arrival to Mexico and Central America in the sixteenth century the Spanish initially were surprised to even find people residing there.
But then to encounter the Maya living in cities as large or
larger then some European ones, utilizing sophisticated writing,
metallurgy, architecture, and sculpture, they began to realize they were
not the only civilized humans on earth.
Robert Sharer suggests a good comparison would be for us to come
upon life on another planet, how would we communicate? Would it be peaceful or would we destroy what we encountered?
Destruction of these cultures encountered in the sixteenth
century was intentional, pagan practices were not understood or
tolerated, and human and self-sacrifice was horrifying to the explorers
and those they shared their findings with.
In fact, these early explorers were so surprised that despite the
savage practices a culturally advanced society had developed.
They truly believed, that due to the sophistication of the
culture that this area of the world had to have been settled by some
forgotten Old World colonists.
attempt, often seen as successful in the eyes of the conquistadors, at
religious conversion and forced resettlement, was the beginning of the
destruction of a rich, culturally diverse area of the world.
Although most of their actions were purposeful many were not,
including the introduction of disease, such as smallpox, that
individuals in Central and South America were unable to resist, this
caused millions of people to die and changed the fabric of this region
was no different; it was around AD 1544 that the first official mention
of the Maya city was recorded in historical documents.
The first Spanish church, Structure
N12-13, dates to approximately AD 1570; it was constructed some time
after Lamanai became part of the Spanish encomienda system (royal
grant to a Spaniard for the right to labor and tribute a native
population, who is also responsible for christianizing the natives).
This first church was built over an existing Tulum-style Postclassic
building that contained painted murals; in this case it appears the
Spanish were attempting to convert the Maya to Catholicism by
substituting one religious practice for another. Conversion was
difficult and the archaeological evidence for this exists in the form of
a burned and destroyed first church and the caching of various figurines
around and near the churches in traditional Maya fashion. Although a
second Spanish church was constructed, Structure N12-11, ultimately the
Spanish were never able to establish a strong hold in this area. It was
in AD 1638 that there was a widespread revolt by the Maya that ended in
the retreat of the Spanish at least for the time being.
II, Structure N12-13, Second Spanish Church
excavation by D.
Pendergast – substantial European style architecture, built circa
1600 – 1610 and burned in an attempt to destroy the area in 1638 when
a wide spread revolt occurred by the Maya, it was around this time that
the uncarved stela seen in both images was erected, most likely the Maya
again asserting their own power and beliefs
limestone quoins serve as cornerstones, although the smaller cobble-like
stones do appear to be Maya construction, the quoins are most certainly
of European design
figurine, cached in YDL I, Lamanai's first Spanish church
Caching practices although much more limited continue despite the influence of Catholicism at Lamanai, this figurine was recovered in the first Spanish church at Lamanai (Structure N12-11), although it is thought that it was secretly placed on what was now a different kind of sacred ground for the Maya, they still felt it was important to continue with their practices
Culture of the Terminal Postclassic & Spanish Colonial Periods
bells were a status item during the later periods at Lamanai (current
research by S. Simmons, http://people.uncw.edu/simmonss/
lamanai.htm) – although at this point it is not certain we do feel
the ancient Maya of Lamanai were doing copper metallurgy just prior to
the arrival of the Spanish