Discovery of Two Predicted Ancient Maya Sites in Belize

By Tourtellot, Gair; Wolf, Marc et al. | Antiquity, September 2000 | Go to article overview
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Discovery of Two Predicted Ancient Maya Sites in Belize


Tourtellot, Gair, Wolf, Marc, Belli, Francisco Estrada, Hammond, Norman, Antiquity


Since 1992 we have been mapping the Classic Maya city of La Milpa in northwestern Belize (Tourtellot et al. 1993; Hammond et al. 2000), finding dense occupation of the period AD 700-850 and a potential population of some 46,000 within a 5-km radius of the site core. The map by early 2000 (FIGURE 1; see also http://www.bu.edu/ lamilpa) included the central square kilometre, 15 randomly located survey blocks, a short northern transect and long transects to the east and south. On each of the latter two, at some 3.5 km distance from the Great Plaza, we noted a hilltop minor ceremonial centre', each with a broad plaza enclosed by low substructures with a pyramid on the east and, in the case of La Milpa East (LME), a still-standing monument (Stela 19). A viewshed GIS showed that both groups were intervisible with the top of the main pyramid, Structure 1, on the Great Plaza: in the case of LME a narrow corridor of vision led directly to the stela (FIGURE 2).

[Figures 1-2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The season of 2000 was devoted to testing a model of intentional city planning based on a cosmogram of the Maya world known from Classic hieroglyphics and sculpture, Maya maps of Conquest period date and modern Maya beliefs. This model builds on the Maya fascination with aligning buildings and rituals to significant world directions. It consists of a centre (in this case focused on the main pyramid), representing the axis mundi between heaven, earth and underworld, with sightlines radiating to the four cardinal points of the compass. That we might actually have a concrete realization of this ancient scheme occurred to us when we discovered the secondary minor centres of LME and La Milpa South on sightlines 90 [degrees] apart. If we correctly interpreted the ancient Maya mind, this cosmogram would have been completed by similar centres on sightlines projected 3.5 km to the west and north from La Milpa centre, in previously unexplored and heavily forested terrain.

Examination of the Belize 1:50,000 topographic map suggested suitable hilltops were indeed located at each point, and a Geographic Information System (GIS) of our mapping data, accumulated since 1992, confirmed that the unexplored hilltops 3.5 km due west and north of La Milpa centre would also be intervisible with Structure 1. Coordinates for the predicted La Milpa West and North minor centres were obtained from the topographic map, and MW navigated to the target hills using 12-channel Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite radio receivers with canopy-penetration capability. These sensitive and inexpensive pocket-size receivers promise to revolutionize archaeological survey in the tropical forest: at La Milpa they located both minor centres close to their predicted positions.

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Discovery of Two Predicted Ancient Maya Sites in Belize
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