The BRAS / d Plar Program
MESA REDONDA 1997
THE FUTURE VISION OF EL PILAR
Research and Development at El Pilar
The History Behind El Pilar
Planning the El Pilar Archaeolical Reserve
Archaeology at El Pilar: Objectives
Community Development at El Pilar
Ecology of the Maya Forest and El Pilar
Towards an Integrated Management Plan
Administration of Shared Resources in the Maya Forest
Funding Areas and Priorities
Envisioning the Future of El Pilar
Research and Development at El Pilar
by Anabel Ford
The seeds of the El Pilar Program are in the settlement patterns of the ancient
Maya those first agricultural pioneers of the Maya forest. The value of the
lessons of the ancient Maya became clear at a research planning meeting
sponsored by the Programme for Belize; there scientists working in the New
World tropics examined the potential research themes,. Human influences past
and present featured prominently. Maintaining occasional contact, I explained to
Archie Carr III the interests that were developing around the initial El Pilar
archaeological project and how I wanted to include the community at the outset.
In May 1994, Carr included me at a USAID meeting in Guatemala. There I
presented my initial progress with the community organization, Amigos de El
Pilar. At that time, I also met with the head of Prehispanic Monuments at IDAEH.
This was the birth of the notion of a contiguous park around El Pilar. June 1994 ,
Miguel Orrego of IDAEH and Jose Sanchez of CONAP mapped a major complex
of El Pilar called Pilar Poniente. Miguel Orrego joined the El Pilar Program in
1995 and CCAD sponsored the first binational meeting of technical staff of Belize
and Guatemala in 1996.
The 1997 El Pilar Round Table, sponsored by the Ford Foundation, brought
together for the first time a number of specialists and stakeholders that had to a
greater or lesser extent been involved with the El Pilar vision. The round table
was conceived to bring specialists from a wide range of fields to identify the
possibilities and address the uncertainties of the novel plan. All were familiar with
the region, most knew the site, and some had met one another. No one, however
, had been together to discuss, debate and hammer out the details of the El Pilar
plan. With combined participation from research and development areas, a
consensus on the general goals was reached that fully acknowledge troubling
land tenure issues, economic development problems, differences between Belize
and Guatemala, and divergent perceptions of archaeology. The results presented
here represent the structural, technical and legal basis for charting the research
and development of a contiguous El Pilar Archaeological Reserve. The
conservation concept for El Pilar, designed to be coordinated through
participating Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), will create a novel eco-
tourist destination by featuring ancient community life of the Maya, provide
adjacent villagers with alternative development opportunities, and conserve
irreplaceable cultural as well as vanishing natural resources of our world
CCAD SPONSORED WORKSHOP BROUGHT TOGETHER BELIZEAN & GUATEMALAN
ENVIRONMENTALISTS AT EL PILAR: MARIO ZETINA, JOSE ANTONIO MONTES, ANABEL
FORD, JUAN ANTONIO VALDEZ, DOLORES BALDERMOS GARCIA, ERIC PONCIANO, &
Goals and Purposes
Our current knowledge of the Maya forest comes from diverse yet related
disciplines. These cross-cut research and development arenas and create a
nexus for interdisciplinary enterprise and collaboration. Areas with great potential
Research Anthropology, Ecology, Agriculture & Conservation
Development: Community Development, Ecotourism, Reserve
Management, & Institutional Framework
Today, the ancient Maya center of El Pilar stretches from Belize to Guatemala.
Endeavoring to build on the wealth of archaeological experience in Mexico and
Guatemala, combined with the growing regional ecotourism agenda of Mundo
Maya, Belize has spearheaded the move to bring El Pilar under governmental
protection as a new tour destination. The goal of this innovative program is to
build a research and development strategy for El Pilar that has ramifications for
the Maya area as a whole.
This uniquely collaborative program for El Pilar provides the opportunity for
professionals from distinct backgrounds to perceive conservation in a way that
integrates the natural and cultural aspects of both research and development.
Collaboration among participants from the USA, Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala
is designed to develop basic standards that spotlight the ancient Maya center of
El Pilar in the context of the contemporary Maya forest. Drawing on collective
insights of investigation, interpretation, conservation, and presentation, this focus
on the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna Belize-
Guatemala will inspire the revival of El Pilar as a monument to the past, an
opportunity for the present, and a testament for the future.
The goal is to promote a model cultural and natural resource conservation
program that includes an ecotourist destination, and features ancient community
life of the Maya and provides adjacent villagers with sustainable alternatives and
realistic opportunities to help bring them into the 21 century.
DIRECTOR OF THE EL PILAR PROGRAM, ANABEL FORD, PRESENTS THE BELIZEAN
ARCHAEOLOGY COMMISSIONER THE "CABEZA DE EL PILAR" AT THE CEREMONY
COMIDA AT CAROL MILLER'S.
The History Behind El Pilar:
Ancient Maya and Contemporary Research
by Anabel Ford & Clark Wernecke
Lowland Maya Cultural History
The Maya did not suddenly disappear from the lowlands as many authors and
scriptwriters would have it. Today there are 3-4 million Maya, speaking many
distinct Mayan languages descended from the same family of languages spoken
by the ancient Maya. The descendants of the ancient Maya live across the same
region they always occupied modern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of
Salvador and Honduras. The mystery is not where they are, but why they
abandoned the trappings of their advanced civilization in the Central Maya
The Maya, like all native inhabitants of the Americas, originally migrated into the
region via the Bering Straits when Siberia and Alaska formed a land bridge. The
initial occupation of the New World is part of the continuing story of growing
population. Asiatic peoples pushed their way into North America, spreading
through Central and South America. In nuclear Mesoamerica, from the Valley of
Mexico south into modern Salvador and Honduras, these foraging people
concentrated in highland areas and about 4,000 bc reached such great numbers
in some locations, that they began domesticating plants to supplement other food
sources. At this time there was little or no occupation in the Maya Lowlands.
Settlements of incipient Maya emerge late in the tropical lowland Maya forest.
Around 2,000 bc farmers are evident but, archaeologically-speaking, they were
nearly invisible until around 1,000 bc. These Maya settlers started in a simple
way but evolved into a flamboyant society that peaked in the second half of the
first millennium between the years ad 250-900. After the tenth century, the great
cities of the Central Maya Lowlands were mostly abandoned.
Archaeologists have divided the cultural sequence of the lowland Maya into
periods that reflect the general developments. The chronology of the Maya is
straightforward. Archaic foragers roamed the area in the earliest times, but it all
really started in the Preclassic when people settled down and began to practice
agriculture. The civilization flourished in the Classic Period when the majority of
the largest temples and palaces were built. This whole civilizational process was
transformed in the Postclassic. The transformation follows the so-called
mysterious Classic Maya Collapse. Summarized in the following table is the
essence of this time line.
Archaic Before 2000 BC Initial Foragers
Early Preclassic 2000 BC 1000 BC Pioneer Farming Settlements
Middle Preclassic 1000 BC 300 BC Expansion Across Lowlands
Late Preclassic 300 BC 240 AD N. Belize Centers Reach Height
Early Classic 250 AD 600 AD Power Shifts to the Interior
Late Classic 600 AD 900 AD Height of Maya Civilization
Terminal Classic 900 AD 1000 AD Collapse of the Classic Maya
Early Postclassic 1000 AD 1250 AD Re-focus of Populations
Late Postclassic 1250 AD 1521 AD Competition among Centers
Spanish Invasion after 1521 AD Disease and Depopulation
THE PRECLASSIC (2000 bc ad 250)
The Preclassic, also known in greater Mesoamerica as the Formative, has been
divided into three logical time periods, the Early, Middle, and Late. The earliest
Maya came into the Maya forest as farmers before 2,000 bc, but did not appear
in the archaeological record for nearly a millennium.
The Early Preclassic Period marks the beginnings of agriculture. The earliest
evidence for burning and the cultivation of maize dates before 2000 bc in the
Peten of Guatemala. Lake core sediments record the beginnings of human
manipulation of the environment. These sediments show periodic probably
annual burning, and the increase in grasses are indicative of human intrusions.
However, corresponding archaeological sites are hard to pin down. Ceramics
and household architecture are associated with this phase, now defined as
roughly 2000 1000 bc. Much of what we know about life during this period
comes from beyond the bounds of the Maya area. Early Maya evidence is found
at the site of Cuello, in northern Belize. Dating of this site is still controversial, yet
ceramics from Cuello are likely earlier than those previously known from the
area. Late breaking news from recent research in the Belize River area suggests
this early period may be pushed back even more.
Early agriculturalists from northern Belize began to grow maize, fruits, cacao, and
a selection of root crops. Yet only part of their diet was supplied by these
domesticated products. There was still dependence on the bounty of the lands
and waters. Hunting, fishing, and plant foraging provided an important part of the
diet for the first Maya a pattern that would persist in different ways throughout
prehistory. Social organization was simple; a family-centered life prevailed in
The Middle Preclassic dates to the interval between 1000 bc and 300 bc.
Settlements of the Middle Preclassic Period were numerous enough to be
recognized archaeologically across most of the Maya area. This was the time
that the Maya moved from the coast up the river valleys, ultimately penetrating
the interior. House sites were wide spread, communities were small, and there
was little in the way of public architecture. The more significant communities of
the Middle Preclassic were found peripheral to the interior heartland of the Maya.
The heartland was virtually the last to be occupied, yet was the area that
developed so prominently later in the Classic Period.
Coincident with the larger populations and settlements comes the definitive
evidence of public architecture. Again, northern Belize is featured at this time and
sites such as Cuello, Cerros, Nohmul, and Lamanai show major building activity.
As more investigation progresses, we are finding occupation and construction in
the Belize River Valley area, where scattered houses have been recorded on
extensive surveys and public platforms have been identified in intensive
excavations at local centers such as Cahal Pech and PacbitOn. Recently,
buildings have been found that date to the Middle Preclassic deep in the tunnel
excavations at El Pilar. This ushers in the foundation of ancient El Pilar.
From 300 bc to ad 250 the lowland Maya population continued to grow and
expand, resulting in greater competition for land. This led to increased Maya
settlement density, larger communities, and the development of more intensive
resource management strategies. Maya civilization began to evolve more
complex and elaborate mechanisms for coordinating, organizing, and feeding the
growing populations. This is revealed in their settlement distribution, architectural
elaboration, and agricultural methods. Among the important institutions
documented in this period was the establishment of the bureaucratic trappings of
rulership in the form of Maya kingship. This institution would shape the social
history of the lowlands on through the Postclassic Period.
The Late Preclassic Period was one when occupation in the interior around Tikal
was at its inception. At the same time the interior centers such as Tikal were
being founded, the centers of northern Belize, particularly Nohmul, Lamanai, and
Cerros, were at their peaks, commanding the loyalty of large domains of well
established settlements. El Pilar, only 50 km from Tikal, was firmly rooted by this
time. Major public constructions of platforms and pyramids, found throughout
different sectors of the site, date from this period.
THE CLASSIC (ad 250 1000)
The Classic Period is defined by the appearance and use of dated monuments,
or stela. The wide-spread use of dated stelae occurred toward the end of the
third century ad. Stelae and altars recorded the political, social, and religious
history of the Maya using the Long Count, a calendrical system based on
multiples of a 360-day year with an origin point of 3114 bc. The seven centuries
of the Classic Period exhibited tremendous civilizational developments that were
fueled by the steady increase in population. The cores of the massive ruins that
we see today&emdash;monumental stone-vaulted buildings and huge temple
pyramids&emdash;were founded in this period.
The Classic is often divided into two periods, the Early and the Late, separated
by the "hiatus." The hiatus was a time when there was a marked decrease in
building and the setting of dated monuments, particularly at Tikal. Recent studies
have pointed to this as a phenomenon peculiar to the interior of the Central Maya
Lowlands, probably brought on by Tikal's involvement in a series of destructive
offensive and defensive military exploits. These conflicts were based on shifting
alliances among the reigning regional power centers of the era. A few examples
include Calakmul, Naranjo, Caracol, and Tikal. This interlude is variously
recorded at these important centers, but ultimately the problems reflected by the
hiatus were surmounted, making way for an acceleration of the civilizational
processes in the Late Classic.
All major centers of the region experienced major growth in the Late Classic
Period, especially El Pilar. This growth must have been rooted in the sustainable
management of the region's valuable resources found throughout the rolling ridge
lands. For more than three millennia, the Maya were able to support and
maintain their society's growth by forging a dynamic alliance with their
environment. This alliance was a balancing act that, for 15 centuries, supported
the development of the Maya civilization across 40,000 sq km or 15,440 sq miles
Toward the end of the Classic, the elaborate civilization of the Maya began to
undergo changes. Notably, there was an increase in conflict, probably due to
competition over scarce resources, culminating in a drastic reduction in
population. This is most dramatically reflected in the complete disregard for site
maintenance. After this time, there was no new construction at lowland
monumental centers. Residential settlements were not so abruptly deserted, but
they too were at last abandoned. The great Classic centers in the central
lowlands collapsed first Tikal was deserted in the ninth century. Building activity
was prolonged at many eastern centers right to the end of the Terminal Classic
as recorded at El Pilar. Around El Pilar, however, occupation even extended into
the Postclassic. This was the time when the once magnificent rooms, such as the
Zotz Na of El Pilar, were apparently converted to exotic dump sites for flutes and
figurines, as mere reflections of the center's past glory.
THE POSTCLASSIC (ad 1000 1521)
The end of the Terminal Classic Period has been viewed as the final blow for the
Maya civilization, and the Postclassic has traditionally been described as a
militaristic, decadent, and degenerate phase in Maya history. But more
enlightened views would see that the militarism was indicative of a tendency
toward secularism and the resultant downplaying of the ceremonial rituals that
dominated the Classic Period. Moreover, many of our interpretations of the
Postclassic were projected from ethnohistoric accounts of the Spanish intrusions
in the region, hardly an unbiased source. Little attention has been directed
toward understanding the Postclassic through archaeology, although recent
research on the period, particularly at Santa Rita in northern Belize, suggests
continuity from the Classic Period.
The focus of cultural development moved from the Central Maya Lowlands to the
northern Yucatan Peninsula, where the Spanish first contacted the Maya culture.
There was continuous, albeit distinct, occupation from the Classic through the
Postclassic periods. Not only did the people of Lamanai continue to build and
trade with their neighbors, but they also continued to live around the center until
around 1675. The Spanish founded a mission at Lamanai in 1570 and another at
Tipu/Negroman in the Upper Belize River Valley. These were abandoned by the
Spanish during a revolt of the Maya in the 1630s. It was not until 1696 that the
Spanish conquered the last of the independent Maya city-states, the Itza of
Tayasal in the Peten, the descendants of the ancient Maya realm. The Central
Maya Lowlands, which today include most of Belize and the Peten of Guatemala,
are still home to Maya who can trace their ancestry back into prehistory as
attested by the patronyms of local villagers: Bacab, Balam, Canchan, Cocom,
Hobb, Mai, Panti, Pech, Pott, Shish, Teck and Tzul, to name a few.
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THE CENTRAL MAYA LOWLANDS
WITH EL PILAR AND OTHER MAJOR CENTERS INDICATED
The Origins of Research at El Pilar
After the enthusiastic introduction to the region in 1982 by Jaime Awe, then of the
Department of Archaeology, Anabel Ford of the University of California, Santa
Barbara was given permission to initiate the Belize River Archaeological
Settlement Survey (BRASS) in the upper Belize River area north of San Ignacio,
Advocating efforts to appreciate the full range of Maya society both the
monumental and the mundane the BRASS project was designed to examine
the cultural ecology of the Belize River area. This involved using environmental
and geographic information for the area as a backdrop for the archaeological
settlement survey. The project collected data that identified where the ancient
Maya lived, when they lived there, and what they were doing across the
landscape. The results of the study have allowed us to assess the distribution of
house sites and communities on the one hand, and their context and relationship
to natural environment on the other.
The first field seasons involved the mapping of all identifiable cultural remains
within three 250 m wide transects, one ten km and two five km long. Excavations
were conducted at residential sites within the identified resource zones of the
valley, foothills, and ridge lands and revealed a variety of archaeological sites,
from isolated field huts to large elite household compounds, not to mention
monumental civic-ceremonial centers. Their locations were predictable: few and
scattered houses were associated with poor agricultural soils in rugged or
swampy terrain more characteristic of the foothills while dense settlements,
including imposing elite patio groups, were found in the rolling fertile ridge lands
concentrated in the vicinity of the major center of El Pilar.
While most houses displayed evidence of the basic household activities of
farming, storage, cooking, and serving, a few exhibited distinctions that spoke to
other, more specialized occupations. Several, particularly in the poorer zones of
the area, were involved in making the common stone tool, called the "chopper,"
that would have served as the ancient Maya machete for everything from
opening palm nuts to chopping firewood.
:l'. Marl Foothills
S-omter 'Li.mesione Ridgelands
THE BELIZE RIVER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SETTLEMENT SURVEY STUDY AREA
WITH TRANSECTS INDICATED
Rare in all the Maya area was the discovery of an obsidian&emdash;volcanic
glass- production site in the ancient ridge land settlement cluster we named
Laton, about 2.8 miles or 4.5 km south of El Pilar. An elite house at Laton is the
first identifiable obsidian blade production site found in the Central Maya
Lowlands. The site yielded d stash of thirty-nine exhausted
- :--~ ~ Idlormeters ChLimeslone Rldgelands
THE BELIZE RIVER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SETTLEMENT SURVEY STUDY AREA
WITH TRANSECTS INDICATED
Rare in all the Maya area was the discovery of an obsidian&emdash;volcanic
glass- production site in the ancient ridge land settlement cluster we named
Lat6n, about 2.8 miles or 4.5 km south of El Pilar. An elite house at Lat6n is the
first identifiable obsidian blade production site found in the Central Maya
Lowlands. The site yielded a concentrated stash of thirty-nine exhausted
prismatic cores behind one house wall and production waste in another stash of
over 30,000 pieces of obsidian translating into densities as high as 1.7 million
obsidian, pieces per m3. From trace element tests conducted at the University of
Missouri, we know that this obsidian was imported into the Belize River area from
the volcanic highlands of Guatemala from Chayal and Ixtepeque, over 300 km or
200 straight line miles.
Communities of the fertile Belize River Valley were made up of moderately sized
homes widely spaced from one another, and contained everything that a
household would need to enjoy life in those ancient times. The residents were
able to afford a certain amount of luxuries which are most often associated with
only the elite in other areas. Such unusual privileges must have been conferred
by those in control of valley dwellers. Since the valley alluvial soils are among the
best in the Maya Lowlands, but form only a small proportion of the local area, let
alone the region as a whole, it is probable that they were producing what today
we call "cash crops." In fact, at the time of the first Spanish explorations in Belize,
the populations of the Belize River Valley were producing cacao (chocolate).
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AN EXAMPLE OF A VALLEY RESIDENCE
Like other ancient Mesoamericans, the Maya likely used cacao as a form of early
currency, "money" that literally grew on trees. These trees had to be carefully
tended, managed, and protected; something a single family could not afford to do
on its own if household subsistence was an issue. The production of valued
crops such as cacao, and also cotton or tobacco, required extra investments that
would have sanctioned special luxuries. The valley Maya may have received
luxury goods in exchange for faithful production of chocolate. Luxuries of the
Maya included blades made of obsidian (like those produced at Lat6n), beads
fashioned from marine shells, and highly prized green stone, such as jade or
jadeite, and other exotic materials. This arrangement fostered a dependent
relationship between specialized farming communities such as those of the valley
and the elite aristocratic administration at El Pilar. The administration would have
guaranteed redistribution of basic foodstuffs produced in the ridge lands in return
CACAO, THE MONEY THAT GREW ON TREES
Not all were so fortunate. Other Maya lived in the marginal zones found mainly in
the foothills rising up from the valley. People of these zones could not depend
solely on agricultural pursuits. The dispersed families which were relegated to
these areas, augmented their farming tasks with manufacturing and
independently trading of stone tools, pottery, and other simple and basic
household products to satisfy their daily food needs. Consequently, they could
not afford many things beyond the bare necessities of life; hence, few valuables
were found at these ancient houses. Such households relied on the central
administration to maintain a stable exchange environment so that their household
industries would net the foods so fundamental to their existence.
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FLINTKNAPPERS OF THE FOOTHILLS
While the settlements of the valley and foothills of the Belize River area were
administered from afar, communities of the ridge lands such as Lat6n were under
the more direct scrutiny of the local Maya hierarchy whose apex was located
nearby at El Pilar. The ridge lands have the greatest proportion of good
agricultural soils and make up the cornucopia of the region. Some 85% of the
area's settlement was concentrated in these ridge lands that form only 35% of
the areas' resources. Here, in the ridge lands, we discovered the great diversity
of occupations and ways of life of Maya society. They were composed of both
rural and central civic areas. There were elite "haves," who controlled and
governed, and peasant "have-nots," who toiled and bore the obligations
associated with sustaining the civilization. At the community centers, elites
managed everything from the local farmers to the broader political agenda,
manipulated loyalties of lesser elite within their grasp, and negotiated with peers
of other centers. This undoubtedly included far-flung trade relations; we know
that many valuables recovered at Lowland Maya sites were made of material not
found locally. Typical materials include obsidian from the volcanic zones of
Guatemala and Mexico and jadeite from the Montagua Valley in Guatemala.
As glamorous as the elite Maya were, the majority of Maya were farmers who
provided food for the populace. Some, as in the foothills, manufactured basic
household items that were exchanged for food. Still others provided direct
services to the elite, and in return, were supported and patronized by them. The
most diverse of these people were found at the major centers of the region. El
Pilar served as the focal center for these local households as well as the wider
communities throughout the Belize River area.
The mosaic of good agricultural land spread the ancient Maya across the
landscape in large and small communities as well as hamlets and homesteads.
Settlements in the ridge lands around El Pilar show this hierarchy of community
size and composition related directly to the amount of available farm lands.
The fertile lands are abundant in the surrounding rolling hills and ridges of the
Maya forest. Small areas of fertile land supported minor centers, such as Chorro,
to the east. Pockets of land, such as those of Lat6n, had administrative temples
associated with elite residences. Other dispersed and isolated spots of good farm
lands would have only field huts within or adjacent to them. All sizable areas of
good agricultural land had comparable densities of settlement, approximately one
house per acre. The larger the area of fertile lands, the larger the community,
and the largest community in the area was El Pilar.
El Pilar Site Background
El Pilar is located 10 m north of the western Belizean town of San Ignacio,
between Belize and Guatemala. The ridge land escarpment where El Pilar is
prominently situated extends from Guatemala's Peten into Belize, north of the
Belize River Valley. Coming up from the valley on the Pilar Road, you ascend
this major escarpment more than 900 ft, or some 340 m.
Bfaclal Chopping Tool
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The area has long carried the name of El Pilar and while the origin of this name
is obscure, the numerous natural sources of water speak to the old Spanish word
for watering basin or pila, whose collective would be designated in Spanish as El
Pilar. Two local streams have their origins at El Pilar, one to the east, which we
call El Pilar Creek, and one on the west referred to generally as El Manantial (the
Spring). About 1.2 miles or 2.3 km east is Chorro, a lovely, delicate waterfall. Not
far from the waterfall is a minor center we named Chorro, after the falls. The
abundance of water in the vicinity of El Pilar is rare in the Maya area; the
venerable ancient city of Tikal had no natural water sources at all. The population
there relied on constructed reservoirs or aguadas. The center of El Pilar is
situated at the edge of the interior ridge lands that begins east of Tikal. At the
point where El Pilar is perched, the ridges overlook the eastern flat lands that run
to the Caribbean Sea. This situation provides a natural outlet for water and in
part explains its abundance there.
Core Area ofEl FI1
THE CORE AREA OF EL PILAR
The center was recorded by Belize's Department of Archaeology in the 1970s by
Joseph Palacio and the late Harriot Topsey, but its full extent was then unknown.
Recorded as a triangle on the Department maps, Jaime Awe saw that El Pilar
was in the area of the BRASS surveys, and, in 1983, encouraged Anabel Ford to
visit the site with him. From this brief tour it was clear that El Pilar was large, and
a preliminary map was made of the major architecture in 1984 as part of the
BRASS project. In 1986, also as part of the survey phase, preliminary excavation
and rescue work was pursued at the site. The first full-scale investigation of El
Pilar was finally begun in 1993 as a result of support and encouragement from
Daniel Silva, at that time the area's government representative for Cayo.
El Pilar has more than twenty-five identified plazas in an area of approximately
100 acres (40 hectares), ranking it equal with major centers of the lowland Maya
region. It is the largest center in the Belize River area, more than three times the
size of other well-known centers such as Baking Pot or Xunantunich. The site as
it is presently known is divided into three primary sectors: Xaman (North) Pilar,
Nohol (South) Pilar, and Pilar Poniente (West). The eastern and western sections
are connected by an offset causeway system extending between two large public
plazas. The western section, including Pilar Poniente, is in the Peten of
The Maya used a fine and durable limestone extracted from local quarries
around El Pilar, and preservation is exceptional. Beautifully plastered masonry
rooms, imposing corbel vaults, and monumental stairways have been identified in
illegal looters' trenches and controlled archaeological excavations conducted in
the initial stages of study. A preliminary chronology, based on ceramic
comparisons, has revealed that monumental constructions at El Pilar began in
the Middle Preclassic and continued with major remodeling completed in the
Terminal Classic. Occupation extended into the Early Postclassic. This long
sequence spans more than 15 centuries and testifies to a continuous,
methodical, and sustainable development in the area.
Field Director Clark Wernecke with Anabel Ford
Planning the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve
by Anabel Ford
Through consensus, five major areas of integrated research and development at
El Pilar have been defined. Archaeological research drives the program; the
reserve surrounds an ancient Maya center, the Maya forest is a relic of ancient
Maya selection, the conservation strategy for cultural and natural resources
pivots on archaeological research, and the sustainable polycultivation model of
household gardening relates to interpretations of the ancient Maya community
template. Moreover, objectives of the contiguous friendship park tie directly to the
location of the archaeological monuments of El Pilar: the ancient Maya causeway
that is destined to play a role in a contemporary problem.
Resource management and conservation are global concerns but local and
regional economic development plays an essential role. Further, stewardship is a
community issue, and without local participation, the future of El Pilar would be
bleak. Government participation in Belize and Guatemala has been initiated,
local community involvement has been established with adjacent villages and
with the private tourism sector, and the regional ecotourism market has a
growing involvement in the new El Pilar destination. These community
development links are critical to the long-term conservation goals of the program.
The ecological component is integrated into the archaeological research in terms
of the environment. Investigations of forest structure, economic plants, zoological
adaptations, and the interactions of cultural domains of humans and the natural
domains of the environment are critical bases for interpreting the long-term
adaptive strategies of the ancient Maya. Such interpretations form the basis of
the forest garden polycultivation design that must have been the main source of
subsistence for inhabitants of the ancient Maya forest and which can provide
alternative sustainable strategies for contemporary inhabitants as well.
The El Pilar Program is dependent on broad scale cooperation among
community stakeholders, national governments, and international agencies. The
integrated management of the shared resources impacts development of the
friendship park and the implementation of the overall management plan. These
areas involve both governmental and community participation to enact the
As the cornerstone of the program, the archaeology at El Pilar links both the
research and development components. Economic improvement and issues of
management and administration are tied to the tourism aspects of the reserve
focused on the ancient Maya. Governmental support for reserve management,
while seeking revenues from tourism, is also related to resource conservation
concerns among the international community. The relationships between the
varied components of the program are mediated through an ecological approach
to sustainability as interpreted from the past, as understood in the present, and
as projected for the future. The details of the research and development
components are specified in the following sections.
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14, Reserve Boundiary
Archaeology at El Pilar: Research and
by Anabel Ford and Melissa Grzybowski
The Jungle Canopy Shrouds This Winding Trail Through Plaza Ixim
1. To understand the ancient Maya center of El Pilar in its regional context.
2. To understand the ancient chronology and development of El Pilar.
3. To understand the role El Pilar played in the Belize River Area.
4. To intervene with a clear research, conservation and maintenance design.
5. To interpret the archaeology of El Pilar in a clear and accessible manner.
The archaeology of El Pilar is driven by a general research design aimed at
understanding the evolution of complex societies and civilizations. El Pilar is the
largest known center in the upper Belize River area and clearly played a major
role in local political evolution and regional organization of the ancient Maya
civilization. Current presentations of Maya development suggests that centers
emerged to organize and integrate growing local populations. Interpretations of
the political organization presents a view of growing independent hierarchies
focused on a center or cluster of centers that coordinated resources locally and
interacted across areas within the region. Regionally formed, yet shifting,
alliances evolved over time and across space. El Pilar fits into this economic and
political landscape and the research will address these dimensions.
Well preserve Dencn in a room ot tne H'mena acropolis
attests to the architectectural qualities at El Pilar
The El Pilar Program conservation facet is designed to ensure the best protection
and maintenance of the archaeology. To this end, it is a prime concern that
excavations take place with conservation aims stated in the plan. The education
agenda will reflect the responsibility of all investigators to ensure that research is
presented and published in a clear and accessible manner. It is important that
the findings from El Pilar be used to educate the public as well as scholars.
Short Term Objectives
Determine archaeological conservation style.
Design a training program for teaching techniques of Maya masonry.
Conserve the excavation exposures at Plaza Jobo.
Rescue and gather data from Plaza Lec.
Complete excavation and consolidation of the residence of Tzunu'un
Continue to gather evidence for the forest garden.
Continue the settlement survey of El Pilar.
The exposure of three interconnected rooms of Plaza Jobo
slated for consolidation
It is imperative to select a method and style of conservation that will maintain the
archaeological integrity of the monumental and residential structures at El Pilar.
Excavations will be conducted with research questions in mind. Conservation will
proceed on the basis of the local conditions, recognizing that environmental
stability is essential for building conservation. Exposures of architecture and the
stabilization and consolidation efforts will depend on specific surroundings.
Interpretations of ancient architecture will be founded on research and the style
will evoke imagination, that is, there will be no reconstruction. Careful exposures
will be conserved with the latest techniques, leaving portions unexposed to
maintain ambient stability, to provide for a low maintenance regime, and for
future discoveries in archaeology and conservation. The style will be one where
exploration and discovery is developed, in the view of the 18th century explorers
of the Maya world: exposures of beautiful architecture beneath the luxuriant
forest canopy. The development of a revisionist style for presentation of
monuments, in collaboration with top conservationists in Mesoamerica, will place
El Pilar at the avant garde; there will be nothing like it among the destinations of
Conservation of monuments at El Pilar is an investment in the future of our
world's heritage, consequently, it is important to train local people in strategies
that foster their investment in the long-term maintenance of the structures.
Further, the design of appropriate conservation techniques must consider
research into qualities of construction and state of building conservation. Given
these parameters, and weighing environmental conditions, each individual
building will be evaluated on its own terms. Examples of architectural exposures,
thus, will be varied across the site. This would not only help preserve the integrity
of El Pilar, but establish new completely and entirely unique standards for other
archaeological projects in the Maya forest region, making El Pilar exemplary in
A Maya House and Forest Garden
Long Term Objectives
1. Develop a formal training program for local archaeological masons.
2. Survey and investigate all the archaeological remains at El Pilar.
3. Seek funding for the visitors center, facilities, and amenities.
4. Promote publicity to increase the visibility of El Pilar.
5. Advocate community participation in Belize and Guatemala.
6. Develop guidelines and standards for research and conservation at the
7. Maintain a catalog of all publications of El Pilar research.
8. Seek funds for research facilities at the site.
9. Identify an El Pilar archaeological motif for community arts and crafts.
10. Establish contiguous park protecting the cultural and natural resources
around El Pilar.
uaretaKer's nouse at Li iilar
Community Development and El Pilar:
Building a Future from the Past
by Anabel Ford
Community development for El Pilar is complex, involving local desires for a
better life and global concerns for environmental quality. In recognizing
potentially competing objectives, the El Pilar Program unites these goals by
linking the cultural and natural resource conservation of El Pilar to the regional
development agenda. Amigos de El Pilar, a community-based organization
composed of local villagers and situated in Bullet Tree Falls, has formed around
the Program as partner and beneficiary of development plans. Such local
community organizations represent the ultimate stewards of El Pilar.
Cultural Continuity in the Maya Forest
During the past two decades there have been dramatic environmental changes
as a result of expanding agricultural pioneers. These changes are related to
population growth, the consequence of which has been environmental
degradation. The extensive agricultural techniques of these pioneers focus on
monocropping maize without consideration of the long-term implications of this
system. At the height of the Maya civilization, important cities, like El Pilar, were
surrounded with elaborate, intensive, polycultivation fields and gardens. This
strategy emulated the natural forest structure and included multi-layered forest-
gardens of sun and shade enveloping housing compounds dispersed within hills
and ridges of the region. These ancient settlement and household patterns are
diametrically opposed to contemporary habits, yet formed the cornerstone of
ancient Maya civilization and culture.
The ancient Maya used the same lands that are preferred for extensive farming
today. Their system, however, was intensive with shortened fallow periods,
increased field labor, eclectic combination of crops, and managed regeneration
that evolved as an alliance with the forest. There was a clear association
between primary agricultural lands and the regional Maya hierarchy: the greater
the proportion of good lands, the denser the settlement and the larger the cities.
These past patterns provide the outline for viable living in the Maya forest. With
archaeological investigation of ancient Maya residences and their reconstruction,
using the local construction techniques, a dynamic picture of the Maya household
will be portrayed.
Archaeological exposure of the residential component of El Pilar will begin to
evoke the reality of Maya centers as forest-garden cities for the local community
as well as for touring visitors. To accomplish these goals, we must understand
the diversity of house construction, maintenance activities inside and outside
houses, and forest-gardening strategies around houses.
Interpretations of the archaeological data will depend on villagers who participate
in recreating house structures using renewable forest resources, assembling the
household items with local forest materials, and designing the household
activities interpreted from the archaeological data. This collaborative approach
fully recognizes the values of local wisdom by incorporating it into the planning
stages and featuring it at the example Maya house. Through these activities and
their maintenance, the Program will help shape the cultural ties of archaeological
research to contemporary village life.
A BROMILIAD IN THE FOREST GARDEN AT TZUNU'UN
Today, village housing ranges from pole-and-thatch and waddle-and-daub to
clapboard and concrete block. Inside kitchens, one can find everything from
stone hearths to gas ranges. Outside, storage structures hold dried corn ready
for grinding and kitchen middens contain remnants of previous meals. These
patterns of living have their origins in the Maya forest. While there are notable
differences in contemporary household life, many cultural traits persist and are a
source of continuity that villagers bring to the quest of reconstructing ancient
Maya life. Their participation in the interpretations of household life at El Pilar will
directly link them to the reserve.
FOREST GARDENER DON HERIBERTO COCOM
The Polycultural Maya Forest-Garden
This strategy for polycultivation is based mimicking the natural environmental
structure and diversity to promote sustainability. The Maya forest-garden design
is based on the ancient Maya template. The design strategy will develop a mix of
economic plants that depend on available labor inputs, rather than scarce capital,
to provide a diverse subsistence base as well as potential cash crops. Included in
this scheme will be nitrogen fixing legumes, such as acacia and beans, and
phosphate generating palms, such as corozo or cohune, that together regenerate
soils depleted by grains, notably maize.
Beginning a small-scale household plan, the strategy will focus on basic
investments to bring the lands of El Pilar into a new land management regime.
Based on research and the community knowledge of cultigens and with the
resources and support of the Department of Agriculture and Central Farm
Agricultural College, with the experience of the Guatemala NGO Centro Maya,
the roster of resources will evolve to be worked into a dynamic planting design.
This design, at once, will provide an ecotourist attraction and an alternative
subsistence strategy for bringing the community into the new century.
I f I 'L
Designing a Development Plan
for Villages Adjacent to El Pilar
by Bridget Cullerton
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT NEEDS
To improve the quality of life of the people of the riverside villages and
surrounding communities by encouraging self sufficiency.
Issues to Address:
Low economic level in communities
Limited business opportunities
Limited health services
Primary level education limited
no marketing outlets for small producers of arts, crafts, foods
Need for alternative
a. little or no access to credit
b. little or no opportunities for training in entrepeneurship
c. need for business skill training
by Laura Hernandez Pinto and Juan Carlos Fernandez Alcantara
English version by Carol Miller and Anabel Ford
The relationship between development, conservation, and tourism has great
potential as a sustainable alternative for villagers of the Maya forest. Today,
villagers are distributed along the road to El Pilar within the greater Belize River
Valley. Access to the ancient Maya center of El Pilar is through the village,
presenting the potential for economic benefits through the growth of tourism as
well as in the promotion of the cultural and natural resources of the area.
BRASS/EL PILAR BOOTH
AT THE BULLET TREE FALLS AGRICULTURAL FAIR 1995
An overall design for village development can be accomplished by defining the
village and surrounding landscape in the context of a master design plan. The
plan will incorporate input from the multidisciplinary group of investigators in
archaeology, ecology, agriculture and conservation at El Pilar. In this manner the
landscape architectural design can be a critical link that synthesizes and reflects
both the interests of the community and the concerns of the investigators. The
results will outline a development strategy for the local community to help direct
their actions towards the potential benefits. Such a design will be coordinated
with community organizations.
The evolution of a landscape design for the village will interactively determine the
optimal locations for the thematic developments. Themes will focus on the
regional and local issues from the community perspective and will center around
a community cultural center for traditional crafts market, cultural presentations
and educational workshops:
Embroidery and clothing, etc.
Dances and rituals
Community history and legends
Identification and uses of medicinal plants
Forest gardening and its traditions
Recovery of the Maya language
AXCANAN THE GUARDIAN OF THE FOREST
The cultural center with a crafts market, cultural presentations, and educational
events will creatively integrate the environments of the area. Given the
ecotourism links to the Maya center of El Pilar, this cultural center must articulate
clearly with the ultimate destination of El Pilar Archaeological Reserve.
A VIEW OF THE RIVERSIDE VILLAGE OF BULLET TREE FALLS
The design of this attraction must invite the visitor to the village as a feature of
the tour along the way to El Pilar. With this first stop, the visitor will participate in
the development of the community and the community will be encouraged to
develop new attractions.
DISCUSSION AT THE MESA REDONDA:
HERIBERTO COCOM, MIGUEL ORREGO, MARCOS GARCIA,
BRIDGET CULLERTON AND CAROL MILLER
Memories from the Past for a Promising Future:
The View from the Village
English version by Heriberto Cocom and Carol Miller
The following transcripts come from the summary presentations at the Mesa
Redonda El Pilar in Mexico City. The speeches of the Amigos de El Pilar cover
the problems and, to some extent, offer direction for solutions as seen from the
point of view of a villager. Both speakers have hopes for a better future and
acknowledge the trajectory of change and its impact on the current state of
conservation in the Maya forest between Belize and Guatemala. These
summaries provide another convergent perspective between the community
development and basic research components of the program.
PRESENTATION OF MARCOS GARCIA
President ~ Amigos de El Pilar
Mr. Cocom has a living place much more different than others that are in the
heart of the village. Around his house he has a large place surrounded by fruit
trees, right Don Cocom? The difference with respect to others is that it is a bigger
place and has more plants and trees on the land.
The problem that we can observe in the center of the village is that the houses
are too close to one another. Because of this, we do not find many trees. This is
why Amigos de El Pilar has told us we can find a method for dealing with this
Another of our problems that we are confronting is that the people of the village
do not have a clear idea on what ecotourism is all about or that the people do not
know what it means. What I think the problem that we have to develop so that we
could promote our village and capture more income from tourism, show them the
beauty of our nature, traditions.
But first of all we, the villagers, need to be trained so that the impact of
ecotourism will be positive and not negative. This is one of the alternatives that
we think should work in conjunction with Amigos de El Pilar, reaffirming that we
have a future with ecotourism. But I still ask myself, what can we do to solve this
PRESENTATION OF HERIBERTO COCOM
Consejero ~ Amigos de El Pilar
It has been about 100 years, Bullet Tree Falls was a small village with
approximately some 50 people, including the children. I am only 27 years,
pardon, I say 57 years, but according to the story of our Maya ancestors, the
ones that came and built the village of Bullet Tree Falls were from the Mexican
and Guatemalan zone. In a short time it converted into an English colony,
controlled by the English coming here, being a zone of high bush -jungle not
exploited. Now this I want to say, that it was not yet cut down by our farmers. The
reason was because the population was small. At this time they started to cut or
fall the high bush, little by little, until they reached the higher mountains above
Bullet Tree Falls, close to El Pilar some 7 and a half miles north. Now it only
exists in low bush, like secondary bush.
It has been some 24 years, I did not have the vision to have an idea that on this
time I was going to be a man that was going to present something that now we
are wanting to make good. I obtained a piece of land which is approximately 15
acres. I live in the zone of this place at the banks of the river. I have
approximately 1 acre of land where I live, like my companion Marcos Garcia has
said, and it is already covered with fruit trees, hardwood trees and other local
types of trees, and then I have an agricultural lot that is approximately 1 kilometer
from where I live going up Paslow Falls road.
It has been about 25 years, like I have said. I started, like everyone else, to fall
the bush. The first years I cleared the 15 acres of land. But then, an idea came to
me. And I said, I am destroying my lands, I say the little animals, birds and four-
legged animals, something like that, they are getting scared, running away. And I
got a great sadness. So I then selected a part of the land to let it grow as jungle.
And now in these days I am seeing that it is all worth the effort, even if it is
surrounded with low bush. I have a piece that is becoming a jungle and I see that
from time to time the birds, Toucan, others, I see them coming from the high
jungles of Guatemala to my piece of land, willing to stop at this little parcel of 15
acres. Also other animals come to the same zone, that is on this piece of land. I
feel myself happy proud because I see them, they make my heart feel happy -
rejoice because of their noise, the fluttering and songs of the birds.
Well, it has been not too long ago, like about two weeks, since I had a deer, it
was already big, his horns were small. It was very tame. It would not even run,
but I couldn't catch him. He would stand still when I see him and wouldn't run
away. He would just watch you because he was accustomed to being by the
ranch. It was his road, he passed and passed and went to drink water in the river.
Well two weeks ago I was not here, I was out for a time, for otherwise a hunter
got in with his dog wouldn't have gotten on the land nor would I have let them
carry a gun, but there they were, and BOOM! he shot my deer. If I was there, not
even DEAD would he take it out.
So, it must have been about two years ago, or about a year ago, that Anabel and
Constanza started their forest garden and invited me to take a look. So I began
working around El Pilar. In this area that appears on our map, we now have a
part we planted, trees we put in, valuable trees like Santa Maria, Mahogany, for
example. We have about 200 plants, another few we brought from what remains
of the Belizean jungle. We brought about 20 to this place, and I planted with the
idea that in time, when these trees have grown, more birds will come from
Guatemala, those birds that live in the high bush there, and they will come and
inhabit this place.
Well, I think this is a good beginning, what we are trying to do to renew, that is,
recover and replant lost trees that were destroyed by our fathers. I speak so
because it is certain I participated in this. But, of course, it wasn't intentional what
I did, that is, it was a necessity to find a means of survive.
Yes, we see that Bullet Tree Falls is big growing; 1,900 inhabitants. There are
many students, but maybe the students are not interested in ecotourism, one
student wants a profession and other students want other things, and so on. Well
that's the world. And then we think that by educating our people, like I have said,
we could get lots of things and with the help of organizations in the Maya world.
Well when we say that we await the help in this part, I think that yes we could get
the help from very kindly people and with the help of our powerful God. Yes, we
are going get what we desire for our community of Bullet Tree Falls and also the
future of surrounding communities, as well as the indigenous peoples.
The Villager's World View Today
Bullet Tree Falls, Cayo, Belize
as drawn by Amigos de El Pilar
M The town of Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala
B The town of Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize
C Village of Calla Creek, Belize
SI The town of San Ignacio, Belize
SE The town of Santa Elena, Belize
ZA Agricultural Zone
The Villager's World View Towards the Future
Bullet Tree Falls, Cayo, Belize
as drawn by Amigos de El Pilar
',- ---"- F-L',=
: is ^^. ^- cl -- "
\ .-- -
M The town of Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala
B The town of Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belize
C Village of Calla Creek, Belize
SI The town of San Ignacio, Belize
SE The town of Santa Elena, Belize
ZA Agricultural Zone
ZT Working Zone
UM Multiple Uses
ZAM Buffer Zone
* This village view of their world presents an interesting comparison where the
large towns of San Ignacio, Santa Elena, Benque Viejo, and Melchor de Mencos
are represented as small localities in comparison in both present and future
representations of the village. NOTE: The future view shows that El Pilar is part
of the picture. Drawings were prepared under the guidance of Laura Hernandez
Pinto and Juan Carlos Fernandez Alcantara, Landscapre Archiects, HC /DC.
AMIGOS DE EL PILAR
LETTER OF THE PRESIDENT
Amigos de El Pilar (AdEP) is a group organized in Bullet Tree Falls by the
residents of the riverside community in 1993. The objectives of AdEP are to
participate and support in the establishment of the El Pilar Archaeological
Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna. AdEP has a vision for the future and hopes
to raise the standard of living through ecotourism by implementing activities that
complement the goals of the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve and developing
new work opportunities and education on conservation of flora, fauna, and the
archaeology of the Maya forest.
To realize these objectives, the founding members took action and formally
established Amigos de El Pilar in Belize on the 7 of September 1994. At the
moment, the group has 53 members of which 39 are active. The organization
now has its own site on community lands with a roofed slab structure where
AdEP members meet every two weeks. At these meetings, members discuss
plans and desire for more development, more education, and more publicity. Part
of these plans are to convert the structure into a Cultural Center, called Be Pukte
(Bullet Tree Road in Mayan) which would be used for education on the
importance of biodiversity and sustainable alternatives for living with our
environment. Our activities revolve directly around these goals.
Amigos de El Pilar has dreams, visions, and hopes for the future. The group has
taken steps to start a forest orchard garden at the group's site, Be Pukte. We are
collecting seeds and seedlings donated from within the group. This will be an
example for another at El Pilar because in this way the group will be involved in
more activities, more promotions, more work, and more education. And the
community will be in a position to take advantage of all that El Pilar can offer. The
group is very, but very, interested in the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya
Flora and Fauna. Dear reader, we hope that you will help and support us to make
these dreams to become a reality and together we can have a better future.
In the name of the group
President, Amigos de El Pilar
DANCING THE HOG'S HEAD DANCE, FIELSTA EL PILAR
A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY OF AMIGOS DE EL PILAR
May/June Daniel Silva, Area Representative, supports community clearing
at the plazas of El Pilar
Anabel Ford holds two meetings with the community members presenting
idea for community based organization related to plans at El Pilar. June
30, 1993 the name AdEP was decided, members joined, and first officers
were elected (President Angel Teck, Vice president Abel Manzanero,
Secretary Sandra Manzanero, Treasurer Fred Prost).
Nine general meetings of membership, one executive meeting and one
event were held.
Participated in the Fiesta El Pilar (5 May 94)
Received registration certificate as a non-profit organization on 7 Sept 94.
Registration number 2566
Fifteen general meetings of membership and six events were held.
The group elected a new President, Marcos Garcia (26 Feb)
Presentation of Teo's Way (19 Mar)
Participation of President Marcos in Mobile TNC workshops (May/June)
BTF Agricultural Fair (27 May)
Fiesta El Pilar (10 June)
Global Roots project (July)
University of West Indies Workshops (Aug/Sept)
Bicycle Race (17 Sept)
Sixteen general meetings of membership and four events were held.
The group elected Prisilla Canchan as Secretary (17 Mar)
Presentation of funds to Leukemia victim
President Marcos Garcia Reviews El Pilar Archaeological Reserve from
Helicopter, courtesy of 25 Flight, APC
Landscape workshop at Duplooy's
Fiesta El Pilar (8 June)
Global Roots project (July)
1997 to date
Eight general meetings of membership, one event held.
The group elected Janette Manzanero as secretary (8 June)
Landscape workshop with Hernandez and Fernandez
Fiesta El Pilar (31 May)
Ecology of the Maya Forest and El Pilar
by Archie Carr III
El Pilar is a major Maya archeological site with components located on either
side of the Belize-Guatemala frontier. This site presents an opportunity to explore
the concept of "multiple use" of the natural resources of the greater Maya Forest
in ways that have not yet been attempted. Success in such an endeavor would
provide benefits to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize that envelop, countries with
direct responsibility for management and conservation of the Maya forest, the
largest contiguous tropical forest remaining in Mesoamerica.
As with many of the archeological treasures of the Maya forest, El Pilar is
situated within a standing forest. On the Guatemalan side, the surrounding forest
is extremely extensive. On the Belizean side, forest cover is limited to the
immediate vicinity of the archeological structures themselves, and gives way
quickly to an agricultural landscape in all directions east of the north-south
oriented frontier of the Peten.
The site itself is protected in both countries. In Belize, El Pilar is a designated
Archeological Reserve. The surrounding landscape is mostly government owned,
but may be designated as a Special Development Area (SDA). In Guatemala, El
Pilar, like all such sites, is protected as "national patrimony" surrounded by forest
within the Maya Biosphere Reserve under the jurisdiction of CONAP.
Considering both sides of the frontier at once, it is possible to conceive of the El
Pilar site in conventional park management terms as a strictly protected "nuclear
zone" surrounded by a "buffer zone" to be used in ways compatible with
biodiversity conservation, including research and development.
In recent years, archeological research at El Pilar has begun to illuminate the
economics and organization of the ancient Maya culture and society. Although it
remains clear that maize was an essential and abundant staple in the diet of the
apparently very large, dense populations of people living in the Classic Period,
the findings at El Pilar suggest that the landscape of those times was by no
means an endless monoculture of corn. It has become increasingly apparent that
corn cultivation was balanced with extraction from natural forests and from
"managed" forests for food, fibers, building materials and fuel, essential to the
lives of the inhabitants of the Maya forest. Interpretation of archaeological
surveys of settlements and other artifacts indicates that the Maya had developed
sense of "land- use capability." It becomes an inescapable conclusion that the
Maya had evolved a lore or science that took account of soil chemistry and
structure, slope, drainage, micro-climate, forest composition and ecological
succession. From these insights, the Maya developed complex and strategic
uses of the landscape in the past.
Are there lessons to be learned from the ancient Maya that would be helpful to
the survival of modern society whether in the Maya forest, or elsewhere in the
world? Did the Maya achieve a balance with nature? To answer the question is to
confront a perplexing paradox. Whereas, unlike the deserts of Mesopotamia and
other Mediterranean foci of civilization, the Maya forest is today one of the great
forests of the Neotropics, but the Maya themselves, the civilization, does not
Leaving that paradox unresolved, it is valid to consider that a sophisticated land
use evolved in the ancient Maya forest that was maintained for centuries; and for
centuries was able to support one of the highest densities of human populations
living in the New World. The proposal suggests that there are lessons to be
learned from the ancient Maya lessons of contemporary utility to life in and
around the Maya forest, and, potentially, of both academic and practical
importance in understanding the evolution and decline of the Maya civilization.
CONTEMPORARY SLASH AND BURN TECHNIQUES USE CHAINSAWS
AS OPPOSED TO THE STONE TOOLS OF THE PAST
Research at the Belizean component of El Pilar has already established a living
model of a house compound where a Maya family once thrived. With both
demonstration and research values, the site will include plots of cultivation of
staples like maize, but also, near the dwellings, plants of use, such as herbs,
medicines and even ornamentals. On a broader scale, the model aldea or village
will include a "forest garden." This term suggests that forests were manipulated
on a scale that was much more extensive than the patio or immediate
surroundings of a house. The maintenance of forest gardens by the Maya
suggests that trees and plants with certain values were "mapped" and preserved
for those uses. It suggests that forests were possibly "enriched," to use a
contemporary term in forest management. Enrichment may call for the planting of
desirable trees, and even deliberately removing less desirable species to give
competitive advantage to the valued types. The forest garden implies rotating
milpa, or slash and burn agriculture, a practice which results in a mosaic of more
and less mature serial stages of forest recovery. Importantly, classical ecology
states that the net productivity of young forest is greater than a mature forest. If
evidence suggest that the Maya were aware of this principle of energetic, did
they manage for it, consciously? Unconsciously?
Given that large domesticated animals are unheard of in the Maya culture, it may
be assumed that, beyond the essential crops of maize, beans, and squash, some
fraction of the protein requirements of the human population was derived from
wildlife. To the degree that this is true then, a form of wildlife management is not
implausible as an admixture to the forest management suggested above.
Management in this case could mean as little as official recognition of a certain
forest or forest type as productive for game, and actively protected for that
The landscape suggested by current research and conjecture taken from those
early studies is that the Maya forest was never a vast sea of corn and humanity,
as one might expect from the alleged magnitude of the human population of the
Classic Period (c. 3 million). Instead, the region was probably a mosaic of
vegetative cover, ranging from open fields to closed canopy forests. In fact,
assuming rotational milpa agriculture, and an abundance of fallow, recovering
plots, forests, as opposed to plantations, probably dominated the scene. Such a
landscape, combined with the absence of modern weapons, can easily predict
the presence, even abundance, of vertebrate wildlife species that today are
considered endangered or very vulnerable to extirpation.
\' i .
At El Pilar, these observations and hypotheses can be tested. Owing to pre-
existing management criteria for the land surrounding the archeological sites,
large-scale, long-term manipulation schemes can be introduced that will allow
immediate benefits to local people (harvests of forest products, for example) and
invaluable experimental data.
It is proposed that an area of several thousand hectares on both sides of the
frontier become incorporated as an experimental "landscape" for research into
sustainable land use in the Maya forest. The area and, especially, the
configuration of the proposed research polygon is not given here. Importantly, it
would include substantial areas of highly "disturbed" cattle land on the Belizean
side, and the rural communities found therein. Communities in Belize and
Guatemala would be drawn into the experimental process, becoming integral to
At the risk of speculating, the genre of research expected for the area could be
called landscape ecology. This would be guided by the findings and predictions
of Maya archeology to form a rare interdisciplinary relationship. Initially, it would
be necessary to describe the ecology of the designated polygon in some detail.
Relationships between major components of the landscapes, such as seed
dispersal, pollination patterns, and animal migration, would be defined. With such
fundamental baseline data in place, manipulative experiments could begin.
These would range from basic timber extraction, as called for in the current
Guatemalan forestry concessions, to voluntary modifications to cattle grazing
regimens on the Belizean side. With the scientific community present and
sensitized to the strengths, weaknesses and aspirations of the local people, it is
entirely appropriate to seek at El Pilar a community-scale experimental design.
Meanwhile, at the heart of the polygon would be the protected archeological sites
in both countries, and development and interpretation programs are underway or
contemplated for them. It is expected that gradually the educational attractions,
combined with the growth of traditional archeological research, and research into
landscape ecology and land use, would bring increased international prestige to
the site of El Pilar. Importantly, it will also bring new and eagerly-sought
economic investments into this very impoverished region.
Envisioning the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve:
Towards on Integrated Management Plan
by Tina Gurucharri and Don P. Horton
The Management Plan Team was responsible for evaluating El Pilar to identify
areas that require professional and community involvement. The interdisciplinary
team began by establishing goals and critical concerns as a guide for the
research and development components, determining key steps necessary to
accomplish initiatives. Goals and concerns of the Management Plan Team were
developed to help guide the planning process and are identified as follows:
To consider sustainable management and development strategies for El
Pilar and surrounding community.
To expand the traditional scope creating a Management Plan that is not
just a government instrument, but also a community instrument.
To design a Management Plan that can be implemented feasibly and
efficiently by two countries.
Economic development needs of the area are multidimensional, and
tourism should not be the sole focus. Multi-strategy designs are required
to address economic development initiatives.
Tourism should not negatively affect the community. The Management
Plan should include efforts to mitigate any negative impact on local
communities resulting from tourism development.
The community should participate in determining the type of tourism they
would like and what kind of impact is acceptable.
The interpretive program should include archaeological and environmental
attractions. These aspects are interdependent and should be so presented
for the program to be successful.
The El Pilar Archaeological Reserve is one resource owned by two
countries. The Management Plan should address a co-management
The El Pilar Vision
The management team recognizes the diverse interests associated with
developing the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve as a major cultural and natural
tourism destination in Belize and Guatemala. To guide the decision-making
process, a written vision statement has been developed to assist in meeting
planning demands. The "vision" is a hypothetical statement used to establish
standards and goals for the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve and is as follows:
The plan represents two sister nations, Belize and Guatemala, working
together to manage a single cultural and natural resource.
El Pilar will serve as an example of multi-disciplinary efforts to incorporate
the needs of visitors, villagers, tourism, and research communities.
El Pilar will be a community development program that will foster tourism
initiatives while sustaining local economic development.
El Pilar management will support sustainable development strategies for
El Pilar managers will promote cultural and natural conservation.
Social development will be the center focus, guided and presented by the
The interpretive program will be comprehensive and represent an
understanding of people within the region, both past and present.
Presentation of the education program will be accessible and employ
adequate visual and other aids to be useful to those without or with
The Management Plan will represent a unique and holistic approach to
planning, interweaving relevant social and environmental issues.
El Pilar archeologists will break away from traditional research strategies
by considering critical input from local stakeholders and by highlighting the
diverse cultures of the surrounding villages.
The model plan relies on the substantive participation of the community in
land use decisions as well as the establishment of development
The final Management Plan will serve as a model that can be used by
other agencies and officials, regionally and beyond, for successful
implementation of multi-disciplinary management ambitions.
THE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT PANEL PRESENT THEIR RESULTS
Management Plan Component
The Management Plan Team understands the diverse research and
development themes of the El Pilar "vision." Integrated management of El Pilar
as shared resource is unique and provides an opportunity for the plan to serve
as an example in managing research, development, and interpretive programs.
This management objective is highly critical to the future of the El Pilar
Archaeological Reserve development in the region. The Management Plan
should consider community development implications and promote stakeholders
participation. The plan should also be a living and legally-binding document used
by the governments of Belize and Guatemala and the participating managing
agency as an ongoing guide in decisions affecting the reserve. The list of
concerns that the Management Plan Team believe should be addressed revolve
around the following subjects: culture, archeology, archaeological conservation,
natural resources, economy, education, site planning, political and legal issues,
research. These are treated individually below.
The cultural make-up of the surrounding community is one reason tourists visit
the region. Decisions affecting the development of El Pilar take into account of
the local communities and support the revitalization of traditional cultural
activities, such as arts and crafts. Development issues should be addressed in
community meetings where local populations have an appropriate forum to
address their concerns. Cultural issues identified by the Management Plan Team
1. Use of census studies from Belize and Guatemala to identify basic
demographic characteristics of surrounding villages.
2. Conduct diagnostic demographic studies (economic, physical and political)
to be used in the planning process.
3. Document the multi-cultural aspects of the communities history (oral,
photographically, and written) to help the revival of their history.
4. Identify community place names along the river, roads, and trails.
5. Update historical studies of the local area.
6. Maintain visitor statistics to determine visitation trends.
7. Information at the AdEP community visitor center should include El Pilar
(such as a model of the monuments), community history, local medicinal
plants and agro-forestry uses, and examples of community arts and crafts.
8. Design an extractive use program for forestry and agricultural resources
that will compliment sustainable agriculture methods demonstrated at El
Pilar Archaeological Reserve.
Archaeological monuments at El Pilar will be the primary research instrument
and the main attraction for tourism. Development of the archaeology should
continue to be guided by the professional archaeologists of the El Pilar Program,
under the direction of Dr. Anabel Ford, in collaboration with other professionals
who join in the research efforts. The Management Plan Team suggests an
archaeological strategy be included in the Management Plan and offers the
following for consideration:
1. Develop a plan to determine the nature of the archaeological monuments
at El Pilar, an agenda of excavation priorities, and a sequence of relevant
2. Identify available funds to support excavation (research sources),
conservation (national and international sources), and maintenance
(government and community sources).
3. Develop a policy for the clearing of vegetation in relation to the
4. Develop policy for the protecting of cultural resources from the impact of
5. Explore the possibility of restoring the Maya pyramid and plaza located in
Bullet Tree Falls at the AdEP community visitor center. This ancient
temple has the opportunity to become the focal point for the community
and tourists who travel through Bullet Tree Falls on the way to El Pilar.
III Archaeological Conservation
Archaeological conservation has a direct correlation with long-term operational
costs of reserve management. The more ancient architectural structures that are
uncovered and stabilized, the greater costs will be to maintain those structures.
The concept we want to promote is to expose structures that will lend a benefit to
the interpretation of the site and can be maintained at a reasonable cost. The
Management Plan should include policies on governing this principle. The
Management Plan Team offers the following considerations in this area:
1. Evaluate existing and monitor changing conditions in order to develop an
archeological plan of action.
2. Design a strategy for conservation that incorporates exposed and
3. Define methodology and approach to determine which structures should
be exposed and stabilized and which should be covered.
4. Determine the practical maintenance scheme of the architectural and
5. Articulate the maintenance program for the Maya monuments within the
6. Design a review process for completed work.
IV Natural Resources
The natural environment is another important resource for research and
interpretation which contributes to the entire project. El Pilar has a continuum of
natural environments from high stand forest, largely found in the Reserva de la
Biosfera Maya (RBM) in Guatemala, to the cleared agricultural and pasture
lands, dominant around the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve in Belize. The
opportunity for agro-forestry research aimed at how the Maya maintained a
sustainable forest in highly populated regions is viable at El Pilar. Project
managers should capitalize upon the varied agriculture opportunities offered by
the site to maximize research opportunities. The Management Plan Team also
realizes that there is a delicate balance between current agricultural methods and
sustainable ecology. Appropriate policies must be established that will control
these agricultural methods to insure environmental conservation. The
Management Plan Team supports this concept and suggests the plan outline
research strategy in this area. Research of the natural environment should
include the following:
1. Consider the movements of animals and the amount of land required to
sustain the protected plant and animal species.
2. Recognize a buffer zone around the core of El Pilar should be designated
to encompass the reserve and surrounding areas as part of the Multi Use
Zone of the RBM and as a Special Development Area (SDA) in Belize.
3. Incorporate a policy on forest management for the buffer zone and for
forest clearance along the roadway between the villages and El Pilar.
4. Consider the involvement of extension offices from the Belize Department
of Agriculture to help with the management of agro-forestry land within
and surrounding El Pilar. Have them assist in designing a policy on the
use of exotic and native plants and sustainable extraction of forestry or
5. Inventory current and historic community use of natural resources,
geographic locations, and local names.
6. Document the number of farmers, types of crops, and schedule of crop
use and rotation.
7. Develop a community program for the protection and restoration of the
natural resources and habitats.
8. Determine a policy for tree clearing at the site with regard to archaeology
and public safety.
9. Promote a policy on sustainable hunting in the buffer zone.
10. Monitor the contemporary human/environmental relationships with
reference to sustainable practices.
11. Implement on-going assessment of human interventions and influences on
the environment to inform policy on level of allowable visitation impact and
Short-term and long-term economic strategies should be prepared with
community development in mind. Strategies have the potential to greatly assist
local villagers in their community development initiatives and all villages that will
benefit from the development of El Pilar should be involved in the decision
making process. This community-based approach to economic development and
site planning will strengthen local commitment and allow communities to grow at
their own pace. Community-based planning will also instill a sense of
stewardship and investment of the community in El Pilar. This sense of pride will
carry over into other economic development issues guided by local leaders.
Ideas that will strengthen the project and assist local villagers are:
1. Development of a marketing study using comparable situations and
emphasizing the unique aspects of El Pilar.
2. Use models of monuments as an interpretive exhibit.
3. Develop a cost-benefit study for the reserve and the region. That is, the
reserve may not be self-supporting, but its development will have
economic benefit at the local and regional levels. These need to be
4. Design mechanisms to increase benefits from the Ruta Maya and Mundo
Maya tourism programs that can be invested back into archaeological
5. Include security and vigilance in budgets.
El Pilar planners realize the importance education will play in the overall program
at El Pilar and in community development issues. To facilitate the education
efforts, the Management Plan Team recommends that an interpretive manual be
developed that will assist reserve rangers, managers, tour guides and other
personnel in delivering educational services to visitors and the villages
surrounding El Pilar. Through education, El Pilar will be able to promote well
trained personnel facilitating a visitor experience that will be lasting. The
Management Plan Team recommends the following be considered when
preparing the education plan:
1. Design a strategy for the El Pilar educational program which will serve as
the foundation for the development of a comprehensive interpretive
2. Participate with governmental agencies and non-governmental agencies
(NGOs) to educate the local community on the benefits and shortfalls of
3. Promote the education of reserve administrators, hotel operators, guides,
and other service providers to establish the foundation for the
development of a comprehensive interpretive program.
4. Encourage community involvement in small-scale tourism related
businesses (bed & breakfast, restaurants, transportation, and other public
5. Participate in environmental and cultural community education (including
6. Develop a regional pilot training program for politicians and governmental
officials through the effective use of the media.
VII Site Planning
Site planning will ultimately prepare the site for visitors. Planning techniques
should be environmentally considerate, using local materials whenever possible.
The site's characteristics should depict the image portrayed in the interpretive
plan for El Pilar and be constructed in an energy efficient manner. Professional
site planning will lend to circulation efficiency and the enhancement of the overall
character of the site. Through appropriate design, the El Pilar Archaeological
Reserve will be laid out in a manner that places emphasis on conservation of the
environment, the principles of human use, as well as park carrying capacity. The
Management Plan Team recommends the following be considered:
1. Information gathering should include all relative site analysis information,
cataloged in map form either through traditional site analysis methodology
or through Geographical Information Systems format. This material should
include forest conditions, topography, soils, archaeology and historical
information, land use, pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns, and other
information relative to site development.
2. NGOs, such as Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology (BEST) and
Centro Maya, should help to solicit stakeholder concerns in areas such as
land use zoning, development of arts and crafts trades, and community
training in the benefits of tourism and professional development.
3. There needs to be a Master Development Plan for visitor facilities (rest
rooms, rest pavilions, parking, vendors, trash, and concession locations,
4. A program for service areas and maintenance facilities must be
5. Appropriate concession sites within the reserve and community need to be
6. Strategies need to be promoted to prevent development along the entry
road to the reserve. These should be incorporated into the buffer zone
7. Signage and circulation plan needs to be designed for the reserve.
8. A policy needs to be designed on vehicles in the reserve. Ideally, all
vehicles should be located outside of the area except service and
9. Plans should be made to direct through traffic around the conservation
area. In the meantime, controlled access may be needed at entrances to
the reserve while the road remains as public access.
10. Plan considerations should allow for expansion of facilities such as
museum needs, parking, public facilities, administrative and maintenance
11. A phasing plan needs to be devised that will consider funding needs for
development, facility operations, and maintenance.
VIII Political and Legal Issues
Political and legal components of the Management Plan should concentrate on
the relationships of Belize and Guatemala. Since the reserve is recommended to
be managed as one resource located between two nations, extra effort will be
needed to assure compliance with both countries governing laws and
regulations. The Management Plan Team has relied upon the Political/Legal
Team to address and determine how to reconcile the differences between the
two nations political governance. The following is offered as an overview of the
area of need:
1. Co-management of the site needs to be addressed. It is recommended
that both governments consider oversight/management by a Non-
Governmental Organization (NGO).
2. Concession Policies should be developed for the local community and the
reserve. These policies will assist in controlling sustainable development
Research is one of the primary reasons for designating El Pilar as a protected
area. The research possibilities are continually evolving, being defined, and
modified. The possibility of expanding the research to include agriculture, agro-
forestry, botany and other natural sciences is phenomenal. It is encouraged that
the research be expanded to more comprehensively include all relevant areas.
Recommendations in this area are:
1. Coordinate the permitting process for researchers in Belize and
Guatemala through a reciprocal agreement and/or advisory committee.
2. Promote a comprehensive system for collecting, documenting, and
archiving research information and make it available through a central
location or facility, such as a library.
3. Continue research on Maya agro-forestry.
4. Develop research on the sustainable use of renewable construction
materials (e.g. corozo fronds, the subsidy from nature, used as roofing
Imagining the Administration of Shared
Resources in the Maya Forest
By Thomas T. Ankersen, Jose Antonio Montes,
and Dolores Balderamos Garcia
The Mesa Redonda El Pilar was assembled to initiate the development of a
management plan for shared cultural and natural resources and to provide the
technical basis for developing a proposal for implementation of the plan. The
group included archaeologists, conservationists, ecologists, park planning
specialists, landscape architects, community leaders, government agency
representatives, and attorneys from three countries. The roundtable was divided
into working groups that included management and physical planning, cultural
and natural resources, community development, and the legal and institutional
framework. This report describes the contribution of the legal working group.
Commissioner John Morris, of the Department of Archaeology in Belize, and
Milton Cabrera, the coordinator the Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas
(CONAP) in Guatemala also contributed their expertise to the legal working
group. Support for legal working group's participation was provided by the
Tropical Ecosystem Directorate of the United States Man and Biosphere
Program, the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
THE LEGAL PANEL PRESENTS THEIR POSITION AT THE MEXICO MEETINGS
The objective of the roundtable was to advance efforts to the achieve integrated
administration for a cultural and natural resource shared by two countries. This
objective, its rationale, and the means of achievement were set out in a
consensus statement of the roundtable referred to as the Declaration of the El
Pilar Roundtable. This Declaration includes the names and institutional
affiliations of the declarants and is included in this publication.
Joined by an ancient causeway, El Pilar's two primary temple complexes
between Cayo, Belize and Peten, Guatemala, provide a symbolism that far
exceeds its scale. Although the two countries currently enjoy cordial relations,
longstanding territorial disputes have tempered efforts to achieve full bilateral
The portion of El Pilar reserved in Belize comprises 808 hectares within Cayo
District and north of the village of Bullet Tree Falls. The land surrounding the
proposed reserve is used by small agrarian milpa farmers and a rapidly
developing tourism economy in nearby San Ignacio. The portion of El Pilar in
Guatemala lies within the Multiple Use Zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in
the Municipality of Melchor, Peten. Only recently discovered, a preliminary effort
has been undertaken to map the true extent of the site in Guatemala.
Archaeologists, conservationists, and anthropologists working at El Pilar are
seeking to interpret the site in a unique and innovative manner. The Maya
inhabited the forest in numbers estimated to be as great as ten times the present
population of the region, presumably extracting resources in a sustainable
fashion for centuries until the civilization's eventual decline. Integrating El Pilar
into the fabric of the broader community is a stated management objective. Thus,
the site's managers are attempting to interpret ancient Maya lifestyle by
developing a modern Maya forest garden, based on evidence of ancient Maya
polycultivation practices. Local villagers with traditional knowledge are assisting
in this effort. Additionally, site researchers seek to transform the interpretive
emphasis on monumental architecture in favor of an interpretation that
emphasizes the general way of life.
Site developers are also seeking to maintain and restore a remnant of the
contemporary Maya forest, the storehouse of tropical biological diversity that
survived the ancient civilization. Protected areas within the Maya forest serve as
refugia for the flora and fauna that characterize this forest. Recent attention has
been focused on the role of these refugia, both large and small, in a greater land
use mosaic that can sustain viable populations in the Maya forest today.
To prepare for this effort, the attorneys from Belize and Guatemala each drafted
extensive background papers on the respective legal and institutional framework
for cultural and natural resource management in the two countries. These vary at
the most fundamental level.
As a former crown colony, Belize maintains the tradition of the English Common
Law. As a former Spanish colony, Guatemala represents the tradition of the
Roman Law. Moreover, the official language of the two countries are English and
Spanish respectively. Nonetheless, these distinctions have been blurred in
modern times. Most contemporary environmental and natural resource law is
code-based, and although English may be the official language of Belize, most
Belizeans- particularly in the vicinity of El Pilar are conversant in the Spanish
language. An imaginative approach to law was required.
The mandate of the El Pilar Roundtable to develop a single management plan for
a resource shared by two countries presented a unique challenge to the legal
working group. The group approached this challenge by seeking a framework
that could accommodate the legal and administrative requirements of the
separate sovereigns involved. Such a framework would provide for one
management plan implemented by two management units, each representing the
portion of the resource located within each country.
Interestingly, the physical characteristics of the shared site dovetail conveniently
with its administrative realities. That is, in El Pilar Belize, where the cultural
resource presents a management priority, the cultural resource agency enjoys
primary jurisdiction. In El Pilar Guatemala, where the natural resource
represents the primary management concern, the natural resource agency
enjoys primary jurisdiction. To address management issues common to both
units, a coordinating committee comprising the appropriate representatives from
the governmental resource agencies, non-governmental entities and community
involved in management would be established to ensure coordination and
consistency with the agreed management plan by each management unit.
Belize Management Unit:
Archaeology of El Pilar
Belizean resource law provides flexibility in terms of the institutional design for
the Belize management unit. Belize also has a strong precedent for the
delegation of management authority for protected areas to non-governmental
institutions, exemplified by the government's agreement with Belize Audubon
Society to manage six national protected areas. However, this has never been
done in the case of archaeological reserves. Moreover archaeological reserves,
as cultural patrimony, enjoy a special status under Belizean law. Accordingly,
based on the analysis provided the Belizean legal expert, the legal working group
concluded that the best approach would be to develop a "co-management
agreement" between an appropriate NGO and the Department of Archaeology,
pursuant to a regulation prepared by the Department. The NGO would assume
day to day management responsibility for the site with the Department of
Archaeology exercising governmental oversight, providing security and other
resources, and participating in a proposed management plan coordinating
committee. A representative of the local community would also serve on the
Belizean law does not require the development of a management plan for
archaeological sites prior to their establishment. Also, protected area
management plans in Belize do not have the force of law due to the absence of a
specific regulation to that effect. Nonetheless, the working group agreed that it
would be preferable if the El Pilar Management Plan had the imprimatur of law.
Appropriate reference to the future adoption of the plan could be provided in the
subsidiary regulation issued by the Department of Archaeology to establish the
Reserve (In Belize, such regulations are known as "Statutory Instruments," or
Guatemala Management Unit:
Ecology of El Pilar
In Guatemala, the management unit already enjoys a measure of protected
status. The site lies within the Multiple Use Zone of the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Jurisdiction over the Reserve resides in CONAP. Activities proposed within this
zone must be consistent with the laws and regulations governing protected areas
in Guatemala and with the Master Plan for the Reserve adopted by CONAP. The
Master Plan presents a range of options in the Multiple Use Zone including
concessions for resource extraction and other activities by communities,
commercial interests, and NGOs. However, as an archaeological site, concurrent
jurisdiction also resides in IDAEH, the Instituto de Anthropologia e Historia. A
proposal to designate the temple complex as an national monument in
Guatemala has recently been submitted to IDAEH.
The working group concluded that the best strategy for management of the
Guatemala management unit would be to have an appropriate NGO petition
CONAP for a concession to manage the cultural and natural resources as a
protected area under the provisions of the protected areas law and its subsidiary
regulations, and conclude a similar management agreement with IDAEH. Within
CONAP, this process requires an environmental impact study and the approval
of a five year management plan and one year operational plan.
IF JUKUMU IAKKI AIMU IVIIL I UI Ab/D
DISCUSS PLANS FOR EL PILAR
Despite a considerable literature promoting the concept of binational parks
throughout the world, research has revealed no instances where contiguous
protected areas reflected truly integrated management across national borders.
Thus, achieving the plan for El Pilar can represent a true innovation in
contemporary protected areas management. To address management issues
common to both management units, the legal working group concluded that a
"soft management" coordinating committee should be established.
Such a management committee could be comprised of the appropriate
representatives from the governmental resource agencies, non-governmental
entities and communities from both countries involved in management decision
making. The committee would meet regularly to ensure coordination and
consistency with the agreed management plan by each management unit, and
make recommendations concerning the plan's implementation. In addition, the
working group recommended the establishment of a multidisciplinary technical
advisory board composed of individuals with an interest and expertise in the
management issue confronting El Pilar. The advisory board would sit in a
voluntary capacity to advise on an as-needed basis. This management
framework would include formal mechanisms for the resolution of management
conflicts at the site.
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The legal working group concluded that the integrated management of the
shared cultural and natural resource represented by El Pilar could be achieved
within the existing legal framework of Guatemala and Belize. New legislation will
not be required nor does bilateral implementation necessarily require a specific
international treaty instrument. Instead, integrated management can be achieve
by developing one management plan that can be implemented by two
management units representing the portions of the reserve within each country.
Some diplomatic recognition, such as an exchange of notes, would undoubtedly
bolster efforts to achieve integrated management, and could be accomplished
within the broader framework of cultural exchange agreement.
There remains significant issues to be resolved relating to the form and nature of
the delegations to non-governmental organizations, the forms of international
cultural exchange agreements, financial mechanisms, community participation,
site security, reciprocal arrangements for cross-border visitation and research,
appropriate mechanisms to resolve disputes, etc. Nonetheless, the key
determination at this juncture in the planning process is that integrated
management of a shared cultural and natural resource is feasible and that an
institutional framework can be crafted within which details can be addressed.
The Bottom Line: Funding Areas and Priorities
by Anabel Ford
The El Pilar Program has research and development priorities that stem from the
evolving role of collaborative participants. The results of the Mesa Redonda El
Pilar provided the foundation for the program's international and multidisciplinary
character, still in its inception, yet all components are firmly established. The
ideal plan is conceived as a five year program with full funding, bringing the
model to fruition with the dawn of the 21st century. While there is tremendous
enthusiasm among a growing number of enlightened professionals, funding is
still the most precarious aspect of the program's future. The vitality of the
program depends on support, and the appeal here is to develop a secure support
base that can bring the unique vision for El Pilar to full realization.
The priorities of the program are necessarily focused on the archaeology and
how it informs and relates to the other components of the program.
Consequently, the major attention initially will be on the archaeology and
companion components which can be immediately incorporated into that arena.
These include community participation, agriculture, conservation, and tourism.
Support for initial phases have come primarily from the development sector and
include the Government of Belize, US Agency for International Development,
MacArthur Foundation, and Ford Foundation.
As the momentum builds, more and diverse funding sources should emerge as
the level of participant involvement across components perceive goals more
clearly. In addition, the nature of the program will ultimately require direct
participation of the governments where El Pilar is situated. Major sources of
international funding come from the World Bank, Inter American Development
Bank, the European Union, USAID, to name a few. These organizations have
experience in the archaeological arena in Central America. Participation at this
level will strengthen the ability to bring the development goals of site
conservation, community involvement, and tourism into focus. Government
attention will also enhance private sector involvement locally and regionally, thus
fueling ecotourism. As the program evolves and is consummated, the chronicle
of the success will represent an important replicable conservation model for the
The development of a five year program has a projected annual budget of
$1,300,000 US and associated infrastructural investment base of $1,400,000 US.
PRESENTING THE FORD FOUNDATION REPRESENTATIVE,
NORMAN COLLINS, H'MENA CABEZA AT THE BENVENIDA
Envisioning the Future of El Pilar:
A Model for Conservation and Development of
Cultural and Natural Resource in the Maya Forest
by Anabel Ford
Conservation of cultural and natural resources is one of the most important
global long-term goals for the coming century. Yet, efforts to accomplish this
have often led to the compromise of important short-term economic needs at
regional and local levels. This is clearly evident in the Maya forest region. A
model conservation program must balance short-term with long-term objectives
to attain a sustainable framework for resource management.
The El Pilar Program has the great potential to evolve an unique conservation
design incorporating local community needs, government development agenda,
and international environmental concerns. This can be accomplished by a
collaborative consortium of individuals whose enthusiasm and experience can be
brought to the Maya forest region.
The core of the El Pilar Program is to sustain the complex habitats of the Maya
forest and to preserve the irreplaceable cultural resources of the ancient and
contemporary populations of the region. Community involvement in preserving
traditions is critical to the success of conservation management. Promoting
ecological biodiversity and sustainable economic development will conserve and
enhance the contemporary landscape of the Maya forest.
The Archaeological Research Base
Regional settlement distribution, local community subsistence patterns, and
individual household organization of the ancient Maya provide material evidence
for the evolution of sustainable economies. Archaeological research on the Maya
underscore the complexity of interrelationships between cultural systems and
environment over time. These patterns and interpretations have implications
when we consider the future of the Maya forest and the people there today.
The Belize River Archaeological Settlement Survey (BRASS) has compiled
regional settlement data, identified local community patterns and investigated
aspects of household organization evident in the archaeological record of the
central Maya lowlands. The ancient Maya economic landscape reflects a
continuum of land use strategies, from densely settled, intensively used uplands,
dispersed and extensively used transitional zones, to unsettled swamps that
represent a land use mosaic.
As a representative major civic center, the construction histories of El Pilar's
temples, plazas, and palaces will reveal clues to the development of Maya
civilization, and the examination of surrounding residential components can
expose the nature of the ancient urban economic landscape. Archaeological
research will collect these data and provide the basis for a new appreciation of
the relevance of the past. Stabilization of the deterioration of the ruins,
consolidation of representative buildings and temples, conservation of the
preserved architecture, along with the reconstruction of example Maya houses in
their forest gardens will be a novel and educational attraction for local, regional,
and international visitors, representing one of a kind in the Mundo Maya. The
revival of the ancient traditions of El Pilar provide the context for a new
perception of Maya prehistory, one that takes into account the complexity and
continuities of the Maya forest along with its peoples past and present.
The BRASS/El Pilar Program is rooted in the study of the human/environment
relationship. It draws on the foundation of cultural ecology, interpreting
evolutionary changes in strategies for survival. The composition of the Maya
forest today bears the imprint of ancient human habitation and resource
management. The goal of the El Pilar Program is to evaluate continuities and
shifts in the evolution of the human/environment relationship through time and
Agricultural Design and the Structure of the Maya Forest
Agricultural technologies evolve to fulfill the food needs of society. Traditional
agriculture is focused on the household. Relying on strategies of polycultivation
that emulate the native environmental structure., traditional poycultivation
strategies involve an "industrious evolution" of labor investment rather than an
industrial revolution based on scarce capital.
The ecological structure of the Maya forest is a relic of the dynamic relationship
in which humans played an integral part. This relationship extends back more
than four millennia to the initial agricultural pioneers of the Maya forest region,
the ancestors of the ancient Maya civilization and the heritage of contemporary
Maya farmers. The large contiguous stands of forest are a testimony to the
efficacy of ancient Maya practices. While the Classic Maya collapse affected the
human populations, today's endangered plants and animals survived only now to
be threatened with extinction. Therein lies the ecological lesson that must be
perceived to build a sound basis for conservation in the future.
Traditional production systems of the tropics are polycultivational. To mimic the
forest structure, polycultivation evolved to minimize instability, prevent
degradation and integrate both intensive and extensive labor techniques that
maximize production. Heterogeneous and biodiverse, the forest gardens
constituted the strength of the Maya community in the past, as well as today, by
relying on the traditional knowledge of local farming households. Today, villagers
are rapidly abandoning time-proven methods in exchange for introduced
technologies. Deep linguistic terms speak to these traditions and describe a
continuum of economic qualities of the forest, denoting a long-term human
coexistence with the environment. Kanan K'ax describes a "well cared for" forest,
evoking a concept of stewardship; K'ax il kab refers to a forest with beehives; and
Ka'kab K'ax indicates a forest with good agricultural soil quality.
At El Pilar, the innovative polycultivation design is based on a household plan
and includes annuals and perennials interspersed with tree crops, providing an
ongoing source of innovation for the community, fostering resource conservation
and community development that aligns with, rather than opposes, the natural
regenerative processes of the tropical forest. Through farmer participation and
networking, shared experience and knowledge will go beyond the boundaries of
the reserve, restoring the local landscape to a state of greater biological diversity.
Community Involvement, Investment, and Stewardship
To accomplish the goal of improving living standards and self sufficiency of the
regional community of the Maya forest, the immediate and short-term needs of
families must be incorporated into the long-term agenda of sustainability. No
reserve exists within a vacuum and, in order to survive and thrive, the local
population must assume a stewardship role or the ultimate conservation aims
may not be achieved.
Cooperative associations have already been established with Amigos de El Pilar,
a community-based organization to promote local participation in the reserve.
Their goal is to develop cooperative enterprises in tourism and agriculture that
increase villagers' economic stakehold in the reserve. The leadership role they
are assuming and the self determination they are gaining in the process, builds a
foundation upon which the future success of the El Pilar model depends.
Promoting Ecotourism at El Pilar
The tourism industry has become increasingly focused on traditional
communities and cultures as well as the natural environmental wonders.
Mesoamerica has become a flourishing travel destination, and the Maya world
has evolved as a vital niche for adventure and ecotourists. Links between
specialty travel firms in the international arena and regional travel services in the
Maya area are essential to the development of this market, and new destinations
contribute significantly to its appeal.
The El Pilar Program has set the stage for ecotourism with local guides and
hotels, regional publications, and international promotion in media and tour
books. Villagers working through Amigos de El Pilar in education and training
workshops, lectures and tours with the schools, and through participation in the
archaeological research are identifying the value of their stakehold in El Pilar.
Further, the program has hosted events, such as the annual Fiesta El Pilar, that
draw national and regional attention. Lectures and articles in Belize, Guatemala
and Mexico have increased regional knowledge and appreciation of the site.
Public relations information has been circulated to international guide books and
posted on the World Wide Web* featured in Archaeology Magazine in 1997.
Funding from international agencies, such as Central American Commission for
Environment and Development (CCAD), Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation
and US Agency for International Development (USAID) has also elevated the
visibility of El Pilar on the global front, providing a springboard for the future.
The Foundation for the El Pilar Model
Park management and planning is fundamental to the reserve's future. Informed
designs are based on inventories of the ecological and cultural resources within
the protected area. Additionally, identification of stakeholders, incorporation of
public interests, articulation of the mission, and a clear set of objectives for
sustainable maintenance of the reserve is essential. Finally, the extent of
conservation goals, the issues of access and education in the design, and the
long-term funding needs must be addressed. The Mesa Redonda El Pilar
promoted the foundation for the program.
The objectives of the El Pilar Management Plan incorporate the diverse
dimensions of the program. Short-term strategies for community involvement
must be pursued. Long-term concerns for conservation of the ancient
architecture and the environment will be integrated into the plan. Educational and
interpretive designs for the park and surrounding landscape must also be
considered. These aspects are critical to establishing the reserve on a lasting
base, where the potential of El Pilar as an integrative model includes the
concerns and desires for both resource conservation and economic
The Management Plan must also take into account the location of El Pilar
between El Peten, Guatemala, and Cayo, Belize. This unusual setting impacts
the research and development activities of El Pilar. The size of the civic center is
presently unknown as the most comprehensive studies have thus far been
concentrated in Belize. Despite this, preliminary surveys into the western section
of El Pilar, in Guatemala, demonstrate its importance and interviews with the
Guatemalan community of La Zarca suggest that there is considerably more
monumental architecture to be identified, mapped, and inventoried as part of the
greater site core.
The physical situation of El Pilar raises the need for protection both in Belize and
Guatemala. Resource management designs for El Pilar need to consider the
contiguous sections in Belize and Guatemala as a whole. The natural
environment, cultural resources, access for tourism, and adjacent contemporary
peoples all need to figure prominently in the master plan and the final product:
The El Pilar Archaeological reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna.