New discoveries at Cahal Pech reveal plenty about Mayas
Cahal Pech is one of the oldest Maya sites in western Belize. Thirty four structures of the site were home to an elite Mayan family and most of its construction, fall within the Classic Maya period. Though habitation can be traced as far back as nine hundred B.C., recent excavations have revealed plenty about the last inhabitants on the hill. News Five Jose Sanchez took a journey of discovery with Jaime Awe through the unwritten history of Cahal Pech.
Jose Sanchez, reporting
Archaeological work at Cahal Pech began in 1988 and the site was made a reserve in the 90’s. While much have been uncovered during previous decades, new exploratory work have revealed equally amazing discoveries on the fringes of the site.
Dr. Jaime Awe, Director, Institute of Archaeology, NICH
“Often like you rightly put it, we excavate some of the larger buildings because when people come to visit sites, those are the things that they want to see. So, we focus on them first. In the past, we decided that there were sections of Cahal Pech that we should perhaps spend some time looking at. And this area that we are in is one of those. About a year ago, we were excavating just opposite from where you’re looking at and in fact you see all these stones, we found them covering this large tomb. You have to understand, you don’t find tombs in these small little places, you find tombs in the big pyramids. So we couldn’t believe when we came across that this tomb was lying out here.”
“The dead do speak, by using carbon dating techniques, and examining the type of pottery made during a particular period, Doctor Awe and his team were able to find out more about the life and death of the Mayans between eight-fifty and nine hundred A.D.”
Dr. Jaime Awe
“The Maya had laid this male individual inside this tomb with thirteen different pots all around him, there was a necklace made from dog teeth. We know that at least fifty-two puppies had to be killed to make that necklace.”
“That means he was someone important.”
Dr. Jaime Awe
“Without a doubt this guy was well to do because he also had a nice jade pendant, some jade ear flares, he had some obsidian blades—quite a bit of materials. And like I said it was interesting because of where we found it. Another reason why it was very interesting is because of the date of that burial. That burial dates to close to between eight-fifty and nine hundred A.D. This is a time when most sites have been abandoned. And it’s like we know that there are some people who are still clinging on here at Cahal Pech, don’t wanna go.”
“Do you think the reason why he was buried out here is because of the lack of resources, the lack of manpower, to put him up in one of the temples?”
Dr. Jaime Awe
“I think you should take up archaeology because what happened during this time, the elite no longer have a lot of people that they can employ, so they go around and they scavenge these stones. They rip them off from buildings that were around because of this lack of man power and they just reuse all these stones to just rebuild and make their tombs and structures.”
While NICH’s resident Archaeologist, Jaime Awe, walked through the corridors of Cahal Pech, the dirt being scraped up and treasures being sifted through sieves, were being unearthed not by archaeologists, but by high school kids.
“I just graduated from our lady of Guadalupe in Belmopan and as you can see it is my first day and it’s really going good. I really enjoy it, it’s really good people I am working with. It’s very interesting as well finding all these potteries, shells and digging in the rocks and it’s just really exciting.”
“Do you think this is something that you can do in the future?”
“Yes definitely I enjoy being out here and just working with dirt.”
Jessica Kingma, Davidson Dade School, North Carolina
“Yesterday we toured the site, today we’ve been setting up the places where we are going to dig and we started digging and sifting.
“Have you found anything while you’ve been digging or sifting?”
“Yes! Pottery, shells, and then yeah.”
“What made you decide to come to Belize?”
“Umm, I thought it would be a great experience.”
Jose Puc, Mount Caramel High School
“I come to work here for this summer so that I can go to high school and get knowledge on what is our Belizean history.”
“You’ve been out here digging before, did you find anything? What was your experience like?”
“My experience is that just digging old stuff and finding like old pottery. Two years ago we found Mayan skeleton up there at B4 and I learnt how to uncover that.”
Through dark passageways and moss covered structures, we went to Plaza A, where the elite ruled and worshipped. During recent excavation, Dr. Awe noted that a bench which was used for sleeping was broken into and partially covered hundreds of years ago.
Dr. Jaime Awe
“Right in this small room, we found this very interesting little burial. In fact as we were excavating, right on top of this bench we noticed right along the edge where it’s all dark, somebody had cut right through the old plaster surface. So we started to excavate because after they had cut through, they had filled it with dirt and put two stones on top. So, we removed that started to go down underneath and down below, we started to come across some pots and some other little objects and then right down on the bottom of this on the floor, we found the skeleton of the child who was between seven and nine years old. And right next to him was this interesting little flute and we believed that this little burial was likely placed here by the same people who were living over in plaza H.”
“Would it be farfetched to say the place was abandoned and they decided to live the remainder of their lives here?
Dr. Jaime Awe
“Oh, without a doubt. I think these people realized that this may have been the home of their ancestors and they did not want to leave. Most people leave, but a few remain. They are hanging on, they are hoping that things will improve and they are still trying to live a lifestyle like they did in the pass, but eventually that also fails.”
The abandoned city taken over by nature and archeologists leaves plenty clues as to the demise of the Maya.
Dr. Jaime Awe
“They are not able to produce a lot of food, so there are some levels of malnutrition. They can’t come up with the type of technology to produce more and then you get hit by drought. So the drought is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It affects even the production of food, it affects nutrition, people now start to compete for resources which increases warfare, and eventually the system couldn’t itself and the system collapses.”
The greatness of the civilization continues to be written through each sift and shift of sand. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.
Cahal Pech means Place of Ticks. The name was given to it when studies first began at the site in the 1950’s.