Archaeology Of Cerros

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Historical Contextalt

Cerro Maya, or Cerros as it is more popularly known, was first settled during the latter part of the Middle Preclassic period (600-300 B.C.) The early inhabitants of the site practiced a mixed economy based on farming and hunting, and on the exploitation of a rich marine environment. Access to varied resources, their location on the coast, and proximity to the mouths of the New and Hondo Rivers, placed Cerros in very advantageous location and the site developed rapidly.

By Late Preclassic (300 B.C.- A.D. 300), the early village was transformed into a large town that may have controlled much of the shipment of local marine goods (shells, salt, etc.) and sea-borne imports (like jade and obsidian) to inland sites such as Nohmul and Lamanai. As the town developed commercially, several temples and palaces were erected in the site center, and a large canal and extensive raised agricultural fields were constructed in the periphery. Despite these obvious achievements, and for reasons still poorly understood, the site experienced a rapid decline at the start of the Early Classic period (A.D. 300). Not until Terminal Classic (A.D. 800-900) do we see renewed activity at the center. It has been suggested that this later development was the result of a resettlement of the site by refugees who were abandoning their cities in the central Peten Province of Guatemala. Whatever, the case may be these later inhabitants constructed several low buildings around the site core and continued exploiting the rich marine resources along the coast.

Like their predecessors, however, later settlements apparently did not fare well for by the onset of the Late Postclassic period (A.D. 1200), they too were abandoned. When the Spanish arrived a few centuries later, only Santa Rita across the bay appears to have been thriving.

The Sitealt

The site core of Cerros covers an area of approximately 37 hectares, and is bordered by a semi-circular canal that may have served defensive purposes.

Most of the monumental architecture at the site is located within this core area and includes at least four large temples, several palace buildings and two ballcourts. The most famous Cerros temple, Structure 5C-2nd, lies at the north end of the site, on a point that juts out into Chetumal Bay. Excavations on this structure uncovered two pairs of large painted stucco masks flanking the eastern and western sides of the central stairway.The lower eastern mask represented the rising sun. Its western counterpart was the setting sun.The upper eastern mask was Venus as the morning star and to the west, Venus as the evening star.

According to David Friedel, who excavated the site in the 1970's, when the ruler of the site conducted rituals on the temple, the flanking masks symbolically placed him within the center of the cosmos. His position amidst these deities also served as a demonstration of his power and right to rule.Some structures on the site have been partially conserved and they provide limited examples of Late Preclassic architecture.

Archaeological Work

Thomas Gann (1900) was the first to recognize Cerros as an archaeological site, but it was not until 1969 that it was officially registered by the Belize Department of Archaeology.

Metroplex Properties Inc. from Dallas Texas, and a non-profit organization called the Cerro Maya Foundation, subsequently acquired the land around the site and began plans to excavate and conserve it as a tourist attraction. Shortly thereafter the Foundation went bankrupt and the development of the site was never realized.

Cerros was eventually surveyed and excavated from 1973 to 1979 by David Friedel of Southern Methodist University. Freidel focused on the ceremonial precinct and its periphery, and on the influence of trade on the site's development. In 1983 Cathy Crane, from the same university, tested the ancient canals and their associated structures. Debra Walker and her colleagues subsequently worked at Cerros during the 1990's.


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