Maya Lithic Studies: Papers from the 1976 Belize Field Symposium




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


As a result of intensified archaeological activity in northern Belize, and specifically the work of the joint British Museum-Cambridge University research project (directed by Norman Hammond), a variety of new data have been obtained on the prehistory of this region. Of the many sites that have been mapped, tested, or otherwise investigated in the past few years, one stands out as a major center of ancient Maya lithic technology. This is the site of Calha, located south of Orange Walk Town, along the highway between that town and Belize City. Personnel of the British Museum-Cambridge University Corozal Project began limited research at the site in 1973. As a result of efforts then and since, parts of this extensive site have been mapped, some stratigraphic tests have been made, and controlled surface sampling and lithic analysis have been initiated (the latter through the hard work of Richard Wilk). These investigations, although preliminary in nature, were sufficient to indicate that Colha had indeed been a significant center of stone tool production for the Maya, from Middle Preclassic through Postclassic times. Conversations about the site, among Hammond, T. R. Hester, H. J. Shafer and R. Wilk during 1975, led to the formulation of plans to hold a "field symposium" in Belize, in which a number of persons interested in Meso-american lithic studies could be brought together. The purpose of the symposium was to be two-fold: (1) to make an on-site inspection of Calha, to view the chert-working loci and vast exposures of workshop debris, and (2) to present a series of papers, followed by extensive discussion, in which the status of lithic research in the region could be assessed. Through the sponsorship of the Center for Archaeological Research at The University of Texas at San Antonio, the field symposium was held in Orange Walk Town, Belize during the period of April 16-20, 1976. The program was organized by Norman Hammond, a Faculty Associate of the Center, in collaboration with Thomas Hester, the Center's director. Formal sessions were held at the Hotel Nuevo Mi Amor, and we are grateful to the management (especially Sr. E. Urbina) for their assistance in providing a meeting room and appropriate refreshments. The participants included Don E. Crabtree, Norman Hammond, Thomas R. Hester, Jay K. Johnson, Joseph W. Michels, Arlene V. Miller, Hattula Moholy-Nagy, Harry J. Shafer, Payson D. Sheets and Richard Wilk; Irwin Rovner presented a paper in absentia. Each of the participants presented a formal paper, revised versions of which are published in this volume.* During the three days of the symposium, part of each day was occupied by the presentation of papers, while the remainder was spent in visits to archaeological sites in the vicinity. Greatest emphasis was placed on a full day inspection of the lithic workshops of Colha. While at the site, the symposium participants were able to examine a number of individual workshops and the wide variety of lithic debris exposed at these. Impromptu replicative experimentation utilizing nodules of the local chert exposed in a streambed was carried out by Crabtree, Sheets and Shafer. The participants also visited the ceremonial center of the site, and spent a good deal of time examining the extensive collection of stone tools belonging to John and Herbert Masson, the owners of the property on which Colha is situated. The Masson family was extremely gracious to the conference participants and we are very grateful for their hospitality, including a magnificent lunch. Apart from the day spent at Colha, other sites visited during the con-ference included the Richmond Hill locality (about which the participants were collectively skeptical; see Miller's paper in this volume) and the Classic major center of El Pozito being excavated by the University of the Americas. An obsidian workshop had been discovered at El Pozito just prior to our visit and the materials from this workshop were examined. A paper has been written by Mary Neivens and David Libbey describing the workshop, and it is published in this volume. The Preclassic site of Cuello, being excavated by Hammond, was also visited, and lithics dating to 1000-2000 B.C. were examined. The field symposium ended with a lengthy discussion of the status of Maya lithic studies, suggestions for a more unified approach and a more con-sistent terminology, and the identification of areas of knowledge, and similarly, areas of ignorance in the field of Maya lithics in terms of time, space, materials and technology. It was also agreed that the site of Colha deserved long-term, detailed research. Crabtree described the site as "one of the most important lithic sites in the world", and it was commonly felt by participants in the field symposium that research at this site would yield a wide variety of new insights into Maya lithic technology. A proposal for long-term research at Colha was being prepared at the time this volume went to press. There are many to whom we are grateful for support and aid during and after the field symposium. We again thank Sr. Urbina of the Hotel Nuevo Mi Amor, and the Masson family, owners of the site of Colha. His Excellency the Governor of Belize, Mr. Richard Posnett, opened the con-ference and attended the session at Colha. Mr. Joseph Palacio, Archae-ological Commissioner for the Government of Belize, provided the assistance of his office and welcomed participants. Belize Sugar Industries made available the swimming pool at Tower Hill, near Orange Walk Town, through the courtesy of Mr. F. J. C. Curtis, O.B.E. Norman Hammond's field crew at Cuello, with the generous aid of Harold B. Haley, provided the con-ference participants with a party on the last evening. Kathy McCauley, secretary for the Center for Archaeological Research, and Jeanette Burch, typist for the Center, helped in report preparation. Persons attending the conference in addition to those participants listed above included: Evelyn Crabtree, Gabrielle Michels, Mary Neivens, Juliette J. Cartwright, Peter R. A. Barron, Ginny Schneider, Harold B. Haley, Elizabeth Graham and Duncan Pring. *Two papers dealing with Belize lithics have been submitted to the editors since the symposium. These contributions, by Ray Sidrys and John Andresen, are published here.



archaeological investigation, archaeology, Texas archaeology, Archaeology--Congresses, Mayas--Antiquities, Belize--Antiquities--Congresses