Reconstructing late classic food preparation at Xunantunich, Belize, using starch grain analysis
Thousands of unifacially worked chert bladelets from Late-to-Terminal Classic contexts were found at Xunantunich's Group E, which is located approximately 800 meters east of the Late Classic site core. The unusually large number of bladelets found in Group E suggests that the tools were used for large-scale specialized activities. Tools of this type were previously identified in Group D, Group E, and elsewhere as crafting implements used to carve slate, shell, and/or wood. Usewear analysis by Thomas Chapman (2014) suggested that the tools were used to process organic materials such as wood, gourds, or tubers. I used starch grain analysis to test whether the tools were utilized to process plants. This thesis research applied starch grain analysis to both previously washed and unwashed bladelets from Group E and unwashed bladelets from Group D. The results suggest that the bladelets were utilized to process a variety of different plant species. The species present on the bladelets were consistent on both the washed and unwashed tools, demonstrating that previously washed artifacts may be targeted for starch analysis. Most importantly, little evidence of specialized food preparation exists in the Maya area. The results of this study indicate that specialized food preparation activities occurred at Group E. This finding has broad implications for our understanding of the Late Classic economy at Xunantunich and the Belize River valley.