The Late Archaic Occupation of Northern Belize

Click her for Rosenswig's Report on the Late Archaic Occupation of Northern Belize

Under the auspices of the Belize Postclassic Project, eight preceramic sites were documented between 1997 and 2002 in the Freshwater Creek drainage of northern Belize (Rosenswig and Masson 2001; Rosenswig 2003a) (Figure 1).

In 1997, the Belize Postclassic Project began its second season of excavation at Laguna de On Island, near the headwatters of the Freshwater Creek drainage. At the base of Suboperation 19, we encountered an aceramic, white clay that contained macroflake tools, including a large retouched macro-flake and a heavily resharpened constricted uniface (Rosenswig and Safford 1998). Our excavations documented cultural deposits over 2 m in depth (Figure 2). This was the first time we encountered a preceramic deposit containing patinated unifacially worked lithic tools (Figure 3) under a Maya site.

The majority of known Archaic sites from the Freshwater Creek drainage have been documented at Progresso Lagoon. In 1999, a distinctive orange aceramic soil stratum (approximately 15 cm thick) containing patinated lithic flakes was documented 80 cm below ground surface in Suboperation 26 at Caye Coco to the north side of Late Postclassic Structure 2 (Figure 4) (Mazeau 2000; Rosenswig 2001). In 2000, I pursued the aceramic deposits discovered the previous year under a Terminal classic cobble terrace (Figure 5). A significantly resharpened and heavily patinated constricted uniface (Figure 6) and numerous flakes were recovered from these excavations. In 2001, a concerted effort was made to document the extents of this aceramic component of the site. The aceramic component that we have documented at Caye Coco covers an area of approximately 150 sq m (see Figure 4) and it originates between 60 and 85 cm below the current ground surface. In 2001, more patinated, unifacial tools and flakes were recovered as well as two patinated hammer stones and evidence of worked oyster shell (Rosenswig 2002). The excavations of Suboperations 26a, 26b and 26c provide fine-grained documentation of the stratigraphic position of the orange, preceramic horizon below Terminal Classic and Postclassic deposits. Figure 7 is a photo of the Late Archaic immediately prior to removal of this orange horizon.

In 2002, excavations were carried out at the base of the large central mound at the site core of the San Estevan site in what is now being used as the town dump (Figure 8) (Rosenswig 2003b). Due to modern land disturbance, several hectares of what was previously the site core was excavated by heavy machinery down two meters below bedrock. In 2001 the author, along with Dr. Marilyn Masson and twenty feildschool students, visited the site and noticed a distinctive orange soil horizon in a 30 m section of the profiles created by the quarrying activities. This orange horizon intrigued us as it resembled those containing Archaic materials at numerous sites around Progresso Lagoon (Rosenswig and Masson 2001). In July 2002, we returned to the site and scrapped down the 30 m section of profile that contained the orange soil horizon. With the resulting increased visibility of the stratigraphy, a 9 m section was selected to be profiled Figure 9. This section was directly east of San Estevan´s large central mound, it also contained the most complex stratigraphy and the thickest section of the orange soil horizon. One meter west of the profile a 1 x 2 m unit was excavated as Suboperation 1 to provide a sample of materials from each stratigraphic level. Late Formative fill was documented above a Middle Formative cobble surface visible in the center of the profile shown in Figure 9. Below this we excavated the orange horizon matrix but did not recover any cultural material from this small test unit. A second 1 x 2 m unit was excavated as Suboperation 2 in a bulldozer cut right at the eastern base of the large central mound (Figure 10). The orange horizon was documented here as well but also without any cultural material. Soil samples from all of these contexts were floated and the results are pending.

Ongoing work at these, and other, preceramic sites will hopefully contribute to an understanding of the conditions under which settled life and ceramic use developed and why this transition took so long to occur in the Maya lowlands relative to the rest of Mesoamerica.

References Cited

Mazeau, Daniel E.
2000 Excavations at Structure 2 and Structure 3, Caye Coco. In Belize Postclassic Project 1999: Continuing Investigations at Progresso Lagoon and Laguna Seca, edited by R. Rosenswig and M. Masson, pp. 7-20. Institute of Mesoamerican Studies Occasional Publication No. 5. The University of Albany – SUNY, Albany.

Rosenswig, Robert M.
2001 Preceramic Evidence from Northern Belize and Caye Coco. In Belize Postclassic Project 2000: Investigations at Caye Coco and the Shore Settlements of Progresso Lagoon, edited by R. Rosenswig and M. Masson, pp. 87-95. Institute of Mesoamerican Studies Occasional Publication No. 6. The University of Albany – SUNY, Albany.

2002 Excavation of Preceramic Components at Caye Coco and the Fred Smith Site. In The Belize Postclassic Project 2001: Investigations and Analysis at Progresso Lagoon, edited by B. Russell, A. Delu and M. Masson. Institute of Mesoamerican Studies Occasional Publication No. 7. The University of Albany – SUNY, Albany.

2003a New Archaeological Excavation Data from the Late Archaic Occupation of Northern Belize. Paper Presented at the Belize Department of Archaeology Symposium Belize City, July 2-6. To be published in the forthcoming proceedings of this meeting.

2003b Looking for Archaic deposits at the San Estevan Site, northern Belize. In The Belize Postclassic Project 2002, edited by J. Ferguson, M. Oland and M. Masson. Institute of Mesoamerican Studies Occasional Publication No. 8. The University of Albany – SUNY, Albany.

Rosenswig, Robert M. and Marilyn A. Masson
2001 Seven New Preceramic Sites Documented in Northern Belize. Mexicon 23: 138-140.

Rosenswig, Robert M. and Thomas W. Stafford, Jr,
1998 Archaic Component Beneath a Postclassic Terrace at Suboperationeration 19, Laguna de On Island. In Belize Postclassic Project 1997: Laguna de On, Progresso Lagoon, Laguna Seca, edited by M. Masson and R. Rosenswig, pp. 81-89. Institute of Mesoamerican Studies Occasional Publication No. 2. University of Albany – SUNY, Albany.