Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2001:
Francisco Estrada-Belli
(Boston U./ now Vanderbilt University)

Archaeological Investigations at Holmul, Guatemala
Report of the First Field Season, May-June 2000
With contributions by: Jason Gonzales (Southern Illinois U., Carbondale), Marc Wolf (T.I.M.S.), Laura Kosakowsky (Boston U./U. Arizona) and Justin Ebersole (Boston U.)
Vea este informe en Español.

Figure 11. Giant mask built with masonry block on east face of Building A, Group II (photo by J. Gonzalez).

Research Year:  1999
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Proto-Classic
Location:  Norhteastern Petén, Guatemala
Site:  Holmul

Table of Contents

Preparation for Field Work
Mapping the Site
Group I
Group II
Group III
Western Transect
Minor Centers
Summary and Future Directions
List of Figures
Sources Cited

Preliminary Report on the Ceramics from Holmul, Guatemala: Year 2000 Season
by Laura J. Kosakowsky


The goals of the Holmul Archaeological Project are to obtain an understanding on the nature of the Maya city of Holmul through information collected from field survey and excavations. It is believed that this archaeological site will provide key information to our understanding of the processes behind the development of political institutions among the Maya at the end of the Preclassic period, as evident from its architectural, artifactual and burial record. The site has frequently attracted Mayanists’ attention because of its well-known Late Preclassic and Classic period burial and ceramic assemblages (Brady et al., 1995; Bullard, 1960; Hammond, 1984; Pring, 1977; 1995; Merwin and Vaillant, 1932; Reents-Budet, 1995) although the site for the most part remains archaeologically poorly known. A number of structures were excavated by Raymond Merwin in 1911 (Merwin and Vaillant, 1932) in one of Harvard University’s first scientific explorations in Petén, providing the first stratified chronology for the Maya Lowlands and an array of well furnished burials from Preclassic to Late/Terminal Classic periods (Merwin’s Holmul I-V phases).

More specifically, Merwin’s spectacular finds indicated the early development of elaborate elite tombs and funerary shrines at Holmul during the II and III centuries A.D.  Also, the site’s location at the crossroads of important geographical and political boundaries between the Tikal state and its eastern neighbors of Northeastern Petén, such as Naranjo, Yaxhá, Nakum, Xultún, El Pilar, Buenavista del Cayo and Xunantunich during the Classic period, presents important implications for our understanding of the political interactions among Maya cities in this part of the Lowlands as evident from their trajectories of growth, settlement and trade patterns. In particular, it is believed that observation of the architectural configuration of the site center, elite ceramic styles, iconography and burial patterns when correlated with the layouts and patterns of growth of the residential areas may help understand the growth of the city as a political player in the complex geo-political landscape of the Classic period Maya Lowlands. This material evidence might in turn help us correlate the history of the site with that of some of its historically better documented neighbors, namely Tikal and Naranjo even though at Holmul textual evidence may be lacking.

The project’s methodology includes several phases of research directed at the systematic study of the archaeological site and its environs. Phase 1 is to be focused on (1) the mapping of the site center, and (2) initial survey of the residential areas by way of survey transects. Additionally, (3) the use of GPS and geo-referenced aerial photos and remote sensing imagery is designed to guide surveyors to important landform features and possible archaeological sites outside of the site-center for mapping and exploration purposes. Site chronology and architectural development are to be investigated through (4) recording of looters’ trenches profiles, and (5) excavations.

Phase 2 includes the gathering of further information as per points 1-5 listed in phase 1, in addition to (6) axial trenching on plaza structures, and (7) sub-floor excavations within the site center, (8) stabilizing of looted or otherwise damaged structures, (9) study of ceramic production patterns using stratigraphic evidence and chemical analysis of artifacts from site-center and residential areas, and (10) mapping of outlying minor centers within 5 km radius.

Phase 3 includes completion of objectives 1-10 from previous phases, and (11) test excavations at outlying minor centers, (12) consolidation of standing architecture exposed by looters trenches and archaeological excavations.

The first season of field work was scheduled to begin in May 2000 and to continue until the end of June 2000.  The project team was composed of Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli as PI (Vanderbilt University), Dr. Laura Kosakowsky (U. Arizona) as project ceramicist and co-PI, Marc Wolf (TIMS, Mass.) and Jason Gonzalez (Southern Illinois University, Carbondale) as surveyors, Justin Ebersole (Boston University), Jason Paling (Boston University), Ryan Mongaluzzo (SUNY, Albany), Anna Deeks and Harriet Lock (U. Nottingham), Lilian Rosales, Claudia Quintanilla, and Alexander Urizar (all U. San Carlos, Guatemala) as field archaeologists. The field crew also included 11 workers, a cook and a cook’s assistant.

Operations were conducted with the collaboration of IDAEH inspectors Bertila Bailey and Francisco Moro to whom we are grateful for their assistance. Funding was provided by a grant (#6394-98) from the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society, The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) (#98010) and by a grant from the Ahau Foundation (9904) to Professor Norman Hammond (co-PI) at Boston University.  Boston University also provided administrative and logistic support for the Holmul Project, until its move to Vanderbilt University with the PI in September 2000.

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Archaeological Investigations at Holmul, Guatemala
Report of the First Field Season, May-June 2000
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Submitted 11/01/2000 by:

Vanderbilt University

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