Late Classic Ritual Variation in a Maya Community: Continued Investigation of Structures in and near Caracol’s Epicenter: 2007 Field Report of the Caracol Archaeological Project

Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase Department of Anthropology University of Central Florida

Report submitted to the Belize Institute of Archaeology

Late Classic Ritual Variation in a Maya Community: Continued Investigation of Structures in and near Caracol’s Epicenter: 2007 Field Report of the Caracol Archaeological Project

Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase University of Central Florida

The 2007 field season of the Caracol Archaeological Project was carried out from the end of January through late March. Twenty-one staff and 18 visitors participated in the field season (Table 1). Four of the staff consisted of experienced graduate students who helped wrap up the project during the final 2 weeks of the season. An experienced photographer was also on site; he photographed many of the 2007 finds preparatory to preparing articles for Latin American mass-media journals. A film crew consisting of 17 individuals was additionally on site for two weeks preparing for a 2008 Discovery Channel show (Bone Detectives: Shadow of the Sun God; first airing February 11, 2008) that will feature the 2007 field season at Caracol.

The research that was carried out at Caracol during 2007 was designed to uncover Terminal Classic materials and to help gain more information that would aid us in our understanding of the Classic Maya collapse. While such late materials were recovered, the real value of the season lay in the unexpected recovery of earlier – and variant - caching practices both in the site epicenter and in the intensively investigated residential group. The recovered caching practices consisted not only of ceramic containers but also provided evidence of broader associated ceremonies. The residential group caches broadened our understanding of Caracol household ritual and suggest that there was variability, perhaps related to social status or occupation, within the generally uniform use of certain ritual items (e.g. D. Chase and A. Chase 2004).

The investigations carried out at Caracol during 2007 were designed to specifically focus on finding Terminal Classic remains and attempting to define further ceramic variability for this time period (e.g., A. Chase and D. Chase 2004, 2005, 2007). Toward this goal, three separate foci for investigation were identified, with each focus representing a different kind of building: an epicentral palace (Structure A16); two epicentral western constructions (Structure B7 and D2); and an epicentrally proximate residential group (Structures I2-I8). While Terminal Classic refuse was recovered in the residential group, contextual materials dating to the Terminal Classic were not found in either of the epicentral excavations. However, one of the epicentral excavations (Structure D2) and one of the residential buildings (Structure I5) produced extremely interesting cache materials and earlier dating which extend our understanding of the site’s caching practices. These finds also raise issues of ritual variability in the immediate epicentral residential groups.

The Problem: Interpreting Variation in Maya Communities

After a century of research, our understanding of the Maya, their development, and their collapse is still very much an open book. Part of the reason for this may be related to archaeological issues in conceptualizing societal change and the time scale involved. For example, archaeologically we know that something major - even drastic - occurred at the close of the ninth century and the onset of the tenth century in the Maya Southern Lowlands. Traditionally, we have categorized this temporal era as a one of collapse and abandonment (e.g., Culbert 1973 and Demarest et al. 2004). All researchers concur that change occurred, but there is debate over exactly what was involved in this change and in the archaeological recognition of this transition. Varied questions have been posed. Was there an invasion of the Southern lowlands? And, if so, what is the archaeological evidence (e.g., Binford 1968; Sabloff and Willey 1967)? Did people migrate from the Southern to the Northern lowlands and how do we know this (e.g., Cowgill 1964)? Were the Southern lowlands largely abandoned until their modern reoccupation (e.g., Culbert and Rice 1990)?

On a material level, we can define substantial changes in the pottery and artifactual assemblages between the Classic and Postclassic Periods. We can also note that Postclassic Period artifactual materials are only rarely found in association with Classic Period sites. Postclassic settlement differs from the Classic Period in being focused on areas of water - and this, too, has been used to imply something about the events that transpired. A comparison of Postclassic materials with Terminal Classic assemblages suggests a lack of direct continuity in artifacts and pottery between these two eras, at least in the Southern lowlands. This has been used further to suggest that Postclassic immigrant populations settled in abandoned regions in the Maya lowlands. But, what exactly did happen at the end of the Terminal Classic Period? And, was the transition from the Terminal Classic to the Postclassic Period protracted or rapid?

Many of the issues and debates about the Maya collapse are directly related to the recognition and interpretation of change and variability in earlier periods in the Maya archaeological record. Archaeology in the Americas is deeply rooted in the cultural historical tradition (Lyman et al. 1997a). In particular, most of the methodology involved in ceramic and artifact analysis that is still in active use derives from this tradition (Lyman et al. 1997b). While issues related to questions of typology have been partially updated in more modern concerns over style (Conkey and Hastorf 1990; O’Brien and Lyman 2003) and sampling (Mueller 1975), the cultural historical construction of society largely remains unchanged. Archaeological analysis developed within a cultural historical framework that was designed to address relatively simple societies (the same ones studied by ethnographers) and that was not generally focused on issues of complexity (e.g., Bentley and Maschner 2003; Chilton 1999). Given the tenets relating to a more simple conception of society, the distribution of material culture was generally taken to be fairly homogeneous - unless it involved questions of status and role. Thus, ceramics and most goods were believed to be evenly distributed within an archaeological community; types were expected to have an equal probability of being found no matter where one dug (and separate from issues of sampling). While elites may have had more of something, the ubiquitous distribution of ceramics meant that change was easily recognizable in the archaeological record through the use of frequency analysis of sherds recovered from any context, including construction fill. The existence of coeval assemblages and differential access to archaeological materials by the various segments of a complex society was generally neither considered nor taken into account by the methodology that was used.

While Binford (1962) importantly recognized that artifacts could function within three different aspects (technomic, sociotechnic, ideotechnic) of an archaeologically defined society, these divisions were still conceived of as being society-wide. Thus, the functional realms were inclusive, being implicitly oriented to small, simple societies and not to more complex arrangements of peoples. Within the processual framework, then, the methodologies that were in used by practitioners of culture history continued to hold sway; only the theoretical questions asked of the archaeological record changed. The ethereal post-processual framework also failed to modify basic archaeological methodology.

Complex societies, like the ancient Maya, are not homogeneous. Thus, change can (and did) occur differentially in various societal segments and these changes are sometimes not mirrored across the rest of that society. Differential access to goods occurred all the time, both at different sites and also within the same site. The recognition of these facts has significant implications for artifact analysis and for dating, especially as traditional culture historical methodology assumes a basic unity that is not actually there. Archaeological sampling also has to be recognized as playing a crucial role in any interpretation or reconstruction, especially as the likelihood of recovering the exact sample that is needed to interpret change is extremely unlikely. Thus, without an extremely large sample or an attempt at sampling almost every possibility, statements of archaeological interpretation are often really no more than speculative musings.

Background: Terminal Classic Caracol

The recognition that differential pottery assemblages were used by different population segments at Caracol has helped us to understand the site’s Terminal Classic Period. Whereas the bulk of the non-epicentral population continued to use ceramics that were rooted in the site’s Late Classic tradition (A. Chase and D. Chase 2005a), Caracol’s elite separated themselves from the rest of the population through the use of a domestic and serving pottery assemblage that was not based in the site’s Late Classic ceramic tradition (A. Chase and D. Chase 2004). These elite occupied the palaces in the site epicenter at the time of their abandonment. That the latest elite were not foreigners is suggested in their use of traditional Caracol pottery forms in mortuary contexts (A. Chase and D. Chase 2007). Whether the use of the domestic ceramic subcomplex, replete with foreign serving wares, within the epicentral palaces was by choice or imposed upon the site’s latest elite is not yet known.

Of even more significance is the evidence for long-distance interaction at the time that Caracol was abandoned. Most of the site had access to sea fish, but the elite had even greater access to several species of fish from the Atlantic; these remains occur as sheet refuse associated with several epicentral palaces (Teeter and Chase 2004). The elite in one palace were also working olive shell (Cobos 1994). Non-local pottery, in the form of fine orange ceramics, also occurs in many of the latest epicentral contexts. A Mixtec incensario recovered during the 2006 field season also indicates the use of fine-orange ceramics within an ideological sphere (A. Chase and D. Chase 2007). Another large incensario or urn recovered during 2006 was presumably manufactured in northern Belize, some 150 kilometers distant from Caracol; yet another incensario has counterparts from the northern Yucatan at Isla Cerritos (R. Cobos, personal communication, 2007). Thus, the long-distance connections of Caracol’s latest epicentral population are evident in several classes of data and run counter to many of the arguments made about the cessation of trade networks prior to collapse at certain other lowland sites.

Research Undertaken during 2007

The research that was proposed for the 2007 field season at Caracol sought to further examine variability in the site’s archaeological record. While this research originally focused on the more easily recoverable Terminal Classic materials, the actual excavations also resulted in the recovery of ritual household variability dating to the Late Classic Period. During the 2007 field season, three distinct locations were sampled (Residential I Group, Structure A16/B1, and Structure D2), originally with the hope of elucidating the latest occupation of the site. Instead, the value of these excavations lay in amplifying other avenues of research that have been pursued over the past 23 years at Caracol by importantly adding to our understanding of the coeval variation in ritual activity that can exist among certain residential groups.

Structures A16 and B1

One focus of the 2007 field season was in the area of the Structure B1 complex. As mapped, Structure B1 is a central pyramid that has two side wings, Structure A16 and B6 (see Figure 1). The eastern wing appended to the higher central pyramid appears to consist almost entirely of boulder-like rubble (similar to the fill that makes up the cores of many of Caracol’s late buildings) and may represent an infilled palace and/or an unfinished or interrupted construction.

The central pyramid, formally referred to as Structure B1, rises to a broad summit, on which no wall stubs are visible. It appears that the front northwest upper corner of the pyramid may have collapsed in antiquity. During the 2007 field season, research focused only on basal clearing of the stair area of Structure B1 and on clearing the corner articulation between Structure B1 and Structure A16, the western wing of this complex. Initially, it was hoped that the B1 excavation would help better situate Altar 11. Excavations in the vicinity of Altar 11 were previously carried out in the early 1950s by Dr. Linton Satterthwaite, but revealed neither a stela nor a cache (Beetz and Satterthwaite 1983:87).

Based on surface indications, Structure A16 was a tandem room building that faced to the north; it is probably very similar in overall form to the analogous Structure B6 that was excavated in earlier Caracol Archaeological Project field seasons and that is now completely stabilized. Because Structure B6 and, indeed, all of Caracol’s epicentral stone buildings appear to have been in use during the Terminal Classic Period (e.g., A. Chase and D. Chase 1987:35), it was felt that the likelihood was excellent for encountering primary trash in the vicinity of this building. Should such remains have been found, it was expected that a comparison of artifactual materials between Structure B6 and Structure A16 would have aided in the interpretation of the function of these two homologous buildings.

Suboperation C176B (Figure 2 and 3) was an areal excavation measuring 2 m north-south by 4.5 m east-west that was later extended 2.5 m to the east with yet an additional 2 by 2 meter extension north on the eastern side of the excavation. It was placed directly tangent to the lower step of Structure A16 and succeeded in exposing the articulation between Structures B1 and Structures A16. While the eastern side of the platform for Structure B1 was located, it deteriorated to the north into a tumble of mixed stone, suggesting the possibility of stone robbing in the past. The lower step for Structure A16 was only two courses in height and attached to the eastern side of Structure B1 through an intervening single stone-width raised balustrade. Although isolated Terminal Classic sherd materials were recovered in this excavation, no reconstructible ceramics were found. The only item of true interest was a cranial fragment resting on the frontal floor. The excavation was halted without penetrating the building. Backfilling was completed during the last week of the field season (as with all other 2007 excavations).

Suboperation C176C (Figures 4, 5, and 6) was an areal excavation measuring 6.75 m east-west by 4 m north-south. It had two primary goals. The first was to locate the lowermost step of Structure B1. The second was to hopefully locate more carved stone monuments. Neither goal was fulfilled. Instead, a jumble of large fill rocks covered the plaza floor in front of Structure B1, probably collapsing forward from the interior of the building. Even though the slope of Structure B1 was penetrated far enough to have encountered a lower step, none was found. It is suspected that the frontal stair for this building may have been removed as part of a site renovation project during the Terminal Classic Period. Very few ceramics and artifacts were recovered in the excavation area. Backfilling occurred during the last week of the field project.

The GRB Group: Structures I1-I8

One residential group was selected to be more intensively excavated during the 2007 field season. This group is located immediately northwest of Caana and consists of 5 separate buildings associated with 3 ancillary platforms (see Figure 7). Previous looting has occurred in the northern building, Structure I2. The group was selected because of both its proximity to and its separation from the epicenter and because Terminal Classic refuse has been associated with other residential locations in and near the epicenter. Specifically, Terminal Classic refuse and line-of-stone buildings were recovered from the platform north of Structure B36 during the 2004 field season, from the Caretaker Group (Structures B39-B47) excavated during the 2005 field season, and from Structure I20 excavated during 2005. Thus, the group was largely selected because it was deemed an appropriate candidate for determining how far outside the epicenter the Terminal Classic palace sub-assemblage (e.g. A. Chase and D. Chase 2004) may have been distributed and if non-palace residential groups that were adjacent to the epicenter had a higher probability of access to foreign tradewares and parts of this subcomplex (e.g. A. Chase and D. Chase 2005a). During the 2007 field season, four of the buildings within this group were investigated. Originally, it had been hoped to excavate the western building for late burials that would accord with the patterns recorded for the southeastern Peten (Vasquez and Laporte 2005), but a large tree precluded this focus.

Structure I1 (Figure 8, 9, 10, and 11)

The northern construction in the GRB Group was flanked by two smaller platforms. The northwestern platform, Structure I1, was selected for excavation and almost immediately yielded the remnants of a complicated building with raised interior benches that had stone base-walls. The quality of the construction that was found here and the existence of a stone building indicated that the GRB Group was probably a residential area for individuals of a higher status, Stratigraphically, Structure I1 was built in a single phase on an existing plaza surface; a later plaza flooring abuts the construction. The interior of the building underwent a series of modifications, eventually resulting in an interior configuration of a raised “u” shaped bench. Originally, it appears that the building had not had benches. The first modification apparently was the construction of a free-standing walled niche against the building’s rear wall, potentially suggesting that something may have been purposefully housed in this feature. The next modifications may have been carried out either sequentially or simultaneously; it is impossible to tell. The net effect, however, was to construct benches on three interior sides of Structure I1, creating a construction that mirrors the frontal mid-range rooms on Caana (A. Chase and D. Chase 2001).

Operation C177B (Figures 8, 9, and 10) was an areal excavation that was placed over Structure I1. This excavation measured 5.12 m north-south by 4.43 m east-west. Upon clearing the building, a 1.2 m wide trench was placed through the central door of the building and through the axially placed bench, which had clearly been blocked and infilled during the use-life of the structure (see Figure 11). On the interior surface of the raised western bench, two partial vessels (Figure 12) were recovered as well as 1 partial chert point (Figure 14d). A whole chert point was recovered in front of the building (Figure 14a). Burnt faunal remains were also recovered exteriorly to the building. The infilled bench area was packed (almost layered) with large broken sherds (Figure 13). These materials probably represented a secondarily deposited ceramic dump. All date from the same timespan and indicate a Late to Terminal Classic date for this activity. Interestingly, two of the ceramic plates evince crude incised “Tlaloc” designs on their exterior sides.

Stucture I2 (Figures 15, 16, and 17)

Structure I2 rose some 4.6 m above its associated plaza floor. It comprised the most prominent building of the GRB Group and had been badly looted in its rear. This trench-like gash penetrated much of the building’s summit and extended down through the rear slope of the building. The recovery of bone and reconstructible ceramics indicated that the looters’s had encountered some sort of deposit. The summit excavation cleaned the southern limit of the looters’ trench and recovered the western half of an in situ burial and indications that the recovered ceramics went with this interment. Excavation stratigraphy suggests that Structure I2 was a single phase construction, possibly constructed at the beginning of the Late Classic Period and clearly in use through the Terminal Classic Period. No evidence of a formal construction was encountered at the summit of Structure I2.

Operation C177C (Figures 16 and 17) was an excavation placed at the southern base of Structure I2 that was designed to uncover the pyramid’s stairs. It was positioned in line with the summit excavation, so that the two investigations could have been linked by a single trench. The excavation measured 2.5 m north-south by 2.0 m east-west. It was dug to bedrock and indicated the existence of a single plaza construction effort in this locus. This surface had been recapped at least twice based on floors encountered at the northern limit of this excavation. The stairs for Structure I2 also yielded evidence of modification with an earlier step being covered with ash and burning that was then sealed by the final stairway. Abundant Terminal Classic materials were recovered in association with the latest plaza floor (Figure 18), including pieces of a modeled and flanged cylindrical incensario, similar to those known from Structures A2, A6, and B19 (A. Chase and D. Chase 2004). Also recovered in the stair collapse were most of the pieces of a face cache (Figure 19) that had presumably been placed in the building fill behind the stair. This represents the first time that a typical Caracol face cache has been found in association with a northern building.

Operation C177F (Figures 16 and 17) was assigned for the excavation into the summit of Structure I2. It was positioned tangent to and south of the looters’ trench that penetrated the northern face and summit of the building and encompassed approximately 1.0 m of the looters’ excavation. The investigation measured 2.0 m east-west and 4.3 m north-south. A series of partial vessels were recovered in the looters’ backdirt in their summit excavation that could be correlated with a partially cut-through burial (designated S.D. C177F-1). A modified shell was collected within this disturbed area of the trench and was also probably associated with this interment (Figure 21b). Very little cut stone was in evidence on the summit. The excavation revealed two possible steps on the southern edge of the summit and the remains of a summit floor that once had capped the disturbed burial. The fill for the summit construction consisted of large dry core rubble. Within the upper part of this fill on the southern part of the summit were the remains of several individuals who had been placed directly into the fill (S.D. C177F-2). At a lower level and also interspersed among these rocks were sherds from several partial vessels (Figure 20) and a reconstructible polychrome figure bowl (Figure 20e; cover). The pieces of the polychrome bowl were scattered throughout the dry core fill, both horizontally and vertically. A limestone bar (Figure 21a) was also recovered in the building fill. From these data it would appear that Structure I2 had been constructed at the very beginning of the Late Classic Period and that at least one burial had been intruded into the summit at the beginning of the Terminal Classic.

S.D. C177F-1 (Figures 22, 23, 24, and 25) was a burial that was nicknamed “Legolas.” The upper part of the internment had been extracted by the looters when they trenched the upper part of the building, but a series of femurs and tibia were still in situ in the western edge of the excavation (Figures 22 and 23). The remaining bone appeared to occur within a small open air cavity and it the entire interment may have once been located within a small crypt that once ran east-west (especially as cut capstones were recovered in the looters’ trench). The recovered remains represent more than one individual, with a total of eleven teeth being recovered. A central upper incisor evinces evidence of notching. A mandible suggests that at least one of the individuals in this interment was male. The fact that there is resorption in the area of the 2nd and 3rd molars suggests that he was also an adult. Re-excavation of the looters trench recovered pieces of 8 ceramic vessels (Figure 24), which are believed to have been associated with the burial. Two of these partial vessels represent the bases of incensarios. Pieces of 5 of these vessels (the 4 slipped and the spiked incensario base) were recovered with the in situ bone. Also recovered with the in situ legs were bone and shell pendants (Figure 25), both drilled for central suspension. The shell pendent looks remarkably like the toothed mouth of Tlaloc that occurs in the upper masks on the base of Structure B5 (Ishihara et al 2006:216). The occurrence of incensarios with burials is documented elsewhere at Caracol (A. Chase and D. Chase 1994; D. Chase and A. Chase 1998).

S.D. C177F-2 (Figure 26) designates a burial placed directly into the dry core fill in the front portion of the Structure I2 summit. Because the bones shifted in the fill, it is not possible to determine whether the individuals were primary or secondary burials (or some mix) when they were placed in the fill. The recovered remains appear to represent 3 individuals, one of whom was an adult male at the time of death. At least 34 teeth may be associated with this interment and one of the upper central incisors is corner-notched. Ante mortem tooth loss was found in a fragment of a recovered mandible. Some caries and some tartar is in evidence on the teeth. No artifacts were in direct association with this interment.

Structure I5 (Figures 27, 28, and 29)

The eastern building in the GRB group was the appropriate size, shape, and position to indicate that it would have been the ritual focus for the residential group (e.g. A. Chase and D. Chase 1994). Excavations here recovered little in the way of an actual building, instead finding lines of stone and partial floors. Even the frontal stair was badly decomposed. The stratigraphy within the building was complicated and indicated that there were minimally three different versions of Structure I5, as well as an earlier plaza flooring that sloped sharply downward to the east. The rear facings for the earlier constructions appear to have been removed when the latest version of Structure I5 was built. Most of the recovered ritual deposits may be associated with the construction of the latest version of Structure I5; others were intruded into Structure I5-1st. The amount of ritual caching found in the core of this building is surprising and indicates the existence of some variability within residential ritual patterning at the site, perhaps related to the role that the individuals who occupied this group played in the social and political life of Caracol.

Suboperation C177D (Figures 28 and 29) was assigned to an axial trench into Structure I5 that measured 12.05 m east-west by 2 m north-south. It was dug to bedrock in one part on its western side, where the main plaza was characterized by a continuous hard-packed fill capped by the decomposed final upper flooring. The lack of clear evidence for early surfaces in this part of the excavation was surprising. As a result of this excavation, a series of building walls and floors were encountered, representing minimally 3 versions of Structure I5. Within the fills of these constructions, thirteen special deposits were recovered; five of these deposits represented interments and eight represented caches. The caches were distributed to the rear and to front of the structure; with the exception of S.D. C177D-13, all of the caches were also associated with activity relating to Structure I5-1st. Unusual materials found within the core of Structure I5 included a limestone bar (Figure 21c), potentially associated with S.D. C177D-11, a partial green obsidian point (Figure 21e), a modified shell (Figure 21f), and a disturbed cache vessel (Figure 39a) from the area of S.D. C177D-2.

S.D. C177D-1 (Figures 30, 31, and 32) was recovered within the first hour of excavation in the trench. It consisted of a face cache set directly into the fill of the construction, barely beneath the humus layer. Set within the vessel were 8 eccentric obsidians, a shaped piece of malachite, and an eroded pomacia shell. It was determined that the cache was placed prior to the placement of S.D. C177D-2. When this burial was intruded into the fill, the cache was tangent to the eastern edge of the cut made to inter the body. This activity disturbed the face on the cache and dislodged some of its appliqué. A piece of this appliqué was recovered on the western edge of S.D. C177D-2.

S.D. C177D-2 (Figures 33, 34, and 35) was assigned to a burial that appears to have been intruded into the building. The interment was located not far beneath the ground surface and was in a very bad state of disrepair. Large flat stones were used to cap the interment which was positioned within the rocky fill. The body was laid out supine with the head to the south and the legs potentially semi-flexed. No sex identification was possible. Only a single tooth was recovered, an adult upper central incisor with an empty inlay hole. The burial was accompanied by 3 ceramic vessels. A bowl and a cylinder were placed over the legs and an effigy jar was placed at the right elbow. These vessels date to Late to Teminal Classic Period.

S.D. C177D-3 (Figure 36) was assigned to the badly decomposed remains of a burial at the eastern end of the trench. This bone was within an area of dry core fill and barely beneath the ground surface. No sex identification was possible, but the individual was probably an adult based on the long bone size. No teeth were recovered.

S.D. C177D-4 (Figure 37) was used to designate a partial human adult male mandible and a partial maxilla located in the fill deep below the front steps of the building. The bone is associated with 6 teeth. Also found with the manidible and maxilla was a deer phalange.

S.D. C177D-5 (Figure 38 and 39) was assigned to a minature cache vessel and lid that was found in the southeastern corner of the stone alignment that housed S.D. C177D-7. The cache vessel itself was at the same height as the stones; the lid was slightly deeper.

S.D. C177D-6 (Figures 40, 41, and 42) designated and interment within a well-constructed crypt. The crypt was completely full of dirt and rubble; except for the southern end, all of the capstones had collapsed into the crypt. The crypt contained a single individual accompanied by 2 ceramic vessels and faunal bone. A single individual was extended in a supine position with head to the north. The individual was probably an adult. No sex identification was possible. All of the bones were extremely eroded. The cental incisors (both upper and lower) of the individual were “worn” flat, but they may have been purposefully filed to achieve this effect. Caries were evident in the upper right molars of the individual. Both ceramic vessels were eroded and both were burnt, possibly in situ. These two bowls permit a Terminal Classic Period dating to be assigned to this interment; the deep bowl, in particularly, resembles similar ones reported by Laporte (2003) in the southeastern Peten of Guatemala.

S.D. C177D-7 (Figures 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, and 49) was assigned to a very complicated deposit located behind the frontal steps of Structure I5. When the deposit first was encountered, it looked to be a disturbed crypt that had been potentially cut through by the construction of the front steps (Figure 38), perhaps in conjunction with the placement of S.D. C177D-5. Further excavation, however, revealed a full crypt with a hard plaster floor on its southern end (Figure 43). This floor was clearly cut and an excavation through this cut revealed nests of ceramic vessels (Figures 44 and 45). Excavation ultimately recovered 28 cache vessels (Figure 47), 7 eccentric obsidians (Figure 48a-h), 4 crude limestone bars (Figure 49), 1 shell bead (Figure 48j), 1 shell flower (Figure 48i), modified bone, and pieces of a Terminal Classic incensario flange. The inclusion of this incensario flange with the cache vessels both at the top and bottom of the deposit suggests a Terminal Classic dating for all of these materials. At the base of all of the cache vessels, a layer of flat stone slabs was encountered (Figure 46), as well as another plaster floor that was cut through on its northern edge, like the original floor for the crypt. Beneath these slabs was another crypt (Figure 46) that was completely filled with soft dirt (indicating that it had once been open. Within this dirt, part of a single partial flanged dish (Figure 39c) and a small amount of human bone was recovered, suggesting that the crypt had been reentered and disturbed at the time that the elaborate ceramic cache was deposited. The dating for the flanged dish is to the onset of the Late Classic Period. Thus, a sizeable amount of time existed between the two reconstructed events. It would appear that the lower crypt may have been coincidentally located below the upper crypt, as it is doubtful that a social memory on the order of 300 years was in play. Whatever the case, the placement of the nested cache vessels disturbed both crypts during the Terminal Classic.

S.D. C177D-8 (Figures 50, 51, 52, 53, and 54) was assigned to a cache of multiple vessels set in front of the Structure I5 steps and just below the level of the final plaza floor. This grouping consisted of two face caches with a set of finger bowls. The faces were both oriented to the west and represent crude birds (not human). Face caches representing birds have been recovered in a few other residential excavations, but are not common. The finger bowls were set over the edge of one of the face caches. The northern face cache was empty. The southern face cache contained 10 obsidian eccentrics, pomacia shell, and an extraordinary carved limetone sun god head that is reminiscent of the carved jadeite Kinich Ahau head from Altun Ha (Pendergast 1982). The lip-to-lip finger cache contained at least 1 distal and 2 middle human phalages.

S.D. C177D-9 (Figures 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60 and 61) was assigned to a deposit placed in the core of Structure I5 and situated directly beneath S.D. C177D-2. This deposit consisted of 2 large “smiling” face caches, one upright and one on its side. While the contents of the upright vessel were intact, the face cache that was on its side had ruptured and part of its contents had probably partially spilled out, accounting for the obsidian eccentrics and jadeite beads located to the exterior of the vessels. Exterior offerings included 10 obsidian eccentrics, a limestone bar, shell fragments, a jadeite ball, and burnt jadeite. Still inside Vessel 2 were 8 obsidian eccentrics, 1 worked piece of jadeite, 9 shells, and 3 bone fragments. Inside Vessel 1 were 21 obsidian eccentrics, 2 jadeite beads, 11 pomacea shells, 182 river snails, 1 shell cluster, 4 mother-of-pearl marine shells, 12 other marine shells, 2 stingray spines, 1 chert chunk, and faunal bone.

S.D. C177D-10 (Figure 62, 63, 64, 65, and 66) was assigned to a cache vessel set in a crude open-air cist in the fill beneath S.D. C177D-2 and S.D. C177D-9. The deposit consisted of material both outside and inside an intact face cache and lid. Outside the vessel (Figure 63) were 3 limestone bars, a complete chert biface, and a chert chunk. Inside the cache (Figure 65) were 3 jadiete beads, 1 drilled shark tooth, a shell disc, a shell inlay, a spondylus bead, worked spondylus, 1 pomacia shell, 1 mother-of-pearl shell, 7 river snails, 1 fragmentary shell, and faunal bone. One of the limestone bars was stained red on both of its ends, probably from mashing pigment. This deposit may be stratigaphically placed in a tightly ordered temporal series: S. D. C177D-10 was the earliest cache; S.D. C177D-9 was the next cache; then, S.D. C177D-1 was cached; and, finally, S. D. C177D-2 was placed. The time depth involved in all of these activities is unknown, but presumably largely took place in the Late Classic Period.

S.D. C177D-11 (Figures 36 and 67) was assigned for the remains of a face cache found just below the ground surface near the eastern end of the trench when the section was being detailed for drawing. It is likely associated with a limestone bar (Figure 21c) and pomacia shell that were recovered in this area earlier.

S.D. C177D-12 (Figure 68) was assigned for human long bone fragments, possibly representing a sub-adult individual, that occurred in an open-air space deep in the fill of Structure I5. A covering stone was in place in the section. The deposit appears to have been intruded into the earliest version of Structure I5 and was definitely placed prior to all of the caches discussed above.

S.D. C177D-13 (Figures 69, 70, and 71) consisted of 3 lip-to-lip sets of finger bowl caches that were sealed beneath an early plaza floor. All contained remnants of human fingers; one set contained a distal human phalange; the other two each contained a single human finger represented by proximate, middle, and distal phalanges. This cache is probably the earliest ritual activity uncovered at the Structure I5 locus and likely predates the Late Classic Period.

Structure I7 (Figures 72, 73, and 74)

Structure I7 defined the southern edge of the GRB Group. A small aguada was set off the building’s southwest corner. The mound rose approximately 3 m above the central plaza. Excavation revealed the remains of a stone building with a rear bench and well-preserved plaster floor. The entire excavation was backfilled at the end of the field season.

Suboperation C177E (Figures 73 and 74) was assigned for an axial trench measuring 10.8 m north-south by 1.5 m east-west. This excavation succeeded in locating portions of a well-preserved upper building and a lower step for the platform that articulated with the plaza. While the southern wall of the building had largely collapsed, well-preserved plaster surfaces covered a bench and the building floor and northern step. The western door jamb for the building was uncovered in section. With the exception of the bench, fills for the building were not penetrated, so the date of its construction is not known. Of potential interest is the fact that a human bone fragment was recovered on the floor inside the building.

Summary of the GRB Group

Excavations into the GRB Group revealed some surprising results. Two of the investigations, those into Structure I1 and I7, produced stone-walled buildings with raised benches and substantial plaster floors, potentially indicating that the group was occupied by relatively “wealthy” individuals. The number of face caches and their elaborate contents recovered also potentially distinguishes the inhabitants of this group. These face caches were associated with both the northern and eastern buildings. In the eastern building, the majority of the face caches contained eccentric obsidians and other items, something at odds with the majority of residential groups investigated at the site. While a few Early Classic sherds were included in the building fills, none of the recovered building activity appears to date earlier than the onset of the Late Classic Period. The group continued to be occupied into the Terminal Classic Period. This can be seen through the trash associated with Structure I1 and I2 and through at least one of the burials placed in Structure I5. In summary, the archaeological investigations into the GRB Group suggest that there are variations in the Late Classic residential ritual patterns that may mirror the status and role of certain specialized individuals, and perhaps families, in the broader Caracol community.

Structure D2 (Figures 75 and 76)

Structure D2 was selected for excavation during the 2007 field sesason because of its position as a western construction. Western buildings were often used as locations for ritual during the Terminal Classic Period. The broad pyramid is immediately west of the main Caracol reservoir and rises to a height of approximately 8 meters above its associated plaza floor. No evidence of any formal facings could be seen prior to excavation.

The important role that western buildings had in the Terminal Classic Period has been demonstrated in the adjacent southeastern lowlands of Guatemala through the work of Juan Pedro Laporte (1994, 1996, 2004; Vasquez and Laporte 2005). He has shown that Terminal Classic burials tended to be placed within western buildings in this region (e.g., A. Chase 2004). During the 2006 field season, excavations were undertaken in two western buildings. One small low-lying line-of-stone building in a residential group, Structure B143, produced an immense amount of lithic debris, but no burials. The other western building excavated during the 2006 field season was Structure A31, located in the middle of the epicenter. Structure A31 proved to be a raised platform whose front was associated with 21 broken vessels that included 4 presumably foreign incensarios (A. Chase and D. Chase 2007). Thus, this western epicentral building was clearly a very late Terminal Classic ritual locale; however, it does not appear to have had a burial focus. Structure D2 was selected for investigation during the 2007 field season with the above considerations in mind.

Suboperation C178B (Figures 75, 77, and 78) was an axial excavation placed over the area of articulation between Structure D2 and the plaza floor. This lower trench measured 4.4 m east-west by 1.0 m wide. It shared the same axis as the summit excavation. The investigation succeeded in locating the intact lower step for the pyramid and some of the upper steps, as well as a plaza floor. This plaza floor ran under the lower step. Penetration of the upper plaza floor revealed the existence of two earlier plaza floors in this locus. No significant artifactual materials were recovered in this excavation.

Suboperation C178C (Figures 79 and 80) was an axial excavation placed over the summit of Structure D2. This trench measured 7.5 m east-west by 2 m north-south. A large tree existed on the south section edge, which precluded excavation in its immediate vicinity. Excavation revealed only three potential single course facings on the summit of the structure. No formal building existed at the summit, making Structure D2 similar to the situation in Structure A2 where a platform, rather than a formal walled building, was located. Three partial floors were recovered in the excavation. The uppermost floor was associated with the three recorded facings and may have been encased in the latest version of the building. A middle floor may have served as a construction floor east of S.D. C178C-1. Deep under the western limit of the excavation, a well-preserved plaster floor was encountered. It has been placed directly over dry-core fill and was cut through on its eastern side. A lidded cache vessel, S.D. C178C-2 was placed in a small niche built into the dry core fill approximately 20 cm above this floor. The two deposits recovered within the building core of Structure D2 indicate that this area was an important ritual locus at the very end of the Early Classic Period.

S.D. C178C-1 (Figures 80, 81, 82, and 83) consisted of a stone-ringed area of burning encased in the middle of the construction fill for Structure D2. Broken and jumbled within this burnt area of fill, as if thrown from a distance and then purposefully mixed, were 14 ceramic vessels (Figure 82), 2 limestone bars, 1 partial jadeite bead, 1 polished piece of jadeite, 16 obsidian lancets and whole blades, and 25 obsidan blade fragments (Figure 83). The ceramic vessels were either in the form of cache bowls or of polychrome dishes. The stone-ringed burnt area was placed directly over dry-core fill, meaning that other materials that possibly were associated with this deposit had filtered down to lower levels; these materials include 2 limestone bar fragments (probably from the same bar; Figure 83p), a piece of unpolished jadeite (Figure 83o), pomacia shell , 1 complete obsidian blade (Figure 83q), 1 obsidian eccentric (Figure 83k), and 16 obsidian fragments. The intentional burning and breaking activity that was involved in creating this deposit is potentially reflective of ritual activities similar to those associated with re-entered tombs in Structure F2 and behind Structure A1 (D. Chase and A. Chase 2003).

S.D. C178C-2 (Figures 84, 85, 86, 87, and 88) was assigned for a cache that consisted of a lidded urn set within an open air space approximately 1.1 m below the western extent of S.D. C178C-1. A rounded shed was also located within the open air space next to the urn. The urn’s lid had a modeled jaguar for its handle. Within the urn were: 5 jadeite “Charlie Chaplins” drilled for suspension (Figure 88a,h.l.q,u), 21 shell “Charlie Chaplins” drilled for suspension (Figure 88b-d,e-g,i-k,m-o,r-p,v-z), 7 jadeite beads (Figure 87mm,rr-uu,yy,zz), 69 shell beads, 3 jadeite triangle pendants, 3 shell triangle pendants, 3 jadeite “jaguar” teeth pendents, 4 shell “jaguar teeth” pendents, 5 shell pendants, 1 drilled olivella shell, 3 drilled flamingo tongue shells, 2 stingray spines, 1 pearl, 2 unworked spondylus shells (Figure 87b,c),1 unworked scallop shell (Figure 87a), 4 small clam shells, 1 spondylus shell fragment, 5 marine shells, 2 possible river shells, 5 miscellaneous shell pieces, 1 mirror back, pyrite from the mirror, and 1 miscellaneous sherd. The contents of this cache are reminiscent of other cache contents recovered in Structures A2 and A7 (A. Chase and D. Chase 2005b); these deposits similarly date to the very end of the Early Classic Period.


Each discrete package of information collected during a field season adds to our broader understanding of Caracol. Among other goals, the 2007 investigations sought to build upon recent investigations (2000, 2003-2006 field seasons) that have focused on the Terminal Classic era and on the small epicentral structures. Taken together, this body of data not only permits comparison of how epicentral structures were utilized, but also permits the wider analysis of contemporary variation in material remains. Like the investigations undertaken in 2006, the 2007 excavations attempted to focus on Terminal Classic variability in material culture. While some Terminal Classic materials were recovered in the GRB Group, the 2007 investigations instead opened up avenues of research that pertain to variability in ancient ritual at Caracol during the Late Classic Period. The placement and contents of face caches in the GRB Group differs from the contextual placement of face caches in other residential groups and suggests that other residential ritual variability remains undetected. The ritual deposit of burnt and broken materials recovered in the fill of Structure D2 suggests complex behavioral patterns that go far beyond the simple placement of caches and burials. The presence of limestone bars in the Structure D2 and the Structure I5 deposits provide new and tantalizing clues to these activities (e.g., A. Chase et al. 2007). Thus, again, our understanding of the Classic Maya becomes more elaborated and further complicated with these new finds. Although the initial goal of the 2007 field season was to research a better definition of the latest occupation and ultimate abandonment of Caracol, the recovered data actually better answer questions dealing with variability on two earlier temporal horizons, setting the stage for patterns found in late Terminal Classic contexts (D. Chase and A. Chase 2006). These findings further suggest that the patterned variation seen in the Terminal Classic Period had Late Classic antecedents. Thus, while archaeological researchers cannot always predict what will be uncovered, all contextual archaeological data have interpretive value. The 2007 Caracol excavations have opened up other important avenues for future research on the significance of material culture variability at the site.


The figures included within this report were drafted by Arlen F. chase and Diane Z. Chase with the help of Lucas Johnson; all figures were finalized in Photoshop by Arlen Chase. Field drawings were undertaken by all staff members. As in the past several field seasons, the Belize Institute of Archaeology has substantially facilitated the project; without the help of Jaime Awe, John Morris, George Thompson, and Brian Woodye, the field camp and project at Caracol would not have functioned successfully. Major funding for the 2007 field season was provided from the Harrison Fund (formerly the Ahau Foundation), from the Trevor Colbourn Endowment at the University of Central Florida, and from the Geraldine and Emory Ford Foundation.


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Caracol Project Members: 2007 Field Season


Arlen F. Chase C1
Diane Z. Chase C2

Amy Morris C111
Andy Tetlow C174

Allison Picozza C177
Nelisa Sanchez C178
Sean-Michael Scott C179

Belizean Labor:

Angelica Meneses
Linda Aurora Meneses
Mirna Beatriz Chi

Julio Galeano
Saul Galeano
Jaime Iglesais
Carlos Ivan Mendez
Gustavo Mendez Jr.
Asterio Moralez
Eduardo Tut

Clean-Up Crew:

James Crandall C170
Jorge Garcia C144
Amanda Groff C150
Lucas Johnson C134

Other Visitors:

Mauricio Granados, Photographer

GRB crew for Discovery Channel (17 people)


Cover Polychrome ceramic vessel from the core of Structure I2 (see Figure 20e).

Figure 1: Plan of Structures B1, B2, and A16.

Figure 2: Photograph of Structure B1 showing Operation C176C.

Figure 3: Structure B1 section (Operation C176C).

Figure 4: Photograph of Structure A16 excavation showing Operation C176B.

Figure 5: Structure A16 and B1 corner elevantion; Structure A16 section.

Figure 6: Structure A16 plan.

Figure 7: Plan of the GRB Group in the I Quad.

Figure 8: Photograph of Structure I1.

Figure 9: Structure I1 section (Operation C177B).

Figure 10: Structure I1 plan.

Figure 11: Structure I1 elevation.

Figure 12: Ceramics on the latest floor of Structure I1, both Valentin Unslipped.

Figure 13: Ceramics from the fill of Structure I1: a. eroded Zacatel Cream; b., d., e., g., h.
eroded Valentin Unslipped; c. eroded Tinaja; f., i., j. possibly Pepet Incised.

Figure 14: Structure I1 artifacts (c. and d.) and Structure I 5 artifacts (b., c., e., and f.).

Figure 15: Photograph of Structure I2.

Figure 16: Structure I2 section.

Figure 17: Structure I2 plans of Operations C177C and C177F.

Figure 18. Structure I2 ceramics: a. Tinaja Red; b. possibly Platon Punctated; c. Pedregal
Modeled; d. Valentin Unslipped; e. and f. undesignated types.

Figure 19: Structure I2 cache vessel (Hebe Modeled).

Figure 20a Figure 20b: Structure I2 core vessels: a. eroded Balanza Black; b., c., d. Quintal Unslipped;
e. Saxche Orange Polychrome.

Figure 21: Miscellaneous artifactual materials from the core of Structures I2.

Figure 22: Photograph of S.D. C177F-1.

Figure 23: Plan of S.D. C177F-1.

Figure 24: Ceramic vessels associated with S.D. C177F-1: a. Palmar Orange Polychrome;
b. Tinaja Red; c., f., g. Valentin Unslipped; d. unnamed red; e. Platon Punctated;
h. Miseria Appliqued.

Figure 25: Pendants from S.D. C177F-1 made of bone (b.) and shell (a.).

Figure 26: Plan of S.D. C177F-2.

Figure 27: Photograph of Structure I5.

Figure 28: Structure I5 section.

Figure 29: Structure I5 plans.

Figure 30: Plans of S.D. C177D-1: upper plan shows location in the trench; lower plan
is of objects in vessel.

Figure 31: Ceramic urn (Hebe Modled) used in S.D. C177D-1.

Figure 32: Contents of S.D. C177D-1 (rounded jadeite piece not shown): a.-h. obsidian
eccentrics; i. pomacia shell.

Figure 33: Photograph of S.D. C177D-2.

Figure 34: Plan of S.D. C177D-2.

Figure 35: Ceramic vessels associated with S.D. C177D-2: a. Gallinero Fluted; b. Belize Red;
c. possibly San Julio Modeled.

Figure 36: Plan of S.D. C177D-3 and S.D. C177D-11 in eastern end of Operation C177D.

Figure 37: Plan of S.D. C177D-4.

Figure 38: Plan of S.D. C177D-5 and initial crypt stones for S.D. C177D-7.

Figure 39: Ceramic vessels from Operation C177D: a. Ceiba Unslipped; b. probably Ceiba
Unslipped; c. Pajarito Orange Polychrome.

Figure 40: Photograph of S.D. C177D-6.

Figure 41: Plan of S.D. C177D-6.

Figure 42: Ceramic vessels from S.D. C177D-6, both probably eroded Tinaja Red.

Figure 43: Plan of upper crypt for S.D. C177D-7 at level of upper floor upper crypt.

Figure 44: Photograph of crypt for S.D. C177D-7 with some of the vessels evident within the cut.

Figure 45: Upper and lower plans of the vessels that were intruded into the crypt for S.D. C177D-7.

Figure 46: Plans of the capstones for the lower crypt and of the lower crypt beneath S.D. C177D-7.

Figure 47: Ceramic vessels associated with S.D. C177D-7 (all Ceiba Modeled).

Figure 48: Artifacts associated with S.D. C177D-7: a.-h. obsidian eccentrics; i., j. cut shells.

Figure 49: Crude limestone bars associated with S.D. C177D-7.

Figure 50: Plan of S.D. C177D-8.

Figure 51: Ceramic vessels from S.D. C177D-8: a. Ceiba Modeled; b., c. Hebe Modeled.

Figure 52: Plan of the interior contents of Vessel 2 in S.D. C177D-8.

Figure 53: Artifacts from inside Vessel 2: a. carved limestone Kinich Ahau; b.-k. obsidian

Figure 54: Photograph of the limestone Kinich Ahau from S.D. C177D-8.

Figure 55: Photograph of S.D. C177D-9, looking south.

Figure 56: Detailed plan of S.D. C177D-9.

Figure 57: Ceramic vessels from S.D. C177D-9, both Hebe Modeled.

Figure 58: Photograph of interior of Vessel 1 from S.D. C177D-9.

Figure 59: Upper plan of contents of Vessel 1 of S.D. C177D-9.

Figure 60: Lower plan of contents of Vessel 1 of S.D. C177D-9.

Figure 61a Figure 61b Figure 61c Figure 61d Figure 61e: Artifacts associated with S.D. C177D-9: a.-ll. obsidian eccentrics; mm.-
qq. jadeite; rr. limestone bar.

Figure 62: Photograph of S.D. C177D-10.

Figure 63: Detailed plan of S.D. C177D-10.

Figure 64: Ceramic urn and lid from S.D. C177D-10 (Hebe Modeled).

Figure 65: Plan of materials inside urn in S.D. C177D-10.

Figure 66: Aritfactual materials associated with S.D. C177D-10: a. chert biface; b.-d. limestone bars;
e. shark’s tooth; j.-l. jadeite; f.-i. worked shell.

Figure 67: Ceramic vessel from S.D. C177D-11 (Hebe Modeled).

Figure 68: Plan of S.D. C177D-12.

Figure 69: Photograph of S.D. C177D-13.

Figure 70: Detailed plan of S.D. C177D-13.

Figure 71: Ceramics from S.D. C177D-13, all Ceiba Unslipped.

Figure 72: Photograph of Structure I7 and Operation C177E.

Figure 73: Structure I7 section.

Figure 74: Structure I7 plan.

Figure 75: Photograph of Structure D2 and Operation C178B.

Figure 76: Structure D2 full section.

Figure 77: Structure D2 lower section (Operation C178B).

Figure 78: Structure D2 lower plan (Operation C178B).

Figure 79: Structure D2 upper section (Operation C178C).

Figure 80: Structure D2 upper plans (Operation C178C).

Figure 81: Photograph of S.D. C178C-1.

Figure 82: Ceramics associated with S.D. C178C-1: a., i. Aguila Orange; b.-g., k., m. unslipped
version of Aguila Orange; h.-n. Pajarito Orange Polychrome.

Figure 83: Artifacts from S.D. C178C-1 and below the deposit: a., d., p. limestone bars;
b., c., o. jadeite; e.-n., q. obsidian (o., p. and q. are from beneath S.D. C178C-1).

Figure 84: Photograph of S.D. C178C-2.

Figure 85: Ceramic vessel and lid from S.D. C178C-2 (undesignated ceramic type).

Figure 86: Detailed plan of interior of the urn in S.D. C178C-2.

Figure 87: Artifactual materials from S.D. C178C-2: a. complete scallop shell; b., c. complete
spondylus shells; d., i., n., s. clam shells; e., j., o. flamingo-tongue shells; f., k., p., x., cc.,
dd. nn., rr.-uu., yy., zz., worked jadeite; g., h., l., m., q., r., t., y.-bb., ee.-mm, pp., qq., vv.-
xx. worked shell; u. pearl; w. two stingray spines.

Figure 88: “Charlie Chaplins” from S.D. C178C-2: a., h., l., q., u. jadeite; all others are shell.