Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2003:
Douglas M. Weinberg, Elizabeth Graham, and David M. Pendergast

Salvage Excavation of the Alamilla/Gomez Property, San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
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Figure 5. Burial 1, Unit 1. Click on image to enlarge.

Research Year:  2002
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Late Post Classic to Colonial
Location:  Ambergris Caye, Belize
Site:  San Pedro

Table of Contents

Location and Setting
Research Methods and Results
Discussion and Conclusions
List of Figures
Sources Cited
Appendix A.  Lot Index
Appendix B.  Artifact Inventory
Appendix C.  Photo Log


In 1990, Graham and Pendergast commenced what they intended to be a long-term program of environmental and archaeological investigations on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Preliminary testing had been carried out in 1986 at Marco Gonzalez (Graham and Pendergast 1989), and in 1990, more extensive excavations were initiated and a marine resource survey completed (Emery and Graham, in press) at Marco Gonzalez, funded by SSHRC 1 .  The investigation of the site that lies beneath the town of San Pedro was begun in 1990 (Graham and Pendergast 1994; Pendergast 1990; Pendergast and Graham 1991); small-scale testing aimed at establishing a tourism development project was carried out at Santa Cruz on the leeward side of the island in 1992 and 1993; and initial soil and vegetation surveys were conducted as part of the field investigations. The project ceased operations in 1993 because only very limited funding support was available beyond the initial 1990 season.

Unfortunately for preservation of the cultural heritage of the island, the site that lay beneath the town of San Pedro was gradually destroyed as construction associated with tourism expanded and intensified. The difficulties of excavation in an urban setting were compounded even in the early 1990s by rapid development of much of San Pedro, as tourism began to have a major impact on the caye, with the result that most of the work had the quality of salvage, often carried out as construction was in progress. It proved possible, however, to augment such work with investigations on the Sands Hotel property (Graham and Pendergast 1994) and at a few other locations within the town where construction was not imminent. The results of the excavations carried out through 1993 showed that the San Pedro site had a long, internally differentiated, and possibly episodic history of occupation. The most important elements of the occupation history were the extensive evidence of Late Postclassic occupation and the indication, in the form of Spanish olive jar fragments, that the site continued to function during the Spanish Colonial period. Excavations at The Sands Hotel on the Parham property also provided evidence, through co-investigations carried out by Dr. S. Mazzullo and C. Teal, that San Pedro Town had, prior to Late Postclassic times, been divided by water from the southern part of the caye.

Much of the Late Postclassic material, as well as all of the olive jar sherds, came from excavations in what is now known as the Sands/Alijua block, situated in the center of modern San Pedro and also apparently the central portion of the ancient community from about A.D. 1400 until some time after 1545. Coupled with the history of Marco Gonzalez, the data from central San Pedro suggest the possibility that a shift of population from the caye’s low-lying southern tip to the higher ground at San Pedro may have occurred, owing to advancing inundation of the caye’s southern end in Late Postclassic times. The evidence of previously undocumented 16th or 17th-century Spanish contact, although insufficient to illuminate the nature of Maya/Spanish relations at San Pedro, lent an important additional aspect to the occupation history. The data recovered in the excavations during the 1990s, both as regards late occupation and as regards Maya presence in at least some portions of the San Pedro site in Classic times, argued very convincingly for the value of continuing work in San Pedro whenever opportunities arose.

Although installation of a sewer system in the mid-1990s appeared to offer an opportunity to augment evidence from central San Pedro (Pendergast 1990), the duplicity of the Canadian field engineering staff made checking of the ditching operation impossible. It therefore became true that the last chance for examination of unencumbered territory within the site center lay in a single lot at the southwest corner of the Sands/Alijua block, adjacent to a small portion of the Sands Hotel property where investigations were carried out in 1992, and also to the two sites of recent construction, where very limited recovery of material was effected while work was under way. The importance of the lot was underscored by the fact that the two adjacent locations where salvage was carried out yielded virtually all of the olive-jar sample recovered from San Pedro. Graham’s negotiations with the owners and with supportive San Pedranos continued periodically throughout the 1990s, but because no immediate prospect of construction existed, the owners were reluctant to provide permission to work on the property, which in any case would have been hampered by the presence of a hamburger stand on the western portion of the lot. As is often the case in such circumstances, the pace of developments shifted quickly from extremely slow to very rapid, with the result that salvage excavations were made necessary on short notice. This rendered impossible the participation of Graham and Pendergast in the fieldwork, which was carried out by Weinberg and his excavation team with the support and assistance of the Department of Archaeology, Government of Belize.

The salvage of the Alamilla/Gomez property was facilitated and administered by the Belize Department of Archaeology at the initiative of Graham and Pendergast in September and October of 1992, with funding generously provided by FAMSI. The Department of Archaeology, after being contacted about the limited window of time for testing of the property, approached Weinberg about supervising the salvage operation. With little notice, no background knowledge of the area in question, and no time for background research, Weinberg traveled with Melissa Badillo and Reyna Zavala, employees of the Department of Archaeology of the Ministry of Tourism and Youth, to San Pedro. The objective and research design were to extract as much information as possible from the lot, with hopes that the information would amplify previous research conducted by Graham and Pendergast, before construction destroyed the resource. Of particular interest were ceramics and other remains from the Postclassic and Spanish Colonial periods, as well as the possibility of encountering further interments of a type characteristic of the Postclassic occupation at San Pedro, though a considerably wider range of occupation remains was to be expected.


  1. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

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Salvage Excavation of the Alamilla/Gomez Property,
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize
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Submitted 09/16/2003 by:

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