Next summer will mark the eleventh consecutive season that AFAR will teamed up with the highly reputable Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance project to work at the ancient Maya site of Cahal Pech. This two-week archaeological field school will allow students to obtain hands-on training from leading archaeologists while excavating in a very special space once occupied by the citizens of ancient Cahal Pech. Over the course of the field school, students will take part in virtually every step of the archaeological field process and will work to master steps such as excavation, mapping, illustration, artifact processing, and scientific journaling. Students who choose, will even have the opportunity to co-author professional reports and present their findings at academic conferences.
CAHAL PECH History
Cahal Pech is located on the southern outskirts of San Ignacio Town, in the upper Belize Valley region of western Belize. The site core sits on the crest of a steep hill on the west bank of the Macal River, two kilometers upstream from the latter’s confluence with the Mopan, and some 200 river kilometers from the Caribbean coast. The central acropolis is approximately 270 meters above sea level and provides a commanding view of the Maya Mountains to the south, and the interfluvial bottomlands between the Macal and Mopan Rivers to the north (Awe 1992).
Settlement survey and investigations at Cahal Pech indicate that during the Classic period the site and its sustaining area may have encompassed a realm of approximately 16 square kilometers. At the nucleus of this territory was the central precinct or site core. This area consists of some 34 large structures which are densely compacted on an imposing acropolis slightly larger than one hectare in size. The architecture of the central precinct includes several tall non-domestic structures, a number of large range-type buildings, two ballcourts, and possibly a sweathouse (Awe and Campbell 1988, 1989).
Most of the structures in the site core are located around seven plazas. The largest of these is Plaza B, or what Satterthwaite (1951:22) previously referred to as the Central Plaza. The principal Classic period courtyard, however, is Plaza A. Together with Plazas D and E, it is located on the western half of the acropolis. All of the structures bordering Plazas A, D and E are tightly clustered, they completely enclose their courtyards, and they provide limited access to and from the other plazas within the central precinct. The other courtyards (Plazas B,C,F, and G) are relatively more open and mounds are less clustered, but the structures are located in a position that would have provided limited access to the site core in general. There are, in fact, only two areas which provide access into the site core. These are located to the north and south of the juncture between Plazas B and C. This configuration, plus the acropoline nature of the central precinct, suggests that during the Classic period the site core may have served for defense in times of conflict, or for limiting public access into areas that had been exclusively set aside by and for the elite (Awe, Campbell and Conlon 1991).
Archaeological Focus for 2017
Cahal Pech, Baking Pot Lower Dover, and Xunantunich are among the largest prehistoric Maya sites in the upper Belize River Valley and served as the capitals to small kingdoms in the Classic period (c. AD 250-900). BVAR excavations at Cahal Pech have revealed that this site is the location of some of the earliest Maya settlements in the Maya lowlands. First settled around 1200 B.C., the site was continuously occupied until the 10th century A.D.
The investigations at Cahal Pech will focus on two objectives: continued investigations of the monumental architecture of the site core, and on settlement pattern studies in the sustaining area of the site. The investigations in the site core aim to further elucidate the status and complexity of this important center, from its establishment at the end of the Early Preclassic period (1200-900 B.C.) to its subsequent abandonment in the Terminal Classic period (~ AD 800-900). Specifically, we will continue exposing the terminal architecture of the site core’s western ball court. Our settlement research will involve mapping of unrecorded mounds in the northern and eastern periphery of the site, and test excavations of these settlements.