Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 1999:
Dr. Marilyn Masson

Surviving Postclassic Maya Collapse–Belize
Vea este informe en Español.

Research Year:  1997
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Classic to Post Classic
Location:  Northern Belize
Site:  Laguna de On Island

Table of Contents

Update Notes
Synopsis of forthcoming book by Marilyn A. Masson
Further Reading


The Belize Postclassic Island Maya Project is devoted to understanding the processes of Maya social transformation and adaptation from the time of the Classic period collapse thought the Spanish conquest. Investigations at Laguna de On Island, Belize, have allowed us to study of the reproduction of domestic and ritual institutions in the volatile period form 1000 A.D. to 1500 A.D.

Studies at this island village suggest that populations from the northern Belize area (Honey Camp Lagoon to Bacalar, México) were able to create many aspects of their daily economic life in ways that were similar to the Classic period.

In other ways, the setting of the Postclassic world opened up new economic activities such as weaving, obsidian trade, exchange in precious stones and metals, and increased availability of game animals due to reforestation. Essentially, the average villager was far more affluent and healthy and enjoyed an increased life expectancy at Laguna de On in the Postclassic period compared to the Late Classic.

Two populations are now known from the island, through mortuary patterns and radiocarbon dates. They date from 1000-1200 A.D. and 1200-1400 A.D. The burial patterns suggest significant political disruption occurred around 1200 A.D. as a decline in formalism of funerary behavior is observed and later individuals appear to be placed hastily in shallow graves.

Religious ritual was also selectively reproduced in the Postclassic. At Laguna de On, villagers elected not to construct monumental architecture as an expression of political power. They did practice ancestor worship and calendric rituals that have their origins in the Classic period. One symbol of the past was found in 1996, a God K effigy flint eccentric which we believe is an heirloom sceptre probably raided in the Postclassic from a Classic period structure. This object was obtained for the purpose of caching it in a censer ritual directed at ancestors and rain deities at Laguna de On.  An increase in shrine construction and censer ritual is observed after 1200 A.D., and we are exploring the connection of this ritual activity with the changes in burial patterning at the site.

During the 1997, we located a new Postclassic monumental center at Progresso Lagoon, known to locals as Caye Coco. We believe it is likely to be the Colonial Maya site of Chanlacan, capital of Chetumal after the fall of Santa Rita and seat of the 1547 rebellion against Spanish Bacalar according to Grant Jones in his book Maya Resistance to Spanish Rule. This site will be the focus of our 1998 season. If it is verified to be Chanlacan, we will have the opportunity to study processes of Maya adaptation from the Postclassic through Colonial times.

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The Project Director, Dr. Marilyn Masson, can be contacted at:
Department of Anthropology
University of Albany-SUNY

Email is the preferred method:

This project accepts volunteers through Earthwatch or SUNY-Albany’s archaeological field school.

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