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Jeff Stomper

Mayflower Archaeology Project (MAP)
Principal Investigator: Jeff Stomper
Project Co-directors: Jeffrey Stomper & Wendy Brown
Assistant Director: Elizabeth Pope
Academic Institution: College of Lake County

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Do not cite, reproduce, or publish this work in any format without the written consent of: Jeff Stomper

Figure 13: Updated Map of Mayflower with new Structures (A12 & A13) noted.

Research Year:  1997
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Classic
Location:  Stann Creek District of Belize
Site:  Mayflower

Table of Contents

Mapping & Survey
Reconnaissance Survey Methodology
Mapping Methodology
Intensive Pedestrian Transect Survey Methodology
Shovel Test Pit Survey and Site Definition Methodology
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Resource Base Map
1997 Survey & Mapping
List of Excavated Units of the 1996 and 1997 Seasons
Structure A-8 (Op 1 Subop 3)
Plaza Excavations (Op 1 Subops 2 & 4)>
Looters Pit Recording Program
Conclusions and Future Research
List of Figures
Sources Cited



Inter- and intraregional trade of commodities and exotic items are important in the formation and development of complex societies. This long-distance exchange was institutionalized and regulated, leading to the development of settlements whose purpose was to act as gateways through which large amounts of trade wares would pass. These settlements, referred to as "gateway communities" (Burghardt, 1971; Hirth, 1978; 1984), were often located at key locales along natural trade routes which were essential to control the movement of goods. The purpose and function of gateway communities was first identified by economic anthropologists and geographers who attempted to better understand long-distance trade (Burghardt, 1971). Kenneth Hirth (1978), working at the site of Chalcatzingo, was the first to develop a model of how gateway communities functioned in ancient Mesoamerica. Hirth demonstrated that the gateway community model was advantageous for examining and explaining exchange networks. The gateway model stressed that environmental discontinuities (i.e. natural corridors of trade and communication), landforms, and other environmental factors affected the location and growth of settlement. Others (Clark and Lee, 1984) have used this model for examining Maya trade, including Lawrence Jackson and Heather McKillop (1989) who researched coastal-inland trade in Belize. The Maya site of Mayflower presents an opportunity to study the development through time of a small settlement and the ways in which it was integrated into larger Maya coastal-inland trade networks.

Located in the Stann Creek District of Belize are a group of three small Maya sites—Mayflower, Maintzunun and T’au Witz, collectively referred to as Mayflower. This group of sites is situated along Silk Grass Creek near the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Twenty years ago, Elizabeth Graham (1976; 1977; 1983; 1985; 1994) conducted a survey and mapping project of the entire Stann Creek District. In addition, Graham supervised limited excavations at the Mayflower sites which revealed their long history of occupation and strategic location along trade routes (Graham, 1994). Apart from Graham’s district survey, the only other extensive work done in the Stann Creek District was by J. MacKinnon (1985; 1986; 1989a; 1989b; 1990; 1991a; 1991b). MacKinnon’s research was carried out at the coastal site of Point Placencia located in the extreme southern region of the district. Although Graham stressed the necessity for further intensive research in the region, the Mayflower sites received little archaeological attention until the inception of the Mayflower Archaeology Project (MAP) in 1996 (Williamson and Stomper, 1996).

In the spring of 1995 Harriot Topsey requested that Richard Williamson and Jeff Stomper begin an archaeological field project in the Stann Creek District, focusing upon the three Mayflower sites (Mayflower, Maintzunun, and T’au Witz). Topsey’s interest in the archaeology of this area was threefold. First, Mayflower is located a few kilometers off the Southern Highway in an area that is easily accessible to tourists, and Topsey wanted the sites to become an archaeological tourist attraction. In 1996 MAP began, in conjunction with the Stann Creek Tourist Board, Minister Melvin Hules, and Brian Woodye of the Department of Archaeology, to address the feasibility of establishing an archaeological park and forest reserve. Second, these sites were not protected from the danger of looting and destruction. In accordance with this, last season MAP documented evidence of previous looting with photos, drawings, and notes. With this information the situation can now be monitored. The project also took aerial photos documenting the destruction of the rainforest in the area. Third, unlike other areas of Belize, Topsey realized that the Mayflower region had received little archaeological attention. In May 1996 Brian Woodye granted Stomper a permit to initiate an archaeological project in the region bounded by North Stann Creek to the north, Cabbage Haul Creek on the south, Guana Church Bank on the west, and the Caribbean Sea on the east.

In the summer of 1996, MAP began a long-term, multidisciplinary study of the Mayflower sites and their surrounding area. Much of the first season concentrated on logistical concerns, but also included pedestrian surveys, mapping, and test excavations. The limited surveys both in the core and periphery of the site uncovered numerous structures, plaza groups, and hilltop settlements which had not been documented previously. Mapping and test excavations demonstrated conclusively that Mayflower, Maintzunun, and T’au Witz were not separate sites, but were three components of a single site that is centered around the Mayflower plaza group (Williamson and Stomper, 1996). During the construction of an access road to these lands in June of 1996 numerous small mounds, platforms, and previously hidden structures were discovered. Further pedestrian survey revealed additional mound groups and isolated mounds. The presence of these mounds, located from 500 m to 2 km from the site core, indicate that Mayflower was much larger than previously thought and suggests a need for further investigation in this peripheral area.

While many recent Maya studies have focused upon the larger sites such as Copán and Caracol, Mayflower presents an opportunity to examine the way in which a smaller community functioned within its local environment and how it was integrated into the social and economic fabric of the larger Maya world. A considerable amount of work has been done on coastal Maya trade in Belize at sites on the Cays or on the coast (Graham, 1989; Jackson & McKillop, 1989; MacKinnon, 1989; McKillop, 1989), and even more data have been collected on non-local goods and trade items from the major sites inland such as Caracol (Chase, 1991; 1992; Chase & Chase, 1989), Lamanai (Loten, 1985; Pendergast, 1984; 1985; 1992), Cahal Pech, (Awe, Conlon, & Campbell, 1991; Awe & Healy, 1994) and sites in the Petén. What is less known is the exact nature of the trade route system from the coast to inland sites, and specifically what items traveled which routes.

Preliminary analysis of chert, obsidian, and ceramics has indicated that Mayflower was involved in a trade network that stretched from the Guatemalan Highlands to Northern Belize and possibly farther (Williamson and Stomper, 1996). More importantly, Mayflower’s location confirms that it was a vital link between the interior and coastal trade routes. The site is situated at the mouth of a box canyon in the foothills of the Maya Mountains (possibly controlling the flow of goods into and out of the canyon) a few kilometers south of the Hummingbird Gap (part of the coastal-inland trade route). The site core and surrounding settlement are located on a river terrace, a few hundred meters from a creek with year round flow. Also, the site is the only locale between the foothills and the coast that is not prone to substantial flooding during the rainy season. This may explain why, in spite of the limited amount of cultivable land in the area, Mayflower was the locus of extensive settlement from Middle Preclassic to Postclassic times (Graham, 1994).

The preliminary analysis of the information from Graham’s research and MAP’s first season of work indicates that Mayflower may fit Hirth’s model of a gateway community. In order to comprehend Mayflower’s role in coastal-inland trade, the settlement patterning of the ancient population, the size and complexity of the site, and its long history of occupation must first be understood. This can be accomplished through a program of survey and excavation in the site core and surrounding area.

Outside of Graham’s limited survey and excavation, little else was known about Mayflower until the inception of MAP. In 1996 the Mayflower Archaeology Project Survey (MAPS) corrected inaccuracies on Graham’s initial maps (Figure 1 and Figure 2); created the first detailed map showing the relationships between the sites (Figure 3); and uncovered numerous new structures and features within 1 km of the site core (Figure 4). During the 1997 field season the pedestrian survey continued, with the focus on enlarging the map of the core area through a strategy of systematic mapping of visible features in the area within 1 km of the site core.

Using Graham’s excavations as a guide, several areas of the site core, primarily the structures at Mayflower and Maintzunun, were investigated through a series of shovel test pits and controlled 2 m x 2 m test excavations. These limited excavations revealed new information pertaining to the extent, orientation, and occupation of core area (Williamson and Stomper, 1996). The project will continue to explore the core area with additional shovel test pits, new 2 m x 2 m test excavations, and by expanding upon last years test excavations. There are several reasons for continuing this activity. First, the spatial orientation, building size and archaeological information from Graham’s and the 1996 MAP excavations indicated that parts of the Mayflower site were used as residences while others were more ceremonial in nature. Second, little is known about the function of the structures comprising of Maintzunun. Third, the area between Maintzunun and Mayflower is unexplored, and evidence of features or occupation in this area will enable a better understanding of the relationship between Maintzunun and Mayflower.

In July of 1996, improvements to the site’s access road revealed a number of mounds and features located 200 m - 1 km from the site core. These were mapped and surface collections were made wherever possible. Several features were subsurface, artifact scatter suggests that the occupation and activity areas of this region might be much higher than expected. Expanded shovel test pits and controlled test excavations of these features and mounds will be undertaken in order to discern the extent of Mayflower settlement and the relationship of the periphery to the site core.

It is necessary to survey, map, and conduct limited test excavations in order to determine the size and extent of the settlement and to construct an accurate culture history of the area before answering the larger questions of how the site and its people were integrated into the larger social and economic framework of the Maya coastal-inland trade network. Creating this solid foundation of archaeological evidence pertaining to settlement and culture history will enhance future investigations of trade, exchange, economy, subsistence, and social and political organization at Mayflower.

The Mayflower Archaeology Project (MAP) began the 1997 field season on June 4, 1997 with a planned six weeks of field and lab work. This report details the progress of the 1997 season and provides some initial conclusions based on our research. This is the second field season report issued by the Mayflower Archaeology Project.

The project focused on three areas. First, mapping Mayflower with the aid of a laser Total Station in order to produce a highly accurate representation of the site’s topography and to aid, with the help of computer software, the hypothetical reconstruction of the Main Group. Over 5,000 data points were obtained to create the topographic map of the site. Several different types of maps will be produced for the final report, and a sampling of those produced in the field are provided here.

The second focus area was surveying the region around Mayflower, specifically the areas immediately north and south of the Mayflower Main Group, the river terrace between Mayflower and Maintzunun, and possible quarry sites near T’au Witz. New mounds were located in all areas surveyed around Mayflower, with the highest concentration of new structures located in the areas to the south and southeast of the Mayflower Main Group. Several possible quarry sites were located before the start of the field season with another located during transect and pedestrian survey. Time did not permit extensive investigation of any of the quarry sites, but they have been mapped and will be studied in greater detail during the 1998 field season.

Third, excavations were conducted within the Mayflower Main Group with an emphasis on Structure A-8 and the Main Plaza area. The 1996 excavations of Structure A-8 revealed a high concentration of ceramic and lithic artifacts and investigations of the structure were continued this year in order to obtain more information on the occupation history, construction phases and material, and function of the structure. The ceramic information will be used to begin setting up a site (regional) type collection. Test units were also placed in the Main Plaza of Mayflower to obtain information concerning plaza floor construction phases, flooring material, and the overall state of floor preservation, as well as to gain a better understanding of occupational history at the site.

In addition to explorations in the field, a lab was set up in Hopkins to process, catalog, and analyze the artifacts from the 1996 and 1997 field seasons. The artifacts were processed in accordance to the 1997 guidelines/regulations established by the Department of Archaeology (DOA).

The following sections (Excavations, Looters Pits & Laboratory) reveal additional details as to the work performed this season by MAP and some conclusions based on our initial analysis of the data obtained this year.

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Mayflower Archaeology Project (MAP)  (968 KB)

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Submitted 06/20/2002 by:

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