recovered jade quantity, but the quantity is also largely weighted to Blue Creek, where its samples (n=105) represent a single tomb with a double burial.

Table 34: Jade characteristics for non-ritual deposits

Altar of Sacrifices Blue Creek Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun

Site Core 627 1,215 57 622 83 22 14,756 418

Lesser Center 1

4 191 4

9 389 184

9 9 3


1 12








Site Name

Nucleated Dispersed Occup. 39 105

192 159 19

Unkn. 3 20

15 2

Table 35: Group type by site


Christina G. Marroquin

Site Name


Altar of Blue Creek Sacrifices Cerros Piedras Negras San Jose Seibal Tikal Uaxactun

588 1,213 36 294 60 19 12,112 356



Public/ Ceremonial 1

Range Simple Occup. Misc. Unkn.

4 2,595 202

38 35 2 269 21 3 590 37

21 148 110 19 2 8 19




77 59

9 6

18 107

4 20 2

9 83

1 18 11

12 12




Table 36: Structure type by site

Tables 37 and 38 summarize jade occurrence by group and structure type. All six of the largest jades removed from size calculations were recovered in site cores. Five of the six were in monumental structures, with the sixth in a range structure. Typologies are separated by alternating shading. These tables suggest that jade was utilized differently both spatially (group type) and socially (structure type).

patterns and appear relatively diverse. However, while both have nearly the same percentage of raw jades, the percentages for adornos and non-adornos are the inverse of each other – there are more adornos in ranges than in monumental structures. Public/ceremonial jade composition is different and indicates a preference for burials, worked adornos and non-adornos, whole jades, beads, and mosaics. Simple structures appear less diverse than other structure types. Also, simple structures are the only group or structure type where broken outnumber whole jades. Many of these are from Cerros’ termination deposits associated with the early village and Blue Creek’s Chan Cahal non-elite community. However, the level of diversity in characteristics between structure types seems to be more consistent than in group types and suggests that jade distribution was more affected spatially than socially.

Group type patterning for jade is illustrated in Figure 9. 23. The “tight” clustering of bars demonstrates that site cores had great diversity in jade characteristics. Site core jades are well-represented in both caches and burials but indicate a slight preference for raw jades and non-adornos, a greater preference for whole jades, and a slight preference for mosaics and debitage/fragments. However, all characteristics are well-represented. In contrast, with increased distance from site cores, dispersed zones show less diversity.

Upon examining the variety of jade forms by group and structure type, a similar pattern emerges (Tables 39 and 40). While a decrease in the variety of forms is indicated as distance from the site core increases and as structure complexity decreases, the decrease is more pronounced between group types than structure types. While this patterning may be affected by the decreased samples in dispersed zones, these patterns may also indicate that access to jade was more affected by spatial distance than social status. However, this analysis, in particular, would benefit greatly from increased samples in dispersed zones and simple structures.

These jades exhibit strong preferences for burials, adornos, whole jades, beads, and high-labor intensive jades (LOE>2). Nucleated zones, which generally are located between the site cores and the dispersed zones, seem to have more diversity than dispersed zones but less than site cores. While dispersed zones have limited samples, both in quantity and by site, the dispersed zone patterning seems appropriate when reviewed with the apparent trend of less diverse characteristics from site core to nucleated group types. Lesser centers, essentially smaller site cores in dispersed zones, tend to mimic the site core jade utilization preferences but exhibit the less diverse aspects of dispersed zones. The spatial patterning of group types may be affected by the ratio of caches to burials, although it is impossible to say which influenced the other. However, the spatial patterning suggests that jade forms and utilization may have been increasingly affected with geographic distance from site cores.

Figures 9.26 and 9.27 indicate that the availability of jade in the dispersed zone and simple structures decreased over time, ostensibly reflecting increasing centralized authority within elite controlled contexts by the EC. However, a comparison with Tables 37 and 38 suggest that while jade quantities decreased significantly in the dispersed zones and simple structures from Preclassic levels, they maintained elevated % high LOE levels, especially when compared with other structure and group types.

Structure type patterning for jade is illustrated in Figure 0.24. Monumental and range structures have similar


Maya Political Economy

Variables Jade Quantity % of All Jades % High LOE Jade Size Average (adj) Caches Burials Raw Adorno Non-Adorno Exterior Interior Whole Broken Symbology Symbology (not mosaic) Bead (all) Bead (LOE>4) Ear Flare Pendant Mosaic Debitage & Fragments LOE>2 LOE>2 & Whole LOE>2 & Broken Nonspecific Preclassic Middle Preclassic Late Preclassic Terminal Preclassic Early Classic Late Classic Terminal Classic Postclassic Middle Preclassic %High LOE Late Preclassic %High LOE Terminal Preclassic %High LOE Early Classic %High LOE Late Classic %High LOE Terminal Classic %High LOE Postclassic %High LOE Middle Preclassic Size Late Preclassic Size Terminal Preclassic Size Early Classic Size Late Classic Size Terminal Classic Size Postclassic Size

Site Core 17,800 92.5% 28.0% 1.83 8,795 8,544 6,778 4,369 6,498 15,997 1,580 10,482 7,166 5,231 226 3,963 32 189 62 6,126 6,792 4,938 4,653 285 1 83 141 12,602 4,646 281 3 81.5% 17.0% 11.5% 73.7% 24.6% 66.7%

Group Type Lesser Nucleated Dispersed Occup. Unkn. Center 200 952 165 95 38 1.04% 4.9% 0.86% 0.49% 0.20% 9.0% 52.0% 89.7% 95.8% 71.1% 9.26 2.13 1.54 0.40 2.90 179 137 7 3 2 491 156 80 9 154 206 2 2 13 481 148 91 26 32 252 15 4 10 196 587 12 7 91 109 180 498 141 92 27 19 441 24 3 11 13 197 13 1 11 5 1 1 7 439 140 91 20 1 2 9 4 18 14 4 155 3 1 1 35 1 1 0.00% 100% 100% 23.5% 0.00% 100% 2.50

4.01 7.28 1.01 2.84 4.09 3.28

1.93 2.18

27 5 199 96 488 283 205

2 1 12 2 148 131 17

21 314 91 368 140 2

1 17 105 21 8 11

91.7% 83.7% 68.1% 27.7% 29.5% 100% 20.43 0.45 0.32 1.86 4.45 7.84

100% 94.1% 99.0% 42.9% 62.5% 100% 0.24

3 1 91 89 2 80

2 14 100%

100% 78.6% 0.11

1.33 2.11 21.0 2.01

4.38 2.21

Table 37: Group type variables


2 2 4 5 29 23 6

Christina G. Marroquin Structure Type Variables

Monumental Public/ Ceremonial 14,678 2,938 Jade Quantity 76.2% 15.3% % of All Jades 24.8% 42.9% % High LOE 1.96 1.82 Jade Size Average (adj) 7,812 641 Caches 6,490 2,150 Burials 6,182 487 Raw 3,019 1,251 Adorno 5,326 1,196 Non-Adorno 13,196 2,881 Exterior 1,279 50 Interior 7,996 2,512 Whole 6,533 422 Broken 4,260 977 Symbology 193 24 Symbology (not mosaic) 2,774 1,159 Bead (all) 27 3 Bead (LOE>4) 102 69 Ear Flare 52 8 Pendant 5,006 1,148 Mosaic 6,204 336 Debitage & Fragments 3,607 1,260 LOE>2 3,365 1,186 LOE>2 & Whole 242 74 LOE>2 & Broken 1 155 Nonspecific Preclassic 6 Middle Preclassic 40 215 Late Preclassic 141 1 Terminal Preclassic 10,420 1,921 Early Classic 3,836 623 Late Classic 206 1 Terminal Classic 9 Postclassic 50.0% Middle Preclassic %High LOE 65.0% 93.0% Late Preclassic %High LOE 17.0% 100% Terminal Preclassic %High LOE 9.4% 26.8% Early Classic %High LOE 69.1% 84.3% Late Classic %High LOE 8.7% 100% Terminal Classic %High LOE 88.9% Postclassic %High LOE 0.76 Middle Preclassic Size 5.47 0.42 Late Preclassic Size 7.28 Terminal Preclassic Size 0.89 1.33 Early Classic Size 3.20 1.17 Late Classic Size 4.26 2.18 Terminal Classic Size 1.31 Postclassic Size

Range Simple Occup. Misc. Unkn. 995 5.17% 34.2% 2.79 617 352 425 364 204 692 293 557 437 195 24 272 2 27 7 172 417 340 321 19 2 614 298 75 3 100% 4.2% 86.5% 68.0% 66.7%

1.85 3.38 3.78 3.28

Table 38: Structure type variables


327 1.70% 72.4% 0.85 36 62 43 235 48 18 29 94 232 10 2 213 12 3 9 72 236 78 158 1 152 91 25 36 9 100% 76.3% 68.1% 52.0% 80.6% 100% 0.24 0.27 0.32 1.69 1.52 1.90

107 155 50 0.56% 0.81% 0.26% 95.9% 88.2% 76.0% 2.79 2.59 3.42 8 4 3 84 133 11 2 3 86 136 37 12 15 10 1 2 5 3 115 93 135 33 5 18 17 12 1 1 85 131 26 1


2 1 94 91 3

12 1 135 123 12

6 2 4 6 38 27 11

98 4 105 41 1 3 5 98.9%

2 5 1 3

50.0% 50.0% 99.0% 61.0% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 60.0% 2.65 11.39 1.33 6.90 5.03 9.38 4.23


Maya Political Economy 100% Caches














Bead (all) Mosaic





0% Site Core (n=17,800)

Lesser Center (n=200)

Nucleated (n=952)

Dispersed (n=165)

Occup (n=95)

Figure 9.23: Group types and jade characteristics















Bead (all)




Debitage/Frags LOE>2

0% Monumental (n=14,678)

Public/Ceremonial (n=2,938)

Range (n=995)

Simple (n=327)

Figure 9.25: Structure types and jade characteristics

Jade Forms Adorno/Amulet/Ornament/Pendant Bead Bead Blank/Sphere/Spheroid Bloodletter/Drill Button/Disk Carved Object/Simple Form Celt/Celtiform Debitage Dental Inlay Ear Flare Figurine/Sculpture Fragment/Mosaics Headband Incised Stones Pieces/Lump/Raw Stone Plaque Ring Spangle Count

Site Core X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X 17

Lesser Nucleated Dispersed X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X




X X X X 15



Table 39: Group types and absence/presence of jade forms (X=presence)


Christina G. Marroquin

Jade Forms Adorno/Amulet/Ornament/Pendant Bead Bead Blank/Sphere/Spheroid Bloodletter/Drill Button/Disk Carved Object/Simple Form Celt/Celtiform Debitage Dental Inlay Ear Flare Figurine/Sculpture Fragment/Mosaics Headband Incised Stones Pieces/Lump/Raw Stone Plaque Ring Spangle Count

Monumental Public X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X 17 15

Range X X X

Simple X X X X

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X 14


Table 40: Structure types and absence/presence of jade forms (X=presence)

80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0%

MPC Site Core




Lesser Center



TC Dispersed

Figure 9.26: Group types and percentage of quantity over time

80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0%

MPC Monumental





LC Range

Figure 9.27: Structure types and percentage of quantity over time


TC Simple

Maya Political Economy Jades over Time


While the burial and cache analysis seems to suggest a cache-burial transition, a regional summary of these characteristics may provide insight into jade’s regional availability and utilization. Figure 9.9 indicates that whole jades were utilized in similar ratios to broken jades over time, until the LC. The increased utilization of whole jades in the LC suggests a change in availability, perception, and/or value. This also aligns with the change in composition between EC and LC burials.

Sample Sizes Recovered jade sample sizes are small, especially compared to other artifact types, such as pottery. This is especially evident when noting that 70.2% of recovered jades are pieces, such as debitage, fragments, or mosaics elements. In addition, the data are often weighted to particular variables, such as monumental structures, and sites, such as Tikal. The analysis has examined regional patterning, and where possible or appropriate, patterning was confirmed at the site level. Raw quantities were often considered to detect patterning, as the overall low quantities of jade may make patterning derived from percentages appear more significant. While the analysis opportunities of a regional catalog of jade artifacts have become clear, additional jade samples may help to confirm or refute the noted patterning.

Figure 9.28 shows the regional frequency of jade types over time. While non-adornos and raw jades are most often recovered in EC contexts, adornos are most often recovered in LC contexts. When jade type over time is examined without debitage, fragments, or mosaics, whose collection of small pieces may be distorting the data, a slightly different pattern is revealed (Figure9. 29). “True” raw jades, which exhibit little or no working, peak in the Preclassic (non-sp.) and then again in the LC. Non-adornos still peak in the EC and adornos, including dental inlays, in the LC.

Early Classic Caches and Late Classic Burials While some researchers have suggested that the ritual contexts of burials and caches should be grouped together as “Earth Offerings” (Becker 1992), and while a few burials and caches were difficult to distinguish, the analysis suggests that jade utilization was different for burials and caches, and especially burials, over time. Although the following discussion concerns the major analysis findings and is in terms of specific periods, the cache-burial transition is suggested as a general regional phenomenon, noting that not all polities will exhibit all described patterning.

Finally, Table 41 shows the use of iconographic symbology on jades over time. It is believed that the iconographic system changed over time from appearing on ceramics, which was available to everyone, to jade, which was controlled by the elites or royals (Garber et al 1993). This table indicates that symbolic jades first appear in the dispersed zones and in simple structures. However, by the LPC and TPC, they appear exclusively in caches and in elite controlled contexts of the site core. By the EC, there is a significant increase of symbolic jades, which are still largely in caches, and to a lesser extent burials, in elite controlled contexts. The LC data seems to capture an evolution. Elaborate symbolic jades tend to appear in burials and the less elaborate symbolic jades tend to appear in caches. By the TC and into the PC, symbolic jades appear largely in burials and largely in range structures. This patterning seems to indicate the shift of symbolic jade from simple and private contexts, to public caching, to continued caching with some high status burials in public contexts, to high status burials with some caching in public contexts, and then to burials of status in private contexts. The data also seem to indicate that elite status may have been maintained longer than royal status. However, TC and PC deposition of burial jades in ranges may simply represent the eventual deposit of family heirlooms as jade disappeared from the Southern Lowlands.

In the EC, jade quantity greatly increases, largely due to increased caching behavior. These caches contain significant quantities of jade pieces. The utilization of nearly exhausted material may indicate an increase in demand that was not able to be met by existing methods of acquisition and may reflect the as yet limited power of de facto elites. Cached jade analysis often indicated less clear patterning than burials, perhaps also suggesting that early caching behavior may have been most affected by local environmental diversity or social variation. The analysis suggests that EC jade utilization seems to have emphasized jade’s presence rather than form. In the LC, overall jade quantities decrease but remain relatively high, with burial jade exceeding cached jade quantities. While EC and LC cached jade composition is similar, cached jade quantities decrease significantly in the LC. In contrast, EC and LC burial quantities are similar, but LC burial jade composition differs from the EC. LC burial jades are most


Christina G. Marroquin 8,000 Whole


6,844 6,172


6,000 5,000


4,000 3,000 2,000

1,000 0












129 LC


2 15



Figure 9.28: Jade condition over time

100% 80% 60% 40%

20% 0% Preclassic (non-sp.)




Adorno (n=5,128)




Non-Adorno (n=6,811)


Raw (n=7,142)

Figure 9.29: Jade type over time

80% 70%

60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0%



Adorno (no dental inlay) (n=5,060)


TPC Non-adorno (no mosaics, no fragments) (n=233)




Raw (no debitage, no fragments) (n=329)

Figure 9.30: Jade type over time (adjusted)


PC Dental Inlay (n=68)

Maya Political Economy


Qty 1 5 1 34

EC 25


22 12 2


4 1 1

Yes (elaborate) (n=109) Context Group: Structure(s) Burial Dispersed: Simple Cache Site Core: Monumental Cache Site Core: Monumental Site Core/Lesser Cntr: Cache Monumental, Publ/Crml, Range Site Core/Nucleated: Burial Monumental, Publ/Crml, Range, Simple Site Core: Monumental, Burial Publ/Crml, Range Cache Site Core: Monumental Burial Site Core: Range Site Core: Monumental, Misc/Probl. Range Burial Site Core: Range Misc Site Core: Range

Yes – Simple (Graffiti-like) (n=306) Qty Context Group: Structure(s) 1


Site Core: Monumental



Site Core/Lesser Cntr/ Nucleated: Monumental, Publ/Crml, Range



Site Core: Monumental



Site Core: Monumental



Site Core: Range



Site Core: Monumental



Site Core: Range

Table 41: Jade symbology over time

often adornos, while EC burial jades are most often nonadornos. While samples are few, LC burial jades are found not just with males but also with females in public

jade forms and characteristics tentatively indicate more similarities between structure types than group types, suggesting that jade distribution was more limited spatially to areas closer to site cores than it was limited socially. While this may reflect the concentric effects of market forces, the reduced diversity of jades in dispersed zones and their more personalized utilization may indicate that gifting, or specifically inalienable gifting, of high quality jade adornos may best explain the noted patterning.

contexts and elaborate grave types. Social models suggest a hereditary elite segment and the centralization of personal authority would be indicated by increased utilization of items of personal adornments as visible insignia and that the increase in demand would be indicated by increasingly “directed procurement of raw materials” (Bishop, Sayre, and Mishara 1993). The analysis also indicates an overall LC peak in dental inlays and adornos, as well as a LC revived peak in “true” raw jades. Similarly, overall size and quality increase in LC. The cache-burial transition seems to reflect possible sociopolitical changes across the region – the development of a strong hereditary elite social segment that sought visible displays of their power and prestige through the increased acquisition of jade and craftsmanship of jade into adornos.

The inverse relationship between EC and LC quantity, % high LOE, and size first noted in this analysis seems to be related to the dichotomy between the composition of EC caches and LC burials. It appears that by the LC the value of jade was not only associated with the raw material but also associated with its form. This transition seems to reflect the changing role jade played in Maya social evolution and political economy over time. The LC patterning of high quantities of jade utilized in elaborate and established rituals becomes especially salient when contrasted with the abrupt reversion to Preclassic quantities in the TC. There is no indication for the increased utilization of nearly exhausted materials, such as mosaics or debitage, as had been utilized in the EC when demand seems to have exceeded supply. While the disappearance of jade from the region may indicate trade disruptions or source depletion, the longevity and the abruptness of its disappearance, with continued utilization in the Northern Lowlands (see Discussion), may indicate a greater sociopolitical change, such as the dissolution of the elite social segment from the Southern Lowlands.

Social and Spatial Utilization of Jade over Time While the homogeneity of jade forms and the decreased distribution within simple structures and dispersed zones seem to indicate that site cores were becoming increasingly centralized and that jade may have centralized into a vertical economy by the EC, dispersed groups exhibit more personalized utilization of jade. Dispersed zones use jade exclusively in burials, nearly exclusively as adornos, have consistently high LOE’s, and account for 50% of jades found in the mouths of the deceased. very restricted. In addition, the analysis of


Christina G. Marroquin mosaics, debitage, and fragments. This may indicate the yet limited power of the elites to exert control over jade procurement (trade routes) and production (attached craftsmen). However, these elites were not without power and influence, especially within their own polities, as evidenced by the increased amount of jade in site cores and the subsequent decreased amount in neighboring settlement zones. It appears that in the EC an elite’s ability to ensure jade’s presence in community-centric caches was more important than its size or form.

Conclusions In order to address the thesis questions, a synthesis and hypothesis are presented. The synthesis incorporates the data analysis and other existing work to produce a comprehensive view of the utilization and perception of jade over time, bridging the sociopolitical gap from quasi-stratified societies to fully stratified societies. The hypothesis presents a trajectory of jade’s value over time. Despite concerns over the potential effects of depositional context versus use context, the study clearly indicates that jade was a vital part of the Maya political economy and intricately tied to its social, political, and economic evolution.

By the Late Classic, the last vestiges of egalitarianism are no longer present as Maya societies became highly stratified. While burial jade actually peaks in the EC, it does not exceed the expenditure of cached jade until the LC. LC burial jade is compositionally different from EC burial jade. LC burial jade is much larger, has higher quality, and is primarily adornos. In addition, “true” raw jades peak again in the LC, the first time since the Preclassic. The elites now seem capable of exerting control over trading networks for the direct procurement of raw jades (increasing size) and establishing control over production through attached craftsmen (increasing quality). This power would wax and wane over time and by site, due to political maneuverings, war, and other events. However, political power seems to have been solidified into a hereditary elite social segment, as suggested by the similar frequency of LC burial jades with females, who utilized jade adornos as insignias of power and authority.

Synthesis: An Interpretation of the Perception and Utilization of Jade over Time The synthesis weaves the noted data patterning and other studies together in order to address the first four thesis questions, which include the interpretation of the perception and utilization of jade over time, the origination of the importance of jade to political power, the extent of elite control of jade over time, and the significance of jade’s eventual disappearance from the Southern Lowlands. Considering the “cultural adaptive response” theory to account for the emergence of quasistratified societies in the Preclassic and considering ceramic studies to address the apparent dissolution of centralized authority after the Late Classic, the data patterning is especially valuable in that it bridges this sociopolitical evolutionary gap. While discussion is presented within specific periods in order to develop a comprehensive regional interpretation, it is noted that polities were diverse and evolved differentially throughout the region.

By the end of the Terminal Classic, new public constructions and monument inscriptions cease in the Southern Lowlands. Jade becomes very rare. In studying the level of elite control in pottery (Foias 2002: 236), the TC collapse of the polychrome pottery industry but the stability of monochrome pottery industry suggests that the elites only controlled the production and distribution of the polychrome industry. However, the near total disappearance of jade by the PC suggests that Southern Lowland elites, who in earlier periods seem to have centralized authority and control over all jade forms, were no longer in control of jade distribution. Similarly, an examination of ceramic diversity over time seems to confirm a social evolutionary change. In the LPC, the homogeneity of the Chicanel ceramics across the lowlands correlates to a uniform political landscape. By the Classic periods, the increased ceramic diversity correlates to the fragmented political landscape. In the Postclassic, there is a return to greater homogeneity in ceramic styles (Masson 2002: 15-18). This seems to correlate to the consolidation of power in the Northern Lowlands, particularly at Chichen Itza, and suggests the polity elites of the Southern Lowlands had lost the authority to rule, including the ability to control jade. Perhaps related to increased interaction of non-Maya societies, the Northern Lowlands had developed a rule by council, instead of by king, and a more commercialized economy with greater social mobility, especially evident in the development of a merchant class (Sharer and Traxler

In the Preclassic, jades were scarce, had high quality, and occurred primarily in burials. Jade’s regional ritual significance was fostered by, and penetrated into the lowlands via, established trade routes. With the differential success of some Maya sites, de facto elites likely transported excess goods along these routes as well. By the end of the Preclassic, social ideas were emulated across the region and resulted in the rapid appearance of numerous quasi-stratified societies as a “cultural adaptive response” (Freidel 1993). By the Early Classic, the data demonstrate that the increasingly powerful elites began to utilize jade to an unprecedented degree, most often in caches. While caches in monumental structures may appear to be the acts of a highly stratified society, elite caching may represent a gift to the gods whose reciprocation would benefit the entire community, would confirm the elite’s prominence with the gods, and would validate the elite’s recent social elevation. This communal caching behavior may represent the vestiges of the recent egalitarian past and may be a by-product of the rapidity of the cultural adaptive response. The data indicate that the EC cached jades are small and have low LOE’s. They are typically raw or non-adorno pieces, such as 188

Maya Political Economy 2005). The merchant class and the unparalleled centralizing power of the north may explain the more homogenous ceramic assemblage and the greater distribution of other, once elite controlled, materials, such as obsidian. However, jade remains scarce in the Southern Lowlands despite its continued utilization in the Northern Lowlands. This may reflect the dissolution of the elite social segment from the Southern Lowlands and may signify that jade no longer played a role in the political economy of the region.

exchange value. It is proposed that once the primary regional value of jade, as represented as its trajectory in Figure 9.1, reaches commodity or monetary value, jade’s exchange value would exceed its use value, signifying that jade may have been primarily utilized as, or sanctioned as, a medium of exchange. Utilitarian Value Jades that were utilized in a primarily functional way would have utilitarian value, and correspondingly, high use value. An example would be large non-adornos whose functionality may have exploited its physical properties of strength, such as the non-ceremonial celts (axes) that were utilized at Ceren for cutting poles for roofs and walls (Sheets 2000). While a jade celt, for example, may be a highly prized part of a domestic assemblage, its primary utilization as a utilitarian tool would place it in Figure 9.31 as having utilitarian value. However, there are only a few samples in the compiled data that may reflect a utilitarian utilization of jade, and therefore, utilitarian jades are not represented in Figure 9.31.

Hypothesis: Assessing the Value of Jade Jade’s Use Value vs. Exchange Value In addressing the fifth and final thesis question, the synthesis and subsequent interpretation of the utilization and perception of jade over time allows for the development of a hypothesis concerning jade’s value over time. Considering the analysis findings, the hypothesis evaluates how jade may have been vertically exchanged, either through gift exchange or as a medium of exchange, to explain its appearance in non-elite contexts once social stratification develops.

Ritual Value While classical economic concepts provide a myriad of tools for studying jade utilization, such as termination deposits as a method for removing jade from circulation, Marx’s use value and exchange value concepts provide a convenient framework for the study of the social utilization of jade by the Maya (after Appadurai 1986). Simply, use value is the value of a property based on its use potential (Renfrew 1986). If traded as a commodity, it also has an exchange value. Exchange value is the quantitative value of a commodity expressed as a ratio between two materials (one ear of corn for ten beans) (Renfrew 1986). While a jade bead could simultaneously have both use value, such as in a cache offering or as a prestigious adorno, and exchange value, such as in barter exchanges, and while Marx’s use and exchange value concepts may not apply precisely to “primitive valuables” in non-capitalistic economies (Dalton 1977), the framework seems helpful.

Because of the green color of the raw material, jade was ascribed intrinsic value by the Maya and has ritual value. Ritual value does not require an investment of labor upon the raw material, although this would not preclude it from having ritual value. The utilization of jade in the Preclassic through the EC appears to be primarily ritual, perhaps reflecting the spread of ideas across the lowlands, highlands, and Olmec heartland. While there is a significant presence of Preclassic adornos (n=620) and while many of these appear in burials (n=385), many are in a household shrine (n=154), many are in a tomb on an outlying hill (n=104), many are in simple grave types (n=104), and a few appear in the mouths of the deceased (n=5), suggesting a more personalized, private ritual use. By the EC, the value ascribed to the raw material is indicated by the greatly increased utilization of nonadorno/raw pieces, such as mosaics, debitage, and fragments, in burials and caches. While adornos, with added labor investment, are present, they are not nearly as frequent as pieces, even in burials. Whether or not the increased utilization of pieces is related to the inability of supply chains to meet the increased EC demand, the primary value of jade in these periods appears to be related with its ritual presence rather than its form in the majority of deposits across the region.

Based on the major analysis findings of a general and regional transition from EC caches, with jade types largely consisting of raw jade pieces (such as debitage and fragments) and non-adorno pieces (such as mosaics), and LC burials, which largely consist of highquality adornos, the associated jade types were plotted to show their trajectory from high use value to high exchange value over time. The trajectory reflects the primary, or most frequent, utilization of jade within a period, as determined by the analysis. Within Marx’s framework, the additional categorizations of utilitarian value, ritual value, prestige value, commodity value, and monetary value have been suggested and presented in Figure 9.1 to complete the model. Since the analysis indicates changes in jade utilization appear to be related to the importance, and lack of importance, of a jade’s form over time, these categories were implemented to reveal the graduated changes from use value to 189

Christina G. Marroquin

Figure 9.31: Suggested value of jade over time by jade type in the Southern Lowlands -- based on the major findings from the depositional analysis of the compiled data

were taken (Coe 1990: 604). Also at Tikal, there is evidence of numerous EC or LC caches that were looted in the TC, where jade debitage was ignored by the looters (Coe 1990). In another example from Tikal, the recovery of only small jade pieces and one seemingly overlooked bead in an extensive LC chamber burial that was looted in the TC, led Coe to summarize “all of which [this evidence] points up a conviction that the goal of these many [ancient] explorations was the retrieval of jade jewelry” (1990). Therefore, Figure 9.31 demonstrates that the value of jade pieces remained negligible after the EC caching behavior relating to either, or both, the limited use value in prestige contexts and limited exchange value in possible commodity contexts. However, Figure 9.1 indicates that jades with labor investment, such as adornos, maintained value, as the value of jade across the region may have constricted by the LC to include jades capable of serving as visible insignias of personal power, authority, and prestige. It is unclear if an adorno’s value in the TC remained an object of prestige or became a highly sought commodity.

However, Figure 9.31 indicates a slight dip in ritual value in the EC. This reflects that the public caching behavior of EC elites may, at least partially, be an attempt to validate their newly elevated social status rather than a purely ritual act. In addition, while EC burials exhibit high quantities of non-adornos and reduced levels of adornos, the inverse by the LC, exhibiting high quantities of adornos and reduced levels of non-adornos, suggests evolution toward a prestige value may actually begin in the EC. Prestige Value Jade attains prestige value when its form, without concern for utilitarian function, becomes important. The investment of labor to enhance the raw jade material aesthetically may be perceived as a reflection of an elite’s ability to control jade acquisition and craftsmen. Adornos would serve as a public display of this ability. Throughout the Preclassic and EC, non-adorno/raw pieces and adornos had ritual use value in both caches and burials. However, the cache-burial transition is characterized by a LC preference for adornos associated largely with burials. Consequently, the utilization of jade pieces decreased significantly and, in Figure 9.31, these pieces are shown to have negligible value. The reduced utilization may be related to the unfeasibility of these small fragments to be formed into high LOE adornos suitable to wear as insignias of status. This preference for adornos seems to be supported by ancient looting examples. Tikal’s Burial 6, an extensive chamber burial, was looted by PC Caban people who left non-jade ear ornaments and overlooked a single jade bead that was concealed by encrusted copal, while, ostensibly, the remaining beads that formed a necklace

Prestige value is placed at the intersection of use and exchange value in Figure 9.1 based on inference from later accounts of the enactment of sumptuary laws to control jade distribution among social segments during the Classic periods (Kovacevich 2006). Appadurai suggests that “sumptuary laws constitute an intermediate consumption-regulating device, suited to societies devoted to stable status displays in exploding commodity contexts” (1986). This “enclaving” by elites may have sought to “protect things from commoditization” while other “entrepreneurial” individuals attempt to divert things into commodities (1986). Therefore, the possible existence of sumptuary laws suggests elites may have attempted to prevent the commoditization of jade adornos, the symbols of Maya status.


Maya Political Economy Commodity Value and Monetary Value

depositional evidence for the exchange value of jade may be difficult to capture, the standardization of jade forms into beads may provide the first indication of jade’s potential, or initial, development from a transregional and culturally significant material into an object with a trans-regional and standardized exchange value. While Figure 9.31 suggests that jade’s use value may not have exceeded its exchange value before the TC, and while the data is limited for later periods, TC selective looting, likely social turmoil, and initial standardization of jade form suggest possible precursors to jade’s utilization as a commodity.

While commodity and monetary value are presented in Figure 9.31, there is little depositional data in the Southern Lowlands to support or refute the possibility of jade’s accretion of exchange value in later periods. While the distinction between money and a commodity can be complex, Figure 9. 31 considers monetary value as occurring when the exchange of jade as a commodity likely becomes sanctioned by the ruling elites. Appadurai (1986) suggests that social, political, and economic turmoil may cause status objects to be diverted into commodities. The cessation of monumental constructions, the collapse of the polychrome ceramic industry and decreased ceramic diversity, the social pressures from the increasingly commercialized economy in the north, and the disappearance of jade from depositional contexts suggest the region likely experienced social turmoil in the TC and PC. This turmoil may have resulted in jade’s accretion of untraditional values, though limited data from the TC and PC makes consideration of jade’s value in those periods difficult to assess.

Gift Exchange vs. Medium of Exchange Figure 9.31 suggests a plausible trajectory of jade’s primary regional value over time to provide insight into the regional political economy. It suggests that the cache-burial transition was likely associated with the loss in value of small jade pieces. It is adornos that seem to maintain value over all periods, though their value changed, and may have gained exchange value after any TC turmoil. While Figure 9.31 provides a simple perspective of jade’s primary value in a specific period, it is important to note that jade’s value did not proceed without deviation toward commodity value, that not all polities would have experienced this evolution in the timeframes indicated, that not every instance of jade’s deposition in a given period will align to the trajectory, and that jade would not have just a single value in any period. Figure 9.31 provides a simplified view of jade’s most likely value in a given time period based on predominance patterning to assist in identifying changes in long term regional value that may provide insight into the political economy of the Southern Lowlands.

While the analysis and Figure 9.31 suggest that jade in the Southern Lowlands may have had greater use value than exchange value through the LC, some researchers, in contrast, believe that the Preclassic and Classic Maya utilized jade as currency, with the complicity of elites, and that jade, at the same time, also held ritual and social value (Freidel et al 2002). Much of this theory is based on the apparent utilization of cacao as currency in the Contact period (Freidel 1993; McAnany et al 2002). However, research suggests that the utilization of cacao as a currency in Classic times is questionable (McAnany et al 2002). Similarly, Spanish accounts suggest that jade was functioning during Contact times with some level of exchange value and researchers believe this may indicate its similar function in Preclassic and Classic periods as well (for example, see Bishop Toral to the Crown, 1563, in Tozzer 1941: 95). While depositional evidence for the exchange value of jade may be difficult to capture, the data analysis and the discussion in the synthesis and hypothesis, including Figure 9.1, are most compelling for Preclassic, EC, and LC periods and suggest that jade’s use value may have been too high to justify its use in exchanges. Jade’s geological rarity, limited distribution until social stratification increases in the EC, and possible enclaving attempts also suggest that jade did not acquire an exchange value that exceeded its use value until perhaps the social turmoil in the TC.

So, once jade becomes associated with the political economy of the socially stratified Southern Lowland polities and does not appear likely to be found in nonelite contexts as a sanctioned medium of exchange, how does jade appear in non-elite contexts? It seems likely that it appeared in those contexts via gift exchange. This is supported by Figure 9.31 which suggests that jade’s regional use value may never have exceeded its exchange value. In addition, the data analysis suggests that the reduced jade quantity but retained high quality, and less diverse characteristics (greater homogeneity), in the dispersed zones and simple structures in the Classic periods may indicate jade distribution was more limited spatially than socially. This may reflect that jade was controlled by site core elites and selectively “awarded” to non-elites who may have been in frequent contact, such as servants, for service or as indication of non-elite status. These tables also indicate that jades in non-elite contexts were most often utilized in burials, which may indicate the elite gifting was inalienable.

In considering the likely properties of objects that may develop an exchange value, it seems likely they would include objects, such as jade, that are highly valued and portable. Additionally, standardization of form may be an important aspect as well. An examination of the compiled data reveals a substantial LC increase in beads. However, while beads are the most common jade form in the LC, their sizes vary significantly. While 191

Christina G. Marroquin 1993). Celt forms may have had several purposes, such as highly decorated ceremonial celts, utilitarian celts, and preforms, as they appear not only in caches, but burials and miscellaneous deposits over time. In considering the longevity and patterning of jade celt deposits at Ceren, Costa Rica, and the Southern Lowlands, a refinement of the Southern Lowland political economy is presented in Figure 9.32. A nonadorno (not pieces) jade type, which would include celts, has been added to the figure, though its position straddles the utilitarian and ritual values as some large non-adornos are elaborately carved and had obvious ceremonial function. As discussed in the hypothesis and synthesis, jade pieces and Preclassic supply chains were no longer sufficient to meet the LC demands for increased quantity and quality. These LC elites likely exerted control over routes and secured attached craftsmen to meet their demands. In addition, the Ceren and Costa Rican information suggests the Southern Lowland elites may have diverted the production of large non-adornos, such as celts, as only seven EC or LC celts, all from elite controlled contexts, are represented in the compiled data. The EC/LC celt quantity is similar to the ten from Preclassic contexts, despite increased recovery in the later periods. While the availability of jade celts is suggested by their abundant quantities in all structure types at the production center of Late Classic Cancuen (Kovacevich 2006), the usurpation of large non-adornos into the production of other jade types may explain the lack of depositional celts, especially in comparison to Costa Rica, that had little LC jade demand, and Ceren, that was covered in the volcanic eruption just before the LC period begins.

Discussion Jade’s Role in the Political Economy – Refined While the synthesis and hypothesis have addressed the thesis questions, the additional consideration of what did not appear in the analysis seems appropriate and may provide refinement of the political economy of the Southern Lowland Maya presented in Figure 9.31. Large non-adornos (not pieces), such as jade celts, were rare in the compiled data. While the analysis examined the patterning of the depositional contexts of jade, studies at Ceren provide perspective into a likely use context of jade. Ceren was a small, Classic-period village of commoners buried about A.D. 600 by a volcanic eruption that preserved artifacts in their “original positions of use or storage” (Sheets 2000). While only four houses have reported data, each household contained an unhafted jade celt, which had been utilized for cutting poles for roofs and walls (2000). In contrast, there are only 21 recovered jade celts represented in the compiled data. This suggests that the depositional context for non-adornos (not pieces) may be under-represented in the analysis, which could alter the hypothesis. The additional consideration of non-adornos (not pieces) and intended use patterning may shed light on jade’s full life-cycle, providing a complete picture of the political economy. An examination of Costa Rican jade patterning may be valuable as well. While Costa Rica is far from the Maya heartland, jade procurement would likely be from the same Motagua source, and Maya jades, especially celts, do appear in Costa Rican deposits (Lange 1993a; 1993b). In discussing the manufacturing process, Lange (1993b) states: “Almost all Costa Rican jade artifacts were made from raw material and were first fashioned into the form of a celt. Stone workers most likely obtained whole plain celts and then finished these into pendants and other objects.” The prevalence of jade celts is reflected in the depositional patterning in Costa Rica – burial jades in Costa Rica typically include “a jadeite celt or two” (Garber et al 1993). Jade contexts end around A.D. 600 in Costa Rica, as elite preferences increase in Central America for gold (Garber et al 1993). Perhaps the prevalence of celts in the archaeological record in Costa Rica is related to the reduced LC demand for jade.

Celts may have been the primary form coming from the Motagua source over ancient trading networks, and celts may have been easily converted to other jade types if used as a preform (Lange 1993b). However, with changes in the value of jade over time, increasing quantities of “preform” celts and other large adornos may have been usurped into the production of EC nonadornos (pieces) and, later, into the production of LC adornos. Although sample size is limited, the increased presence of “true” raw jades in the TC may indicate that elites were able to manipulate the supply chain to directly receive raw material, perhaps reducing the need for “preform” celts, and other large non-adornos, at all. While jade utilization in later periods would likely provide insight into the political economy, especially in light of social turmoil, initial standardization of jade into beads, and TC selective looting, the data range for the Southern Lowlands limits additional supposition.

In addition to Costa Rica, the Southern Lowlands and its neighbors exhibit a long tradition of jade celt deposits, despite their limited recovery from later contexts. Six of the earliest recovered celts in the analysis, which date to the MPC at Seibal and account for 29% of the celts in the study, appear in a “cruciform” shaped cache deposit. Similar “cruciform celt caches” were also found at the Olmec site of La Venta in Mexico (Smith 1982), where deposits often contain multiple jade celts (Garber et al


Maya Political Economy

Figure 9.32: Suggested value of jade over time by jade type in the Southern Lowlands (refined)

With the scarcity of jade and its multiple use values over time, the increasing complexity of Maya society generated demand for control of jade’s acquisition and production. As proposed in Figure 9.32, the demand for certain jade types over time may have created pressure to divert the production of other jade types. This diversion likely had consequences on Maya political, economic, and social structures. For example, the pressure to divert large non-adornos may have resulted in the use of less effective agricultural and household tools, may have changed the structure of existing supply chains, and may have created attached jade craftsmen accountable directly to polity elites. The proposed pressure to divert jade types suggests that jade, in at least some forms, maintained use value. Jade’s use value may have been protected by enclaving attempts in the form of sumptuary laws, as jade’s prestige value approached greater exchange value. This suggests that jade had not yet developed, nor was sanctioned, as a commodity or medium of exchange in the periods of increasing social stratification. However, Terminal Classic selective looting, the cessation of public constructions, the commercialization of the economy of the nearby Northern Lowlands, and enclaving attempts may indicate social turmoil that when combined with the shared trans-regional appreciation for the cultural significance of jade and the LC prevalence of the jade bead form may have prompted jade’s eventual accretion of exchange value.

and analysis would be especially helpful. For example, analysis based on vertical positioning rather than axial positioning suggest that the terms “dedicatory” and “cache” may be encompassing more than one type of deposit. Similarly, bench or altar burials appear in the analysis as anomalous outliers and may indicate the need for additional data. Also, additional contextual data for termination deposits, simple structures, and dispersed settlement zones would be especially valuable. The creation of standardized naming conventions (such as for color), better recording of reworked jades, and the inclusion of jade sizes and weights would be beneficial. Finally, similar data and analysis from neighboring regions, such as the Northern Lowlands, may complete the sociopolitical picture.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am especially grateful for the assistance of Dr. Tom Guderjan and the opportunity he provided me with the Maya Research Program at Blue Creek, Belize. He not only helped me focus my interests and provided invaluable advice during my research but provided invaluable access to site data. Colleen Hanratty (SMU) and Dr. Bruce Dickson (Texas A&M) provided invaluable fieldwork experience, including, but not limited to, proper techniques and their application to the reality of excavating in the jungle, amongst scorpions and hurled monkey poo. The Library Services at both Emory University and Georgia State University always affably identified me on sight as “our Mesoamerican scholar.” And, I have deep appreciation for Dr. Mark Pluciennik and Dr. Ian Whitbread and the staff at Leicester University whose supervision and patience is greatly recognized – as they know, sometimes life happens when you least expect it. This work would not have been possible without the immeasurable patience and support of friends and family. To my husband, who now knows more about Mesoamerican scholarship than any “civilian” should – you made it all possible.

Future Work While this study answers Lange’s call for a contextually secure catalog of jade, it is hoped that any errors or omissions will be corrected by future work. The analysis draws attention to the potential benefits of a regional database and the use of typologies, where systematic inventory of spatial, temporal, and contextual variables from diverse polities may reveal insightful regional patterning. The analysis has also identified several opportunities where additional contextual data 193

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Chapter 10 The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage Norbert Stanchly were identified by direct comparison with skeletal reference materials housed at the University of Toronto Faunal Archaeo-Osteology Laboratory and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Introduction This report presents a summary of the analysis of 13,209 coral, mollusk, and animal bone recovered during excavations at the lowland Maya community of Blue Creek, Belize.

The analysis of the assemblage followed standard zooarchaeological techniques (Reitz and Wing 1999:140-170). All faunal remains were quantified as the number of the identified specimens (NISP). Quantification in terms of minimum number of individuals (MNI) was only attempted with those specimens recovered from primary contexts (e.g. caches and/or tombs).

Although the sample is quite large interpretations regarding subsistence are limited, due primarily to extremely poor bone preservation. For example, we have little data to generate inter-community patterns (e.g. differential access to fauna) of food utilization. There are also several temporal gaps in the data. While we have significant amounts of data pertaining to the Late Preclassic and the Early Classic, the data are almost void for the Late through Terminal Classic periods.

Taphonomy and the Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage Zooarchaeologists are presented with numerous challenges in their attempts to interpret ancient Maya subsistence strategies, palaeo-economies, and sociopolitical relationships. One of these, especially in the case of faunal assemblages recovered from lowland Maya sites, are the ravages of jungle environments on the preservation of animal bone. This appears to be particularly true for Classic period assemblages. The Blue Creek assemblage is no exception.

The use of fauna in ritual and ceremonial contexts at Blue Creek is something that we can say more about. Faunal remains were recovered from a number of cache and burial contexts both within the site core proper and peripheral areas of the community. The disparity in data representation is a direct reflection of one of the fundamental problems in lowland Maya zooarchaeological research, bone preservation.

A cursory examination of the published literature discussing Classic period Maya animal resource utilization underscores the effects of preservation factors on bone (Hamblin 1984; Stanchly 2004; Wing and Scudder 1991). In fact, the general lack of animal bone has led some to suggest that meat rarely, if ever, graced the plates of the common Maya of the time (Dillon 1988).

Methods of Zooarchaeological Research at Blue Creek The remains analyzed to date and discussed here (n=13, 209) represent only a sample of the total faunal assemblage from Blue Creek.

The faunal assemblage presented for analysis consists of 13,209 bone and shell specimens (Tables 1 and 2). This represents a portion of the entire faunal assemblage and does include worked bone and shell.

The faunal remains were recovered using modern archaeological methods. All excavated deposits were screened using 6 mm mesh. Specialized deposits (e.g. burials, caches, and middens) were screened using finer mesh sizes or floated to recover small remains.

The analyzed assemblage includes representatives of four invertebrate and six vertebrate zoological classes.

All faunal remains presented for analysis were initially sorted into identifiable and unidentifiable groups based on zoological class. Unidentified specimens were counted and not subjected to any further analysis.

Local mammal, bird, fish, amphibian, and freshwater fish and shellfish taxa are noted. Identified marine fauna includes coral, cartilaginous and bony fish, and a variety of invertebrate taxa. Bone accounts for 5,435 specimens or 41% of the assemblage. Of these, less than 200 specimens are identified to a meaningful taxon below the level of class. Invertebrates (n=7,774) include gastropod,

Those specimens considered to be identified to a taxon below the level of zoological class were subjected to a more detailed analysis with the aid of comparative reference materials. Invertebrate remains were identified using reference texts and a comparative collection in possession of the author. Bone specimens 199

Norbert Stanchly Table 10.1: The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage - Distribution by Zoological Class Zoological Class NISP % of Sample Invertebrates Class Gastropoda 6,542 49.53 Class Pelecypoda 374 2.83 Class Anthozoa 5 0.04 Class Scaphopoda 1 0.01 Unidentified Mollusca 11 0.08 Unidentified Invertebrate 841 6.37 Vertebrates Class Chondriichthyes 146 1.10 Class Osteicithtyes 2,897 21.93 Class Amphibia 10 0.07 Class Reptilia 86 0.65 Class Aves 79 0.60 Class Mammalia 1,356 10.27 Unidentified Vertebrate 861 6.52 Total 13,209 100.00%

Table 10. 2: The Blue Creek Fauna – List of Taxa Scientific Name Phylum Invertebrata Class Anthozoa Class Scaphopoda Dentalium sp. Class Gastropoda Cassis tuberosa Cassis sp. Oliva reticularis Oliva sp. Strombus gigas Family Strombidae Vermicularia sp. Plum sp. Pachychilus glaphyrus Pachychilus indiorum Pomacea flagellata Orthalicus sp. Euglandina sp. Neocyclotus sp. Class Pelecypoda Arca zebra Family Arcidae Spondylus sp. Arcinella sp. Family Cardiidae Nephronias sp.

Common Name Invertebrates Corals Scaphopods Tusk shell Univalves or Snails King Helmet Helmet shell Nettled olive shell Olive shell Queen conch Conchs Worm shell Marginella shell Jute snail Jute snail Apple snail Tree snail Wolf snail Land snail Bivalves Turkey wing Ark clam Thorny oyster Jewel box Cockles Freshwater Pearly Mussel

Phylum Vertebrata Class Chondriichthyes Order Rajiformes Class Osteichthyes Family Ariidae Family Cichlidae Order Siluriformes

Vertebrates Cartilaginous Fishes Stingrays Bony Fishes Sea catfishes Cichlids Catfishes


The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage Table10. 2: The Blue Creek Fauna – List of Taxa Scientific Name Class Amphibia Order Anura Class Reptilia Family Kinosternidae Order Testudines Suborder Squamata Suborder Snakes Class Birds Colinus nigrogularis Order Passeriformes Class Mammalia Family Didelphidae Dasypus novemcinctus Sylvilagus sp. Agouti paca Orthogeomys hispidus Family Cricetidae Order Rodentia Canis familiaris Order Carnivora Odocoileus virginianus Mazama americana Family Tayassuidae Tapirus bairdii

Common Name Amphibian Frogs and Toads Reptiles Mud or Musk turtle Turtles Lizards Snakes Birds Black-Throated Bobwhite Perching birds Mammals Opossums Nine-banded armadillo Rabbit Paca Pocket Gopher Rats or mice Rodents Dog Carnivore White-tailed deer Red brocket deer Peccaries Tapir

bivalve, coral, worm and tusk shell taxa. In comparison to the bone assemblage, only 11% of the invertebrate specimens could not be identified to a taxon lower than zoological class. This extreme contrast in the degree of identified and unidentified specimens is due to poorly preserved and highly fragmented bone. Poor bone preservation is a common occurrence within faunal assemblages recovered from sub-tropical environments such as Belize. In addition to environmental factors, a number of other natural and cultural taphonomic processes that can compromise bone integrity (see Stanchly 2004). The Blue Creek faunal assemblage has been subjected to both natural taphonomic processes affecting bone integrity (e.g. weathering, soil matrix leaching) and cultural practices, in particular the re-deposition of bone within construction core.

Despite these limitations, we can infer some broad generalizations regarding the use of animal resources by the inhabitants of the Blue Creek community. Some General Observations of Animal Use at Blue Creek Fish account for the majority of the bones identified to class. Of the 2,897 fish specimens, all but six specimens were recovered from a Terminal Preclassic tomb (Tomb 5) located within Structure 1A1 approximately 3 kilometers northwest of the Blue Creek site core. Both cranial and post-cranial elements are present in sufficient quantities to suggest that whole fishes were intentionally interred within the tomb. Analysis of the fish remains is incomplete; however, all of the fish identified to date are freshwater taxa and include local cichlids and catfish. No discernable marine taxa were noted during initial sorting and we believe all of the specimens to be from freshwater species.

Due to variability in preservation, it is difficult to make any meaningful comparisons, at least in dietary terms. For example, although large game species, such as deer and peccary are represented by only a handful of identified specimens, the relative contribution of these game taxa to the diet of the Blue Creek community was surely greater than that of the thousands of freshwater jute shells.

Stingray was identified from within cache and tomb contexts and includes a number of spine fragments. Identification to specific species is not possible due to the fragmentary nature of the material. A number of stingray vertebrae, possibly worked, were noted in Tomb 5.

Furthermore, it is even more difficult to assess dietary trends on a temporal basis and spatially, particularly in terms of assessing differential access to fauna within the Blue Creek community. One of the additional problems in assessing dietary trends within the Blue Creek community is the general lack of middens.

The mammal assemblage consists of a diverse range of taxa including white-tailed and brocket deer, peccary, paca, rabbit, armadillo, tapir, pocket gopher and dog.


Norbert Stanchly Several rat and/or mouse remains were recovered from a number of burial contexts at the site. These are not considered to be food refuse and are excluded from discussion. The remaining taxa are considered to represent food refuse or inclusion within deposits as offerings.

The reptile bones consist primarily of intrusive small lizard or gecko bones found within tomb and cache contexts. Small mud or musk turtle shell fragments were found within the Early Classic Structure 60 midden and from excavation of building core at Chan Cahal. Two small snake elements were also identified in the Tomb 5 deposit, however, their inclusion within the tomb may be fortuitous and not intentional.

Deer were a favorite source of meat for both elite and commoner alike in ancient Maya society (Pohl 1976, 1985, 1990) and also played an important role in socioeconomic and socio-political relations, creation mythology and religious symbolism (Pohl 1983; Tedlock 1996). Deer remains were found in both the site core and peripheral settlements. Within the Blue Creek core, deer were recovered from a Late Preclassic midden associated with Structure 9 and, an Early Classic midden associated with Structure 60. Deer bones were also found as re-deposited material in construction core of a building (Structure U5) within the peripheral settlement of Chan Cahal. One deer patella was found in Tomb 5. The majority of the deer elements are those whose density makes their recovery more likely such as the auditory bullae, patellae, and the carpal and tarsal bones.

The invertebrate faunal assemblage recovered from Blue Creek is another example of contrasts. Freshwater jute and apple snails account for the majority of the sample. These were recovered primarily from midden and construction core contexts associated with both core and peripheral settlement. In addition to these freshwater gastropods, a number of local river clams were also recovered from these contexts. In most cases these were found associated with the jute and apple snails. The association of the freshwater pearly mussel (Nephronais sp.) with jute and apple snail is common in Preclassic Maya archaeofaunas (Stanchly 1995). At Blue Creek large numbers of these mollusks were found within the Late Preclassic Structure 9 midden. The peripheral settlement of Chan Cahal also yielded large numbers of these invertebrates, though primarily in Late Classic deposits. Some of these freshwater mollusks were also placed within cache and tomb deposits as offerings.

The deer bones and the remaining mammals were identified on the basis of the presence of a few or only one or two elements. The remaining mammals were found in similar contexts to the deer bones discussed above. These include the midden deposits associated with Structure 9 and Structure 60 within the site core, as well as within the construction core of both central and peripheral buildings. The majority of the intrusive rat and/or mouse bones were found within Tomb 5 and from within an Early Classic cache associated with Structure 3 (Cache 45). The remains of pocket gopher within the sample are somewhat problematic. Their presence in Maya archaeofaunas is interpreted to be intrusive. However, the presence of a pocket gopher incisor within a tomb in Structure 1 (Tomb 4) may be an intentional offering. The recovery of gopher incisors from burials has been noted from a number of Maya and non-Maya sites and from Preclassic (Flannery 1976) and Terminal Classic contexts (Stanchly 2006).

In sharp contrast to the use of freshwater mollusks as food resources is the use of marine shell. The identified marine taxa were found almost exclusively from within tomb and cache contexts. This included a number of coral fragments, ark shells, olive shells, Spondylus, and conch. Almost all of the marine invertebrates were recovered from within the site core with the exception of conch shell. The peripheral Chan Cahal settlement yielded some conch shell fragments and a Spondylus bead from secondary deposits, possibly indicating that some processing of conch shell beads was undertaken at the site. Large quantities of marine shell beads were recovered from Blue Creek but are not discussed in this report. It seems clear that, with the possible exception of conch, none of the marine invertebrates served as food sources.

Approximately 92% of the bird bones were found in the Terminal Preclassic Tomb 5. These were found placed within a number of ceramic vessels within the tomb. They are the remains of the small quail-like bobwhite. At least seven bobwhites were placed within the tomb as offerings. Similar ritual use of bobwhite has been observed at Caracol, where at least 13 bobwhites were placed within an Early Classic tomb (Morton 1987:108).

The Distribution of the Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage Faunal remains were recovered from a variety of primary and secondary deposit types within the site core and the peripheral settlements of the Blue Creek community. Bone and shell specimens were used as fill within construction core, found in midden contexts, and were recovered from caches and tombs.

Bird bones were also recovered from the Terminal Preclassic Structure 9 midden and an Early Classic cache in Structure 3. One bird bone fragment was recovered from the construction core of Structure U5 at Chan Cahal. Unfortunately, none could be identified to species.

Although faunal remains recovered from secondary construction core contexts can provide information regarding community wide resource utilization, they offer little interpretive value in discussing household or residential use of fauna. 202

The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage can be gleaned regarding the use of fauna by Maya commoners.

Midden deposits are also problematic. When found as deposits abutting structures, they generally represent post-abandonment deposition or perhaps a precursor to abandonment (Pendergast 2004). However, we may assume with some confidence that such midden deposits are the result of food use activities that had taken place in the general vicinity of these deposits though not necessarily associated with residential use of such structures.

Within the Blue Creek site core, faunal material from one tomb, two caches, and two midden deposits are discussed below. Structure 1A1 (Tomb 5) This Terminal Preclassic tomb housed three individuals and was found within “an outlying hilltop” located approximately three kilometers northwest of the Blue Creek core area (Guderjan 2004:247). The tomb contained 28 vessels and an associated faunal assemblage of 4,001 vertebrate and invertebrate specimens (Table 3). Approximately 65% of the faunal assemblage consists of freshwater fish bones. The skeletons of at least seven bobwhites were found as offerings placed within the vessels.

Primary contexts such as tombs and caches provide us with a glimpse into the ritual use of fauna. These deposits also inform regarding the socio-economic and socio-political uses of fauna. Unfortunately such deposits are generally restricted to elite contexts and although we are presented with a variety of information on the use of fauna by the Maya elite, little information

Table 10.3: Structure 1A1, Tomb 5 Fauna Taxon Invertebrates Class Gastropoda Pachychilus glaphyrus Pomacea flagellata Class Pelecypoda Nephronaias sp. Vertebrates Class Chondriichthyes Family Dasyatidae Class Amphibia Order Anura Class Aves Colinus nigrogularis Class Mammalia Dasypus novemcinctus Family Cricetidae Order Rodentia Class Osteichthyes Order Siluriformes Family Ariidae Family Cichliidae Class Reptilia Sub-Order Sauria Sub-Order Serpentes

Common Name Univalves/Snails Jute Apple snail Bivalves/Clams Freshwater pearly mussel Cartilaginous Fish Stingrays Amphibians Frogs and Toads Birds Bobwhite Mammals Nine-Banded armadillo Rats/Mice Rodents Bony Fish Catfish Hard-Headed Catfish Cichlids Reptiles Lizards Snakes

Although the majority of the fish bones remain to be identified, cichlids and catfishes are present. No marine fish appear to be present. Interestingly, apart from a few stingray spine fragments, no other marine taxa are represented in this assemblage. This is in stark contrast to other Terminal Preclassic and Early Classic caches found at Blue Creek.

interpretation. It is clear that the ruling elite within the site core had access to a variety of coastal resources during the Late to Terminal Preclassic. Such privilege does not appear to have extended to those interred within the outlying Tomb 5.

Guderjan (2004:247) has suggested that those interred within Tomb 5 were not members of the Blue Creek royalty. The lack of marine fauna found within the tomb, when compared to those found within site core caches (see Structure 3 below) supports this

Excavation of a large masonry shrine within the Blue Creek site core resulted in the discovery of Cache 45 (Guderjan 2004:239). Associated with a lidded vessel (Driver and Wanyerka 2002), a total of 1,058 faunal specimens were recovered from this Early Classic

Structure 3 (Cache 45)


Norbert Stanchly cache (Table 4). The assemblage includes 892 invertebrate remains and a minimum of 165 vertebrate specimens.

are those of sponges. There is no doubt however that these are fragments from a marine invertebrate. The remaining 153 invertebrates include additional marine species such as barnacles and barnacle encrusted mollusk fragments, unidentified microgastropods, a worm shell, and several bivalves. Identified bivalves include turkey wing shells, thorny oyster, and cockles.

The invertebrate assemblage consists almost entirely of marine fauna and includes 739 unidentified marine invertebrates that are generally hexagonal in shape and resemble either some type of coral or sponge. Unfortunately identification of this material has not been possible. However, analysis of biosilicates from this cache resulted in the identification of marine sponges (see Bozarth and Guderjan 2004) and it is possible that the unidentified invertebrate fragments Table 10.4: Structure 3, Cache 45 Fauna Taxon Invertebrates Class Anthozoa Class Gastropoda Family Vermetidae Unidentified microgastropods Class Pelecypoda Arca zebra Family Arcidae Family Cardiidae cf. Family Cardiidae Spondylus sp. Unidentified marine bivalve Nephronaias sp. Unidentified marine invertebrate Vertebrates Class Chondriichthyes Family Dasyatidae Class Osteichthyes Class Mammalia Family Cricetidae Order Rodentia

The vertebrate assemblage also includes mainly marine species and includes approximately 130 vertebrae from a cartilaginous fish, likely ray. Stingray is also represented by several spine fragments.

Common Name Coral Univalves/Snails Worm snail Bivalves/Clams Turkey wing Wing shell Cockles Cf. cockle Thorny oyster Freshwater pearly mussel (possibly sponge) Cartilaginous fishes Stingrays Bony fishes Mammals Mouse and/or rat Small rodent

for the most part highly fragmented. It is believed that a large proportion of the unidentified shell remains may be the remains of this species. The use of apple snail as a food source has been documented at several lowland Maya sites including Tikal (Moholy Nagy 1978), Lamanai (Emery 1990), and Cahal Pech (Stanchly 1995).

Structure 9, Preclassic Midden A large Middle Preclassic midden was found adjacent to Structure 9 (Guderjan 2004:247; Haines 1995). Bone and shell remains from within the midden have been reported on (Stanchly 1999) and here we provide only a brief summary of those results. Approximately 1,857 invertebrate and vertebrate faunal remains were presented for analysis (Table 5). Freshwater shell utilization for food purposes is clearly evident within the midden. Numerous remains of apple snail, jute, and river clam are present. Vertebrates include rodent, deer, dog, bird, turtle, and opossum specimens. Deer, dog, and turtle were common food sources during the Preclassic period, and commonly found in the faunal assemblages from sites in northern Belize (Masson 2004; Wing and Scudder 1991).

The freshwater jute snail (Pachychilus spp.) is also represented though in far fewer numbers than the apple snail. This is believed to be a reflection of local environmental conditions as jute snails prefer fast flowing rivers not found to any great extent in the Blue Creek area. The apple snail favours the slow “swampy” waters of the region. Jute snails were also consumed by the ancient Maya and are still eaten by some of the Maya inhabitant of Belize today (Healy et al. 1990). Their numbers have been found in large quantities, particularly in Preclassic contexts, at sites such as Cahal Pech (Stanchly 1995) and Pacbitun (Healy et al. 1990; Stanchly et al. 1996).

The remains of the freshwater apple snail account for the majority of all identified shell remains. These were


The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage

Table 10.5: Structure 9 Midden Fauna Taxon Invertebrates Class Gastropoda Pachychilus glaphyrus Pachychilus indiorum Pomacea flagellata Orthalicus sp. Euglandina sp. Strombus sp. Family Strombidae Class Pelecypoda Nephronaias sp. Vertebrates Class Reptilia Order Tortoises Class Birds Class Mammalia Family dog ​​Mazama americana Family Didelphidae Order Rodentia

Common Name Univalves/Snails Jute Jute Apple snail Tree snail Wolf snail Conch Conchs Bivalves/Clams Freshwater Pearly Mussel Reptiles Turtles Birds Mammals Domestic Dog Red Brocket Deer Opossum Rodents

Although found is relatively small numbers at Blue Creek, the river clam Nephronaias would have also provided food for the ancient Maya (Powis 2004). The remains of this species have been found in great numbers in Formative period contexts at many sites including Cahal Pech (Stanchly1995) and Cuello (Hammond 1991).

Structure 12, Cache 28 Ten specimens from an Early Classic cache were presented for analysis. Structure 12 is interpreted as a royal or elite residence (Driver et al. 2002; Gilgan 1996, 1997). The faunal remains were found within two lip to lip vessels in association with jade and other artifacts (Guderjan 2004:245). The faunal material consisted entirely of marine and freshwater shell. Identified marine shells include thorny oyster (Spondylus sp.), a cockle valve (cf. magnum cockle [Trachycardium magnum]), and an ark shell (cf. incongruous ark [Anadara brasiliana]). Five unidentified small marine gastropods and one shell inlay was also recovered. The shell inlay was manufactured from the valve of a freshwater pearly mussel.

The presence of marine conch shell indicates access to coastal resources by the Middle Preclassic period. The exploitation of coastal resources, including fish, shellfish, and salt, is well documented for the Classic period and evidence for the early procurement of these resources, especially marine fish and shellfish is being recovered at an increasing rate (Carr 1985; Powis et al. 1999; Shaw 1991; Wing and Scudder 1991). To summarize, a trend noted for the greater exploitation of local freshwater shellfish during the Preclassic period seen at other lowland Maya sites is also apparent at Blue Creek.

Structure 60, Midden An Early Classic midden was found associated with this elite residential structure. The faunal remains recovered and presented for analysis included 159 specimens. Bone accounts for 97% of the sample. The invertebrate specimens include apple snail and freshwater mussel fragments (Table 6).

Unfortunately relatively few food remains are represented within the vertebrate faunal assemblage recovered to date at Blue Creek. The midden fauna that can be considered to be food refuse is represented by only a few elements. These include dog, brocket deer, turtle, and possibly opossum, all locally available fauna.

Although few of the bone fragments could be identified to a meaningful taxon below the class level, red brocket deer, paca, and mud turtle (Family Kinosternidae) are noted. The unidentifiable bone fragments are primarily representative of small to medium sized animals and are likely to include additional paca bones. A medium sized carnivore (dog or coati?) is also likely present within the sample.


Norbert Stanchly Table 10.6: Structure 60 Midden Fauna Taxon Invertebrates Class Gastropoda Pomacea flagellata Class Pelecypoda Nephronaias sp. Vertebrates Class Reptilia Order Testudines Family Kinosternidae Class Mammalia Order Carnivora Mazama americana Order Rodentia Agouti paca

Common Name Univalves/Snails Apple Snail Bivalves/Clams Freshwater Pearly Mussel Reptiles Turtles Mud/Musk Turtle Mammals Carnivores Red Brocket Deer Rodents Paca

construction core. The majority of the assemblage was recovered during excavation of Structure U5.

Chan Cahal, Structure U5 The peripheral Chan Cahal faunal assemblage was recovered from a variety of Late to Terminal Classic contexts, including burial, cache, midden, and

Table 10.7: Chan Cahal Fauna Taxon Invertebrates Class Gastropoda Cassis tuberose Oliva sp. Pachychilus glaphyrus Pachychilus indiorum Pomacea flagellata Orthalicus sp. Euglandina sp. Strombus gigas Class Pelecypoda Nephronaias sp. Spondylus sp. Vertebrates Class Birds Class Mammalia Order Carnivora Dasypus novemcinctus Family Cervidae Odocoileus virginianus Tapirus bairdii Order Rodentia Sylvilagus sp. Class Reptilia Order Turtles

The Chan Cahal assemblage consists of marine and freshwater shells and a diverse array of terrestrial fauna (Table 7).

Common Name Univalves/Snails King Helmet Olive shell Jute Jute Apple snail Tree snail Wolf snail Queen conch Bivalves/Clams Freshwater Pearly Mussel Thorny Oyster Birds Mammals Carnivore Nine-banded armadillo Deer White-tailed deer Tapir Rodents Rabbit Reptiles Turtles

Mammals identified include white-tailed deer, rabbit, armadillo, tapir, and peccary. Bird and turtles were also consumed. Although none of the identified taxa are represented by more than one individual, the diversity seen within the Chan Cahal assemblage is far greater than any other peripheral settlement and is comparable

to that seen in the Middle Preclassic Structure 9 midden. The invertebrate assemblage from Chan Cahal is strikingly similar to that recovered from the Structure 9 midden. Freshwater jute, apple snail, and Nephronaias clams were found in large numbers. The Chan Cahal residents also had access to marine shells


The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage including helmet, conch, Spondylus, and olive shells. The conch shell fragments may indicate that shell bead manufacturing may have taken place within this residential area.

Interestingly, the Structure 60 midden, interpreted to be an Early Classic elite refuse deposit, also does not differ dramatically from those from Structure 9 or Chan Cahal, at least not in terms of vertebrate faunal use. There is however, a much smaller amount of freshwater shell within the Structure 60 midden, perhaps indicating preferential access to vertebrate game.

Discussion The community of Blue Creek utilized a variety of faunal resources for food and ritual use. Differential access to faunal resources is apparent by the Terminal Preclassic in the distribution of marine fauna at the site. Access to the resources of the Caribbean Sea is noted for the ruling elite inhabitants of the site core, but apparently not accessible at this time to those in the periphery (see Tomb 5, Structure 1A1).

What is apparent from the Blue Creek faunal assemblage, is the fact that our interpretations regarding subsistence use both within the site core and between the core and its peripheral supporting populations, are extremely limited due to poor bone preservation. As mentioned earlier, most of the identified vertebrate species were identified on the basis of only one or a few elements. In most instances these are the dense elements that are more likely to survive the destructive forces of the humid tropical environments.

Freshwater shells were utilized as were local terrestrial game such as deer, turtle, and domestic dog. The presence of large amounts of fauna in cache and tomb contexts, indicates the importance of animals in Maya ritual thought. Moreover, the presence of marine taxa in Late Preclassic and Early Classic caches and tombs indicates the long history of a pattern of marine faunal inclusion in elite tomb contexts that persisted through the Classic period throughout much of the Lowland Maya region. A Late Classic royal tomb found within Structure 10L-26 at Copan contained copious amounts of invertebrate marine faunal materials (Beaubien 2004).

Ritual Use of Fauna Faunal material from burials and caches informs us as to the ritual use of animals by the Blue Creek community. The majority of the Blue Creek assemblage was recovered from such contexts. These caches and burials are also datable using ceramic seriation, thus providing us with an opportunity to place Blue Creek within a contextual frame with which to understand ritual faunal utilization on a broader regional scale.

The large number of shell remains found in formative contexts may adhere to a general lowland pattern evident at other sites which suggest that a greater reliance on local freshwater shellfish by the Preclassic Maya (Stanchly 1995).

As Mary Pohl (1983:98) states, for the ancient Maya the inclusion of animals in caches and burials represented metaphor for a variety of abstract symbolism, such as earth, rain or water, sun, fertility, and renewal. Fauna also became important within offerings directed at establishing and strengthening elite lineages (Pohl 1983:98). Beginning in the Late Preclassic and continuing through the Classic period, ceremonial offerings became more elaborate.

Food Use at Blue Creek The minimal amounts of identifiable vertebrate faunal bone recovered from Blue Creek would lead us to an initial interpretation that meat was a scarce occupant on the bowls and plates of the residents of the community. However, other factors likely account for the small quantities of identifiable bone. Taphonomic variables surely influenced the sample. This was clear during the analysis of the material where it was evident that the bone assemblage was extremely fragmented due primarily to exposure to lime fills within building construction cores.

The Blue Creek cache and tomb data reflect the importance of fauna to all of these concepts. The large amounts of marine taxa found in Late Preclassic and Early Classic offerings attest to the importance of these materials as a metaphor for water and perhaps concepts of the primordial sea tied to the emergence of royal rule within the community. The lack of marine material recovered from Tomb 5 in the periphery of the site core bespeaks of differential access to marine material at this early date. Guderjan (2004:247) argues that the individual interred within this tomb was of high status, based on the accompanying grave goods, but was not a member of the Blue Creek royalty, based on the distance of this tomb from the site core. The lack of marine material within the tomb may also support this interpretation.

Assuming that the identified taxa were procured locally and not traded for, we can make some inferences regarding subsistence on a community wide level. Diversity in resources taken for food is apparent within the site core (Structure 9 midden) as well the peripheral Chan Cahal settlement. Unfortunately, the latter sample is too small to infer any meaningful comparisons between Late Preclassic and Late to Terminal Classic subsistence strategies within the Blue Creek community. What is interesting is that the range of animal resources utilized appears to be so similar.

The Blue Creek faunal assemblage provides us with some important data concerning the use of fauna as 207

Norbert Stanchly food and metaphor within a Maya community. Unfortunately the data are frustratingly limited in providing answers to some of the questions we would like to be able to address. For example, although we have good data for the ritual use of fauna in Late Preclassic and the Early Classic, and fairly good information on Late Preclassic subsistence practices, we are have little data on the Late to Terminal Classic transition period. The near absence of fauna from Late Classic offerings supports Guderjan’s (2004:248) conclusion that the Blue Creek elite no longer had access to ‘exotic goods’ by this time. The Blue Creek faunal assemblage does however provide us with an excellent example of how the ravages of a sub-tropical environment, and its concomitant taphonomic processes, can severely limit our interpretations regarding ancient Maya animal use.

Driver, W. D., and P. Wanyerka 2002 Creation Symbolism in the Architecture and Ritual at Structure 3, Blue Creek, Belize. Mexicon 24(1):6-8. Driver, W.D., E. Boyd, and S. Pilcher 2002 Excavations in the Core Zone. In The Blue Creek Project: Working Papers from the 1998 and 1999 Field Seasons, edited by T.H. Guderjan and R.J. Lichtenstein. Maya Research Program, Fort Worth. Emery, K. 1990 Postclassic and Colonial Period Subsistence Strategies in the Southern Maya Lowland: Faunal Analysis from Lamanai and Tipu, Belize. Unpublished MA thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Dr. Thomas Guderjan for allowing access to the Blue Creek faunal assemblage, for providing logistical support and background information regarding issues of context and chronology. I am also indebted to Dr. Helen Haines for her help with my queries regarding the Structure 9 midden. Finally, I thank Dr. T. Max Friesen (University of Toronto) and Dr. Kevin Seymour (Royal Ontario Musuem), for allowing me access to the skeletal reference collections housed at the University of Toronto, and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Flannery, K.V. 1976 The Early Mesoamerican Village. Academic Press, New York. Gilgan, E. 1996 Excavations in the Structure 13 Courtyard Complex. In Archaeological Research at Blue Creek, Belize: Progress Report of the Fourth (1995) Field Season, edited by T.H. Guderjan, W.D. Driver, and H.R. Haines. Maya Research Program, San Antonio, Texas. 1997

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Excavations in the Structure 13 Courtyard Group. In The Blue Creek Project: Working Papers from the 1996 Field Season, edited by W.D. Driver, H.L. Clagett, and H.R. Haines, Maya Research Program, San Antonio, Texas.

Guderjan, T.H. 2004 Public Architecture, Ritual, and Temporal Dynamics at the Maya Center of Blue Creek, Belize. Ancient Mesoamerica 15:235-250.

Bozarth, S., and T.H. Guderjan 2004 Results of Biosilicate Analysis of Residue in Maya Dedicatory Cache Vessels. Journal of Archaeological Science 31(2):205-215.

Haines, H.R. 1995 Summary of Excavations at the Temple of the Masks. In Archaeological Research at Blue Creek, Belize: Progress Report of the Third (1994) Field Season, edited by T.H. Guderjan and W.D. Driver. Maya Research Program, San Antonio, TX.

Carr. H.S. 1985 Subsistence and Ceremony: Faunal utilization in a Late Preclassic Community at Cerros, Belize. In Prehistoric Lowland Maya Environment and Subsistence Economy, edited by M. Pohl. Harvard University, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Paper 77. Cambridge.

Hamblin, N.L. 1984 Animal Use by the Cozumel Maya. University of Arizona Press, Tucson. Hammond, N. (ed.) 1991 Cuello: An Early Maya Community in Belize. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Dillon, B.D. 1988 Meatless Maya? Ethnoarchaeological Implications for Ancient Subsistence. Journal of New World Archaeology 7:59-70.


The Blue Creek Faunal Assemblage Healy, P.F.,K. Emery, and L. Wright 1990 Ancient and Modern Maya Exploitation of the jute snail (Pachychilus). Latin American Antiquity 1(2): 170-183.

Directions in Method and Theory, edited by K.F. Emery. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Los Angeles. Powis, T.G., N. Stanchly, C.D. White, P.F. Healy, J.J. Awe, and F. Longstaffe 1999 A Reconstruction of Middle Preclassic Maya Subsistence Economy at Cahal Pech, Belize. Antiquity 73:364-376.

Masson, M.A. 2004 Fauna Exploitation from the Preclassic to the Postclassic Periods at Four Maya Settlements in Northern Belize. In Maya Zooarchaeology: New Directions in Method and Theory, edited by K.F. Emery. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.

Reitz, E.J. and E.S. Wing 1999 Zooarchaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Moholy-Nagy, H. 1978 The Utilization Pomacea Snails at Tikal, Guatemala. American Antiquity 43(1):65-73.

Shaw, L. 1991 The Articulation of Social Inequality and Faunal Resource Use in the Preclassic Community of Colha, Northern Belize. Unpublished PhD. Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Morton, J.D. 1987 A Preliminary Report on the Faunal Analysis of Caracol, Belize. In Investigations at the Classic Maya City of Caracol, Belize: 19851987, edited by A.F. Chase and D.Z. Chase, pp. 106-110. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, Monograph 3. San Francisco, CA.

Stanchly, N. 1995 Formative Period Maya Faunal Utilization at Cahal Pech, Belize: Preliminary Analysis of the Animal Remains from the 1994 Field Season. In Belize Valley Preclssic Maya Project: Report on the 1994 Field Season, edited by P. Healy and J. Awe,. Trent University Occasional Paper in Anthropology No. 10,.

Pendergast, D.M. 2004 Where’s the Meat? Maya Zooarchaeology from an Archaeological Perspective. In Maya Zooarchaeology: New Directions in Method and Theory, edited by K.F. Emery. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA. Pohl, M. 1976 Ethnozoology of the Maya: An Analysis of Fauna from Five Sites in Peten, Guatemala. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. Department of Anthropology, Harvard University. 1983



Maya Ritual Fauna: Vertebrate Remains from Burials, Caches, Caves, and Cenotes in the Maya Lowland. In Civilization in the Ancient Americas, edited by R.M. Leventhal and A.L. Kolata. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. The Privileges of Maya Elites: Prehistoric Vertebrate Fauna from Seibal. In Prehistoric Lowland Maya Environment and Subsistence Economy, edited by M.D. Pohl. Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 77. The Ethnozoology of the Maya: Faunal Remains from Five Sites in the Peten, Guatemala. In Excavations at Seibal, Guatemala, edited by G.R. Willey. Peabody Museum Monographs, Vol. 18, No. 3..

Powis, T.G. 2004 Ancient Lowland Maya Utilization of Freshwater Pearly Mussels (Nephronaias spp.). In Maya Zooarchaeology: New 209


Middle Formative Faunal Utilization by the Lowland Maya: Insights from Bone and Shell Remains at Cahal Pech and Pacbitun, Belize. Paper presented at the 61st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, New Orleans, Louisiana.


An Analysis of the Faunal Remains: The 1996 and 1997 Field Seasons. In The Blue Creek Project: Working Papers from the 1997 Season, edited by W.D. Driver, H.R. Haines, and T.H. Guderjan, pp. 115-131. Maya Research Program, San Antonio, TX.


Picks and Stones May Break My Bones: Taphonomy and Maya Zooarchaeology. In Maya Zooarchaeology: New Directions in Method and Theory, edited by K.F. Emery. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, Los Angeles.


A Preliminary Analysis of the Pook’s Hill Vertebrate Faunal Assemblage. In The Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project: A Report of the 2005 Field Season, edited by Christophe G.B. Helmke and Jaime J. Awe. Belize Institute of Archaeology, National Institute of Culture and History, Belmopan.

Norbert Stanchly Tedlock, D. 1996 Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. Simon and Schuster, New York. Wing , E. and S. Scudder 1991 The Exploitation of Animals. In Cuello: An Early Maya Community in Belize, edited by N. Hammond. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Chapter 11 The Shaft Caches of Structure 4: An Analysis of the Archaeological Evidence and Symbolism Lyssabeth C. Pedersen There were presumably considerable crossovers within the previously mentioned utilizations. Qualities in the ancient Maya belief system, culture, and cosmology would have greatly influenced the formation and content of caches as well, a notion further explored later.

Introduction The primary goal of this study is to examine the possible functions of the Shaft Cache feature of Structure 4-III at Blue Creek, Belize and the initial ceremony that accompanied it. In order to accomplish this I will piece together the physical evidence from the Shaft Cache feature with the current understanding of ancient Maya cosmology. The feature and its associated caches were interred during the Early Classic Period, at approximately 500 C.E. This was a time of great prosperity for Blue Creek, during which large amounts of jade were exhibited throughout the site and extensive public architectural constructions were erected (Baker 1996:109; Guderjan 2007:45-46). The shaft was made by a deep intrusion into the fill of a previous construction phase. After the pit had been refilled with artifacts and marl it was sealed and topped by a large limestone disk, presumably used as a stand for a banner. The entire feature, including the topical bannerstone, were then covered by the rubble fill of Structure 4-IIIa (Driver 2008:240-43; Guderjan 1996:13; 2007: 28-30; Weiss 1995:47-48).

There have not been many in-depth studies of the symbolic references of the large early Classic deposit at Blue Creek beyond the main field reports (Guderjan et al 1995; Guderjan et al 1996). A description and short analysis of Structure 4 and its associated caches are included in Thomas Guderjan's book The Nature of an Ancient Maya City (2007), which presents an overview of the site of Blue Creek and the results of the mapping and excavations conducted at the site. A more detailed survey of the feature is described in W. David Driver's Ph.D. Dissertation, The Construction of Intrapolity Sociopolitical Identity Through Architecture at the Ancient Maya Site of Blue Creek, Belize (2008). Thomas Guderjan also wrote an article (1998) examining the physical evidence of the feature and its possible implications for the Early Classic Period at Blue Creek. These publications will be used extensively throughout this study, along with other sources for comparative analysis.

Caches have been found all over the Maya area in a variety of different contexts and forms. They are generally more abundant and elaborate in major urban centers, but are also present in smaller communities (Coe 1959: 108-18). The function and purpose of Classic Maya caches have been generally described as being in relation to a deity, a personage, an event, a calendrical cycle, or a construction (Coe 1965: 462). Discerning the original intention of the depositors relies heavily on the form, physical evidence, and objects recovered from the cache.

Ancient Maya Taxonomy




Many definitions and classifications of caches have been suggested over the years. Although there are some discrepancies among the classifications, archaeologists can generally agree upon the components and characteristics required for an interment to be considered a cache. This chapter will be an examination of previous theories on the taxonomy, typology, and terminology involved in studying caches from the Maya area, and more specifically the caches of Structure 4 at Blue Creek, Belize. Unless otherwise specified, this discussion pertains predominantly to Classic Period caches.

The most common, or perhaps most easily ascertained, function of Classic caching events is the dedication of a structure or construction phase. These can be identified by the location and stratification of the cache in relation to the construction. A cache deposited at the same time as the erection of a building or feature indicates that it was placed in dedication to that construction. These events often included a ceremonial component, sometimes involving performances and rituals. The dedicatory caches were usually placed at the central axis or at the four corners of the building, and served to make the structure suitable for its new human or spiritual residents (Schele and Mathews 1998: 47-50). It must also be stated that the possible functions of the caches are not mutually exclusive.

During the late 1950's and early 60's the conventional denotations and connotations of caches shifted slightly. Definitions and primary interest prior to 1959 tended to focus on spatial factors, including the proximity and quantity of objects in each grouping (Coe 1959:77). During the 1950's, however, William Coe (1959:77) notes that the primary focus had switched from spacial to understanding the function and original purpose of 211

Lyssabeth C. Pedersen caches. This concern is made implicit through the time's frequent use of terms such as “votive,” “dedicatory,” “offering,” and “ceremonial” deposits. Coe (1959:77) claims that this interest in function led to the term “votive cache,” which was customarily used in Maya archaeology.

whose occupation had ceased before or at the time of the interment. This was a common way to dedicate the next phase of construction on a structure, or to make a dedication to a new feature placed on top of an old or unused platform. Despite the intrusion into the older feature and the cache's closer proximity to the construction's predecessor it is considered by most archaeologists to be in relation and dedication to the new structure (Coe 1959:78). The identification of these caches seems to be only detectable through a relatively close proximity between the dates of the interment of the cache and the construction of the new feature. This form of dedicatory cache seems tedious to identify since a cache can also be made through an intrusion into the summit of a structure. This suggests that if there is not any datable material within an intrusion or patched cache it could be associated with either the preceding structure or its successor.

The points of interest for archaeological studies of caches may have changed, but the definitions of caches themselves have generally remained the same since their discovery as products of a common practice in Maya archaeology. Coe's (1959:77) definition seems to agree with most archaeologists idea of what constitutes a cache. He wrote that “...the term cache (literally 'a hiding place') refers to one or more objects found together, but apart from burials, whose grouping and situation point to intentional interment as an offering (Coe 1959:77).” Ledyard Smith (1962:256) states that the term cache refers to one or more objects that appear to have been buried as a votive or dedicatory offering and not to have been associated with a burial. A similarity between these two definitions is their use of the word “offering,” and in Smith's case the words “votive” and “dedicatory.” These terms seem to imply that all caches are identifiably dedicatory in nature. There are many cases in which caches are attributable as dedicatory to specific events, but there are also cases where this identification is not so apparent. Caches that do not have definitive associated events, can either be considered non-dedicatory or with an unknown dedicatory purpose. Both Coe and Smith also stress the point that in order to be considered a cache the group of objects must not be associated with a burial. This distinction can be problematic and will be examined in more detail later in this study.

Another form of dedicatory caching is found in the veneration of a major occurrence or a specific event of an individual's life; in which case ascension to the throne, death, marriage, and achievements in warfare would take priority. These dedicatory caches can be more difficult to identify as they often are not associated with a construction phase. They can be found within monuments and rubble fill, which would align the cache with the time frame of the building of the construction, but dating them does not define their intended purpose. Adversely, they can be intruded into the phase's summit during its occupation, which would only provide the general dates of the summit's use as an architectural chronology (Coe 1959:78). Without identifying artifacts, these caches can often be considered non-dedicatory, or of unknown purpose, owing to the lack of information on their function. Non-dedicatory caches were usually made through an existing surface during its use and made in terms of that occupation. These often appear as restored patch caches. Although they are designated by Coe (1959:78) as non-dedicatory they can also be considered to have an unknown dedication as their intended purpose is often unclear. Intrusive offerings, concealed by patchwork plaster and stone, could have functioned in conjunction with important ceremonies and rituals, perhaps in veneration of a deity or individual (Coe 1965:463).

A major distinction must be made between identifiably dedicatory caches and non-dedicatory or unknown dedicatory purpose caches. In order to achieve this distinction we can rely on the gathered characteristics of these two groups. Most dedicatory caches have been identified owing to their association with the construction of architectural features. A cached dedication to an architectural feature can be identified by various qualities. For instance, if it was interred near or, more commonly, beneath the feature during its construction it can be considered a possible dedication to the architectural feature (Coe 1959:78). The date of the cache's interment can be determined through carbon dating of objects within the cache, or through the deposit's relationship to the structure. If the cache was found within the structure or its rubble fill but without displaying any evidence of post-completion intrusion or penetration it can generally be assumed that it was placed at the time of the feature's construction.

Caches, both dedicatory and non-dedicatory, can be divided into two main types of repositories by their style of interment: 'simple' caches and 'cist' caches.. A 'simple' cache would be found in the fill of a building, an altar, or under a floor or terrace, without any definite outline. They are placed directly adjacent to or within surrounding fill or earth. A 'cist' cache is a repository found with definitive outlines. They are often bordered by supporting walls of the original excavation into the structural fill or bedrock (Smith 1962:256). In the case of Blue Creek's shaft caches, the primary intrusion and surrounding fill were supported by a lining of stone (Guderjan 1996:11).

A cache made in dedication to a structure or architectural feature can also be identified by its intrusion into the area's preceding platform or structure 212

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 These two major styles of caching are the most common and in many sites, including Postclassic Mayapán, the only forms present (Smith 1962:256).

beads, can also be included in the pottery category. The second group is described as partly perishable objects and most commonly amount to faunal and human skeletal remains, either in their natural nonspecialized state or decorated by carving and/or painting. Entirely perishable objects, the third group, include food and other organic material, which can usually only be inferable by scientific determination of organic remnants. In some cases the complete emptiness of a vessel can indicate the remains of entirely perishable objects. The last category, imperishable objects, includes non-ceramic tools or decorative ornaments and any unworked material that has apparent significance (Coe 1959:78).

Excavations at Piedras Negras (Coe 1959:79-94) and many other sites, however, have produced knowledge on a third type of caching. Evidence has been uncovered that the interment of artifacts and perishable objects contained in vessels was also a common form of caching. Vessel containment caches could be simple or could be shaped into anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures which contain any number and variety of artifacts. Some are elaborately painted with images that can help to define the nature and purpose of the cache. The site of Blue Creek has multiple examples of vessel containment caches including caches 9B, 9C, and 10 which were located in the lower section of the shaft caches (Driver 2008:244).

Determining caches from other deposits is not always easy. The various forms of caching and the diverse possibilities of cached objects can both be categorized into general groups. These classifications, however, do not always allow us to distinguish a cache from another form of intentionally deposited group of objects. I have found three types of intentional deposits that can cause some confusion in identifying caches. Ancient trash piles, or middens, could be considered intentional deposits as they are often found in a clearly designated area and were often buried to make room for a structure or more discarded material. These are not difficult to ascertain as middens because the interred objects are usually broken, of little value and are thrown in large quantities without any formal arrangement. The artifacts, found in middens, would also be layered according to their age and date of discard, displaying a long period of use rather than the one single event associated with caching.

In Uaxactun (Coe 1959:108; Smith 1950: 91-93) the excavators divided the 64 caches into 'cist,' 'simple,' and another form of cached repository called a 'crypt.' The crypt caches are similar to the cist form, but they are required to have lining walls and also need to be enclosed with a capstone lid. These are usually intrusive in nature, but could also have been deposited during the initial rubble fill of a structure. The upper portion of the intrusive central shaft at the caching feature in Structure 4 at Blue Creek displays some similarities to the crypt caches at Uaxactun. The upper portion is separated from the lower section by a thick layer of marl or plaster which corresponds to the summit floor level of the first construction phase of Structure 4 at 150.-151.00m AMSL (Driver 2008:240). The upper portion walls were made by placing 10-11 courses of roughly cut stone around the edges of the penetration. The chimney like section was then sealed with two marl lenses. After the penetration was sealed and secured a large bannerstone was placed over the interred feature. The upper shaft section extends 1.5m into the structure, a much larger feature than the crypt caches at Uaxactun (Driver 2008:242). It is unlikely that the shaft could be considered a crypt cache because its lower section is not lined by walls and the feature is much larger than the crypt caches. It seems, instead, that although the shaft feature shares commonalities with the crypt caches it is in a completely different and perhaps unique genre of cached repository.

A terminal offering, or more commonly named a termination ritual, is another form of intentional deposit which has some overlap with cached dedications to structures whose occupation has ceased. Coe (1965:462) designates caches dedicated to the discontinuation of use and occupation of a structure as being “terminal.” This is a problematic term because termination rituals are a completely different form of deposit, often not being interred at all. His use of the term “terminal” is understandable as the apparent abundance of termination rituals was not discovered until later (Weiss 1995:58). The remains of termination rituals are often found in front of doorways on the surface of a structure, terrace, or plaza. They usually include pottery intentionally smashed or broken by the ancient Maya themselves. The breaking of ceramics was involved in a termination ritual which marked the structure or feature as being or becoming obsolete and unused (Coe 1965:462). Termination rituals are therefore a different kind of deposit, separate from caches, as they are often placed on the surface rather than being buried. It does seem, however, that a termination ritual could be intentionally interred and therefore would be considered both a cache and the remains of a termination ritual.

The different forms and styles of cached interments, although not entirely all encompassing, have been separated into the classifications noted above. The cached objects themselves, however, can be very diverse in both number and variety. In order of clarification they can be arranged into four relatively vague categories. The first group of cached components is comprised of pottery and includes container vessels, votively decorated or nonspecialized vessels, special covers, and secondary covering or inverted vessels (Coe 1959:78). Other ceramic objects such as spindle whorls, ear flares, or 213

Lyssabeth C. Pedersen Coe does seem to have recognized that there were possible ceremonial offerings to the abandonment of a structure in his work at Piedras Negras. The remains of two large censers were found on the surface of Structure K-5-2nd phase. The vessels were incomplete which suggests that they were broken at the time of their deposit. The excavators convey that the censers were a “ceremonial object-sacrifice” made at the structure's abandonment rather than a dedicatory cache for the 2nd construction phase. The termination rituals at Piedras Negras were later covered by a new construction phase, but this interment was deemed incidental, and therefore not a cache (Coe 1959:94).

between burials and caches are as easily construed as the phalange deposits, but they do give an implication of how human remains can be used as part of a cache. One of the more difficult examples of this distinction is found in Uaxactun where certain interments have been designated as burials E21-E23. Each of these Early Classic repositories is comprised of the remains of severed heads placed in Tzakol orange ware bowls, some of which were covered by an inverted vessel. Their classification is contestable as they share characteristics with both burials and caches. Although it is clear that the heads were ceremonially and deliberately placed, it is not discernible whether they were deposited with the intention of representing a human being or interred as an offertory object. The upper two or three cervicals were found with three of the interred skulls, indicating that they were decapitated without much concern for formality and included some of the upper neck. This could suggest that the heads were from sacrificed individuals, presumably deposited as offertory objects, rather than as human beings (Smith 1950: 91-93).

Burials are the third type of intentional interment and provide the most difficult cases, sometimes proving to be impossible to distinguish from caches. Human remains are often found among objects in caches and various artifacts are often found in burials making the distinction fairly ambiguous. The best defining characteristics that we have for distinguishing burials from caches have to do with the intended function of the human remains. A burial is classified as having been deposited with specific consideration to the remains as a human being. A cache would display the skeletal remains as a votive or offertory object. These would be deposited without the intention of venerating the human being, but rather they would be dedicated to the event of the entire cache (Coe 1959:120).

Other examples of the ambiguous cases of caches and burials are found at multiple sites. The skeletal remains of infants placed in vessels have generally been classified as caches even if the remains indicate the presence of the entire individual. At Piedras Negras Lot 16 or Cache R-3-2 contained the remains of an infant or fetus between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four months. The Early Classic cache had been deposited in a light bedrock depression bellow the fill of Structure R-3 during the 4th phase of construction (Coe 1959:95). The human remains and a few pieces of polished and unpolished jade were found in a tripod vessel with an inverted duplicate used as a lid. The remains included partial cranial vault fragments, a portion of the orbital bone, the mental portion of the mandible, a few long bones, some rib fragments, and the deciduous teeth in the process of erupting. It is difficult to ascertain whether the entire infant was placed in the dish, in which case a high amount of deterioration must have occurred, or if these portions of the individual were the only fragments interred (Coe 1959:129). In either case a large proportion of the whole skeleton was deposited, which could indicate a burial classification. However, the infant's placement in the vessel could contrarily suggest a offertory object function which would indicate a cache.

The original function or purpose of the interred human remains is often not apparent through remaining evidence. In these cases educated guesses prove to be useful tools for ascertaining their purpose. A cache can sometimes be recognized through the amount of the skeletal remains within it. It is more difficult to identify a whole individual buried as a ceremonial object, which is also a possibility. A small quantity of human remains can usually indicate an offertory function, as the remains do not seem to represent an entire human being but rather a ceremonial object (Coe 1959:78). There have been multiple cases in which human phalange bones have been recovered from caches, spanning from at least the Preclassic to the Postclassic Periods (Dillon 1985:34-35). At the site of Blue Creek, for example, cache 9A at structure 4 includes a human finger. The cache was an artifact scatter which included materials distributed throughout the fill of the upper section of the shaft feature. The scattering of objects also included carved jade, obsidian, and various worked shell artifacts (Guderjan 2007:33-34). In this case the human remains are of such small proportions to both the other artifacts of the cache and of a full human skeletal structure, this means that it is generally discernible that the phalange was deposited as an object and not as a representation of a human being. The ancient amputation and internment of human phalanges, both in burials and caches, may have more complicated functions than simply offerings, these possibilities will be further explored in Chapter IV (Dillon 1985:24-38). Not all cases of distinguishing

Another deposit at Piedras Negras, a Late Classic burial, was found below the plaza floor in front of Structure U-3. Inside burial 10, a tomb type feature, were two niches built into each of the side walls. Within niche 2 was a tripod dish, behind which was the remains of a human calvarium, a mandible, and a long bone fragment all belonging to an eight year old male child. The occipital bone was torn off, the left parietal was cleanly cut, and the inferior part of the right parietal was removed by both sawing and breaking (Coe 1959:127). This evidence highly suggests a 214

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 mutilation or sacrifice of the child, either before or after death. This individual seems to have been placed as an offertory object, suggested by its apparent mutilation, but as it occurs in conjunction with a tomb type burial its classification is problematical. Smith and Coe's aforementioned definitions would not allow us to classify these remains as part of a cache, however there do seem to be identifying characteristics.

A floor sequences and associated structural chronologies. These correlations have supplied us with the identification of four major floor constructions; Plaza A-I (Late Preclassic), A-II (Terminal Late Preclassic), and A-III-IV (Early Classic). The construction of Plaza A-I was accompanied by the construction of the earliest monumental architecture which included the first versions of Structure 1, 4, and 5 (Driver 2008:183-90).

A similar deposit was found at the shaft feature in Structure 4 at Blue Creek. Cache 8 was contained in an Early Classic Dos Arroyos Orange Polychrome basal flange bowl covered by a scutate lid, both were decorated with painted water birds. The vessel contained 12 teeth from both the mandible and maxilla jaw bones of a 15-30 month old infant (Glassman et al 1995:120). The surrounding soil was able to cause severe deterioration meaning that it is impossible to know whether the entire individual or only the head was placed in the vessel, or possibly only the teeth. This is yet another example of an impossible distinction between cache and burial. The deposit was designated, by its excavators, as both Burial 4 and Cache 8, a mixing of the two classifications. This was perhaps the only logical way to incorporate the overlapping characteristics of burials and caches.

The Plaza is surrounded by 6 associated monumental civic structures (see fig. 5). The largest of these is Structure 1 which spreads across the entire northern side of the plaza and contains 3 caches (Driver 1995:27-44; 1996:25-34). The site's ballcourt was built behind Structure 1, separated but still connected to the plaza. It consists of a two level platform and Structures 7 and 8. The eastern border of the plaza is marked by Structures 2 and 3, a pair of pyramids that Thomas Guderjan (2007:227-28) suggests were a variant of the archetypal E-Groups at Uaxactun. Structure 3 includes a staircase and a dedicatory cache. Structure 5 is a narrow building which spans 52 meters covering most of the west side of the plaza. The majority of rest of the western border is occupied by Structure 6, a relatively small building with a central staircase (Driver 2008:182-261; Guderjan 2007:22-36; Pastrana 1995:63-72; 1996:43-58).

This blending or overlap of the classification of burials and caches has two possible explanations. The first possibility would be an imprecise definition and taxonomy of caches by archaeologists. The second possibility is that the conjunction and blending of these two types of interments exemplifies an overlap of the ceremonial concepts of both kinds of deposits among the ancient Maya (Coe 1959:77). Although the latter is an assumption for which is difficult to find definitive supporting evidence, it seems likely that the ancient Maya might have had a different perception of caches and other forms of intentionally deposited interments which we have yet to fully understand. This is not to say, however, that our definitions and terminology of caches is not inadequate or even flawed. There are many holes and overlapping characteristics of the different kinds of designated caches. It seems, rather, that the interment of caches is a complex ceremonial practice which may accommodate other rituals or facets of cultural knowledge and practice that we have not begun to comprehend.

Structure 4 and the Shaft Cache Feature The Plaza A complex, located in the center of the Blue Creek core area (Figure 11.1), is 3-5 meters tall and covers an area of approximately 10,000 square meters. Excavations have revealed correlations between Plaza

Figure 11.1. Map of Blue Creek Civic Center, Map by Marc Wolf.


Lyssabeth C. Pedersen

Table 1. Construction Sequence of Plaza A, Taken From Driver 2008:350

The southern edge of the plaza is occupied by Structure 4, containing the Shaft Cache feature, which is the main focus of this study. It was excavated during the 1994 and 1995 field seasons. The ruin currently rises to 6.2 meters and measures about 22 meters east-west by 13 meters north-south, covering a total area of 286 squared meters. The front of the building would have faced 4.5 degrees east of true north, looking over Plaza A and toward Structure 1 (see fig. 5). Three major construction phases were

identified for the structure (Driver 2008:223-25; Guderjan 2007:28-35). The first phase was built during the Terminal Late Preclassic Period and consisted of a two-tiered platform which rose 2.2 meters from Plaza A-I (see table 1). A foundation cache (Cache 34) was placed beneath the northeast corner which would have originally been a terrace. Cache 34 consisted of two small Sapote Striated globular vessels, a fragmentary 216

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 Sierra Red bowl, a chert biface, and a bifacially flaked chert macroblade. The ceramic types are of the Late Preclassic Period. However, Linda Vista Complex ceramics were also found in stratigraphically contemporary contexts in the building indicating that the cache and initial construction are specifically dated to the Terminal Late Preclassic (Driver 2008:225-28).

Classic NAA tested obsidian samples showed an importation from the highland Maya site (Dreiss & Glasscock 1995:99-104). The cache also included 3 jade ear flares, 13 jade beads, 13 jade ornament fragments, 8 chert bifaces, 27 marine shells, 6 pieces of coral, 1 unidentified freshwater snail, and 1 unidentified bone fragment (see fig. 6). These artifacts may have been contained in some kind of cloth bundle, the evidence of which is limited. The upper portion of the cache was contained within the rubble fill of the Structure 4-II stairway landing (Weiss 1996:37-38). Stratigraphically associated Linda Vista ceramics date the cache and construction to the Terminal Late Preclassic Period. This time frame is supported by calibrated carbon samples from the lower level of the cache which are dated to 80-220 C.E (Driver 2008:230-37; Guderjan 2007:28; Weiss 1996:37). Cache 21 appears to have been deposited either at the same time as the construction of Structure 4-II or shortly before. Therefore it can generally be assumed that it was interred with a dedicatory function for Structure 4-II by using Coe's distinction parameters for dedicatory and nondedicatory caches (Coe 1959:78).

Structure 4-I was briefly renovated after its original construction. These changes included raising the building's summit and a reconstruction of the small basal terrace which extended out from the front and sides of the platform (see fig. 7 and table 1). Two caches were placed within the new terrace at the time of its construction and then covered by rubble and soil before being paved with marl. Cache 32 was deposited in the northeastern corner and consisted mainly of a heavy concentration of Sierra Red ceramics. A fragmentary jade bead and a whole jade bead were also found in this concentration. Cache 42 was placed at the northwest corner of the platform and consisted solely of shattered Sierra Red bowls. Neither of these caches were fully recovered due to the expansive nature of the artifacts (Driver 2008:228-30). Since the dispersions of both of these ceramic deposits are unmeasured it is difficult to fully understand their nature as caches and their distinction from rubble fill. However, I think that both of the deposits can be categorized as expansive simple caches as they do not have clear definite outlines or borders and seem to have been placed intentionally as an offering to the renovation of Structure 4-I (Smith 1962:256). The second phase of construction for Structure 4 was built during the end of the Terminal Late Preclassic Period and Early Classic Period and consisted of large modifications to size, placement, and orientation (Guderjan 2007:30). This phase is associated with Plaza A-II which consisted of a major reflooring event and raising the platform six centimeters (see fig. 7 and table 1). The primary axis of the new structure was shifted significantly, changing the centerline and orientation from 2.5 degrees to 4.5 degrees East of true North. The new platform measured 24.8 meters in width and rose 3.72 meters above the Plaza A-II floor. A 20 meter wide staircase was also placed in the front of the substructure leading down to Plaza A-II.

Figure 11.6. Plan of Cache 21;Structure 4-II

Thomas Guderjan (2007:29; 1996:8-10) and Pamela Weiss (1996:37) suggest that the obsidian blades are remnants of bloodletting implements, perhaps from a large bloodletting ceremony. If this is the case Cache 21 could be the dedication to, and physical remains of, a bloodletting ceremony. The function of this ceremony could have been a dedication to the construction of Structure 4-II, or to instate a new leader or ruling lineage, or both. Bloodletting was practiced in honor of all kinds of events, including births, deaths, and ascensions to the throne. The most common, according to ancient artistic records, are in relation to and in honor of an individual's ascension to a position of power or of the admittance to the royal family by marriage or alliance (Tate 1992:88-91). Many representations of the transferring of power by bloodletting include what Patricia A. McAnany (1995:40) calls an anchoring ancestor, a previous “ahaw” who is shown with a current ruler. The purpose of the anchoring ancestor is to legitimize the

At the base of Structure 4-II a large intrusion was made into the floor of Plaza A-I measuring 40 centimeters in diameter. Cache 21 was placed in this intrusion and was then separated into two sections by a rounded stone ballast. The section above the separating stone was located at 148.66-148.86m AMSL and contained 3 chert bifaces, a chert flake, 2 fragments of worked jade, and a shell bead. The lower section of the cache consisted of 469 obsidian cores and blade fragments. These were presumably imported from El Chayel since the majority of Late 217

Lyssabeth C. Pedersen current state of affairs by juxtaposing images of the new and old rulers. Blood was used for many rituals and offerings, and was extremely important in the Maya belief systems (Fields & Reents-Budet 2005:90-97). These ceremonies may have lasted for days, and involved dancing and bleeding from the genitals and tongue by self mutilation. The constant motion, sleep deprivation, and blood loss caused the the actors to enter a deep trance or vision quest which they considered to be a connection with the ancestors and deities (Schele & Mathews 1998: 47-51). Maya rulers were considerably concerned with establishing a mythic heritage that traced their blood back to the founding ancestor of the lineage or site (Martin & Grube 2008:140). It was the blood itself that held such importance, allowing only the ruling family access to their ancestor's knowledge. In the creation myth the deities generously spilled copious amounts of their own blood on mounds of maize in order to create the Maya people. The deities required that the humans spill their own blood to nourish the gods in return for their creation. The Maya were obliged to regularly perform bloodletting rituals to fulfill the ancient bargain with the gods (SpencerAhrens & Wren 2002:191-93).

Figure 11.3. West Section Drawing of Structure 4 Showing Construction Phases and Caches, From Driver 2008:375 In order to intrude the shaft feature and associated caches a roughly circular pit was dug to a depth of about 2.5 meters down from the superstructure's summit, measuring at about 152.60 to 150.20m AMSL (see fig. 6). In order to do this the participants had to cut through the plaster floor of the Structure 4-II summit landing and into the underlying loose core fill. The pit fully penetrated Structure 4-II and intruded into the summit of the Structure 4-I platform. The fill of the initial Structure 4-I platform consisted of loose dry marl and rubble as well as densely packed ceramic sherds. Consequentially the limits of the shaft intrusion could not be clearly identified as they seemed to mingle with the loose fill and ceramics. The pit definitely penetrated the summit of the Structure 4-I platform, and it is possible that it continued for another 80-100cm into the loose fill bellow. The Shaft Cache appears to represent a single event that was conducted over a relatively short period of time due to the disposition of the artifacts and the instability of the surrounding fill (Driver 2008:23840).

Most archaeologists believe that this state was reached by ingesting hallucinogenic plants as well as the physically altering factors listed above (Spencer, Ahrens & Wren 2002:179). It has also been suggested that the endorphins which are released as a response to massive blood loss are chemically related to opiates and can cause hallucinogenic experiences. This would allow the dream like visions to appear without the use of drugs or plants (Schele & Miller 1986:177). Structure 4's third construction phase was also marked by a major caching event, the extravagant Shaft Cache feature (see table 6). In addition the preparation for the construction included modifications to Plaza A, raising it 22 centimeters and constituting its third phase of construction (see table 1). The wide Structure 4 staircase was narrowed and lengthened and a single roomed superstructure with three doors was built to replace the earlier substructure. Stratigraphically associated Rio Hondo Complex ceramics dated the third construction phase to the general time period of the Early Classic. The Shaft Cache feature, and presumably the ceremonial event that went along with it, occurred at the very start of the third phase. This is made evident by the relatively undisturbed nature of the later modifications of Structure 4-IIIb in which the substructure's floor was raised 36 centimeters and the basal molding of the building platform was enlarged to a step 68 centimeters tall. The renovations of Structure 4-IIIb also exhibit Rio Hondo Complex sherds indicating that they were built during the Early Classic, not long after the initial phase III construction began (Driver 2008:237-47; Weiss 1995:45-58; 1996:34-38).

Due to some complications during the 1994 and 1995 field seasons, including a lapse between seasons, AMSL measurements of some of the artifacts and caches are not available. Instead the excavations were done using 29 arbitrary levels which in total penetrated about 3.8. meters down from the Structure 4-III summit. Levels 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11 were recorded as being 10cm deep, levels 7, 12, and 25 were recorded as being 20cm deep, level 27 was 25cm, level 28 was 50cm, and level 29 was 35cm thick. The remaining levels were either not listed with depths or were measured from datum points whose depths could not be identified (Driver 2008:139). The main shaft feature consists of two major sections which were separated by a thick layer of marl or plaster located at level 13, which can be identified to 150.95-151.00m AMSL, roughly the same AMSL as the original Structure 4-I platform. The lower section of the intrusive pit was mainly located in the Structure 4-I interior. It was amorphous in shape and there were no walls or borders to keep the artifacts separate from the surrounding fill. Although the furthest depths of the pit were difficult to identify due to the loose fill and dense ceramic sherds, the pit clearly penetrated the summit floor of Structure 4-I and could 218

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 have continued as deep as 149m AMSL. The densities of non-ceramic artifacts drastically reduced after level 25 (149.95m AMSL), indicating that the original penetration could have stopped here.

for a short distance. In addition to the limestone disk an uncarved stela was found laying horizontal in an eastwest orientation. It measured 1.66m in length, 14cm in thickness, approximately 54cm in width and was placed adjacent to the northern side of the limestone disk. After these two topical components were placed the entire feature was buried with construction fill and the Structure 4-IIIa was built over it, followed later by the 4IIIb phase (Driver 2008:242-43; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:47-48; 1996:35-36).

This is also supported by the fact that all the ceramic sherds recovered from levels 2429 were entirely Late Preclassic vessels similar to those from the dedicatory caches deposited in Structure 4-I. There were a few small non-ceramic artifacts found further down in levels 26-29; however, their small size and limited number seem to suggest that they were sifted down through the loose fill over time, perhaps from caches 14 and 17 (Driver 2008:240-41; Guderjan 1996:11-12; Weiss 1995:45-58; 1996:36-38). Material recovered from this bottom segment provided radio carbon dates of 400-600 C.E. (Weiss 1995:48).

The caches directly associated with the shaft feature were placed around and within the intrusive pit. They were categorized by the excavators into type groups which include discrete vessel caches (9B, 9C, 10), artifact scatters (9A, 12), and the cruciform caches (8, 15, 24, 25). Caches 11, 13, 14, 16-19, and 46 were deposited in the fill surrounding the shaft feature and are not considered to be directly associated with the event, although there is some controversy over cache 11. They mainly consisted of stacks of Aguila Orange bowls, which all together numbered somewhere around 200 (Driver 2008:243; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1996:37).

The upper section of the intrusive feature measured about 1.5m in total depth and was mainly located in the Structure 4-II interior. The shaft was separated from the fill of Structure 4-II by 10 or 11 courses of roughly cut stones laid without mortar. These were arranged as supporting walls around the pit, forming a chimney-like feature. The interior of this chimney-like portion of the shaft measured 30cm in diameter at its highest point and expanded to 60cm near its bottom. Two marl lenses, 24cm thick were used to seal the top of the upper portion of the shaft, each placed about 10cm apart. Once the shaft was refilled and the caches were in place a large round limestone disk, measuring 74cm in diameter and and 18cm thick was placed atop the patched area (see fig. 8). The circular stone had a centrally drilled hole 15cm in diameter which showed polish on its inside surfaces, suggesting extensive use (Driver 2008:240-43; Guderjan 1996:13; 2007:28-30; Weiss 1995:47-48).

Caches 9B, 9C, and 10 are located near the top of the shaft's lower section and are considered to be vessel caches as they are each contained inside a set of lip-tolip Aguila Orange bowls (see fig. 11.10). The Cache 9B vessels contained 341 worked jade artifacts which included 33 earflares, 4 anthropomorphic helmet-bib pendants, and 5 monkey head zoomorphic pendants (see fig. 11.5) (Guderjan 2007:33). The helmet-bib style has been considered to represent the Preclassic jade industry, and has been encountered all over Mesoamerica, although its cultural associations are generally unknown (Proskouriakoff 1974:10). Also included in the cache were 17 limestone beads, 2 bone beads, 1 ceramic bead, and 1 quartz crystal. Caches 9B and 9C were placed adjacent to each other in either level 12 or level 15 on top of a marl cap. The Cache 9C vessels contained 2 jade subspherical beads, 1 jade helmet-bib pendant with extended tongue, and a 10 x 4cm jade anthropomorphic tubular bead for a total of 4 carved jade artifacts (see fig. 10). The cache 10 vessels were recovered from level 16, only a few centimeters above cache 11, and contained approximately 100 marine and freshwater shells and shell fragments, and 1 single jade bead (Driver 2008:244; Guderjan 2007:33; 1996:12; Weiss 1995:54).

Figure 11.4. Photograph of the Bannerstone and Uncarved Stela From Structure 4-III, from Driver 2008:382 The central hole of the limestone disk was arranged directly over the center of the chimney and partially carbonized wood was found between the disk and the marl caps which sealed the shaft. This evidence suggests that some kind of burning of wood or incense was included in the sealing of the feature. The burned wood provided a radiocarbon date of 530-680 C.E. The central hole in the disk was then sealed by an alignment of limestone slabs which extended to the east and west

Figure 11.9. Photograph of cache 9B From Structure 4-III, photo by Thomas Guderjan. 219

Lyssabeth C. Pedersen and burials (Coe 1959:78). In this case, however, it is clear that the human remains do not represent an entire human being, mainly due to the small percentage of material and the nature of the surrounding artifacts. The inclusion of the human phalange is possible evidence of a ritual amputation, perhaps interred in a dedicatory nature. Although evidence is limited, a comparative analysis of Maya finger amputation has revealed that it was performed as part of a ceremony, particularly in association with mortuary mourning rituals (Dillon 1985). The artifacts scattered throughout the lower portion of the shaft was designated as Cache 12, ranging from level 18 to level 29 (see fig. 7). The material recovered from excavations included 422 worked jade artifacts, 4 chert tools, an obsidian blade fragment, a metate fragment, a coral bead, four limestone beads, and several modified stones. This artifact concentration also included six to eight reconstructable Candelario Appliqued ring censer stands and an intact Quintal unslipped miniature jar located in level 22. One of the previously mentioned chert artifacts was a large eccentric found at level 20 (see fig. 11). The chert material was of a yellowish brown color, a distinctive characteristic of the lithic manufacturing site of Colha in Northern Belize (Shafer & Hester 1983:521-22). The eccentric chert piece was shaped as a cruciform with four long points, forming a kind of star figure with a hole drilled in its center. Each of the four long spikes were oriented toward the cardinal directions. The distal tips of the northern and southern points, each about 1.5-2cm long, were snapped off in antiquity (Driver 2008: 245; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:56).

Fig. 11.10 Plan of Cache 9C From Structure 4-III, Taken From Driver 2008:383

The artifact scatters designated by the excavators as Caches 9A and 12 are examples of the complications that can occur when denominating and categorizing caches, due to the lack of comprehensive definitions (Coe 1959:77). Cache 9A is described as including all the materials distributed throughout the fill of the shaft's upper section located at levels 1-13, as well as those from around the previously mentioned vessel caches located at levels 14-18 (Driver 2008:244; Weiss 1995:49). The vessel caches mentioned above have clear boundaries set by their containment in the Aguila Orange bowls, but the artifact scatters do not have such clear borders. This is due to their expansive nature and their intermingling with the rubble fill, causing them to be more difficult to identify. The artifacts in these areas seem to be interred intentionally as an offering, due to their quality and prestigious value, and are not associated with a burial. These factors, according to William Coe (1959:77) and Ledyard Smith (1962:256) do designate the grouping of artifacts as being cached. Artifact scatterings that do not have supportive evidence indicating they were intentionally interred in an offertory manner cannot be considered to be cached. The artifact scatterings in the Shaft Cache feature seem to be a unique circumstance. Their intentional nature indicates a caching event, but their coalescence with the surrounding fill, large expansion, and circumscription of other caches is not generally characteristic of cached repositories.

Figure 11.11. Photograph of the Chert Eccentric From Cache 12, Structure 4-III, Photo by Bill Collins.

The non-ceramic artifacts recovered from the area designated as 9A include 93 worked jade artifacts, an obsidian blade, an obsidian blade fragment, 3 shell beads, a shell disk, a shell labret ornament, a limestone bead fragment, a quartz pebble, a terrestrial snail shell, and 2 aquatic shells (Driver 2008:244). One account of cache 9A includes the recovery of a severed human phalange (Guderjan 2007:33), which brings up the possible difficulties of differentiating between caches

After the shaft had been sealed and the large limestone disk and uncarved stela were in place a series of vessel caches were intruded into the rubble fill of what would become the Structure 4-IIIa summit landing. Caches 8, 15, 24, and 25 were placed just above the building's centerline and slightly west of the limestone disk and uncarved stela (see fig. 11.4). As they were deposited around the same time of Structure 4-IIIa, it can be 220

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 deduced that they were of a dedicatory nature. The lead excavator at Structure 4, Pamela Weiss (1996:3840), suggests that these caches were arranged in a cruciform pattern corresponding to the cardinal directions, symbolized by the contents of each cache (Driver 2008:245; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1996:3840). Cache 8, the furthest to the east, was contained in a Dos Arroyos Orange Polychrome basal flange bowl with a scutate lid. The exterior of the lid and vessel were decorated with panels depicting a waterbird image (see fig. 11.12). The vessel contained the poorly preserved remains of a human child between the ages of 15 and 30 months, and was therefore also designated as Burial 4 (see fig. 11.13) (Glassman et al 1995:120). The westernmost cache was labeled as Cache 25 and can be understood as being separated into two halves. The southern half included a Dos Arroyos Orange Polychrome basal flange bowl. The vessel was topped with a scutate lid which had a zoomorphic handle in the shape of the head of an unidentified species of bird, most likely a hawk, quail, or owl (see fig. 11.14). This vessel also contained the poorly preserved remains of a human fetus or infant of indeterminate sex, but there does not seem to be a record of these remains (Driver 2008:246). The northernmost half of cache 25 contained 2 sets of vessels. The western set consisted of two Aguila Orange flaring bowls placed lip-to-lip, and the eastern part consisted of an Aguila Orange flaring sided bowl covered by an inverted Aguila Orange basal flange bowl (see fig. 15). Neither of these vessel sets contained any recoverable artifacts or material. This is possible evidence for the original presence of completely perishable material such as food or other plant matter (Coe 1959:78). Both Cache 9A and the southernmost half of Cache 25 exhibit the difficulties faced when differentiating between burials and caches. Unfortunately, because the remaining human material is so limited due to deterioration it is difficult to be sure of the interment's original function. However, these vessels and their contents will be further investigated in the analysis chapter.

Figure 11.13. Plan of the Contents of Cache 8, Structure 4-III, Taken From Driver 2008:384 Cache 15, the northernmost of the cruciform caches, consisted of a single Aguila Orange basal flange bowl. Cache 24, in the south, consisted of two lip-to-lip Aguila Orange flaring sided bowls (Driver 2008:246; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:54-56; 1996:36) . Neither of the vessels had preserved material within them, a possible indication of perishable material offerings (Coe 1959:78). The cruciform caches show definite evidence of symbolism. The northern and southern caches both represent bird imagery and contain the remains of human children.

Figure 11. 14. Cache 25 Vessel From Structure 4-III, Photo by Bill Collins.

Figure 11.12. Cache 8 Vessel From Structure 4-III (scale=5cm), Photo by Bill Collins.

Figure 11.15 Plan of the Contents of Cache 25, Structure 4-III, Taken From Driver 2008:385


Lyssabeth C. Pedersen Unfortunately the absence of the organic material that was most likely present in the empty vessels limits our understanding of their meanings. Nonetheless the cruciform caches and the Shaft Cache feature as a whole were an extravagant addition to Structure 4, and were presumably accompanied by an ostentatious event or ceremony.

can conclude that if the Shaft Cache was not simply a display of wealth it was in dedication to one of the aforementioned events. Furthermore, it is possible that the shaft caching event also included a bloodletting component. Although there is not extensive evidence of bloodletting, obsidian blades appear in Caches 9A and 12, both of which encompass the artifacts in and around the chimney-like feature, after presumably being used to refill it (Driver 2008:244-45). Even though we cannot be sure of what the ritual event was intended to honor, we can gain some knowledge of the nature of the event through the evidence that remains.

Analysis Of The Shaft Cache Feature The Time Frame And Possible Functions Of The Caching Event The massive display of wealth in jade during the Early Classic Period was the mark of a pivotal period for Blue Creek's history. During the beginning of the Early Classic and before about 500 C.E., the approximate date of the caching event, monumental architecture began to expand with great rapidity. This was presumably the result of the accumulation of wealth. The Early Classic Period also exhibited influences from the Petén in ceramic styles, an indication of far reaching interaction with other sites. Large amounts of jade were also recovered from nonelite residential structures. Non-elite residences at Maya sites do not generally display much prosperity, especially not such a coveted material as jade, suggesting that the entire populous went through a period of great wealth (Proskouriakoff 1974:18). After 500 C.E. major structural expansion was limited to elite residences, and the massive exhibitions of jade ceased (Baker 1996:109; Guderjan 2007:33-46). These factors suggest that the caching event at Structure 4 occurred during a time of great change. Although monumental architecture and jade dispersal slowed down drastically, the site was otherwise stabilized by slower growth during the Late Classic Period (Baker 1996:109).

The Limestone Disk The limestone disk, measuring 74cm in diameter and 18cm in thickness, found directly above the shaft relays some information about the use and display of the feature after its concealment (see fig. 8). It was placed atop the platform after the shaft had been refilled and sealed with two marl disks. A central hole 15cm thick in diameter was centered in the disk over the pit. The inner surfaces of this hole were polished, an indication of extensive friction most likely caused by use in conjunction with another surface (Driver 2008:240-43; Guderjan 1996:13; 2007:28-30; Weiss 1995:47-48). There have not been many artifacts of this nature found in other Maya sites. The majority of the similar pieces recovered show different wear, and were therefore most likely used for a different application than the stone above the Blue Creek shaft feature. At the site of Mayapán an abundance of limestone disks were found among cached artifacts. The largest of these measured only 15.5cm, not nearly as large as the disk found at Blue Creek. The only suggested function of these disks is their possible use as covers or lids for vessels, perhaps to keep their contents of which clean, pure or separate (Proskouriakoff 1962:345). At Piedras Negras 3 limestone disks, tentatively named “hammerstones,” were found on various surfaces, the largest of which only measured 16.3cm in diameter. One of these was found in front of the Stela Terrace of Structure k-5-1st, a similar placement as the disk at Blue Creek (Coe 1959:36). Neither of the examples at Mayapán or Piedras Negras had the central hole exhibited in the disk at Blue Creek.

The Shaft Cache feature seems to exhibit the final and most extravagant representation of the Early Classic Period's surge of prosperity. Although we can generally discern the economic position within the event's time period we know little about the meaning of the feature and the ceremony that went along with it. Jade was a highly coveted material among the Maya, usually reserved for the elite. The decision to take such a large amount of jade out of circulation is a clear indication that the intended dedication was extremely important for Blue Creek.

A few similar artifacts from other sites did share the central hole and seem to have been used for similar purposes as at Blue Creek (Driver 2008:242). A large circular stone with a centrally drilled hole was found along the northern exterior wall of Structure 10L-22A at Copán, Honduras. The excavators suggest that this stone was used as a base for a high flying banner, which would have been seen from the site's Great Plaza and surrounding area (Fash et al. 1992:426; 431). The suggested function of the Classic Period building was that of a residence for one of the appointed governors or chiefs under an “ahaw,” or a Maya ruler (Fash et al. 1992:419). Although Copán is approximately 200km

Ancient Maya artistic records show that important events were honored by ritual bloodletting ceremonies. These important events mainly include the births and deaths of members of a ruling lineage, ascensions to the throne, marriage alliances, victories in war, and political exploits (Tate 1992:88-91). Unfortunately there are not many artistic renderings of caching events and the ceremonies they entailed, however, I believe that we can generally assume that the events honored by the caches would have been similar to those honored by bloodletting ceremonies. Therefore, we 222

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 away from Blue Creek, the similarities between the artifacts suggest that they shared the same functions. This is further supported through the polished interior surfaces of the central hole in the Blue Creek example, presumably caused by extensive use (Driver 2008:24043; Guderjan 1996:13; 2007:28-30; Weiss 1995:4748). Furthermore the placement of the large stone atop a political building in Copán could be an indication of Structure 4's use during the Early Classic Period in Blue Creek. The central hole in the limestone disk at Blue Creek, however, was sealed by an alignment of limestone slabs, extending out to the east and west for a short distance (Driver 2008:242-43). The limestone banner base must not have been in use for a long period of time as it was sealed and then covered by Structure 4-IIIb. This suggests that it was only used in association with the caching feature and only visible between the beginning of phase III and its renovation.

ceremonies, sometimes including fasting, bloodletting and offerings to the gods (Sharer 2009:239). The stela found near the northern side of the bannerstone was not inscribed with glyphic text, making it difficult to understand what it was commemorating. Its presence and proximity to the bannerstone, however, do support the notion that the shaft feature was associated with a ritual event. The Jade of the Shaft Caches Jade was an extremely important material among the ancient Maya. It was believed to possess special powers, and was usually reserved for elite use, often to reinforce the ruler's prestige and authority (SpencerAhrens & Wren 2002:10; Sharer 2009:61; Taube 2005:23-48). Important individuals were often buried with a jade bead placed in their mouth after death. This practice was initially believed to have been a gift of currency for the deceased to carry in the afterlife, a theory originally suggested by Bishop Landa (Ruz 1965: 458-59). Further analysis of these circumstances, however, has shown that the jade beads were probably symbols of maize kernels, and were “planted” in the mouth of the dead to represent or act as a promise of renewed life (Miller & Samayoa 1998:58). The jade bead was also believed to be a symbol of wind, breath and the soul; its placement in mouths could have also been to represent the deceased's last breath or soul (Taube 2005:30-32). The cycle of life, death, and rebirth is primarily represented through the story and depictions of the Maize God. The Popol Vuh, the Maya creation myth, tells the story of the Maize God's beheading and his rebirth brought about by his sons. The symbolic rebirth of the Maize God was enacted through various offerings and by providing jade attire made available in preparation for his emergence. Once he was regrown, often in the shape of a stylized maize plant, he was abundantly adorned in jade, representing a permanent manifestation of maize. The Popol Vuh and other representations affirm the Maize God's role as the source of wealth and illustrate the significant connection between jade and maize (Miller & Samayoa 1998:55-56; Taube 2005:23-24).

Evidence of a Burning Ceremony A large amount of partially carbonized wood, providing a date of cal 530-680 C.E., was found between the bannerstone and the marl caps used to seal the pit. This suggests that the sealing of the shaft feature was accompanied by the burning of objects, perhaps during a ritual (Driver 2008:242). Such fire ceremonies have been depicted in Classic glyphic texts and artistic records all over the Maya area. The acts of ceremonial burning were of great importance in the ancient Maya belief systems, and are still being practiced in many modern Maya communities. One of the main functions of the burning ceremonies was to bring the building or construction phase to life, in order to make it suitable for the human or spiritual beings that were to reside within them (Schele & Mathews 1998:50; Stuart 1998:384-403). The burning of copal, a substance similar to incense, was often performed at these rituals. The smoke was believed to carry prayers and summons to the Upperworld and the gods (Sharer 2009:218). These burning rituals have generally been considered as secondary or less important than bloodletting by Mayanists in the past. Hieroglyphic passages, artistic records, and physical evidence recovered from the Classic Period, however, have shown that burning rituals were intimately involved with sacrificial rites and other ceremonies associated with different forms of dedication (Stuart 1998: 402-03). This is further supported by the presence of the burnt material in the Shaft Cache feature, which indicates that a burning ceremony was involved with the dedicatory interment.

The general term “jade” refers to a variety of minerals including jadeite, nephrite, diopside, apatite, amazonite, and chloromoelanite (Guderjan 2007:105; Rands 1965:561). Nephrite, however, is not generally found in Mesoamerica, its primary sources include Brazil, Alaska, British Colombia, Wyoming, and California, and therefore it will not be discussed further in in this study (Proskouriakoff 1974:1). In addition there are various minerals that exhibit jade-like qualities, which were sometimes used interchangeably with jade. The variation in jade color provides a general dichotomy of jade types and uses in Mesoamerica. “Blue” or “Olmec” jadeite is rare and only appears in Preclassic and Early Classic areas. Emerald-green and apple-green shades occur on a greater scale, spanning from the Preclassic to the Late

Important events, specifically concerning the ruling lineages, were often recorded by the erection of a stela, and were sometimes described in detail with glyphic carvings. These were usually erected at the end of a K'atun cycle, and have been deciphered from hieroglyphic writing at other sites as “lakamtuun” or great stone, among other translations. The placement of these great stones was often accompanied by 223

Lyssabeth C. Pedersen Classic Period. They are perhaps the most favored shades and are especially characteristic of Kaminaljuyu. Grey-green jadeite was a fairly common choice of material for well-shaped celts, probably decorative rather than utilitarian. Dark green chloromelanite was more frequently fashioned into utilitarian celts, chisels, and reamers (Rands 1965:56163). Density and color vary within the “jade” minerals, making it difficult to determine the composition of stones through visual analysis. Due to this difficulty the blanket term “jade” has been used to describe all of these coveted materials at Blue Creek. The excavators do, however, distinguish “jade” from the minerals generally described as “greenstone” which are of lower aesthetic quality and include schists, shales, and serpentines (Guderjan 2007:105). The source of the Blue Creek jade has not been definitively identified; however, Guderjan (2007:106) suggests that the Montagua Valley is the most likely supplier. An area in Manzanal, located near the Montagua River in Guatemala, was left littered with angular fragments of jadeite showing breakage on all sides. There was no sign of natural wear on the fragments, suggesting that the pieces had been quarried (Rands 1965:561).

suggests that the material probably traveled through various trade routes on its long journey, another indication that Blue Creek had access to long distance trade and goods. Since the Shaft Cache feature was installed during the Early Classic Period, and the Cache 21 bloodletting deposit was interred during the Terminal Late Preclassic the Structure 4 obsidian samples were not NAA tested. The extensive evidence from the Late Classic Period, however, could indicate a consistent source perhaps dating back to the Terminal Late Preclassic or Early Classic Period. Unfortunately this can only be postulated as there is no concrete supporting evidence. In any case the large amount of obsidian deposited in Cache 21 in front of Structure 4 during the Terminal Late Preclassic Period indicates that the building was honored by a large scale bloodletting ceremony (see fig. 7). The few obsidian blades found in the Shaft Cache artifact scatters, although not as extensive as Cache 21, are also possible remains of a ritual involving bloodletting. The Cruciform Chert Eccentric The cruciform chert eccentric found at Level 20 is among the most interesting of the Shaft Cache artifacts (see fig. 11). It is associated with the Cache 12 artifact scattering and was placed around the lowest portion of the pit (Driver 2008 245; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:56). The chert material was of a yellowish brown color which has been identified as a distinctive characteristic of the lithic manufacturing site of Colha in Northern Belize (Shafer & Hester 1983:521-22). It was shaped into a cruciform star form with four long points, and a centrally drilled hole. Each of the long spikes were generally arranged to align with the cardinal directions. The distal tips of the northern and southern points, measuring at about 1.52cm in length, were broken off in antiquity. This is an indication of intentional damage done before the artifact's use in the ritual (Driver 2008:245; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:56).

Jade working was a specialized skill, presumably because of the minerals' hardness and its rarity. In order for it to be shaped and cut without breakage, manufacturers used tough cords embedded with fine stone abrasives mixed with water to saw through the jade material. Perforations were probably done with bone or hardwoods, and polishing was accomplished by bamboo or leather (Proskouriakoff 1974:9; Rands 1965:574; Sharer 2009:147). Incised lines, usually finer and shallower, were done by chiseling or scratching with harder materials (Proskouriakoff 1974:9). The majority of the jade at Blue Creek was well made, and mostly consists of high quality sub-spherical beads (Guderjan 2007:113). There is no evidence to suggest that the worked jade was manufactured at Blue Creek; therefore, it would not be rash to conclude that it was imported probably through the Rio Hondo trade route.

The Cruciform Caches After the Shaft Cache feature had been sealed and covered a series of vessel caches were placed into the rubble fill of what would become the Structure IIIa summit landing. Caches 8, 15, 24, and 25 were placed just above the building's centerline and slightly west of the bannerstone and uncarved stela. The caches are believed to have been dedicatory in nature as they were deposited around the same time as the construction of Structure 4-IIIa. They were also generally oriented in the cardinal directions; Cache 8 was the furthest to the east, Cache 25 furthest to the west, Cache 15 aligned on the northern axis, and Cache 24 was in alignment with the southern axis (Driver 2008:245; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1996:38-40).

The Obsidian of the Shaft Caches The source of the obsidian that has been uncovered at Blue Creek has been much easier to identify than that of the jade. Most of the obsidian blades and fragments that are associated with the Late Classic Period and recovered from the 1992-1994 field seasons were tested using Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA). The results indicated that they came from three widely used sources in highland Guatemala. The El Chayal source area provided most of the Late Classic obsidian, numbering 43 specimens and 80% of the total tested. Ixtepeque was the source for 13% of the volcanic glass, and San Martin Jilotepeque supplied a mere 7% of the Late Classic obsidian for Blue Creek (Dreiss & Glasscock 1995:99). All of these source areas are located about 500km away from Blue Creek. This

Cache 8 was inside a Dos Arroyos Orange Polychrome basal flange bowl with a scutate lip. The lid and vessel 224

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 were both painted with recurring panels of waterbird imagery, and contained the poorly preserved remains of a human child between the ages of 15 and 30 months (see figs. 12 and 13) (Glassman et al 1995:120). Cache 25 was separated into two sections, the northernmost half consisted of two sets of Aguila Orange bowls placed lip-to-lip. Neither of these sets contained recoverable artifacts or material. The southernmost half included a Dos Arroyos Orange Polychrome basal flange bowl topped with a scutate lid which had a zoomorphic handle in the shape of an unidentified bird (see fig. 14). This vessel also contained the poorly preserved remains of a human fetus or infant (see fig. 15) (Driver 2008:246). Cache 15 consisted of a single undecorated Aguila Orange basal flange bowl, and Cache 24 consisted of a set of undecorated lip-to-lip Aguila Orange flaring sided bowls. Neither of these two caches had preserved material within them (Driver 2008:246; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:54-56; 1996:36).

of the sun and was corresponded with the color yellow (Schele &Mathews 1998:47-51; Sharer 2009:206-07; Spencer-Ahrens & Wren 2002:159-60). Clemency Coggins (1989:727-39) suggests that the four sided horizontal cosmology does not necessarily correspond to the cardinal directions. Instead, she demonstrates that the four directions may in fact refer to the four place cycles within the annual path of the sun. The four directions, consequentially, were not only symbolic of their corresponding colors and properties, but also of the cyclic nature of the year. The directions of the four place cycles of the sun correlate with our modern notions of the cardinal directions. Therefore, for the sake of clarity, I will continue to refer to them as the cardinal directions. The 16th century Spanish bishop Diego de Landa recorded that a deity known as God N was responsible for holding up the sky. Glyphic evidence shows that this god was called Pawahtuun, and is often separated into four aspects. He was also the designated ruler of the dangerous 5 day period at the end of the year known as the Wayeb. These four counterparts of Pawahtuun, also known as the Bacabs in their separated state, reside in the four corners of the universe and hold the cosmic realms of the universe in their place. Images of these four aspects or Bacabs are repeated throughout Maya art and architectural sculpture. They are shown supporting thrones, altars, and temple roofs at Copán and Chichen Itza. Pawahtuun is also often depicted as an old man wearing a turtle shell on his back, a representation of the great burden of holding the sky separate from the earth and Underworld (Sharer 2009:206-07; Spencer-Ahrens & Wren 2002:159, 169; Taube 1998:431).

The Spatial Model of Ancient Maya Cosmology The peculiar arrangement of the caches and shaft feature suggest an intentional function of symbolism. In order to understand the possible symbolic references it is important to look at the ancient Maya belief system, especially the tenants concerning cosmology. The Maya conceptualization of the universe was constructed by a spatial model that was organized by both vertical and horizontal spheres. Vertical space was understood to have three realms: the Upperworld, the Middleworld, and the Underworld. Human beings occupied the Middleworld, while ancestors, spirits, and deities were able to reside in all three realms. Extraordinary geological features and architectural structures were considered to be the precincts of the supernaturals in the Middleworld (Spencer-Ahrens & Wren 2002:159). The Upperworld was believed to be the main world of the gods, whose actions would often affect the Middleworld. The Underworld had nine descending levels known as Xibalba, and was often referred to in texts and depictions as a watery place where two major rivers flowed. It was sometimes depicted as the body of a turtle in water, the shell of which floated above the surface and represented the Middleworld (Sharer 2009:206-07; Spencer-Ahrens & Wren 2002:161).

The central axis, or axis mundi, was believed to be the center of the world and was associated with the color of green. This central axis of the universe was represented in various ways, most often as a ceiba tree. When this tree reached full maturity it was often tall enough to tower over the forest canopy. The high branches appeared to reach into the sky, and symbolically into the Upperworld. The trunk represented the Middleworld as it was on the same plane and tangible to human beings. The deep roots penetrated the earth and were believed to continue to the Underworld. A celestial bird, known as Itzam-Ye and sometimes referred to as Principal Bird Deity, is often depicted as being perched in the tall branches of the axial tree. The cosmological ceiba tree, or World Tree, was believed to provide a portal or passageway between the different vertical realms. The souls of the dead traveled to the Underworld or Upperworld through this passage and the gods passed into the Middleworld when properly summoned by human practitioners. There are multiple representations of this World Tree in Maya artistic records; it is perhaps most elaborately illustrated at the site of Palenque. The tablet at the Temple of the Cross.

Maya horizontal space was organized into a quadripartite structure, oriented by the four cardinal directions extending out from a central axis. Each of the four cardinal directions and the central axis had associated symbolic colors and properties, which have been represented both through glyphic texts and through illustrations. East was considered to be the primary direction, and was associated with the rising sun and the color red. North was understood as being the direction of the ancestors and was affiliated with death and the color white. West, the main direction of the setting sun, was identified with the Underworld and the color black. South was regarded as the right hand 225

Lyssabeth C. Pedersen Tablet shows the World Tree as it rises from an earth monster, with the Principal Bird Deity shown perched atop the branches. Another tablet at the Temple of the Foliated Cross Tablet shows a stylized maize plant representing the ceiba tree as it ascends from a water lily monster, an emblem of the watery underworld (Sharer 2009:206-07; Spencer-Ahrens & Wren 2002:159-175).

interesting connections appear. The eastern most cache (Cache 8), contained in a vessel with scutate lid, is decorated with recurring panels of waterbird imagery. Although water is generally associated with the Underworld of Xibalba, as shown above, the east was not regarded as a direction connected with the watery Underworld. This does not definitively show that Cache 8 was not associated with Xibalba since there are other factors that could have been influential, such as an underlying or central theme to the specific ceremony and feature. Since it is difficult to identify these factors I do not think we can come to any absolute conclusions about the nature of the eastern Cache 8 based on the waterbird imagery.

The Shaft Pit as an Axis Mundi With this understanding of ancient Maya cosmology it is possible to piece together aspects of the Shaft Cache feature and consequentially the ceremony that went along with it. The shaft feature, penetrating 2.5 meters down from the superstructure's summit, was at the axial center of the surrounding shaft caches (Driver 2008:238-40). Thomas Guderjan (2007:33) suggests that the shaft could be a symbolic reference or representation of the ceiba or world tree. This tree is, in itself, a symbol of the axis mundi, the central point between the four directions. Since the shaft is in the middle of the cruciform caches it can be said that it represents the axis mundi of at least the surrounding caches, if not as a symbol of the Maya universe. Depictions of stylized maize plants can sometimes be representations of the world tree and vertical spatial realms, as seen from the Foliated Maize Cross Tablet (SpencerAhrens & Wren 2002: 175). This is also portrayed through a number of incised jade celts and stelae illustrating the Olmec Maize God as the central world tree, found primarily at La Venta (Taube 2005:24-25). This shows that the link between jade, maize, and the world tree traces back as far as the ancient Maya's predecessors. The abundance of jade found in the shaft could be a further indication of the ceiba world tree, relying on the symbolic connection between jade and maize. This representation is difficult to definitively determine as jade was a prestigious and coveted material that would have been valued as an offering regardless of its possible symbolic links to maize and the ceiba tree.

The contents of Cache 8 supply us with more information concerning the the deposit's correlation with the eastern direction. The vessel contained the limited remains of a human child, consisting of 12 teeth from both the mandible and the maxilla bones, and vertebrae, rib, long bone and cranial fragments. Since there are no duplicates of specific teeth, we can assume that they all came from one individual. The deciduous teeth were marked with surface erosion, indicating that they were in occlusion at the time of death. It is difficult to conclude whether the entire child or only a portion was placed in the vessel due to severe deterioration that could have disintegrated the rest of the skeleton (Glassman et al 1995:119-20). Due to such poor preservation it is also impossible to determine if the child was sacrificed or just interred after a natural death. However, the presence of the remains in the eastern Cache 8 could be evidence of various intended functions. The fact that a deceased human was placed in the deposit could indicate a connection with the Underworld and place of the dead. Adversely the fact that it was a small child could suggest an implication to birth, which would agree with the Maya notion of the east and the rising sun. Unfortunately without further evidence it is impossible to be sure of the deposit's initial function, and if it had more meaning than simply an offering. Half of the westernmost cache (Cache 25) was contained in a vessel and scutate lid in the shape of a bird. Since the species of the bird is unknown it is difficult to gain knowledge of the vessel's symbolic references. An owl is among the suggested bird types and if this is in fact the case the cache would have a clear association with the underworld. Owls were believed to be the messengers of the Underworld, and are generally a symbol of the watery land of the dead. They are described in the Popol Vuh creation myth as having been sent by the Lords of the Underworld to summon the Hero Twins for a dangerous ball game (Christenson 2007:119-20). The Moan screech owl is specifically identified with God L, and the Cimi glyph of death (Taube 1992: 79-88). The owl theory would match the Maya notion that the west is associated with the setting sun and the Underworld. Another possible interpretation of this vessel and its contents, along with Cache 8, is influenced by the notion that

Another problem arises with this interpretation, however, as the cruciform caches were deposited into the rubble fill of what would become the Structure 4IIIa summit (see fig. 7). This means that the cruciform caches were deposited at a significant period of time after the shaft was sealed. The adjacence and spatial agreement of the shaft and caches, however, indicates that they were intended to be associated with each other. This suggests that either the cruciform caches were planned earlier than the time of their interment, or that they were a later succeeding addition to the shaft feature. The Cruciform Caches in Relation to the Horizontal Directions When the cruciform caches are categorized into the Maya's four fold orientation on the horizontal plane, 226

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 various Mesoamerican cultures believed that birds symbolized the souls of children (Hamman 1997: 163-64;Vail & Stone 2002:219). If this is the case, the bird imagery on both of the vessels containing infant remains could be references to the deceased infants' souls on their way to the afterlife. The southern section of Cache 25 also contained the poorly preserved remains of an infant child, although the evidence is limited (Driver 2008:246). The presence of these remains could reference the Underworld associated with the west, but the same complications occur in interpretation as they do for Cache 8. The northern half of Cache 25, containing two sets of lip-to-lip Aguila Orange bowls, does not provide much to interpret, as it does not contain any remaining evidence or associated objects.

non-existent. None of the jars contained any lasting evidence, suggesting they were originally filled with a perishable material. A fifth jar, black in color, was deposited in the center of the cruciform pit, about .46m down from the other vessels. This jar was evenly surrounded by four 20-25cm upright jade celts, and was sitting atop thirty jade beads and 84 jade pebbles. A small pit beneath the central jar contained a single upright jade celt of the finest quality. After the wide intrusion was filled with marl and sealed, a centrally placed post was erected. There was also topical charcoal evidence of a burning ceremony and a carved stela found on the level of the sealed cache (EstradaBelli 2006:59-61). The cruciform shape and placement of both the intrusion, the jars, and the four celts were interpreted by Estrada-Belli (2006:63) as representing the four horizontal directions of the Maya cosmology. He also comes to the hypothesis that the centrally placed jade celt could be a symbolic reference to the ceiba world tree and the Maize God. These conclusions are extremely similar to the theories described in this study concerning Blue Creek, Belize. The specific attention to the cardinal directions exhibited in both cases enforces our knowledge of the importance of the four horizontal directions of ancient Maya cosmology. The presence of topical charcoal evidence, the centrally placed post, and the adjacent stela in both cases could suggest a level of formality and regularity in the interment rituals that accompanied the cruciform caching events. It has been concluded, however, that burning rituals and the erections of stelae were commonly associated with dedicatory caches of all kinds (Schele & Mathews 1998:50; Sharer 2009:218, 239; Stuart 1998:384-403). This means we cannot come to any clear realizations about the inclusion of these factors in cruciform caches specifically.

The northern and southern caches both consist of Aguila Orange vessels, but do not exhibit any preserved remains of what they originally contained. The undecorated vessels and the lack of internal remains do not allow us to come to any conclusions about their initial function or possible symbolic meaning. If they correspond to the Maya notions of symbolic four-fold directionality, the northern cache (Cache 15) would be connected to the ancestors and death, and the southern cache (Cache 24) would be associated with the right hand of the sun (SpencerAhrens & Wren 2002:159-60). The contents and vessels of the cruciform caches do not seem to show concrete evidence of being representations of the four horizontal directions in the Maya cosmology. This, however, does not mean that they were interred without knowledge of the directional symbolism. In fact the cardinal locations of the cruciform caches are clear indications that they were deposited with the Maya horizontal cosmology in mind. This is supported by the knowledge of the four fold directional system, and the fact that they were interred by the Maya themselves. Therefore, even if the cruciform caches were not meant to directly depict the four directions and their corresponding properties, we can be certain that they were deposited with respect to the directional cosmology.

Autoamputation and the Human Phalange in Cache 9A Artifacts recovered from Preclassic to Postclassic caches and burials from sites in Belize and all over the Maya area have included the remains of human fingers often found with obsidian blades. Unfortunately the function of the phalanges is not represented in Maya glyphic text, art, or ethnohistoric literature, making it difficult to discern the nature of their interment. A comparative analysis of these cases, however, has shown that phalange amputation had significant importance as an offering. Ritual finger amputation, as opposed to accidental or medical removal, can be indicated through digits found out of normal corporeal context, and by relatively complete and well preserved skeletons missing phalanges in primary burials (Dillon et al 1998:34). Dillon et al (1998:24-38) suggest that a ritual autoamputation of fingers was part of a generalized mortuary practice. This theory is supported by ethnographic accounts of Central American cultures that record individuals cutting off their own fingers and burying them with the deceased.

A Similar Cache Feature at Civál, Guatemala Although the Shaft Cache feature and the surrounding cruciform caches at Blue Creek are quite unique, they do share a few spatial and compositional similarities with a Middle to Late Preclassic intrusive cache found at Civál, in the Petén, Guatemala. Cache 4 was found in a cruciform pit in the E-Group Plaza. Four jars were placed at the generally cardinally oriented outer arms of the intrusion about .2m down from the bedrock, all of which were black except for the southernmost vessel which was red. Unfortunately the cosmological color of the southern direction was usually associated with yellow (Schele & Mathews 1998:47-51; SpencerAhrens & Wren 2002:159-60), not red, meaning that the symbolism of the colored jar is either unknown or 227

Lyssabeth C. Pedersen In these cases autoamputation served as a display of loss and a permanent testimony of grief.

indications that an amputation ritual was involved in the Shaft Cache ritual. Furthermore, the presence of the phalange and obsidian blades in association with the cruciform vessels and infant remains correlated with the possible connection between autoamputaion and deceased infants, suggested by Gann. This is complicated by the fact that the cruciform caches were deposited after the shaft feature had been sealed, meaning that the phalange and obsidian blades were deposited before the infants were interred. This does not mean that the cruciform caches were not planned when the shaft feature was intruded, indicating that it is still possible that they were associated. In either case the presence of the phalange, according to the conclusions of Dillon et al (1998:24-38), is evidence of an amputation ritual, either as a mourning practice, or as a sacrificial offering of some other kind. The fact that it was found among the other artifacts in Cache 9A indicates that it was not simply deposited through accidental or medical means.

At the site of Salinas de los Nueve Cerros in Guatemala twelve severed human digits associated with intentionally snapped obsidian prismatic blades were found inside seven Early Classic vessel caches. These caches were interred in a mound which also contained an Early Classic tomb. The majority of the fingers were identified as the little fingers from the left hands of almost all different adults. There is no present concrete evidence allowing us to determine if the amputations were postmortem or during life. However, there was no extensive damage on the proximal ends of the bones indicating that the fingers were removed carefully, limiting damage to the hand. This could suggest that the removal was executed during life, because such care would be unlikely on a deceased individual. Lab analysis also showed that amputations were conducted with an established repetitive pattern, indicating it was a fixed practice (Dillon et al 1998: 24-34).

Although we cannot come to many definitive conclusions about the nature of the original caching event at Blue Creek and the ceremony that presumably went along with it, there are many things that we can learn from the shaft feature and the affiliated caches. The cardinal directions are referenced repeatedly in the form and artifacts of the shaft feature and surrounding caches. This is seen through the cardinally oriented chert eccentric, the cruciform caches, and the limestone slabs which sealed the central hole of the bannerstone and continued to the east and west for a short ways (Driver 2008:242-43, 245; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:56; 1996:3840). The recurring quality of this characteristic indicates that the entire feature was created with respect to the cardinal directions. The similarities between the deposits at Civál and Blue Creek indicate a possible formality and regularity of the cruciform features. Finally the extravagant nature of the artifacts included in the feature and associated caches tells us that it must have been a very large and important ceremony, possibly involving bloodletting and human offerings.

There are multiple cases in which phalange bones and obsidian blades were associated with the remains of infants. As an example, the poorly preserved Preclassic remains of an infant were found with four adult phalanges, designated as Burial 1 in Temple E-II at Uaxactun (Dillon et al 1998:35; Ricketson & Ricketson 1937:140). Alberto Ruz (1965:458-59) suggested that it was common for a grieving mother to to cut off her own finger and deposit it with the burial of a child, in order to send a piece of the mother with the deceased child. This interpretation probably originated with Thomas Gann, who makes this assumption at various sites in Belize, including; Progresso, Benque Viejo, Arenal Camp 6 Cave, and Tziman kax (Dillon et al 1998:3435). Although this theory is enticing, it does not take into account the variety of phalange bones found in burials containing people of all ages or the numerous fingers found in caches not associated with burials. It is also extremely difficult to determine an individual's sex from a single finger. A human finger from the left hand of an adult was found in a Classic Coban-figurine vessel in the shape of a female bodied person. The left hand of the woman was missing its little finger, indicating that it was a depiction of the person who deposited the finger. In this case it can be generally assumed that the amputee was a woman, but the dedication of the offering is still unknown (Dillon et al 1998: 35). Without clear indicators, such as the female shaped vessel, it is extremely difficult to know the sex of the phalange's amputee.

Concluding Discussion The primary goal of this study was to examine the possible function of the Early Classic Shaft Cache feature of Structure 4-III at Blue Creek, Belize. The outstanding importance of this cache is owing to its large its size, peculiar arrangement, and abundance of jade artifacts, numbering at approximately 966 (Guderjan 2007:110-11). The feature was deposited around 500 C.E., near the end of a time of great prosperity at Blue Creek. This prosperity was marked by the exhibition of large amounts of jade throughout the site and through the abundant construction of monumental architecture (Baker 1996:109; Guderjan 2007:45-46). I have attempted to piece together the physical evidence from the feature and its associated caches with what we know about ancient Maya cosmology.

Cache 9A, an artifact scattering at Blue Creek, includes the material found throughout the upper portion of the shaft feature, located at levels 1-13, and around the vessel caches at levels 14-18. A human phalange, an obsidian blade, and an obsidian blade fragment were found among these artifacts (Guderjan 2007:33). The inclusion of these artifacts could be possible 228

The Shaft Caches of Structure 4 Ancient Maya artistic records, inscriptions, and physical evidence show that important events were sometimes honored by ritual bloodletting ceremonies. These important events included the births and deaths of members of nobility, ascensions to the throne, marriage alliances, victories in war, and political exploits (Tate 1992:8891). The ceremonies involved in caching events are unfortunately not represented as often in artistic renderings and inscriptions, making it more difficult to understand their nature. I have made the assumption, however, that the feature and its associated ceremony were dedicated to an event similar to those honored by bloodletting rituals. This assumption is supported by the apparent mixing of bloodletting, caching, and burning events. It is further supported by the possibility that the obsidian blades found in Caches 9A and 12 (Driver 2008: 244-245) are indicators of the inclusion of bloodletting in the ceremony.

symbolic connection could be evidence that the central Shaft Cache feature was meant to represent the World Tree and vertical levels of the Maya universe. The peculiar arrangement of the shaft feature and its associated caches are indicators of symbolic references. The cardinal locations of Caches 8, 25, 24, and 15 are clear indications that they were deposited with the Maya horizontal cosmology in mind. However, the contents and vessels of the caches do not seem to show concrete evidence of directly representing their specific cardinal directions with respect to Maya directional cosmology. The eastern and western caches both display bird imagery and contain the poorly preserved remains of infants or possibly fetuses. This repetition of imaginary and symbolism could represent an underlying theme for the shaft feature and associated caches. The Maya horizontal directional cosmology is repeatedly referenced in the entire feature, making it clear that it served an important role in the function of the deposit. The cardinal directions, or more accurately the four place cycles within the annual path of the sun, are represented through three identifiable arrangements in the feature. The first, and most obvious of which, includes the cruciform caches placed in the general cardinal directions, with specific concentration on the east and west. The cardinal directions are again referenced by the eccentric chert whose northern and southern tips were removed in antiquity. Finally the entire feature and topical bannerstone were topped with limestone slabs which extended to the east and west for a short distance (Driver 2008:242-43, 245; Guderjan 2007:30; Weiss 1995:56; 1996:38-40).

The Early Classic construction of Structure 4-III covered the entire shaft feature including the bannerstone and stela, making it undetectable from the surface (Driver 2008:242). This indicates that the deposit was in dedication to a single isolated event whose dedication did not need to be further used or displayed. The carbonized wood is also evidence of a burning ritual performed at the sealing of the pit. These burning ceremonies were often used to bring a structure to life or to prepare it for its use, and were usually associated with bloodletting (Schele & Mathews 1998:50; Stuart 1998:384-403; Sharer 2009:218). The burning ceremony at the top of the feature, however, was enacted before the final construction of Structure 4-III. This suggests that the burning ceremony was not a final act of readying a construction for inhabitance, but rather a closing ritual of the shaft feature.


The central caches contained by the shaft feature held an exuberant quantity of jade. As well as being a sign of great wealth, jade had complicated symbolic connotations that seem to have been entwined in many aspects of the ancient Maya way of life. Jade is represented in many sources, including the Popol Vuh, as having a connection to the Maize God. When the Maize God was symbolically reborn he was said to be richly dressed in jade, representing a permanent manifestation of maize (Miller & Samayoa 1998:5556; Taube 2005:23-24). The World Tree, as a representation of the three vertical realms of the Maya cosmology, has been depicted as a stylized maize plant in multiple cases (Spencer-Ahrens & Wren 2002: 175; Taube 2005:24-25), showing that there was a link between maize, jade, and the World Tree. This

This thesis was made possible by the gracious help of the Maya Research Program and Dr. Thomas Guderjan, who supplied me with all the material and support I needed on the archaeological site. I would also like to thank my thesis sponsor Dr. Anthony Andrews for his endless academic and mental support. Much appreciated thanks to Dr. Gabrielle Vail for her knowledge and friendship throughout my time at New College and during my work on this study. I would also like to recognize my thesis baccalaureate committee, consisting of Dr. Anthony Andrews, Dr. Erin Dean, and Dr. Gabrielle Vail. Finally I would like to express my gratitude to the New College community, my family, and my friends for their support and encouragement.


Lyssabeth C. Pedersen Blue Creek, Belize, Progress Report of the Third (1994) Field Season. Thomas Guderjan and W. David Driver eds. Maya Research Program, San Antonio,Texas.

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Chapter 12 An Evaluation of Evidence for Formative Economic Behavior: Artifact Assemblage Diversity at Chan Cahal Colleen P. Popson polity in regional perspect ive (Guderjan 1998). It follows from these preliminary observations to consider that the events and trends of the Formative period must have been crucial to the political development to Blue Creek's Early Classic florescence and provided the foundation for state format