Colha, Belize: A preliminary statement on the 1979 season

Material Information

Colha, Belize: A preliminary statement on the 1979 season
Thomas R. Hester
Giancarlo Ligabue
Harry J. Shafer
Jack D. Eaton
Robert F. Heizer
Sandro Salvatori
Place of Publication:
Belizean Studies, St. John's College Junior College
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
7 pages


Subjects / Keywords:
Spiney Lobster
Spatial Coverage:
Caye Caulker
San Pedro


Belizean Studies was the longest running journal dedicated to social science research on Belize. The journal features research in a variety of disciplines including cultural anthropology, archaeology, decolonization, diplomatic relations, photo-history, oral history, biographies, literature and book reviews. It contains the work of some of the most pioneering researchers on Belize and is considered an invaluable repository of Belize’s scholarship.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.

UFDC Membership

Digital Library of the Caribbean


This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text


ELIIEAN STUDIESvol.7 No.6 November 1979 .... ..c t.D ::s o ..c .... .... I: ca ..c '" ... 'ftl CD := ... ftI .'" o CIt .... o ftI C ... ::s o ..... r Colha, Belize: A Preliminary Statement on the 1979 Season The Labourer's Riot of 1894 (Part I) of Boats and the River Index for 1979 ( (


B E LIZ EA N S T U DI ES i s published six times a y ea r by: E ditors: BISR A (Beliz e Inst i t u te of Social R es e a rch a n d Action) St. 1 ohn 's College B elize City B eli ze ( B ritish Honduras) C en tral A me r ic a Ri chard Buhl e r S l l ohn Mah e r S.1. Advisory B o ard : Mr. Leo Br a dl ey Mr. Homer o Escalante Mr. Verno n Les li e Rev. Lloyd Lopez Miss Sig n a Yor k e THE ADVISORY B OARD d i sclaims r e spon s ibilit y fo r state m ents, either of fa c ts, or o pinio n ma d e b y contri butions. Co m m e n ts and l ette rs from our read ers ar e we lcome. Sin g l e issues of B E LIZ EAN ST U DI E S m ay be p ur c h ase d f o r $ 1 0 0 each. Th e Ann ua l subscr i p t ion i s $ 5.0 0 For eig n rates : T h e Americas : $6 0 0 U.S. and othe r p la ces: $8. 00 C h ec k s o r dr afts s hould be issu e d in t h e name o f BISR A ( B elize In stitute o f S oc ia l R esea r c h a n d A c tion), c / o St. 1 01111 s College B e l iz e Cit y B e li ze, Centra l America.


OVERVIEW Belizean Studies was the longest running journal dedicated to social science research on Belize. The journal features research in a variety of disciplines including cultural anthropology, archeology, decolonization, diplomatic relations, photo history, oral history, biographi es, literature and book reviews. It contains the work of some of the most pioneering researchers on Belize and is considered an OBJECTIVES The objectives of the digitization project are to enable wider acces s to the journal; assist with the preservation of original documents; encourage research; and sensitize users and the public about the importance of research for the development of Belize FUNDING This project is funded by the Institute for Social and Cu ltural Research of the National Institute of Culture and History (ISCR NICH), Belize. COPYRIGHT All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except for individual education and research purposes. PUBLISHER CONTACT Princess Margaret Drive Belize City, Belize, C.A. +501 223 3732


PUBLICATION INFO: Reference Type : Journal Article Author: Thomas R. Hester Giancarlo Ligabue Harry J. Shafer Jack D. Eaton Robert F. Heizer & Sandro Salvatori Year: 1979 Title: Colha, Belize: A preliminary statement on the 1979 season Journal: Belizean Studies Volume: 7 Issue: 6 Pages: 1 7 Suggested APA Citation: Ligabue, G., Shafer, H. J., Eaton, J. D., Heizer, R. F., & Salvatori, S. (1979). Colha, Belize: A preliminary statement on the 1979 season. Belizean Studies, 7 (6), 1 7. Host URL: h ttps://


T HOfv'lAS R H ESTE R HARRY ,I t SHAFER ROBERT F. HEIZER GIANCARLO LIG A BUE JAC K D. EATON SAL V ATOR I CoIba, Belize: A Preliminary Statement on the 1979 Season The purpose o f this artic le i s t o prov ide a brief r eview o f t h e first 1979 fie ld season at the site of Co 1-ha, B e lize. The comme nts offered here are greatly expanded in a p ublication issued b y the Center for Archaeolog ical Research The University o f Texas a t San Antonio, i n t h e late s u mmer o f t his year. Colh a i s located at Ra n c h o Creek, 4 7 m iles north of Belize City -bisected by t h e Northern Highwa y Most o f the s ite lies on the ran c h o f John and Herbert Masson, whose tremendous cooperation and friendship were invaluable contributions to t h e success of our first season. The 1979 season was conducted under the terms of Permit 1-79 from t h e government of Belize; we are grateful to Elizabeth Graham (Archaeological Commissioner) and to Mark Gutchen (Assistant to the Commissioner) for their g e nerous assistance. The research was administered by the UTSA Center for Archaeological Research under Hester's direction However, other project d irectors from three institutions played a significan t role in the project: Dr. Harry J. Shafer (Texas A & M University), Dr. Giancarlo Ligabue (Centro Studi e Richerche Lig a bue, Ven ice) and Dr. Robert F. H e izer (University of California," BeI'keley). Project co-directors were Jack D. Eaton (UTSA) and Dr. Sandro Salvatori (Centro Studi e Richerch e Liga-bue). -:l F Ours was not t h e first. i nvestigation to b e carried out a t Colha. The C a m bridg e University B ritish Museum 1


Coroz.:ll Project, directed by Dr. Norman Hammond (no w of Rutgers UIiiversity), originally docum ented the site i n 1973; at that time, a survey team prepa red a map of m u c h of the cleared portior. of t h e sit e Add i tiona 1 surv e y ar.d mapping was rio n e by t h e Coroza1 Project ir. 1975. Also during this period, and c o n t inuing into 1976, R i char d Wilk (affiliate d a t t h a t t im e with the Coroza 1 P roject) conducted extensive surface reco nnaissan c e at C olha, tested a sac be, and carried out a det a i l e d contr o l led surface c o 1lec t ion o f a large li thic workshop. W i l k I S data on tJ::ese activiU e s are contained in Hammon d I s interi m reports ir. 1973 and 1976 publis hed a t Cambridg e Ur.iversity ir. Hester a n d Hammond (1976), and in s e veral unpublished manuscripts. Beginning with the first inquiries b y the Corozal Project, it was obvious that Colh a had b een the center of intens i ve production of chert ("f lint") t o o ls. Li tera 11y hundreds o f workshops and workshop mounds were noted acros s the s ite. Sucha site, with lithic production activities of this m a g nitude, had not then (and has not as yet) been reported from the Maya lowland s Thus, i n Apri 1 1976, Hammond and Hester organized a field symposium devoted to a review of lithic research in t h e Maya are.? A number o f scholars participated in the session and the proceedings of this conference were subsequent ly pub lished (Hester and H ammon d 1976). The focal point of the field symposium was the site of Co1ha; o n e of t h e participants, Don Crabtree, described it as "one of t h e most importan t li thic sites in the wor ld. At th2 conference Hammond suggested that Harry Sha fer and Hester look into the possibility of more intensive investigations at the site -hopefully a long-term effort which would provide data on lithic production craft specialization, an aspect of Maya life-way that is poorly known. Fortunately, in 1978, we were able to secure private funding for a two-month field season in 1979; t h e prospec ts are good for the funding of addi tiona 1 seasons. During January and February 1979, the Colha Project was initiated. A field camp was constructed on the Masson property, near Rancho Creek, and a series of field investigations began. Very briefly summarized, the first season was oriented toward six specific goals (Hester 1979; Shafer and Hester 1979): 1. Test t h e lithic workshops for suspected qualitative differences and variability; 2




2. Determine the temporal span of the workshops and evaluate the relative importance of lithic production at the site during various periods; 3 Test a sampling strategy designed to handle the vast quantities of debitage from the workshops; 4. Devise a classification and typological system to handle both debitage and lithic artifacts from the workshops and from other contexts at the site; 5. Formulate substantive statements regarding craft specialization based on data from the workshop excavations; and 6. Test other types of structures at the site, carry out ecological studies and construct additional site survey and mapping -all necessary components in our effort to provide an overa 11 perspective from which to view the lithic production system(s) in cultural context. To achieve these objectives during our relatively brief field season, five excavation areas were opened. Operations 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006 were in the vicinity of the monumenta 1 center in the northern part of the site. Operation 1001 was at Wilk's Structure 100 (the scene of his controlled surface collections), in the northeast quadrant of the site. The units at Op. 2001 tested an E a rly P o stclassic lithic workshop and an adjacent hou sem ound. The housemound had deposits more 'than two m e t e r s thick, with Earl y Postclassic materials in the upper l e v e Is, a n d Late P r e c lass i c components near the botto m. It was e s tablished (Shafer and Hester 1979) that t h e l i t hic production represented in the Early Postclassic w o r k shop (with debitage deposits more than a half-meter thick) was oriented toward the product ion of thinned laurel leaf bifaces (often with tapered stems) and triangular bifaces (probab ly adzes or sma 11 axes; wear pattern studies are in progress).. Considerab Ie obsidian was reaching Colha during this period; samples are presently being analyzed as to geologi c source at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University o f California. Op. 2002 involved the tes t i n g of a workshop which proved t o be Late Preclassic. A n adjacent plazuela group was also tested, and w hile La t e Preclassic architecture was p resent, much o f the plazue l a area had been disturbed from subsequ ent building phases in the Late Classic and Early Postclassi c Howev e r t h e workshop excavations (in 'rlhi c h deb i tage a c cum u l a t ions were more t h a n o n e meter in thickn e ss) a t Op. 2 002, as well as Op. 2006 firmly established tha t a different lithi c p roduction system was present in Prec lass ic times.. I t was based l arge lyon the


use of chert macroblades for the mass production o f adzes and stemmed blades ("daggers"). Adze bi ts were formed by a peculiar tranchet technique, which produces a distinctive flake by-product earlier workers at the site called "orange peels." Large oval celts were also being mass produced, and !'eccentrics" we r e being manufactured. Since ceramic studies are not comp lete, the dating of the Ii thic workshops atOp. 1001 (Wi lk' s Structure 100) is stillnotclear. However, one workshop area apparently dates from the Late Preclassic, while another area dates from the Late Cla'Ssic, at least in upper levels. Celt production appears to have been an important facet of the Late Classic workshop. The testing of a large mound (Op. 2003) in a plaza group on the south side of the monumenta 1 center revea led an Early Postclassic midden and structural remnants overlaying a series of fill deposits covering a Late Preclassic stepped pyramid (Eaton 1979). A Classic period staircase, all that remains of a probable Late Classic building, covers the Late Preclassic stairs facing the plaza. At this time the orientation of the superimposed bui lding changed from an a lignment west of north to one east of north. The well-preserved Late Preclassic building is constructed of stone rubb Ie and mortar and covered with a thick finish of lime plaster. Some incised graffiti were noted on the top surface. Our limited excavations indicate that there may be at least two earlier structures contained within the pyramid. Four human burials were found during excavations here. Two of these are simply Early Postclassic intrusions into the fill, and the other two are more formally placed and were apparently Protoclassic in date. One was an intrusive pit into the center top of the Preclassic structure and. the other was contained in a small slabbui It vault on the east side and cut into the top step. Both Protoc lassic buria Is contained comp lete pottery vessels. Interesting midden deposits, containing a series of occupation floors, occurred beneath the workshop accumulations at Ope 2006. The upper deposits can be clearly linked to Chicane 1 habi ta t ions, based on the recovered ceramics. A charcoal sample from one of the occupation areas is presently being processed at The University of Texas at Austin Radiocarbon Laboratory. Ovoid, clay-lined. 5


pits o cc.u r red within the Chicanel occupaticm; fragments of thi n red'/mre p ottery lined the pits. The ye llow clay lini ngs did not a p pear to be baked or heat--altered. Unrle r l y i n g leve 1s contained midden debris a ttributab Ie, agai n o n h e basis of diagnostic ceramics, to Mamon occupations. The Mamon deposits rested on sterile red clay. A wide range of analyses is presently underway. Alrea d y it is clear that a highly organized lithic production industry was present at Colha in Late Preclassic times, perhaps operating at a more limited scale in the Classic period (although our present sample is quite limite d ) and with revived intensity during the Early Post classic. Craft specialization is clearly demonstrated; a narrow range of tolerance and a high level of ski 11 were e xhibited by the ancient Maya stone-workers. There is e vidence of a systematic production system, and a surprisingly limited set of tool forms being produced. However, it is clearly a mass production situation, especially in the Late Preclassic, and large quantities of adzes. ce 1 ts and stemmed b lades were apparent ly exported to other Maya centers. Other aspects of craft specialization, tool export, and the role of the Colha lithic industry in the developing Late Preclassic cultural system in the region will be the subject of continuing research. We feel, at this early stage in our research, that certain tool sets are temporally diagnostic and may aid in the dating of archaeological deposits in the region (especially in situations where the ceramic chronology is not clear). We hope that chert trace element analyses to b e conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory will help us to distinguish the cherts at Colha from those being utilized at other lithic production sites. As to the latter, we are aware of severa 1 other lithic manufacturing sites in northern Belize; project staff members have visited some of these (cf. Kelly 1979; Kelly and Valdez 1979), but none appear to match the scale of production evident at Colha. All lie within a series of chert-bearing soil types plotted by Wright et a1. (1959), and the ones thus far recorded utilized cherts-that are visually similar to those worked at Colha. It is thus hoped that sensitive neutron activation analyses will perm i t the recogni tion of subt Ie differences between -the cherts at these various localities, as such differentiations are crucia 1 to the study of chert too 1 exports in the lowlands area (cf. Luedtke 1978). In closing, it should be noted that excellent faunal and paleobotanical preservation is characteristic of the 6


Early Postclassic deposits at the site. There is also a n incredible sample of well-preserved antler chert-worki n g tools from the Early Postclassic deposits (under analy sis by Janet Stock). These studies, along with malacolog i c a l work being done by Lawrence Feldman, radio-carbon dat i n g of Preclassic and Early Postclassic charcoal sample s and other si te-re la ted research present ly underway w i 1 1 he I p us to achieve our ultimate goal of examining the lithic production systems of Colha in their appropriate cultura l setting. REFERENCES CITED Eaton, J. D. 1979 Observations on the Architecture of Colha. M anuscript on file, Center for Archaeologica l Research (to appear in the first annual report o f the Colha Project). Hester, T. R. 1979 Introduction to the Archaeology of Colha. Man u script on fi Ie, Center for Archaeo log i c a 1 Research (to appear in first annua 1 report Co Iha Project). Hester, T. R.and N. Harrnnond, eds. 1976 Maya Lithic Studies: Papers from the 197 6 Be liz e Field Symposium. Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at Sa n Antonio, Special Report 4. Ke1,:ly, T. C. 1979 Archaeological Survey at the Canton Lit h i c Workshop, Northern Belize. Manuscript on file, Center for Archaeo logica 1 Research (to a p pear in first annual report, Colha Project). Kelly, T. C. and F. Valdez, Jr. 1979 Archaeological Survey Activities, Colh a Project May, 1979. Manuscript on file, Center for Archaeo 10gica 1 Research (to appear in first annua 1 report, Co1ha Project). Luedtke, B. E. 1978 Chert Sources and Trace-Element Ana lysis. American Antiquity 43(3):413-423. Shafer, H. J. and T. R. Hester 1979 Lithic Research at Colha. Manuscript o n f ile, Center for Archaeo 10gica 1 Research (to appe a r i n first annual report, Colha Project). Wright, C. et a1. 1959 Land in British Honduras. Colonial Research Publication 24. HSMO, London. 7