Maya Mountain Towns Found in Belize

Article excerpt

Inhospitable, rain-drenched mountain jungles on the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America have yielded the remains of four Maya settlements where residents apparently exploited local minerals to support a small-scale trading network more than 1,000 years ago.

Although excavation has not yet started, the sites offer evidence that the ancient Maya employed regional trade networks, not just the long-distance exchange routes usually considered characteristic of their culture, asserts Peter S. Dunham, an archaeologist at Cleveland State University.

Dunham, who directed the team that discovered the remains of the four abandoned towns in Belize between April and June, announced the finds last week.

"We formerly thought this terrain was too rugged and remote to sustain a large population," Dunham remarks. "But my best guess is that about 7,000 people lived at these four sites."

The sites -- of which two remain unlooted -- display the remnants of large buildings, plazas, pyramids, raised causeways, and reservoirs still containing water. Each center covered 3 to 4 acres, not including surrounding residential areas. Architectural styles and pottery found so far indicate that the Maya inhabited the towns between A.D. 700 and A.D. 900, according to Dunham.

The Classic era of Maya civilization, marked by the appearance of large cities and sophisticated astronomy, mathematics, and writing, extended from A.D. 250 to A.D. 900. It ended for reasons that remain unclear (SN: 1/18/92, p.40).

Dunham's team found the new sites in small valleys formed by the Maya Mountains in southern Belize. These breaks in the rocky landscape, located along the Monkey River, contain enough rich soil, flat land, water, and minerals to support a population, Dunham holds. …