Early Evidence of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing at Kichpanha, Belize




Gibson, Eric C.
Shaw, Leslie C.
Finamore, Daniel R.

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Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio


Archaeological research, conducted intermittently at Kichpanha, Belize, from 1973 to 1983 was primarily limited to surveying and mapping. During the 1985 season, test excavations initiated in the 1983 season were continued (Gibson 1985a). House mounds and plazuela groups yielded further evidence of extensive use of the site from the Xe and early facet Mamom phases (relatively dated to approximately 900-700 B.C.), until its near total abandonment in the Early Postclassic (ca. A.D. 900-1000). In this paper we present some preliminary results of the 1985 season at Kichpanha in the context of our research foci which included economic relationships with the lithic industrial site of Colha to the south and identifying the subsistence base of Kichpanha. Discovered in a grave containing Late Preclassic and Protoclassic ceramics situated in a low house mound was one of the most significant artifacts recovered, an extraordinary bone, probably a carved bloodletting implement or knife, with eight inscribed hieroglyphic symbols. These glyphs are among the earliest evidence of Maya writing yet found. The art style that these glyphs were executed in is truly exquisite in its attention to fine details. Six burials were together in this grave, along with jade and marine shell beads and pendants, several well-made ceramic vessels, and other exotic artifacts. Biological data obtained after the skeletons are analyzed, such as nutrition and disease status, will be of considerable interest. We knew from previous work at Kichpanha that bone preservation was good, yet were surprised to find out just how good it was. In many of the deposits, small anatomical parts such as fish vertebrae, scales, and other bones, including small turtles were recovered along with those of larger mammals. Thus, during this past season, we have been able to partially address some of our major research questions (see below), which our future efforts will enhance.



Stone implements--Belize, Excavations (Archaeology)--Belize, Indians of Central America--Belize--Antiquities