Listen to part of a lecture in an archaeology class. The professor has been discussing ancient Mayan civilization.
Now, as you remember from your reading, the Maya were an ancient civilization which occupied in area corresponding to parts of modern-day Mexico and Central America.
Early Mayan settlements date back over 3,000 years…and, oh, say, from about 600 to 900 C.E., the civilization was in what’s considered a “golden age” of cultural achievement, what we call the“Classic period.”
The period after this, after the Classic period, is called the “Postclassic period.”
Now, it’s long been thought that during the Postclassic period, Mayan civilization was in decline.
But… we’re continuing to find new evidence that, in certain areas, Mayan civilization flourished right up to the end of the Postclassic period, what we refer to as the“Late Postclassic period.”
The Late Postclassic corresponds to the period from the 1200s to the 1500s, right until the arrival of the Spanish in the mid-1500s.
A good example of a site which continued to flourish, through the Late Postclassic, is the inland Mayan community of Lamanai, located in what is today the country of Belize in Central America.
Now…Lamanai is one of the largest and most prominent archaeological sites in Belize.
It was occupied for over 3,000 years. That makes it the longest continually occupied site by the ancient Maya.
Large-scale excavation at Lamanai began back in 1974, under the leadership of a Canadian archaeologist.
The first excavation there was on a building that dated back to the Late Postclassic period.
When the excavation began, we didn’t know much about Mayan life during that time.
As I said, most people considered the Postclassic period as a time of decline that came after the so-called golden era.
But during the first few years of excavation, the archaeological team realized that Lamanai had continued to be an important center of Classic Mayan culture, almost right up until the 1500s.
So basically, what you’re saying is, while other Mayan cities were collapsing or had already collapsed, Lamanai is one of those places that was flourishing?
Uh-huh. Exactly. In fact, the evidence shows that one of the greatest periods of construction in the city occurred during the Postclassic.
That’s definitely not what was happening at neighboring sites during that time.
And consider this: archaeologists found ceramic artifacts from Lamanai’s Late Postclassic period at a recently discovered site on an island off the coast of Belize.
And, in Lamanai, they found objects that had been imported from parts of the region which correspond to modern-day Mexico during the Late Postclassic.
What did those finds tell us?
Uh, that trade was still going on. So you’d probably still find the same Mayan social structure and economic practices, right?
Yes. Now, these researchers, and subsequent research teams, have been helping us see a bigger picture: we now know that there was still a widespread trading network up and down a long portion of the coast of what is modern-day Mexico and Central America, for more than two centuries after the golden era ended.
Those finds are telling.
How big is Lamanai overall?
Well, in all, 700 stone structures have been documented.
It’d take several lifetimes and lots of funding to uncover all of them.
Uh, OK, if that’s not a helpful mental picture, um, well, here’s another detail that might help. There was once a population of between 35 and 55 thousand there.
The southernmost end of Lamanai had become the city center by the Postclassic period.
It was there at the southern end that the people continued to develop technological capabilities, especially in ceramics and eventually in metal work.
The center of Lamanai society had previously been in the northern part of the city. We’re not yet sure why the focus of life shifted southward, only that it did.
Was the former center, the one in the north smaller than the new one in the south?
Uh, like, maybe the population grew, so they needed more room, and moved?
Actually, the new city center was smaller. It’s possible that’s because the population had decreased by that point.
So they actually needed less room. In any case, the restructured community thrived.