Mayan Magick


The Historic Maya of Belize

By: J. Alexander Bennett

Those who search the Internet for information on the Maya people and their ancient civilizations frequently refer to Mexico and Guatemala for literature relating to existing Maya ruins in those countries. However, many archaeological projects and reports resulting from them refer to the small country of Belize, which once formed part of a significant region of Maya settlements stretching back to thousands of years before the Christian era.


            Belize is a small, independent country of 8,866 square smiles, south of Mexico and east of Guatemala, bordering the Caribbean Sea. Originating as a British trading outpost in the seventeenth century, Belize’s population today is comprised of some 300,000 descendants of British colonial residents and their African slaves. There are also a variety of other ethnic groups, including descendants of Mexican refugees. Belize is now considered to be a significant locality for archaeological projects, several reports of which have been published in the Belizean Studies, Volume 29 No. 2 December 2007. This issue of the journal is the source of the commentaries that follow:


“In search of the First Belizeans: The Paleo-Indian and Archaic Hunter Gatherers of Belize”


            Those who are interested in Maya civilizations usually begin their search for information with the Classic and Post-Classic periods of Ancient Maya history. However, Jaime and Lokse provide evidence proposing that before the Maya, there were the Paleo-Indians and Archaic people who thrived in the area that is Belize today.


            Archaeological evidence of the existence of the Paleo-Indians (circa 11,500-8000 B.C.) has been found in primitive artifacts and remains of animals traced back to the thousands of years before the Christian era. Such kind of evidence was found in the early 1960s following Hurricane Hattie when ancient bones, exposed following the flooding of the Belize River, were discovered. The interest aroused was followed up by subsequent archaeological finds that suggested that there was a transition from the Paleo-Indians, who were big game hunters, to those of the Archaic period who relied on plants for subsistence, ceramics, and primitive tools. Such limited evidence has been found in the upper Belize River Valley and the upper Sibun River Valley.

            Archaeologists believe that evidence of human beings occupying Belize also comes from a cave researched in Western Belize, where artifacts and remains of extinct fauna were unearthed.

            The Archaic period (circa 8000-900 B.C.) begins with what has been referred to as the Holocene era (geologically recent), approximately 8000 B.C., but so far there is not much information of human activity. There has been more success for the period around 3400 B.C. Information has been unearthed in the area of Rio Hondo, Blue Creek, the Belize River Valley, and Sibun. From these finds, archaeologists believe that the Late Archaic period (3400-1000 B.C.) seems to have been a period of temporary settlements during which these ancient people discovered how to use edible plants. They occupied a diversity of settlements in swamps, along lagoons and river valleys, as well as upland areas.

            In their conclusions, the authors admit that there are chronological and geographical gaps. For instance, there is little information on the southern districts of Stann Creek and Toledo. On the other hand, they agree that the geological undertakings on which the information they present is based lead to the conclusion that Belize offers very acceptable sequences for the early hunter-gatherer and itinerant horticultural occupations in Central America.

            The evidential foundation of the belief in the presence of Paleo-Indians in Belize has been largely based on finds of artifacts; for example, fluted (long, rounded grooves) projectile points and remains have been found elsewhere in the Americas. It would seem that what was involved was a transmigration of people.

            The experts believe that the archaic period between 1500 and 900 B.C. was a dynamic one. There was the transition to maize agriculture, increased settled populations, introduction of ceramics, and long-distance networks, especially in Belize.

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