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Architecture and Activity at the Ceremonial Center of Xunantunich: Results from the 2018 Field Season

The Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project: A Report of the 2018 Field Season, edited by Claire E.
Ebert, John P. Walden, Julie A. Hoggarth & Jaime J. Awe, Volume 24, pp. 249-270. Department of Anthropology,
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff; Institute of Archaeology, Baylor University, Waco. © 2019
Tia B. Watkins
University College London
Douglas Tilden
Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project
Jaime J. Awe
Northern Arizona University
During the 2018 field season, the Xunantunich Archaeological Conservation (XAC)
Project, in collaboration with the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance (BVAR) Project,
continued the investigation of Structure A7 at the Classic Maya center of Xunantunich, in west
central Belize (Figures 1 and 2). Structure A7 became a focal point of interest when a well-
preserved stair containing a Classic Period cache was discovered during preliminary investigations
of the structure in the 2016 field season (Tilden et al. 2017; Zanotto and Awe 2017). Excavations
in 2017 continued to explore other areas of the structure, notably a large depression at the summit
associated with initial excavations conducted in the early 1900’s (Gann 1925). Research during
the 2018 field season sought to answer several questions regarding the function of Structure A7 in
relation to Plaza A-I, and the tempo of its construction compared to nearby monumental structures
and the overall civic-ceremonial center of Xunantunich. Addressing these questions through
archaeological investigation clarifies our understanding of large scale activity in the ceremonial
core including how the Maya invested in monumental construction over time, and what functions
they prioritized when constructing spaces.
Xunantunich Background
The Classic Maya ceremonial center of Xunantunich became a prominent political entity
within the eastern Maya lowlands during the Samal Phase (~AD 600-670). Xunantunich achieved
political sovereignty during the Late-Terminal Classic, associated with the Hat’s Chaak phase (AD
750-900), a time when neighboring Maya polities were already in decline (LeCount et al. 2002:41;
Yaeger 2005:5). The Classic Maya collapse, a still highly debated topic, saw the disintegration of
dynastic rulership, a shift in cosmological worldview, and the demographic abandonment of many
political centers (See Culbert 1973; Shaw 2003). Scholars and the general public have long been
intrigued by the events leading to the collapse and the various ways which different polities reacted
to the mounting socio-political tension (Demarest 1996), ecological degradation (Deevey et al.
1979), and drought (Hoggarth et al. 2017; Kennett et al. 2012). In this regard, Xunantunich
provides a rare opportunity to examine a polity that endured longer than many of its peers,
providing new insight on why the ruling elite of Xunantunich persisted and continued to
legitimize their power (Zanotto et al. 2016; Watkins et al. 2018).
Previous Excavations at Structure A7
Structure A7 is a pyramidal structure situated alongside the most prominent structure in
the site core, Structure A6 or ‘El Castillo’, in Plaza A-I. Although dwarfed by El Castillo, Structure
A7 reaches approximately 11 m in height from the terminal plaza floor, mirroring many of the
other structures situated around Plaza A-1. Structure A7 is one of five structures in Plaza A-I that
still has an associated stela erected in its original position, although this stela is not carved. Prior
to 2016 Structure A7 had not been systematically investigated using modern archaeological
methods (See Gann 1925). Because extensive archaeological work has been conducted on the
neighboring structures, the XAC project saw A7 as an opportunity to complete the assessment of
the main plaza. Investigations were initiated in 2016 to understand the function and purpose behind
Structure A7. Such excavations consisted of an exploratory horizontal unit (EU A7-1) extending
from the plaza level stela along the central axis of the eastern facade of the structure. These
investigations revealed a penultimate structure below the terminal phase of construction consisting
of three well-preserved steps, showing evidence of a complete stair, as well as a cache (Tilden et
al. 2017). The documentation of the penultimate structure led researchers to question the temporal
development of A7 in relation to other monumental buildings at Xunantunich. Several structures
in the site core show evidence of having Preclassic platforms or deposits (LeCount and Yaeger
2010), however, Preclassic complex architectural features had yet been identified at the hilltop
center. Additional excavations conducted in 2016 included a 2x2 m unit place around the
associated stela in front of the building, though excavations did not yield any cultural material.
Further details of the 2016 research at Structure A7 can be found in the 2016 BVAR progress
reports (Tilden et al. 2017). In 2017, excavations (EU A7-3) identified a section of a defaced stair
(Figure 3) ascending the eastern face of the structure and terminating at 2.8 meters below datum
A7-001(see Figure 4 for datum location). Penetration into the defaced stair revealed the earlier
summit of a pen-ultimate structure, implying the presence of at least two construction phases of
Structure A7. These excavations were continued during the 2018 field season and are described
Prior to the XAC Project excavations at Xunantunich, Thomas Gann was the first to
examine Structure A7 in 1924. These early investigations shaped the 2018 research questions for
further exploration of Structure A7, which marked the fourth season of archaeological
investigation at the building by the XAC Project. The 2018 research program was designed to
answer two research questions, which intended to clarify the development, function, and
commissioning of the structure itself as well as its temporal relationship with the broader
ceremonial core. Two specific questions which guided the 2018 investigations are:
1) What was the function of Structure A7 and what does this purpose imply about the location of
the structure within Plaza A-I and the overall center?
2) What is the chronological sequence of construction for Structure A7 and how does that fit
with the dating of Xunantunich?
Archaeological methods used throughout the 2018 field season included the following
strategies and protocols. Elevations for each excavation unit was documented using datum A7-
001. Soil consistencies were documented for each lot using “Texture by Feel” methods (see
Thien 1979). Both natural and cultural changes in stratigraphy were observed and used as
indicators for changes in archaeological lots. All artifacts recovered during excavation were
analyzed at the on-site laboratory. Subsequently, each bag of artifacts were logged in the
artifact inventory, washed according to the BVAR Project laboratory procedures, and placed
out to dry. Once dry, total frequencies per bag were recorded and all artifacts were stored for
future research and analysis. Ceramic analysis of diagnostic sherds was conducted using the
local ceramic typology (Gifford 1967). All carbon samples were exported to The Pennsylvania
State University for AMS 14C analysis.
Figure 1: Map of the Belize River Valley (map by Claire Ebert, 2017).
Figure 2: Map of the Xunantunich site core with Structure A7 highlighted (LeCount and Yaeger 2010).
Four excavation units were opened on Structure A7 over the past three field seasons (Figure
5). Units A7-1, A7-2, and A7-3 were all oriented along the central axis of Structure A7, measured
from the stela. Excavation unit (EU) A7-1 was first opened in 2016 with initial investigations
focusing on the central stair of the eastern façade of the building and measured 2 m N/S and
extended 10 m in length E/W. Unit A7-1 also included two small tunnels penetrating the terminal
architectural fill northward from the central stair. Ascending west, toward the summit and adjacent
to EU A7-1 is EU A7-3, opened in the 2017 field season. At the close of the 2018 field season, EU
A7-3 measured 2 meters N/S by 2 meters E/W and also encompassed a small tunnel penetrating
the first construction phase southward from the center of the penultimate platform. A unit at the
summit of Structure A7, EU A7-2, was opened during the 2017 field season to conduct preliminary
investigations of the remnants of Gann’s 1920’s explorations of the building. EU A7-2 measured
3 meters N/S by 3 meters E/W, having been expanded from the original dimensions (See Tilden
et al. 2017) to encompass the geometric center of the structure. Excavation unit A7-4 was
implemented as a solidary tunnel used to locate the northeast corner of the penultimate structure,
allowing for a clearer picture of the longitudinal extent of the earlier construction phases of
Structure A7. Three tunnels were excavated into the heavy mortar construction material between
the penultimate construction and the terminal phase of architecture during the 2018 field season.
The goal of tunnelling was to locate the penultimate structure to better define its north-south
dimensions, while preventing further damage to the architectural integrity of the structure. A fourth
tunnel was also implemented within the construction fill of Structure A7-3rd to follow the
architecture of the fourth construction phase (see Excavation Results section below).
Figure 3: Portion of terminal phase of architecture, defaced construction stair.
Figure 4: Profile of Structure A7 with delineated construction phases.
Figure 5: Plan view of Structure A7 showing excavation units and tunnels.
Results from the 2018 field season revealed Structure A7 to have four construction phases,
the earliest being a small masonry structure built atop modified bedrock (See Figure 4), which
relatively dates to the Middle to Late Preclassic period according to seriation of associated
materials (See Ceramic Analysis section). The construction sequence proved to be more complex
than the other structures in the Xunantunich civic-ceremonial center, surpassing the three phases
distinguished at El Castillo (see LeCount 2010). Each construction phase was given a title, the
terminal or final phase being Structure A7-Fourth, the pen-ultimate being A7-Third, below A7-
Second, and the earliest evidence of construction is A7-First. The following paragraphs discuss
the details of each architectural phase starting with the terminal construction phase as it was the
first to be encountered throughout the investigation of Structure A7.
Construction Phase: A7-4th
The construction core that supports this final architectural phase of Structured A7 has
distinguishable variation in the types of fill and the methods used during the process of
construction. Noticeable differences in fill material can be seen between the eastern half of the
structure and the western half. The eastern half of Structure A7-4th is supported by 3 meters of
sascab-like, wet-laid mortar core, which covers an area of 11.2 m by 14 m (See McCurdy 2016).
The thick construction matrix transitions into a layer of cobble and then to dry-laid fill 4 meters
west from the eastern structural façade (Loten and Pendergast 1984). The balance of the structure
does display the common construction technique of chamber and fill construction often found
throughout within the monumental architecture at Classic Xunantunich. A portion of the A7-4th
stair was documented 1 m below the humus surface of Structure A7 end displayed evidence of
having been defaced in antiquity (Figure 3). It can be assumed that during its use, the terminal stair
would have been dressed with facing stones and a plaster finish.
In 2017, excavations at the summit of A7 exposed two chert eccentrics, situated in dry-
laid construction fill. Our excavations of Structure A7-4th during the 2018 field season uncovered
four additional eccentrics within the next 1.5 m. The eccentrics call into question Thomas Gann’s
narrative of his 1924 excavation of A7 in which he claims to have implemented a 3.7x3.7 meter
unit at the central summit of the building, excavating to a depth of 7.62 m where he found a wall.
However, the presence of the eccentrics, which we found were at a depth starting at 3.24 meters
and distributed over a broad area, make it unlikely the area had been previously disturbed. In
addition, the change in matrix seen in the baulk stratigraphy clearly defines the bottom of Gann’s
excavation, ending at 2.4 m from the summit. This implies that the eccentrics were not found in
primary context and perhaps were included in Gann’s backfill materials.
Construction Phase: A7-3rd
The penultimate architectural phase consisted of a smaller pyramidal platform with
masonry superstructure, measuring approximately 7 meters in overall height or 5.6 meters below
the summit datum. The base of A7-3rd is rectangular in form and measures 11.2 meters E/W and
approximately 15 meters N/S. The superstructure of A7-3rd has two walls oriented north-to-south
which provide the support of two vaulted rooms, Room 1 and Room 2. The eastern vault and
supporting wall in Room 2 were removed in antiquity to allow for the terminal phase of
architecture to be constructed (See Figure 4).
The central stair of this building consists of 10 well-preserved, plastered steps which
display a similar architectural style to Preclassic temples, such as well-rounded stair nose and
battered risers (Figure 6) (Doyle 2017:39; Loten and Pendergast 1984). Penetration of the stair
revealed steps 1 through 6 were constructed primarily of uniformed mortar. Steps 7 through 10
were different in construction and style, with facing stones and a series of plastered risers and
treads indicating multiple modifications (See Figure 4). Steps 1-4 and steps 7 and 8 are of similar
dimensions, with an average rise of 39 cm and a tread of 52 cm. Notably, steps 5 and 6 are smaller
in rise at 22 cm, this could be the result of trying to match the successive modifications made
throughout the construction of A7-3rd. Excavations penetrated the northern baulk to follow step 5
by tunnel (EU A7-1 Ext. B) to better understand the northern extent of structure A7-3rd. The
evidence of modifications indicates the first version of A7-Second may have terminated at the
level of the stair block (step 6) and implies the additional stair and the summit above step 6 are
later expansions or alterations of the structure. The penultimate summit is constructed on top of a
platform which runs from the riser of step 10 and extends west 4.7 m, connecting to the western
wall of the penultimate architecture.
Figure 6: Cross section of Structure A7-3rd central stair, showing rounded stair nose.
Investigations of the A7-3rd superstructure revealed many more architectural modifications
in the form of two vaulted rooms. The western room (Room 1) was documented in Unit A7-2 Ext
A, which extended 3.76 m east-to-west. Stratigraphically, Room 1 displayed evidence of
intentional decommissioning through the placement of large boulders directly atop a bench inside
the room and associated steps. The room was then filled with earth, followed by dry-laid fill. This
method of filling resulted in increased architectural preservation, safeguarding several incised
graffiti characters on the western wall of the room. Analysis of graffiti effigies including
interpretation and decipherment is not yet complete and will be reported on in following reports.
However, some images are included to provide visual context (Figure 7 and 8). The bench in Room
1 measured 1.4 meters in width E/W and the associated stair 68 cm in width. We penetrated both
the bench and stair to understand the modification sequence of the room. Below the primary bench
we were able to locate an earlier bench. In addition, the step associated with the benches was
constructed atop the A7-3rd summit platform, appearing to be a later addition.
Figure 7: Structure A7, Room 1 bench and western wall with preserved graffiti.
Additional evidence that Room 1 was intentionally closed off can be observed with the
blocking of the door jamb leading into the room. East of Room 1 is Room 2, which appears to
have been constructed after Room 1 was closed off. Room 2 (Unit A7-3) measured 1.32 meters
E/W with only the western wall including spring vault and lintel post hole still remaining in tact.
The western wall extends approximately 3 meters southward from the central stair and is connected
to what appears to be a column like door jamb, no further investigations were completed in this
tunnel (unit A7-3 Ext. A). Evidence of extensive burning of the platform floor in Room 1 existed
near the center of the room near western wall. Investigations of the burned area revealed a small
cache of four lance shaped biface points (see below).
Figure 8: Example of preserved graffiti on the west wall of Room 1.
Construction Phase: A7-2nd
Construction phase A7-2nd was documented through the continuation of trenching the
extent of the central stair directly underneath the sixth step of the penultimate building A7-3rd.
Structure A7-2nd consisted of a 2.3 meter tall platform with a central stair consisting of four steps
leading to the summit of the platform. The base of the structure measured 4.6 meters E/W. It
appears that any summit of A7-2nd was removed to accommodate the construction of the first
phase of A7-3rd. Again, due to the thick construction matrix hindering our ability to expose
architecture, we were not able to determine the longitudinal extent of A7-2nd.
Construction Phase: A7-1st
The earliest construction phase at Structure A7 was documented 8.6 meters below the
summit datum and 50 cm below A7-2nd. This building consisted of a single step and platform
constructed from modified bedrock. A low-laying masonry wall sits atop the bedrock, measuring
1.10 m in height and extending more than 2.5 meters northward from the center point of the
excavation unit. We were unable to follow the wall farther north as the construction fill between
A7-1st and A7-2nd, a dry-laid fill, was very unstable and unsuitable for deep tunneling. The wall
showed evidence of having been deconstructed to accommodate for the subsequent construction
of A7-2nd. The masonry work of the early wall is uniform, using cut stones and placed strategically,
however no remnants of plaster were preserved. A single cache (Cache A7-2018-002) was found
situated atop the modified bedrock consisting of two half vessels nested within one another (See
Notable Artifacts section).
Artifact Analyses
While many distinct artifacts were recovered from Structure A7, the data obtained from
the overall collection provides new insight on the development and behaviors of Maya at
Xunantunich. Ceramic analysis was conducted by the lead using the type-variety for the Belize
Valley (Gifford 1967). Graffiti from the western wall in Room 1 was documented using
Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and Photogrammetry methodology by Leszek
Pawlowicz (Northern Arizona University) and is still in the initial phases of analysis and
Notable Artifacts
As previously stated, many notable finds were recovered during these investigations. First
to be discussed are the eccentric lithics found at the summit of Structure A7 in Units A7-2.
Eccentric lithics are defined and understood by many as multifaceted chipped-stone artifacts,
which are thought to have no utilitarian function but served as ritual implements (Sullivan 2017;
Iannone 1993; Iannone and Conlon 1993; Meadows 2001). In total, six eccentric lithics were
recovered from the summit of A7 during the 2017 and 2018 field season varying in morphological
shape and size.
Additionally, a high frequency of molded stucco fragments were recovered throughout the
excavations, primarily from Units A7-2 and A7-3. The presence of stucco fragments within
construction fill is common at Xunantunich and suggests possible defacement of stucco
adornments prior to subsequent architectural modification or construction (see Tilden et al.
2017:329; Watkins et al. 2018). All stucco fragments recovered from the 2018 field season have
preserved red pigment, with one fragment having blue pigment (Figure 9). The large size of the
stucco pieces suggest that they came from a monumental decoration such as a mask, however
additional evidence for this type of architectural decoration is presently lacking.
Two caches were encountered during the 2018 excavations of Structure A7. The first cache,
(Cache A7-2018-001), was discovered 3 cm below the summit of stair 10 of Structure A7-third
(Figure 10). This area was investigated out of interest in the presence of heavy burning on the
plaster surface. The cache consisted of four complete laurel leaf bifacial knives. The blades were
neatly stacked one on top of the other and oriented north-to-south. Kathrine Reese-Taylor and
Rachel Horowitz (personal communication 2018) have suggested that the chert used to produce
the blades is local the Xunantunich area.
Figure 9: Three examples of stucco fragments found within the fill above Structure A7-2nd.
Figure 10: Cache A7-2018-001, four laurel-leaf bifacial knives in situ.
Figure 11: Contents from Cache A7-2018-001, four laurel-leaf bifacial knives.
The second cache was found positioned in situ on the modified bedrock of A7-1st. A small
depression was carved below the modified step, where the cache was interred and consisted of two
halves of two different ceramic bowls, one Sierra Red and the other Savana Orange, placing this
cache during the Late Preclassic period. The two halves were just nested within one another and
were placed within the alcove, which protected the cache from damage during the construction of
A7-Third (Figure 12). Both halves of the vessels contained a significant amount of charcoal
remains, which have been submitted for analysis. The placement of the cache suggested it was
interred after A7-1st was decommissioned but before the construction of A7-2nd since its location
would have been problematic and too delicate for a public area.
Ceramic Analysis
Ceramic analysis was conducted on all diagnostic sherds recovered from the
Structure A7 excavations. For the purpose of this analysis, diagnostic features were
indicated by presence of vessel rim, paint, special features such as a spout, figurine
fragments, or any other specific decorative element. Presence of vessel rim was the most
frequent diagnostic characteristic used for this analysis. A total of 381 ceramic sherds were
examined for this analysis (Table 1).
Figure 12: Cache A7-2018-002, showing both halves of the vessels atop the modified bedrock.
Ceramics recovered from the construction fill of structure A7-4th date primarily to the
Spanish Lookout phase (AD ~700-900) (Figure 13). This pattern is fairly common for Xunantunich
as the center saw tremendous development during the Late Classic period. Analysis of ceramic
materials from below Structure A7-3rd indicate higher frequency of ceramic phases dating to the
Middle to Late Preclassic period, such as Savana Orange, Jocote Orange Brown, and Reforma
Incised. This may suggest that earlier construction phases of Structure A7 can be linked to the
Preclassic period through relative dating and material association.
Figure 13: Chronology and ceramic complexes (after Healy et al. 2007:21).
Table 1: Analysis of ceramic complexes present per construction phase, using the Barton Ramie Type-
Variety. Data are listed by percent of sherds in ceramic complexes per construction phase. Percentages
are rounded to the nearest tenth.
Figure 14: Distribution of ceramic types by construction phase, Mount Hope and Floral Park types were
removed from the graph as their values were 0 (See Table 1).
A7-First A7-Second A7-Third A7-Fourth
Percentage of Ceramic Complexes Present per Construction Phase
Strucutre A7, Xunantunich, Belize
Jenny Creek Barton Creek Hermitage Tiger Run Spanish Lookout
Ceramic Complex
Jenny Creek
Barton Creek
Mount Hope
Floral Park
Tiger Run
Spanish Lookout
AMS 14C Analyses
Samples of charcoal were analysed by The Pennsylvania State University Energy and
Environmental Sustainability Laboratories, Radiocarbon Laboratory. A total of three samples were
collected during the 2018 field season. Each sample collected from Structure A7 was documented
in situ upon discovery to retain contextual data of the carbon itself. All samples were collected
from below an architectural surface to ensure a cultural relationship between the AMS 14C results
and the structure itself (see Figure 4).
Calibrated date ranges from the A7 radiocarbon dates presented in below in Table 2.
Sample XUNR4 is the earliest in date, and is associated with Structure A7-2nd (Figure 13). Sample
XUNR2 displays a much later date, being situated roughly around the transition of the Early
Classic into the Late Classic period. The latest date in the overall sample comes from XUNR3,
which presents a typical Late Classic period for the hilltop center of Xunantunich.
Table 2: AMS 14C Results.
Sample ID
Context Description
2-σ Calibrated Date Range
EU A7-3-2, Cache A7-2018-001
AD 675-770
EU A7-2-3, Rm 1 Below Bench
AD 720-885
EU A7-1-3, Cache A7-2018-002
AD 50-135
The results from the 2018 field season proved to be eye opening and pose new questions
for future researchers to explore early activity at the hilltop center of Xunantunich. The most
notable information to come from these investigations is the series of construction phases present
at A7. To date, this is the only building within the Xunantunich ceremonial center known to consist
of four phases of intense rebuilding, in addition to several architectural modifications. This
suggests that throughout the occupation of Xunantunich, Structure A7 served a function of
importance to the centers inhabitants from its earliest founding. As Structure A7 is comparable to
the many other pyramidal temples at Xunantunich in overall size, the expenditure of labor and
resources used to maintain, modify and rebuild A7 throughout the years would have been costly
in comparison to the erection of a similar temple in one or two phases (See Abrams 1994; McCurdy
2016). It may be considered that the structure’s significance within the ceremonial core could have
reinforced the maintenance and upkeep of the structure over time. The evidence of several caching
events held at A7 further corroborates the structure’s importance and cosmological ties (Awe 2008;
Garber and Awe 2008).
Additionally, a distinct attribute of the terminal phase of A7 is how it encapsulated and
entombed the penultimate structure, A7-3rd, with up to 3 meters of uniform white mortar. This
entombment of the earlier structure is consistent with identified Maya termination rituals that span
from the Late Preclassic to the Late Classic (Duncan 2014; McNeil 2012; Wagner 2006). The
entombment further emphasizes the likely importance of this structure within Xunantunich
epicenter (Wagner 2006:61).
The seriation of ceramic materials recovered from each construction phase prior to the
terminal phase at Structure A7 support a relative associated chronology dating to the Middle-Late
Preclassic. Further, the results from AMS 14C analysis provided evidence of activity at Structure
A7 from the Proto-Classic and Late Classic periods. Both the relative and absolute dates for
Structure A7 suggest the building may be the first to display continuous usage, rebuilding, and
maintenance from the hilltop center’s earliest founding (Jameson 2010; LeCount 2010). Further
research at the hilltop center is needed to gain a better understanding of other earlier monumental
structures and their chronological span in relation to Structure A7.
These results from the 2018 field season proved to answer our initial research questions
while simultaneously sparking new inquiries and ideas regarding Maya practice at the hilltop
ceremonial core of Xunantunich. The identification of the impressive construction sequence of
Structure A7 and possible early activity at Xunantunich implores further investigation of early
activity at the hilltop center. Targeting questions of early activity at the hilltop center of
Xunantunich will aid in the understanding of the overall development of this impressive Maya
Acknowledgements Immense gratitude is given to the co-directors of the Belize Valley Archaeological
Reconnaissance project, Dr. Jaime J. Awe and Dr. Julie Hoggarth, for fostering a healthy and supportive
work environment and for encouraging all who participate on this project to peruse their goals
wholeheartedly. Research by the Xunantunich Archaeology and Conservation project would not be possible
without the support of the Tilden Family Foundation. We thank our project collaborators at The
Pennsylvania State University Radiocarbon Laboratory for their skilful expertise. Additionally, the authors
would like to thank the Institute of Archaeology and the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, Belize for
allowing this research to take place in their beautiful country. We thank the entire local archaeological crew
who helped and participated in the 2018 field season, notable mentions go to the Can family, Cunil family,
Puc family all of whom play a significant role in making this research possible. Special thanks goes to don
Antonio Norales, Alvaro Martinez, and Jairo for bringing their archaeological knowledge and skills attained
at Naranjo, Guatemala to Xunantunich, this seasons feats would not have been possible without you. Thank
you to all of the BVAR staff and students for creating and maintaining a positive and pleasant atmosphere,
with notable thanks to Claire Ebert, John P. Walden, J. Britt Davis, and Tucker Austin for being both
wonderful friends and incredible mentors. Finally, we thank all of our fellow archaeologists who visited
Xunantunich this summer and provided helpful opinions, new perspectives, and insight on Structure A7
and its complex construction.
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Lot Description
Below A7-Fourth
Stucco Mask Frags
Below A7-Fourth
Polished Limestone Pebble
Below A7-Fourth
Stucco Mask Frags
Rm 1 Sm Bench
Stucco Mask Frags
Rm 2 Bench
Cache 1, Laurel Leaf Biface
Rm 2 Bench
Cache 1, Laurel Leaf Biface
Rm 2 Bench
Cache 1, Laurel Leaf Biface
Rm 2 Bench
Cache 1, Laurel Leaf Biface
Gann Backfill
Chert Eccentrics
Below A7-Second
Cache 2, Partial Vessels
Below A7-Fourt
Polychrome Frags
Below A7-Second
Chocolate Pot Spout
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Full-text available
Increasing evidence supports the role of climate change in the disintegration of regional polities in the Maya lowlands at the end of the Classic Period (750–1000 CE). However, the demographic effects of drought remain largely unknown in the absence of Classic Period textual evidence indicating declines in agricultural productivity and population over this broad geographic area. To understand the relationship between climate change and demography, we compare historic records from the Colonial Period (1519–1821 CE) with a subannually resolved climate record for the region. We propose that multiyear droughts across the lowlands resulted in crop failure and severe famines that correlate with intervals of high mortality and migration within two extended dry intervals during the eighteenth century. Changes in population during the Colonial Period support Malthusian models of demography that may be used to conceptualize population dynamics at the end of the Classic Period. You can find a copy of the article here:
Full-text available
This article presents the chronological framework used to reconstruct the political history of the ancient Lowland Maya site of Xunantunich in the upper Belize River valley. Extensive excavations from 1991 to 1997 by the Xunantunich Archaeological Project produced the ceramic, architectural, and epigraphic data needed to place the site within a temporal context. Refinement of the Barton Ramie ceramic chronology was the first step toward clarifying the Xunantunich chronology. Seriation of well-known Spanish Lookout types and modes from stratified deposits established a framework for understanding Late and Terminal Classic assemblages. Twenty-two radiocarbon samples place these ceramic complexes in absolute time. Obsidian hydration and masonry techniques were found to be less reliable chronological markers. The results indicate that Xunantunich emerged as a regional center during the Samal (A.D. 600–670) and Hats' Chaak (A.D. 670–780) phases of the Late Classic period. Arguably, this rapid growth and florescence was initiated under the auspices of nearby Naranjo. Although the polity achieved political autonomy in the following Tsak' phase (A.D. 780–890) of the Terminal Classic period, civic construction diminished and rural populations declined until the site collapsed sometime during the late ninth or early tenth century.
Architecture and the Origins of Preclassic Maya Politics highlights the dramatic changes in the relationship of ancient Maya peoples to the landscape and to each other in the Preclassical period (ca. 2000 BC-250 AD). Offering a comprehensive history of Preclassic Maya society, James Doyle focuses on recent discoveries of early writing, mural painting, stone monuments, and evidence of divine kingship that have reshaped our understanding of cultural developments in the first millennium BC. He also addresses one of the crucial concerns of contemporary archaeology: the emergence of political authorities and their subjects in early complex polities. Doyle shows how architectural trends in the Maya Lowlands in the Preclassic period exhibit the widespread cross-cultural link between monumental architecture of imposing intent, human collaboration, and urbanism.
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Kennett, Douglas J., Sebastian F. M. Breitenbach, Valorie V. Aquino, Yemane Asmerom, Jaime J. Awe, James U.L. Baldini, Patrick Bartlein, Brendan J. Culleton, Claire Ebert, Christopher Jazwa, 346 Martha J. Macri, Norbert Marwan, Victor Polyak, Keith M. Prufer, Harriet E. Ridley, Harald Sodemann, Bruce Winterhalder, and Gerald H. Haug 2012 Development and Disintegration of Maya Political Systems in Response to Climate Change. Science 338(6108):788-791.
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