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The Maya of Belize and Their Neighbours

altIt is noted that from their arrival in Belize the Maya of this nation never lived in isolation. 

A growing body of evidence suggests that from Preclassic times there was increasing contact between them and their neighbours.  During the early years of development (1200 - 600 B.C.) much of their ideology reflects influences from the Olmec people of the Tabasco – Veracruz area.  These influences are manifested by the incorporation of many Olmec-like symbols on their ceramics and by the presence of Olmec-like artifacts at many Maya sites. 

During the Classic period contacts with other regions continued to be maintained for the acquisition of exotic materials that served both utilitarian and non-utilitarian purposes, and for socio-political reasons.  Jade was imported from the Motagua valley, obsidian from the Guatemalan highlands, and marine shells from the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts.  The Belize Maya also exported many objects and produce to their neighbours.  The raw material for the large slate stela at Calakmul, for example, was undoubtedly shipped by river and overland routes from the Maya mountains.  Contacts with even more distant locations, like Teotihuacan, are indicated by the presence of Pachuca obsidian from sources near Mexico City.    This diagnostic, green-coloured, obsidian has been found at Altun Ha, Pacbitun and several other sites in Belize.

Unlike the tangible remains of trade items, socio-political relations with other states are predominantly inferred from hieroglyphic data carved on the monuments of important sites.  The conflicting relations between Caracol and Tikal, for example, are recorded on the central marker of the ballcourt at Caracol. 

In the same way relations between Copan and sites in southern Belize are indicated by the presence of the Copan emblem glyph on one of the stelae at Nim Li Punit.  During the Postclassic period trade and contact was even more widespread than before.  A beautifully painted mural that was discovered at the turn of the 20th century by Thomas Gann at Santa Rita reflects strong influences from the Mixteca people of Oaxaca.  During this same period the Maya of Belize imported highly fired Plumbate pottery from the Pacific coasts of El Salvador and Guatemala. 

The introduction of metallurgy and/or the presence of gold and copper objects during the Late Postclassic also bespeak of contacts with areas (Costa Rica to Columbia) even further to the south.