Lamanai Archaeological Project, Belize – From 1974 to Present
at Lamanai are in and of themselves a part of this extraordinary Maya
Large-scale excavations began in 1974, and continued until 1986,
upon which time the site lay dormant, at least archaeologically until
site itself is located on the west bank of the New River Lagoon, in
It was in 1974 that David Pendergast
began large scale controlled excavations as part of the
Lamanai Archaeological Project (LAP), his work was primarily sponsored
by the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Royal
Ontario Museum, and was made possible by the then government of
Belize's Department of Archaeology.
This permitting body has since been renamed the Institute of
Archaeology, and is one of the organizations within Belize's
National Institute of Culture and History.
Work conducted by Pendergast was carried out in 12 field seasons
from 1974 to 1986.
It was during this time that he was able to establish the
extensive chronology of Lamanai.
ORIGINAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL TEAM
majority of the Pendergast archaeological field crew was from San Jose
Succutz, a Mopan Maya village in the southern part of Belize that was
established in 1954.
Many of these men had previous excavation experience and were
invaluable in the recovery of the Lamanai data.
Other key individuals were Stan Loten,
Claude Belanger, Louise Belanger, and
Elizabeth Graham who eventually herself became Principal Investigator
of the site.
EXCAVATION HISTORY – 1974 TO 1986
began near the projects 'camp' area, which later became the docking area
where through the years thousands of visitors disembarked.
The work consisted of excavation of Structure N10-2, identified
as "Buk" which dated to the Late Postclassic (circa. AD 1200
– 1500), this is a period in Maya history that in 1974/75 virtually
nothing was known.
It was during these first few years of work that Pendergast
discovered that Lamanai was an important center during the last few
centuries before the Spanish arrival.
In fact, it was the substantial Spanish architecture in the form
of two churches that brought him to Lamanai in the first place; he felt
that the Spanish would not have built a church there if there were not a
somewhat substantial population of Maya to convert.
And what would follow one would hope would be an occupational
span that would run right up to contact period, something unheard of in
this day in Belize Lamanai is one of only two locations, Negroman-Tipu
being the other, that Spanish visita mission churches have been
1977 season consisted of work on both Structure
N10-9, Lip and Structure N10-43, Lag, both structures of which have yet
other names of Jaguar and High Temple, followed in 1978 by work on
Structure N9-56, Fut, also known as Mask Temple.
Work on Structure N10-43 was difficult and initially produced
more questions then it did answers, this was especially true on the
upper portions of the structure.
The incredible masks on Structure N9-56, a national treasure for
Belize were recovered in 1978.
Work in 1980 continued in the northern part of the site, which
was found to have some of the earliest material, including an effigy
vessel dating to ca. 300 BC with the earliest representation of a
stylized crocodile headdress.
Work continued from 1980 to 1982 in the residential elite area
on what was named "Ottawa" due to
its similar administrative function.
It was in 1983 that work began on Structure N10-27, and in Pendergast's words "yielded one
of the greatest surprises in all our years at Lamanai, a beautifully
carved stela that lay face down just 30cm below ground surface at
Harold's (N10-27) center".
was in 1984 to 1986 that excavations were finally able to be conducted
in the area just north of the two Spanish churches.
This area is located in the southern portion of the site and
predominately contains Postclassic to Historic structures and material.
Excavations ended in this area after 12 seasons and it seems
fitting that during the last two years of work Pendergast added even
more to the extraordinary Lamanai record with a total of 44 mostly high
status copper objects indicating the possibility of on-site metalworking
Simmons has since taken this on as one of his research
focuses and interests .
to the Reading List
for informative Pendergast articles on Lamanai
RECENT EXCAVATIONS – 1997 TO PRESENT
was in 1997 that Elizabeth Graham took the role as Principal
Investigator, permission granted to her by Belize's Institute of
Archaeology now directed by Jaime
Her motivations are many but one certainly is the fact we still
had (and have) many unanswered questions about Lamanai.
Prior to Graham's re-involvement work was being carried out under
the auspice of the Lamanai Field Research Center (LFRC) that no longer
conducts archaeological work.
Herman Smith and Mark McField conducted the initial excavations
at a site they named Lamanai South.
This site is located just two miles south of the main downtown
area of Lamanai. Work
began in this urban sprawl area on a small plazuela group that consisted
of a number of house mounds in 1994, and initial work, not surprisingly,
indicated that the chronology of Mound I, excavated by Smith, mirrors
that of Lamanai.
In 1996, Laura Howard further explored and mapped this area, Report of
Excavations of Lamanai South:
Results of the 1997 Field Season by Howard and Graham is
available for a small
The work focused on Mound II which was found to date from Protoclassic
to Early Classic Period, they used the term “Protoclassic” because
they felt it served as a bridging term, and indeed the construction
associated with Mound II bridges the Preclassic to Classic Period.
Nothing later than the middle of the Early Classic -- say A.D. 300 to
350 -- had been identified, and it would seem that occupation at Mound
II did not continue beyond this period of time.
was in 1997 that the first archaeological field school was organized and
held in the Lamanai area.
Our first field school, aside from focusing on the educational
components, conducted the final fieldwork at Lamanai South.
The field schools second season in 1998 was carried out within
the boundaries of the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve with a permit
issued to Graham.
The majority of fieldwork at Lamanai from 1998 to 2001 was done
through field schools.
It was in 1999 that Scott Simmons, started the Maya Metallurgy Project designed to examine
current theoretical models focusing on the relationships between
metalworking, specifically copper, craft specialization and
research carried out at Lamanai under the direction of Graham include
that of Linda Howie,
Jim Aimers and Christine White,
a bioarchaeologist who conducts analysis of skeletal material from
Lamanai. Aside from field school excavations
fieldwork also consisted of
archaeological assistance with the Tourism Development Project (TDP),
whose countrywide director was Jaime Awe.
Lamanai's Tourism Development Project (LTDP) director was Claude
Belanger who was assisted by Meredith Martinez.
In 2002 Howard conducted an
archaeological assessment and impact study, Archaeological Survey of
Lamanai's Proposed Tourist Center and Surrounding Facilities, report
available for a small
fee. The Phase I and II survey was conducted in the northeast
section of the N11 quad and the southeast section of the N10 quad of the
Lamanai Archaeological Reserve, which encompasses an area of about 175
by 130 meters.
Stanchly served as Lamanai's TDP archaeologist during this
most recent fieldwork has focused in the elite, Terminal Classic
residential group called Ottawa. This
work was funded by Social
Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC), National
Geographic Society (NGS), British Academy, and Institute of Archaeology,
UCL and primarily included work on Structure N10-12 and N10-77,
structures located in the southeast area of the residential group.
Graham currently is focusing her efforts on acquiring funds to
improve data storage, analysis, and access to the Lamanai archaeological
record by many different publics, which includes researchers, local
residents, and ecotourists.
Simmons work, on The Maya
Archaeometallurgy Project that
archaeological students assist with is a research program focused on
studying the specialized production of copper and bronze objects in the
Maya Lowland area during Postclassic and Spanish Colonial times.
Since its inception in 1999 a central goal of this project has been to
understand the relationships that existed between copper production and
socioeconomic differentiation and interdependence among the Maya.
A larger goal for the research project is to provide insights
into the relationships that existed between craft production,
socioeconomic integration, and cultural evolution in state-level
copper artifacts have been recovered from several other Lowland Maya
sites, including a great number in the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itzá,
no substantive research has been undertaken on the nature of Maya
metallurgy as a specialized craft activity.
As a result, the Maya Archaeometallurgy Project at Lamanai is the
first and thus far only one of its kind.
Lamanai Archaeological Project Conducts:
Maya Archaeology, Rainforest, and Marine Ecology Program: