Preclassic Maya Architectural Ritual at Cuello, Belize

Article excerpt

The Preclassic community of Cuello, the earliest village site hitherto excavated in the Maya Lowlands, centred on Platform 34, a flat-topped eminence where investigations between 1975 and 1993 documented occupation from at least 1200 BC to c. AD 400 (Hammond 1991; Hammond et al. 1995).

Between 1000 and 400 BC the locus was occupied by a courtyard which with successive rebuildings became both larger and more formally organized, domestic activities shifting to the margins and ritual, including ancestor veneration, becoming more important (Hammond & Gerhardt 1990). Around 400 BC the final Middle Preclassic structures on the north, west and south sides of the court were ceremoniously demolished, their facades hacked off and their superstructures burned. The entire courtyard was filled with rubble prior to the construction of the broad, open Platform 34, which itself underwent successive enlargements over the ensuing seven centuries.

The eastern side of the Middle Preclassic court remained unexcavated, as did the northeastern buildings of the Late Preclassic on Platform 34: in the spring of 2000 these were investigated in two catercornered trenches. The northern yielded abundant rubbish from later dwellings, and a side-notched projectile point (FIGURE 1) substantiating the postulated Late Postclassic occupation (Hammond et al. 1991). The eastern portions of the Late Preclassic structures exposed in 1980 in the North Square (Hammond 1991: figures 2.7, 3.10-3.19) were then documented, together with adjacent buildings further east.


The southern excavation revealed, below successive plaster floors (one with a dedicatory cache of two vessels enshrining five jade beads) of Platform 34, the eastern portion of the rubble courtyard infill, banked up against the carefully defaced facade of Structure 334 (FIGURE 2). The riser of the low step fronting the building had been stripped away to floor level, and three large areas of facing and fill had been gouged out of the body of the platform, spaced 2.5 m apart.


A section through Structure 334 revealed unitary construction, the fill resting on the underlying subcircular Structure 338, which shared the same westward orientation (248 [degrees]). The skeleton (Burial 181) of a boy aged 7.5-10 years cut into Structure 338 (FIGURE 3) was accompanied by a unique bowl combining red and cream areas of slip, subtle modelling of the walls, and a theriomorphic protome head (FIGURE 4), attributable to the Consejo Ceramic Group of the Bladen Complex, 900-600 BC (Kosakowsky 1987: 29, figure 4.6b).


Since Structure 334 is probably not earlier than 500 BC, the apparent superposition of its fill directly over this grave presented a problem, resolved when, at the southwestern and northeastern margins of the excavated area, the fragmentary remains of the demolished Structure 339 were found. This was on the same orientation as, but larger than, Structure 338, totally covering it. …