Technology, Tombs, and Texts: Uncovering the Ancient Maya Past
Listen to the lecture.
Traditional archaeological excavation, survey, and analysis—along with Maya hieroglyphic interpretation and remote sensing technology—reveal the sprawling site of Caracol, covering more than 170 square kilometers located in the remote jungle foothills of Belize’s Maya Mountains.
On Thursday, December 9, 2010, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology will present the Founder's Lecture, "Technology, Tombs, and Texts: Uncovering the Ancient Maya Past at Caracol, Belize." In this illustrated lecture, anthropologists Arlen and Diane Z. Chase will describe how their recent use of Light Detecting and Ranging technology (LiDAR) permitted the full extent of the settlement and its effects on the landscape to be identified.
"We were blown away," said Dr. Diane Chase told the New York Times in May, recalling their first look at the LiDAR images. They were able to map the area with greater detail than previously possible, using 3D versions of the images. The work was a continuation of more than 25 years of archaeological research on the site by the University of Central Florida (UCF) with the Belize Institute of Archaeology. The Chases are co-directors of Caracol Archaeological Project (Belize), University of Central Florida (Orlando).
The Chases will explain how the new research adds to the accumulated knowledge about the ancient Maya city. At A.D. 650, over 100,000 Maya lived at Caracol, sustained by crops grown on extensive systems of agricultural terraces. Causeways branched from the site's epicenter to the outlying public architecture, providing both political control and economic integration.
Excavations in the major public architecture of the site epicenter and in over 118 outlying residential groups demonstrate that Caracol was first occupied around 600 B.C. and that the epicenter was abandoned at or shortly after A.D. 900. Caracol’s extensive hieroglyphic texts record over 500 years of dynastic history for 28 rulers, spanning A.D. 300 through A.D. 859.
Archaeological discoveries confirm that Caracol’s inhabitants benefited from successful warfare during the Late Classic Period (A.D. 550-790). Tombs, finewares, and ritual practices spread to most of the residents; these items are often restricted in their distributions at other Maya centers. In the later Terminal Classic Period, a resurgence of dynasty and a rejection of this “symbolic egalitarianism” may have contributed to Caracol’s eventual collapse.
By combining archaeological investigation, remote sensing, and hieroglyphic interpretation, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the urban experience at Caracol and its rise and fall.
The lecture is free and take places at 5:30 PM at Harvard's Yenching Auditorium, 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA, with a public reception to follow at the Peabody Museum.
About the Speakers
Arlen F. Chase (Ph.D. 1983, University of Pennsylvania) is a Pegasus professor and the chair of anthropology at the University of Central Florida. His research interests focus on archaeological method and theory in the Maya area with particular emphasis on contextual, settlement, and ceramic analysis and secondary interests on urbanism, ethnicity, and epigraphic interpretation. For more than a quarter century, he has co-directed excavations at Caracol, Belize; before that he worked on a seven-year project at Santa Rita Corozal in the same country. He has authored over 100 articles and book chapters as well as The Lowland Maya Postclassic (1985; edited with P.M. Rice), Investigations at the Classic Maya City of Caracol, Belize (1987, with D.Z. Chase), A Postclassic Perspective (1988; with D.Z. Chase), Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment (1992; 1994; edited with D.Z. Chase), and Studies in the Archaeology of Caracol, Belize (1994; with D.Z. Chase). PDFs of his writings may be found at www.caracol.org.
Diane Z. Chase (Ph.D. 1982, University of Pennsylvania) is a Pegasus professor and the executive vice provost of academic affairs at the University of Central Florida. Her primary focus of research is on the ancient Maya of Central America. Her research interests focus on archaeological method and theory in the Maya area with particular emphasis on complex societies and hermeneutics, ethnohistory, and osteological and mortuary analysis. For more than a quarter century, she has co-directed excavations at Caracol, Belize; before that she directed a seven-year project at Santa Rita Corozal in the same country. She has authored over 100 articles and book chapters, as well as Investigations at the Classic Maya City of Caracol, Belize (1987, with A.F. Chase), A Postclassic Perspective (1988; with A.F. Chase), Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment (1992; 1994; edited with A.F. Chase), and Studies in the Archaeology of Caracol, Belize (1994; with A.F. Chase). Currently, she is working on a book with A.F. Chase entitled Maya Archaeology: Reconstructing an Ancient Civilization. PDFs of her writings may be found at www.caracol.org.
About the Founder's Lecture
The lecture honors George Peabody (1795-1869), who was born in South Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts and made his fortune in international finance. Often called the founder of modern philanthropy, he granted over $10 million to improving education and society. Peabody began in the 1850s with grants tot hte towns of Danvers and Peabody. His many gifts include the Peabody Donation Fund in London (1862), the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale (1866), the Peabody Academy of Science in Salem (1867, now the Peabody Essex Museum), the Peabody Institute of Baltimore (1857), and the Peabody Education Fund (1867, now the Southern Education Fund).