Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2007:
Brett A. Houk

Chan Chich Archaeological Project
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Figure 17a. Jade artifacts from Tomb 2 -- helmet-bib pendant.

Research Year:  1997
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Protoclassic
Location:  Orange Walk District, Belize
Site:  Chan Chich

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Forest Types at Chan Chich
Previous Investigations
Results of the 1996 Season
Project Research Design
Long Term Research Objectives
General Excavation Goals
1997 Research Objectives
Excavation of a Protoclassic Tomb
Suboperations A, C–G, I, and J
Tomb 2
Contents of Tomb 2
Jade Artifacts
Ceramic Vessels
Possible Codex Fragment
Paint or Stucco
Problematic Serpent-Shaped Object
References Cited


This report documents the results of the extended 1997 season of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project (CCAP) which was partially funded by a grant from the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) to the author (Project 97004). The 1997 Chan Chich Archaeological Project (CCAP) was a six week project that included plaza test pitting, limited structural testing (the ballcourt and staircase to Structure A-1), and looter’s trench profiling. The field work was conducted by field school students under the direction of the author (project director) and Hubert Robichaux (field director).

A plaza test pit in the Upper Plaza was opened during the first week of the season in an attempt to gather chronological data related to what appears to be the oldest part of the site (Robichaux 1998). Based on the complex stratigraphy and unusual architectural features encountered in the test pit, the excavation was expanded to the west. This enlarged unit encountered a collapsed chamber at approximately 2.4 m below the current surface of the plaza. The excavation unit was expanded farther to the south and west to allow for greater exposure of this chamber (Robichaux 1998).

After five weeks of excavation, it was clear that the chamber was a collapsed tomb, originally carved into bedrock and capped with large limestone blocks. The tomb was not vaulted and apparently lacked sufficient architectural support to withstand the weight of later plaza floors which were built upon it. Prior to collapsing, however, the chamber was filled (either intentionally or naturally) with a deposit of soft marl which covered the tomb’s contents and protected them from being crushed by the eventual collapse of the roof (Robichaux 1998).

The chamber is oriented north/south, is approximately 3.3 m long by 1 m wide, and is carved into bedrock with the floor approximately 3.0 m below ground surface. The packed marl deposit and cramped work space resulted in slow exposure of the tomb’s contents. The tomb contained eleven Protoclassic vessels (Robichaux 1998).

The other grave goods include two jade earspools, a tubular jade bead, and a jade pendant which is virtually identical to royal insignia jewels from Cerros and Nohmul dating to the Late Preclassic Period. A small piece of wood was recovered. Additionally, another wooden (?) artifact resembling a snake (scepter or staff?) is partially preserved in the north end of the tomb. Samples were collected, but the remainder of the artifact was reburied at the suggestion of Paul Francisco of the Department of Archaeology in Belmopan.

The jade pendant marks this as a royal tomb. The young age of the occupant may have important implications for the nature of rulership and kingship in the Lowlands during the Protoclassic. If the wooden artifact is actually a scepter, it could represent one of the earliest examples of the double-headed serpent bar associated with rulers during the Classic period.

Because of a previous teaching commitment, the project director had to return to Texas on June 23, 1997.  This allowed insufficient time to document adequately, to conserve, and to transport to Belmopan the contents of the tomb. Funding was requested from FAMSI for an extension of the project in August because of the poor condition of the wood and bone recovered from the tomb. These artifacts will deteriorate more rapidly now that they have been removed from the matrix in which they have been encased for 1800 years.

Funding was requested to return the project director, Brett A. Houk, to Belize for four days in August to stabilize the wood samples and skeletal material removed from the tomb, to prepare this material for exportation to the United States for analysis, and to transport the remaining tomb artifacts to the Department of Archaeology in Belmopan. Paul Francisco, a conservator with the DOA, was to assist with conserving and packaging the bone and wood, and with preparing the remaining artifacts for shipment to Belmopan.

Funding was requested to cover the cost of airfare for Houk, departure tax to leave Belize for Houk, room and board for four days for Houk and Francisco, truck rental for four days, gas, conservation and packing supplies, film and developing, and of preliminary analysis of the wood samples from the tomb. Additionally, funding was requested to cover the 5 percent administrative cost assessed by the Department of Archaeology in Belize, based on expenditures in Belize. Because no additional excavations will be conducted under this budget, it was assumed that the 15 percent consolidation fee would not be required.

After the FAMSI grant was awarded, a matching contribution was made by a private individual. These additional funds were used to bring Robichaux (who oversaw the excavation of the tomb) and Ashlyn Madden (a technical illustrator) to Belize to assist with the project. Fred Valdez, who was in Belize at the time, assisted with the analysis of the ceramic vessels from the tomb.

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Submitted 01/01/1999 by:

Texas Tech University

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