Searching for Support Staff and Kitchens:

Continued Investigation of Small Structures in Caracol's Epicenter:

2004 Field Report of the Caracol Archaeological Project



Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

University of Central Florida





Report submitted to the Belize Institute of Archaeology


Searching for Support Staff and Kitchens:

Continued Investigation of Small Structures in Caracol's Epicenter:

2004 Field Report of the Caracol Archaeological Project



Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase

University of Central Florida




The 2004 field season of the Caracol Archaeological Project extended from the very end of January through the ides of March; the 2004 field crew consisted of 17 individuals (see Table 1). Excavations undertaken during the 2004 field season were designed to supplement recent investigations in the site epicenter; the 2004 research focused on small epicentral structures and groups in an effort to define architectural variation and potential areas of craft of food production. Two specific loci were targeted for investigation during the twentieth field season of the project (see Figure 1):

Š         a series of buildings west of Caana that did not appear to form a domestic unit, resulting in the axial excavation of Structure B36, the areal excavation and penetration of parts of the Structure B36 platform, and the excavation of the southern end of Structure B37 as well as the alleyway between this building and the Structure B36 platform.

Š         a possible domestic unit that had been appended to the eastern side of the raised Barrio platform, resulting in the areal exposure and axial penetration of Structures B52 and B53.

As in the recent past, funding for the 2004 field season came from the Ahau Foundation, the Stans Foundation, the University of Central Florida Trevor Colbourn Endowment, and private donations to the University of Central Florida.


The Problem: Further Definition of Epicentral Caracol's Support Capabilities

Previous research at Caracol has demonstrated that many of the architectural groups within and around the site epicenter differ from those residential groups that are embedded within the surrounding settlement hinterland in production and ritual activity. This variation is to be expected given that the epicenter served a variety of different functions: the epicenter housed the royal residence and contained buildings necessary for multiple living quarters of extended family members and the administrative staff, storage, and royal ritual and ceremony; some of the epicenter's buildings would have been used for administration, jurisprudence, and foreign affairs and diplomacy; parts of the epicenter may also have been involved in administering the city's economic base, particularly as related to markets, long-distance trade, and the distribution control of household production. A market may also have been physically located in the epicenter itself. While it is evident that household production was important at Caracol, the complexity and scale of the site call for different specialists and associated facilities – and it is not yet clear where items used by the extended royal family were produced. The 2004 research at Caracol sought to sample ancillary structures in an attempt to further define existing variation in production activities and, potentially, to find the postulated palace kitchens (similar to those located at Tikal south of that site's Central Acropolis; see Harrison 1999 and personal communication). To accomplish this, the 2004 research focused on the low buildings that ring the northern and western base of Caana and the low buildings immediately east of Barrio – two areas of royal or elite residence.

Over the course of the Caracol Archaeological Project, smaller structures that ring the epicenter or that are attached to epicentral constructions have been systematically investigated in an attempt to understand the variety of activities that were once carried out in the site's downtown area. Whereas many of the larger buildings are constructed with fine stone architecture, these smaller edifices were largely perishable, consisting of line-of-stone foundations and crude boulder platforms that exhibit none of the refined stonework apparent in the public buildings of Caracol. As these smaller structures are believed likely to have been used for specific support purposes or to have housed support staff, cartakers, and courtiers, the non-munificence of the architecture found in these remains is appropriate. As yet, however, none of these perishable constructions can be directly linked to large-scale food processing.

An important aspect of any site is food production and distribution, as well as the location of processing areas associated with cooking. Investigations in the northeastern and southeastern sectors of the site were successful in locating terraced field systems interspersed with settlement (A. Chase and D. Chase 1998). These terraced fields were clearly the locus of food production. There is also archaeological evidence for food distribution. Stable isotope analysis indicates variation in diet at the site (D. Chase et al. 1998); distribution and access to food stuffs was apparently not uniform. Dietary studies undertaken on the human remains in Caracol's epicentral tombs have revealed that epicentral elite shared a particular diet that was high in both protein and corn. This "palace diet" appears to have been restricted to individuals who either lived or worked within Caracol's downtown palaces and to have been in existence throughout the Classic Period (A. Chase and D. Chase 2001; A. Chase et al. 2001). Yet, excavations within Caracol's epicentral palaces have not revealed the existence of cooking facilities or cooking vessels. True cooking vessels have only been recovered from Structure A6, the Temple of the Wooden Lintel, and appear to represent the final desecration of a formerly religious structure (D. Chase and A. Chase 2000). "Burners," a large flat-topped cylindrical pottery form capped with three prongs, may have been utilized as a kind of portable stove or warmer (A. Chase and D. Chase 2004a). One burner was recovered in association with Structure A40 in the Central Acropolis and another was found in association with Caana's northeast summit palace, but no cooking pots were recovered in these same locations – and the limited number and size of these burners would be insufficient to provide for all food preparation in these loci. Furthermore, while serving and storage vessels are commonly found on palace floors (A. Chase and D. Chase 2004b), no ceramic vessels clearly associated with cooking have been recovered in these contexts. Similarly, complete manos and metates are generally not found with the in-situ material on the floors of these palace buildings. The dietary data and the artifact distributions have been interpreted to suggest that the individuals living in these palaces were not cooking for themselves, but rather were being fed from a common kitchen (A. Chase and D. Chase 2001:130), which would account for the similarity of their diets and the presence of only serving and storage vessels in the palaces. This also means that a kitchen area should be located somewhere in or near the site epicenter. Thus, locating kitchen facilities was one of the goals for the 2004 field season.

Two structure groups within the walled areas to the southeast of the Caracol epicenter have been investigated, one in 1985 (see Figure 1, Structure B108 group) and the other in 1991 (see Figure 1, Structure B118 group). These investigations showed that the individuals located within these compounds were at least partially defined by their occupations, in one case being buried with implements related to the production of cloth (A. Chase and D. Chase 1987:36) and in another case being buried with implements related to writing and possibly prognostication (Teeter 2001). Excavated debris from the plazas in these walled areas showed that stone had been worked in one group and that bone had been worked in the other (Teeter 2001). Thus, the southeast walled plaza groups provided archaeological evidence of possible courtiers and support staff for the epicenter. Dietary analysis of the human bone in these groups supported this interpretation by showing that these individuals did not partake in the palace diet and, in fact, had one of the worst diets at Caracol (D. Chase et al. 1998); elsewhere, we have shown how this is consistent within the Burgess (1923) model of urban organization (A. Chase et al. 2001).

Excavation of the walled area directly south of the epicenter and west of the Conchita-Machete Causeway was undertaken during the 2000 field season. The buildings within this walled enclosure were not organized in formal plazuela groups. Excavation revealed the buildings to be crude foundation platforms composed primarily of lines of unworked stone; no superstructures were recovered. These archaeological investigations demonstrated that this area was not residential in function – as is indicated by the lack of domestic refuse, by the lack of interments and ritual activity, and by the lack of a standard residential plazuela layout. However, one of the structures had been a locus for lithic production; hundreds of lithic by-products were strewn over the back of this building. Given its composition, this southern walled area had clearly been used for some specialized function relating to downtown Caracol.

During the 2003 field season, the smaller buildings attached to the southern plazas in the South Acropolis were sampled. Unlike those in the southern walled area, the southeastern plaza attached to the South Acropolis clearly had a residential function - as attested to by 4 burials in an eastern mortuary structure and by in situ residential debris on the floor of one of the southern buildings. The contents and contexts of these burials suggests that the individuals were not high status. The function of the southwestern plaza attached to the South Acropolis is not as clear as its neighboring plaza as in situ debris was not as prevalent. However, the combined data suggests that these two plaza areas housed caretakers, courtiers, or other support individuals related to the more public buildings in the South Acropolis.

Understanding any Maya site is problematic given the difficulties involved in the interpretation of archaeological data; however, the dedicated long-term investigation of a site can produce a comprehensive sample that can be used to address broader issues. The 2004 excavations continued to focus on small ancillary structures located in or near epicentral Caracol, again in an attempt to further define archaeologically some of the variability in form and function that is found within the site's epicenter with regard to specialists and specialization.


2004 Excavations West of Caana

Caana, a series of architectural terraces crowned by three pyramids, rises almost 43 meters above the B Plaza. The substructure of Caana is abutted on its western and northern sides by a massive platform which rises to the height of Caana's first basal terrace. At minimum six structures sit on this raised platform and form a semi-square around Caana. All of these are low platforms (Figure 2). From the surface they appear quite similar to the late additions that line the sides of Caracol's B Plaza. Only Structure B36 shows any sign of differentiation, as it is taller than the other substructures and is also associated with its own broad northern terrace. Excavations undertaken during 2004 penetrated the axis of Structure B36, areally exposed a series of building pads on the Structure B36 platform, sampled the alleyway between Structures B36 and B37, and areally exposed portions of Structure B37 (Figure 4). All excavations were backfilled following the 2004 investigation and recording.


Structure B36

Set to the western side of the Caana basal terrace, Structure B36 presents an imposing structure that rises some 7 meters above the B Plaza. From the venue of the B Plaza, the building could form some kind of complex with Structure B7 and the Structure B8-B9 ballcourt, effectively being an extension of the B Plaza. However, once up on the basal platform, Structure B36 appears to face north over an imposing terrace that is appended to the building substructure (see Figure 1 and Figure 3). Structure B36 only rises 2.5 meters above this terrace. Structure B36 was selected for excavation in 2004 because it did not appear to be part of an overt residential unit and its architectural siting immediately west of Caana suggested that it was in an ideal location to have functioned as the locus for the operation of some sort of support structure.

Suboperation C168B was designated for a 2 m wide by 11.55 m long axial trench that penetrated Structure B36 from its northern side and encompassed the entire summit of the building (Figure 5, Figure 7, and Figure 8). This northern terrace was also tested where it joined with Structure B36, but no deposits were found on axis. Four sequent construction episodes are indicated within the levels of this trench.

The earliest construction episode is indicated by a hard plaster floor recovered 1.9 m below the surface of the northern terrace, but still some 2.7 m above the level of the B Plaza; this floor was not penetrated, but based on materials recovered in excv. C168H, it is probably Late Preclassic in date.

The subsequent floor surface was placed 1.8 m above the earlier floor, approximately raised to the same level of the current "Structure B36 terrace." This surface is associated with a raised substructure that can be recognized as Structure B36-3rd and that extends completely beneath the summit of the current building, ending in a ripped-out facing on its southern end which connects with yet another lower floor at the southern extent of excv. C168B.

The next construction episode raised Structure B36 by just over 1 meter. Structure B36-2nd consisted of a stone-walled building that faced both north and south. The remains of a room, a doorjamb, and a stairway were recovered in the northern part of excv. C168B, while a continuous wall, 1.4 m thick, ran across the southern end of excavation. On the southern end of the excavation, the floor that must have abutted the wall had been removed, possibly for the placement of S.D. C168B-1 deep below. Based on these data, Structure B36-2nd was probably a range palace building, possibly similar in form to Structures B4 or B6 on the south side of the B Plaza. Based on pottery sealed in the core of Structure B36-2nd, it was constructed in the later part of the Late Classic Period.

Structure B36-1st raised the building substructure even higher (ca. 0.8 m), razed the earlier stone construction, and crowned the whole with a perishable building. The northern stair placed about 0.5 m further north; this new stair was not as finely constructed as earlier ones. This construction episode took place in the Terminal Classic Period. This dating is supported by the placement of S.D. C168B-1 deep in the earlier hearting at this time and by the occurrence of 2 modeled-carved sherds within the fill of this new building (others were also recovered overlying the northern stairway; see Figure 14). Also included in the fill of this latest building effort was a small fragment of a carved stone monument (Figure 9).

S.D. C168B-1 consisted of the human remains of adult individual placed deep within the fill of Structure B36-1st directly above a ripped-out architectural facing for -3rd (Figure 10). The body may have been flexed and bundled when it was deposited, but because the body was placed within the fill, displacement occurred upon decomposition. It was not possible to determine the sex of the skeletal remains. The individual was accompanied by a stingray spine and by a single large blackware plate (Figure 11), similar to those found on the floors of Caana's palaces (see A. Chase 1994: fig.13.11b and c).

Suboperation C168G consisted of a 2 m wide by 4 m long excavation laid out in line (and on axis) with excv. C168B at the southern limit of Structure B36 (Figure 6, Figure 7, and Figure 8). The excavation succeeded in recovering a series of three steps that were associated with Structure B36-1st. Sherds of Terminal Classic modeled-carved pottery and censerware were found associated with these steps. The excavation was carried down to possible bedrock. Penetration of the latest steps uncovered 2 earlier sequent plaster floors and a fragment of a spondylus shell beneath the earlier one.


Structure B36 Terrace

When the terrace appended to the north side of Structure B36 was cleared of vegetation, it was possible to discern occasional shaped stones that appeared to be in line. Based on slight surface variation, four potential building pads were identified. Three of these pads were areally exposed and one was axially trenched. An additional line-of-stone was followed to where it joined the base of Structure B36. Only a suspected building on the northeast corner of the terrace was not tested. Upon excavation, it was found that all of these "vacant terrain" structures dated to the Terminal Classic era and probably composed a formal building group with Structure B36-1st (Figure 3 and Figure 4). The discovery and investigation of these line-of-stone structures was an unexpected bonus for the 2004 field season (Figure 14).

Suboperations C168C and C168E encompassed a line-of-stone building pad that faced Structure B36-1st (Figure 12 and Figure 14). Three stones from the medial wall of this construction barely protruded above the surface. Slight differences in surface elevation were used to lay out two excavations on either end of this pad, with excv. C168C covering the western end and excv. C168E covering the eastern end. Excavation C168E was eventually extended west to join with excav. C168C and expose the entire building substructure. Upon excavation, a bi-level building pad 5.1 m wide and 3.8 m deep was exposed (the upper level being 1.6 m broad). While the perimeter facing was horizontally bedded, the interior facing consisted of vertically-set slabs. The large number of modeled-carved sherds (Figure 15) found during the excavation of this pad is indicative of its use during the Terminal Classic era. The human skull fragments and human tooth found during the cleaning of this building also occurs in other known Terminal Classic contexts at Caracol.

Once the pad was exposed, a 1 m wide axial trench was made into the construction (Figure 18) and resulted in the discovery of a re-entered Early Classic tomb. This chamber may have been uncovered during the construction of the Terminal Classic line-of-stone building, as the perimeter stones for this pad were set at the level of the top of the tomb's capstones. The fill within this chamber consisted of soft earth and was devoid of large stones (like those found in the terrace penetration in C168B). Exterior to the tomb, the axial trench excavation ended on a plaster floor. The back of the facing stones that rested directly on this floor and faced west were also exposed. This lower floor does not correspond with the floor levels found in excv C168B and suggests the existence of other buried constructions within the hearting of the Structure B36 terrace.

S.D. C168E-1 was assigned for the in-filled tomb that was recovered immediately below the Terminal Classic building pad (Figure 16, Figure 17). This tomb was set just west of the central axis of the Terminal Classic building and the chamber extended south of the pad (Figure 18). The chamber measured 3.3 m in length (Figure 18) by 1.1 m in width and in height (Figure 19). Two stairs ran across its northern extent, leading to a once-covered vertical entranceway (Figure 19 and Figure 20). The contents of the chamber had been somewhat disrupted, but the human remains recovered indicated that there had been 2 individuals in the chamber. Much of the bone for the primary individual was present and the primary skeleton was still partially articulated in the eastern part of the chamber (Figure 20). The primary individual was an adult male with erupted 3rd molars; his maxillary teeth had a ring of tartar at the gum line; his mandibular teeth also showed tartar in the area of the incisor, but also some reabsorption following lost teeth. The presence of a second young adult in the tomb was evident from the recovery of a limited amount of bone and teeth. Six ceramic vessels and one pottery lid, all dating to the Early Classic Period, were situated within the chamber (Figure 21). Most of these were located along the sides of the chamber or on the steps; many were severely shattered (particularly Figure 21c) and some were found in pieces located throughout the chamber, probably from being broken when the tomb was re-filled, first with rock along the bottom of the chamber and then with earth. A small jadeite pendent was found within the mandible area of the in situ bone (Figure 22f). An elaborately carved shell pendent, showing a seated individual holding and offering, was located near the south wall of the chamber (Figure 22g and Figure 23). Very eroded, but elaborately carved, bone artifacts had also been included within this chamber.

Suboperation C168D started off as a 2 m wide by 4.5 m long excavation set over what appeared to be a slightly raised area to the west of excv. C168C (Figure 14). This investigation immediately uncovered the eastern edge of a building pad. The southern extent of this pad was also recovered in the intial excavation. A 2.5 m long by 1 m wide excavation extension was made to the north to find the northern limit of the platform, but located only 2 facing stones; a large tree grew out of what should have been the northeast corner. A nicely faced line of stones had also been encountered in the southern extent of the original excavation, abutting the building pad. This line was followed by means of 3 sequent excavations, each measuring 1 m by 2m, into the base of Structure B36. As with the first pad, modeled-carved pottery was liberally sprinkled throughout excv. C168D (see Figure 15). Other interesting artifacts recovered included a cave stalagtite in the initial excavation and a ceramic spindle whorl near Structure B36.

Suboperation C168F was defined for a 3 m east-west by 6.5 m north-south areal excavation placed over a slightly raised area at the western extent of the Structure B36 terrace immediately in front of Structure B36 (Figure 13 and Figure 14). It was also designed to fine the southwest corner of the excv. C168D structure pad, which was successfully accomplished. As a result of this investigation, a badly disturbed structure pad, measuring 3.2 m north-south, was recovered; it is suspected that that the east-west dimension of this pad would show it to be a square. No penetrating excavations were undertaken at this locus. The clearing excavations yielded carved shell and carved jadeite beads that are remarkably similar in form (Figure 22a and b).

Suboperation C168H began as a 2m north-south by 1 m east-west excavation placed over a depression in the Structure B36 terrace. It was unclear at the start of excavation whether there had been a collapse in this area or whether someone previously had tried to dig here, as most of a femur was recovered almost at ground level. The excavation was later extended 0.5 m to the north and, then, an additional 0.5 m to the west because of the special deposits encountered. Overall, the investigations were dug only to a depth of between 0.65 and 0.7 m below ground suface. The remains of a crude facing was found on the western edge of this excavation (Figure 24). No floor surfaces were encountered. Although initially labeled as three separate special deposits, it became clear that only two burials are represented in excv. C168H.

S.D.s C168H-1 and C168H-2 likely form a single deposit. Initial investigation within excv. C168H came down upon what appeared to be an isolated redware vessel (Figure 27a), initially labeled S.D. C168H-1. This vessel was thought to represent a cache as it contained a few bits of human bone (identified later as foot metatarsals), but no other bone was found in the immediate vicinity. Further excavation to the north eventually uncovered another vessel (Figure 27b) and some human long-bones; cranial bone, teeth, and a small jadeite pendent (Figure 22c) were recovered in the extended excavation. Based on the spatial relationships in the eastern part of excv. C168H, these two special deposits are now believed to represent a single burial. For the most part, the bone is very badly preserved; the recovered teeth indicate that this was the burial of an older adult. Both vessels in this interment are of unusual forms that are likely transitional between the Late Preclassic and Early Classic Periods.

S.D. C168H-3 was initially assigned for part of a vessel and some human bone that were found in the western wall of the original excv. C168H. The western extension of this investigation recovered the original vessel (Figure 27d), a second vessel (Figure 27c), and a badly preserved, but articulated, skeleton with its head to north. Although cranial material was recovered, no teeth were found. Two carved shell disks (Figure 22d and e) were recovered to either side of the eroded cranial material, indicating that they had, at one point, served as earflares. As the pelvis was not recoverable, it is not possible to sex this individual. The two ceramic vessels in this burial permit its dating to the onset of the Early Classic Period.


Structure B37

West of Caana at the level of that complex's intial basal terrace is an extended platform that supports the Structure B36 terrace and Structure B37, an extremely long building substructure that measures almost 60 m in length. Based on the excavations that were undertaken on the southern side of Structure B37, this substructure had a width of approximately 7 meters. Structure B37 sits north of the B36 terrace and runs parallel to the western base of Caana, creating a long narrow plaza into which it faces (see Figure 2). The length of the substructure, its position immediately west of Canna, and the clear non-residential function of this unusual building made Structure B37 a logical choice for testing in relation to the location of support staff or kitchens.

Suboperation C170B consisted of a 3.5 m north-south by 4.5 meter east-west excavation set over the eastern edge of Structure B37 beginning approximately 4 m north of its suspected southeast corner (Figure 28 and Figure 30). The investigation encompassed what were seen as being possible lines-of-stone representing a possible doorway. Although a single course of stones did appear to form a door, no walls or steps could be defined in the excavation. A well-constructed outer facing of Structure B37 was encountered in the eastern part of this excavation. This facing rested on a plaster floor, which was used to define the bottom of the investigation for the eastern side of excv. C170B. The humus was stripped over the rest of this investigation and a possible north-south construction wall was encountered. A 1 m wide deeper probe was dug in the southwest corner of excv. C170B. This deeper probe succeeded in finding a largely ripped-out earlier facing which was abutted by the eastern floor (Figure 31). Ceramics from within the fill of this raised substructure suggest that Structure B37 was constructed during the Late Classic Period.

Suboperation C170C consisted of a 1 m wide by 6.5 m long excavation between the northern facing for the Structure B36 terrace and the southern facing of Structure B37 (Figure 29, Figure 30, and Figure 32). This excavation was pursued because trash deposits had previously been recovered in alleyways between two buildings at Caracol. The excavation revealed both facings that were being sought, a badly preserved flooring between the facings, and a lower step associated with the Structure B36 terrace. A sherd smash was indeed found against the Structure B37 facing (Figure 33); assembly showed that this material belonged to a partial high-necked jar (Figure 34). A large quantity of deer bone was also recovered in this excavation, as were modeled-carved sherds and human cranial fragments.

Suboperation C170D was defined for an excavation over the southeast corner of Structure B37. This investigation measured 1.5 m east-west (Figure 35) by 3.5 m north-south. The well-constructed outer facings and the corner for Structure B37 were indeed recovered. The excavation was dug down to the associated plaza floor outside the building. Besides sherd and lithic material, some human cranial fragments were recovered.


Summary of Excavations in the Vicinity of Structures B36 and B37

The desired goal of the 2004 excavations was to find support staff and/or kitchens. However, neither is in evidence in the excavations undertaken in the vicinity of Structures B36 and B37. However, the excavation sequence that was revealed in this part of Caracol substantially adds to the overall understanding of both the Early Classic and the Terminal Classic. The recovery of three Early Classic interments in the Structure B36 terrace was completely unexpected. These deposits help to define the transition out of the Late Preclassic into the Early Classic and also suggest that such deposits may not be associated with structural axes, as Late Classic deposits commonly are. The limited deeper testing that was undertaken within the Structure B36 terrace also suggests the existence of a complex building sequence beneath the surface involving many other hidden earlier architectural remains. The recovery of a series of Terminal Classic perishable buildings on this platform was also unexpected, as was the discovery that Structure B36-1st was a Terminal Classic construction (dated both by fill ceramics and S.D. C168B-1). That this area was heavily used in the Terminal Classic is clear from the scatter of modeled-carved ceramics: among all the excavated building pads; on the front, summit, and back of Structure B36; and from the alleyway north of the terrace. That this area had a residential use in the Terminal Classic is indicated by the recovered ceramic spindle whorl and by the plentiful deer bone found in the alley. The recovery of human skull fragments in many of these excavations is also a hallmark of Terminal Classic deposits and is, as yet, an unexplained phenomenon. The Structure B37 excavations have not yet clarified how this building was utilized; this issue will need to be revisited in a future field season.


2004 Excavations East of Barrio

Lost in Barrio's (Strucutres B21-B26) shadow are a series of very low buildings tucked into the corner formed by the high Barrio platform and the raised Northeast Causeway (Figure 1 and Figure 36). Although these buildings comprise a formal rectangular group, they are distinct from those found in a typical Caracol residential plazuela. The western side of the plaza appears to be devoid of structures, being defined solely by the raised platform the supports Barrio. Three very low line-of-stone buildings comprised the southern limit of the plaza. The eastern side of the plaza consists of four very low structures on a common substructure that extends for the entire distance of the plaza. The northern limit of the plaza appears to be defined by two broad terraces leading up to the Northeast Causeway; a single building (Structure B50) abuts the Barrio platform on first terrace. Excavations undertaken in 2004 focused on two buildings atop the southern part of the eastern platform that bounds the eastern side of this plaza group. Structure B52 and Structure B53 were investigated with a combination of areal clearing and axial penetration (Figure 37). All excavations were backfilled at the conclusion of the field season.

Structure B53

Structure B53 was recognizable as a distinct structure on top of the long raised platform that defined the eastern side of the subsidiary plaza east of Barrio (Figure 38). It was selected for excavation because, as an "eastern building," it had a high probability of producing special deposits that could be dated; however, its platform positioning and dimensions made it fall outside of the norm for these constructions. Because it was also possible to define some of the surface architecture for this building without excavation, it was also hoped that some semblance of building dimensions and detail could be gained from areal investigation. The areal investigations revealed a residential bi-level building measuring at least 9 m in length by 4 m in width (Figure 39).

Suboperations C169B was defined for an axial trench into Structure B53 that originally measured 1.5 m north-south by 5.6 meters east-west (Figure 40). This excavation was later conjoined with both excv. C169h and excv. C169F. Two sequent constructions were uncovered within this trench. The earlier construction was represented by a summit floor about 0.7 m below the ground surface that must have joined with a more deeply buried eastern facing and floor. This lower plaza floor sealed a burial that had been placed directly on bedrock (S.D. C169B-1). The later construction resulted in a summit that was 0.6 m higher and that supported the building known as Structure B53-1st. Two sequent sets of platform stairs can be associated with this later construction effort. The later construction effort clearly dates to the later part of the Late Classic Period. The deeper fill that covered the earlier construction contained a large amount of garbage, including several fragments of a Lubaantun-style figurine of the type dubbed "pocket stela" (Hammond 1975), a broken carved stone pumpkin (Figure 43), a series of chert and sandstone drills (Figure 44), 2 hammer stones, 1 greenstone axe, 2 manos, 1 partial limestone bar, 1 partial mace-head, 1 possible bark-beater, and worked bone. Ceramic material found on the summit of the building in excv. C169H indicates that Structure 53 continued to be used into the Terminal Classic (Figure 45).

S.D. C169B-1 was assigned for an interment consisting of 2 individuals set on bedrock (Figure 41) and sealed beneath a large stone slab that was in turn sealed beneath the earlier plaza floor at its juncture with the earlier step; an additional subadult skull was located north of the primary interment. The main interment consisted of the bones of two individuals in a tightly proscribed area, the whole of which was covered with red ochre. Some of the bones in the red cinnabar were extremely well preserved; others were not. The two individuals differed in age. One was a subadult between 15 and 18 years of age (possibly a male based on strength of muscle attachment) who was placed on its back with head to the south; this individual had all its teeth; these contained tartar and also showed evidence of some hypoplasia. An older adult of unknown sex appears to have been seated upright above the younger individual and to have faced north; this individual had complete ante-mortem loss and reabsorption of its mandibular teeth. A partial pottery vessel (Figure 42) lay among the bones of the older individual. Other artifacts recovered with the burial included 1 worked olivella shell (Figure 22i), 2 small shell tinklers, and 1 carved shell bead (Figure 22h).

Suboperation C169H was initially sited 1.5 m east of excv. C169B and measured 1.2 m north-south by 1.5 m east-west (Figure 39). A 1.5 m long by 1 m wide excavation (to avoid a tree) later linked this small test with excv. C169B, making a continuous axial section (Figure 40). A facing for the rear of Structure B53 was in evidence in the excavation. A large amount of sizeable sherds were recovered above the latest floor and facing in excv. C169H. Some to these could be assembled into a partially reconstructible olla that may have been used for cooking (Figure 45). The artifactual and sherd remains recovered in this small investigation indicate a heavy domestic use for this latest construction.

Suboperation C169F was defined for an areal excavation set tangent to the upper end of excv. C169B. Excavation C169F measured 4.5 m north-south by 1 m east-west and was designed to expose the southwestern facing for Structure B53 (Figure 39). As in excv. C169H, a large number of sizeable sherds, mostly unslipped jars and ollas, were recovered in association with the latest architecture.

Suboperation C169G was set over the area where the northwestern corner for Structure B53 was thought to be. The excavation measured 2 m north-south by 1 m east-west and succeeded in locating this corner (Figure 39). Compared to the other summit excavations, very little in the way of sherd material was recovered.


Structure B52

Structure B52 was selected for excavation to test a second eastern structure on the eastern platform in the odd group east of Barrio (Figure 46). Because some of the building plan appeared to be evident without excavation, a series of radial excavations were laid out on Structure B52 in an attempt to define its form (Figure 47). These excavations revealed that the assumption that Structure B52 faced east were incorrect and that the building actually faced south. Based on these excavations, Structure B52 was 5.1 m wide by approximately 8.5 m wide.

Suboperation C169C was originally believed to have been laid out over the axis of Structure B52. It measured 1.5 m north-south by 7.5 m east-west (Figure 47). Deeper penetration in this excavation was limited when it was discovered that this was not the primary axis for the building. Instead, only the plaza area in front of the platform facing on the western side of Structure B52 was dug down to bedrock, revealing what appeared to be a single construction episode (Figure 48). A partial jadeite bead (Figure 22j) was recovered just above bedrock. An east-west facing, possibly for a bi-level building was also recovered in the eastern extent of this excavation, as were modeled-carved sherds. Deeper penetration in front of (south of) this facing and in the eastern extent of excv. C169C also recovered an earlier floor level that had been cut through (Figure 49). A piece of spondylus shell was recovered in the dry core fill within this cut.

Suboperation C169D measured 1 m east-west and 2m north south and was designed to located the northern facing for Structure B52 (Figure 47). A deeper probe into the core of Structure B52-1st recovered an earlier facing approximately 1 m below the summit on the western end of the excavation (Figure 49).

Suboperation C169E measured 1 m east-west by 3.5 m north-south and was designed to locate the southern facing for Structure B52; instead, it located a series of three facings, the upper one functioning as the front of the building substructure and the lower two acting as access steps (Figure 47). A deeper excavation in front of the basal step revealed two different fills, but no formal floors (Figure 49).

Suboperation C169I measured 1.5 m by 1.5 m and was placed 2 m east of and in line with excv. C169C (Figure 47 and Figure 48). It was designed to find the eastern limit of Structure B52 and successfully accomplished that task.


Summary of Excavations in Vicinity of Structures B52 and B53

The excavations made into Structures B52 and B53 succeeded in finding two buildings that may have had specialized functions. The excavation of Structure B52 demonstrated the old adage that surface assumptions need to be tested archaeologically; Structure B52 faces south and is not an eastern structure, as would be presupposed from mapping. Unlike Structure B53, very little artifactual debris that can be interpreted for function was recovered in association with Structure B52. Like Structure B52, Structure B53 also did not fit presupposed patterns. The building plan for Structure B53 resembles that of a domestic structure and not an eastern shrine (e.g. D. Chase and A. Chase 2004). Even though it faced west, Structure B53 was not associated with the standard kinds of deposits found in eastern buildings (even given the burial recovered deep under this locus). Instead, the fill for Structure B53-1st is full of garbage that is associated with craft production and the surface of Structure B53-1st is covered with large utilitarian sherds of the kind that may have been utilized in cooking. Indeed, if any structure is associated with the kind of pottery material that would be predicted to be associated with food preparation, it is that from the summit of Structure B53. It is interesting as well to compare Structures B52 and B53 with the neighboring Structure B21, the eastern building in Barrio whose back would have faced Structure B53 across its associated plaza area. Structure B21 was intensively investigated, on three different axes, but produced no deposits; this is similar to Structure B53-1st. However, the architectural features in Structure B21 make it clear that it served residential and civic purposes related to Caracol's final elite. The architectural features in Structure B53 indicate that it was an impermanent construction on a stone pad. The mass of utilitarian ceramics could support its use as a food preparation area. Thus, the kinds of buildings in the group immediately east of Barrio and the kinds of artifacts found associated with Structure B53, in particular, are fully consistent with an area that may have housed permanent courtiers or specialists.


Other Research Accomplished During 2004

Several other minor tasks were accomplished during the 2004 field season. Dr. Jaime Awe of the Tourism Development Project (TDP) had recovered an unusual architectural feature at the back of the eastern building of the Group B ballcourt in 2003, a rear buttress in the shape of false steps that was faintly reminiscent of Rio Bec style architecture. During the 2004 field season, Dr. Joseph Ballay did an architectural reconstruction of this feature based on in-field measurements and determined that these false steps would not have reached the top to the eastern ballcourt structure (Figure 50). Two ceramic vessels were provided the project from TDP excavations into the platform that supports the eastern buildings in the A Group; these vessels came from behind Structure A4 in platform fill near the buried northern ramp for the eastern platform recovered by the TDP in 2002 and are Early Classic in date (Figure 51). Finally, excavations by the TDP at the base of the same eastern A Group platform north of the Structure A6 Satterthwaite tombs and south of Structure A8 had recovered an upper stela fragment during 2003. A drawing was started for this stela fragment in 2003 and was completed in 2004; this fragment is the upper part of Caracol Stela 20 and matches the base of the stela recorded by Satterthwaite as well as a fragment recovered by the Caracol Archaeological Project in 1990. A combined drawing of all of these three fragments of Caracol Stela 20 reveals an odd-shaped stone that shows a ruler standing on an earth monster that watches over two individuals who are presumably in the underworld; a framed panel provides the long count date or A.D. 400, making Stela 20 the earliest known monument from the site Figure 52).



Two different areas were sampled during the 2004 field season of the Caracol Archaeological Project, one immediately west of Caana and one immediately east of Barrio. The goal behind the excavation in both of these areas was to attempt to find structures and groups that may have served in a support capacity for the epicentral elite. In particular, the desire was to locate areas that served for craft production or for food preparation. Both of the architectural areas selected for investigation consisted of smaller buildings that did not overtly suggest that they had served residential functions.

The artifactual remains recovered in the excavations made immediately west of Caana cannot be used to suggest that this was an area for the production of crafts or the preparation of food. Instead, it would appear that these structures served other purposes. As found, Structure B37 was constructed in the Late Classic and not modified in the Terminal Classic Period. Based on its long linear shape, on its fine stone facings for a platform that supported a perishable construction, on its proximity to Caana, and on the general lack of associated trash, Structure B37 may have been built - both in its initial and later versions – to have served a function related to the storage of perishable items that were either used or controlled by the inhabitants of Caana. The Structure B36 history is very different. Based on deeper probes into the Structure B36 terrace, it appears that a sizeable Early Classic population resided in this vicinity and that the area was probably used residentially. More extensive excavations in the Structure B36 terrace would presumably uncover buildings and platforms dating to this era. During the Late Classic Period, Structure B36 appears to have been transformed into a multi-roomed palace that may have served both residential and administrative functions – probably an architectural extension of similar constructions found on the mid-level and summit of Caana. This shifted in the Terminal Classic era, when this palace was partially dismantled and infilled, finally being surmounted by a perishable building that formed a group with other perishable structures on its northern terrace. In its latest version, Structure B36 and its associated structures appears to have served as a residential group for individuals who dumped some of their trash off the northern side of the terrace.

The buildings that form a group immediately east of Barrio provide a very different picture to that gained from the Structure B36 and Structure B37 area. The architecture, although faced, is much cruder than that found on Structure B36-2nd and Structure B37-1st. While little in the way of artifactual debris can be associated directly with Structure B52 to determine function, the size and shape of the building pad is appropriate for a residence. In contrast, artifactual debris recovered from within and on Structure B53 is clearly related to craft production and food preparation. The wide variety of craft-related items and unusual artifacts that were included in the fill of this building suggest minimally that craft production was taking place somewhere in the immediate area – assuming that the fill is not being moved too far afield. The plentiful utilitarian ceramics that litter the summit substructure suggest that these were being used at or near this locus, suggesting the possibility that food production was indeed taking place somewhere in this group. Thus, the Structure B53 excavations clear support the idea that there was craft and food production within the immediate vicinity. The 2004 excavations in Structures B52 and B53 also demonstrate that the buildings in this group do not fit with general residential patterns associated with ritual found elsewhere at Caracol (D. Chase and A. Chase 2004), suggesting again that this group functioned in an alternative way.

It is often difficult to make any kind of comprehensive statement about the precise organization of a Maya urban center because the vast majority of groups and structures at a given site are never sampled. The 2004 field season significantly contributed to the goal of gaining a complete sample of ancillary buildings and groups in and around Caracol's epicenter. With the investigation of the buildings ringing Caana and those immediately east of Barrio, most of the low architectural remains in and around the Caracol epicenter have seen at least minimal sampling. Only the small structures in the area of the epicentral C Group remain untested. Because the research at Caracol is long-term and continuous, each bit of information adds to the interpretive picture. With the addition of the 2004 sample, it is possible to begin to make a more comprehensive statement concerning the specialists, support staff, and special function buildings that were located in the downtown portion of Caracol. The archaeological understanding of Caracol's urban organization promises to help shed light on broader theoretical considerations of the ancient Maya.





The figures included within this report were drafted by Anna Ostrowska, as well as by Arlen and Diane Chase; all figures were finalized in Photoshop by Arlen Chase. Field drawings were undertaken by all staff members. As for the past several season, the IDB Tourism Development Project, directed by Jaime Awe, aided the 2004 field season by providing the archaeological camp with electricity. Mr. Brian Woodye was instrumental in erecting and setting up a satellite dish at camp so that we were able to have internet connection with the outside world. Major funding for the 2004 field season was provided by the Ahau Foundation, the Stans Foundation, and the Trevor Colbourn Endowment.

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1987            Investigations at the Classic Maya City of Caracol, Belize: 1985-1987, Pre-Columbian

Art Research Institute Monograph 3, San Francisco.

1998            "Scale and Intensity in Classic Period Maya Agriculture: Terracing and Settlement at the 'Garden City' of Caracol, Belize," Culture and Agriculture 20(2):60-77.

2001 "The Royal Court of Caracol, Belize: Its Palaces and People," in Takeshi Inomata and

Stephen D. Houston, Eds., Royal Courts of the Ancient Maya: Volume 2: Data and Case Studies, pp. 102-137, Westview Press, Boulder.

2004a "Terminal Classic Status-Linked Ceramics and the Maya "Collapse:" De Facto Refuse at

Caracol, Belize," in A. Demarest, P. Rice, D. Rice, Eds., The Terminal Classic in the Maya Lowlands: Collapse, Transition, and Transformation, pp. 342-366, University of Colorado Press, Boulder.

2004b "Contextualizing the Collapse: Terminal Classic Ceramics from Caracol, Belize," in C.

Varella and A. Foias, Eds., Terminal Classic Socioeconomic Processes in the Maya Lowlands through a Ceramic Lens, BAR Monograph Series, Oxford (in press).


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2001            "El Paisaje Urbano Maya: La Integración de los Espacios Construidos y la Estructura Social en Caracol, Belice," in A.Ciudad Ruiz, M. Josefa Iglesias Ponce de Leon, and M. Del Carmen Martinez Martinez, Eds, Reconstruyendo la Ciudad Maya: El Urbanismo en las Sociedades Antiguas, pp. 95-122, Sociedad Espanola de Estudios Mayas, Madrid.


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2000 "Inferences about Abandonment: Household Archaeology and Caracol, Belize." Mayab


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Ethnological Sciences, Williamsburg, Virginia (July).


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Caracol Project Members: 2004 Field Season






Arlen F. Chase C1

Diane Z. Chase C2


Amy Morris C111

Joseph Ballay C54


Anna Ostrowska C165


Melissa Badillo C166

Marie Trankovsky C167

David Volp C168



Belizean Labor:


Rita Wilshire

Aurora Gongora

Margarita Quintaros


Carlos Ivan Mendez

Eduardo Cunil

Rolando Can

Ruben Avila

Jose Lopez

Alexander Lopez






Figure 1. The B Quadrangle of the Caracol map, showing the location of Structure

B36, B37, B52, and B53 – all excavated during the 2004 field season.


Figure 2. Reconstruction of buildings in the vicinity of Structures B36-B37

recovered as a result of the 2004 investigations; all date to the Terminal

Classic era (drawing by J. Ballay).


Figure 3. Reconstruction of Structure B36, which faced north during the Terminal

Classic era and dominated a presumed residential group composed of

perishable buildings (drawing by J. Ballay).


Figure 4. General plan showing the spatial relationships of the Operation C168 and

C170 excavations relative to the Structure B36 platform.


Figure 5. Photograph of Structure B36 excavations (C168B) looking south.


Figure 6. Photograph of Structure B36 excavations (C168G) looking north.


Figure 7. Plan of excavations C168B and C168G, showing the recovered walls and

stairs relative to the penetration of Caracol Structure B36.


Figure 8. Section of excavations C168B and C168G that penetrated Caracol

Structure B36.


Figure 9. Drawing of carved limestone monument fragment recovered from within

the fill of Caracol Structure B36-1st.


Figure 10. Plan of Special Deposit C168B-1 showing human bones and associated

pottery vessel on lower ripped out step or facing.


Figure 11. Pottery vessel [Infierno Black] associated with S.D. C168B-1.


Figure 12. Photograph of excavations C168C and C168E looking east, showing

Terminal Classic building pad.


Figure 13. Photograph of excavation C168F (with excavation C168D in the right

background) looking north, showing a Terminal Classic building pad.


Figure 14. Plan of excavation on the Structure B36 platform, showing Terminal

Classic building pads and lines-of-stone uncovered during 2004.


Figure 15. Photograph of a sample of Terminal Classic modeled-carved sherds found

scattered about and in Structure B36 and the Structure B36 platform.


Figure 16. Drawing of excavation C168E, showing Early Classic tomb (S.D. C168E-

1) directly beneath Terminal Classic building pad (drawing by J. Ballay).


Figure 17. Photograph of Early Classic tomb (S.D. C168E-1) in excavation C168E.


Figure 18. Axial section through Early Classic tomb (S.D. C168E-1) and western

section of excavation C168E.


Figure 19. Details related to S.D. C168E-1: (a) east-west cross section at southern

edge of excavation C168E-1; (b) detail of tomb's northern end showing

existence of staired entryway to tomb.


Figure 20. Plan of S.D. C168E-1 recovered in excavation C168E.


Figure 21. Pottery vessels recovered from S.D. C168E-1: (a) Dos Arroyos Orange

Polychrome; (b) and (d) Dos Hermanos Red; (c) Pucte Brown; (e) and (f)

Ceiba Unslipped; (g) Lucha Incised.


Figure 22. Small jadeite and shell artifacts from 2004 excavations: (a) jadeite bead

[C168F/2-1]; (b) shell bead [C168F/2-2]; (c) jadeite pendent [C168H/6-2];

(d) and (e) shell ear ornaments [C168H/9-2a&b]; (f) jadeite pendent

[C168E/15-1]; (g) worked shell [C168E/15-6]; (h) shell bead [C169B/19-

3]; (i) worked shell [C169B/19-7]; (j) jadeite fragment [C169C/11-3].


Figure 23. Incised artwork on worked shell shown in Figure 20g.


Figure 24. Section of west wall of excavation C168H.


Figure 25. Photograph of S.D. C168H-3 being excavated.


Figure 26. Plan of special deposits in excavation C168H.


Figure 27. Pottery vessels associated with special deposits in C168H: (a) possibly

Vaquero Creek Red [S.D. C168H-1]; (b) possibly Old River Unslipped

[S.D. C168H-2]; (c) & (d) Actuncan Orange Polychrome [S.D. C168H-3].


Figure 28. Photograph of excavation C170B looking south.


Figure 29. Photograph of excavation C170C looking north.


Figure 30. Plan of areal excavations undertaken in the vicinity of Structure B37.


Figure 31. Southern section of excavation C170B.


Figure 32. Western section and plan of excavation C170C.


Figure 33. Detailed plan of southern end of excavation C170C showing sherd smash

against Structure B37 facing.


Figure 34. Partial pottery vessel [Valentin Unslipped] against southern

facing of Structure B37 in excavation C170C.


Figure 35. Northern section of excavation C170D.


Figure 36. Reconstruction of building group west of Barrio using excavation gathered

as a result of the 2004 investigations (drawing by J. Ballay).


Figure 37. General plan showing the spatial relationships of the Operation C169

excavations relative to Structures B52 and B53.


Figure 38. Photograph of the axial excavation C169B of Structure B53 before deep

penetration, looking southeast.



Figure 39. Plan of facings and steps revealed in the excavations undertaken on

Structure B53.


Figure 40. Axial section through Structure B53.


Figure 41. Plan of S.D. C169B-1


Figure 42. Partial pottery vessel [not typed] associated with S.D. C169B-1.


Figure 43. Carved limestone "pumpkin" recovered within the fill of Structure B53.


Figure 44. Photograph of sandstone and chert drills recovered within the fill of

Structure B53.


Figure 45. Partial pottery vessel [Valentin Unslipped: Walled Variety] recovered

in association with the upper floor of Structure B53.


Figure 46. Photograph of Structure B52 east-west excavation C169C, looking east.


Figure 47. Plan of features revealed in the excavations undertaken in Structure B52.


Figure 48. East-west section through Structure B52.


Figure 49. North-south section through Structure B52.


Figure 50. Reconstruction drawing of B Group ballcourt, showing architectural

relationship of features revealed by the Tourism Development Project

excavations (drawing by J. Ballay).


Figure 51. Partial pottery vessels recovered from within the platform fill near Structure A4: (a) possibly Candelaria Appliqued; (b) possibly Quintal



Figure 52. New version of the complete Caracol Stela 20, dating to (A.D.

400), fragments recovered by Satterthwaite, Tourism Development

Project, and Caracol Archaeological Project (drawing by Diane and Arlen

Chase incorporating original Satterthwaite illustration); some warping

occurs in the drawing because of the curvature of the stone and the angle

at which the fragments were drawn.