Dive into Belize History: Uncovering Maya Secrets Underwater
Fossilized animal remains, pieces of pottery, underwater caves, and Mayan structures. These are some of the discoveries that archaeologists have made recently in the waters of Belize. Archaeological projects by the University of Illinois and the Louisiana State University have found several items and structures underwater in Belize. Some of their finds are proof that the ancient civilization was fairly sophisticated and engaged in the production and trade of salt. Meanwhile, some of their other discoveries raise more questions about the civilization. Read on to learn more about the cultural richness of Belize history.
Louisiana State University Underwater Archaeology in Belize
Underwater archaeological excavations in Belize National Park conducted by Louisiana State University have uncovered evidence of a Mayan salt industry. These discoveries provide new insight into the use of salt in the Mayan economy.
The anthropologists on the project documented 4 structures of pole-and-thatch construction throughout Paynes Creek National Park. Three of the structures are apparently kitchens and one is a residence. The structures are from Ta’ab Nuk Na, the largest salt complex at Paynes Creek. These structures are believed to have been part of an ongoing salt production and trade industry. Typically, remains of these pole-and-thatch structures don’t survive in tropical climates, so they’re archaeologically invisible. However, in this case, the anaerobic peat trapped in the mangrove roots preserved the foundational posts. The structures are dated to 650-800 C.E.
In total, there are 10 salt kitchens across Paynes Creek, that we know of. Archaeologists estimate that, if the structures were all active at the same time, the complex could have supplied salt for 24,000 people. They used the salt for flavouring and preserving food. The discovery of briquetage pottery confirms that these buildings were used for salt-making and that the Mayans made it by boiling water over a fire.
The residential building suggests that Mayan families made the salt, keeping what they needed and trading the rest.
The team utilizes flotation devices to explore and document the site without affecting artifacts that are embedded in the seafloor silt. Other artifacts nearby have raised questions, including a jadeite gouge (chisel) with a rosewood handle.
University of Illinois Underwater Archaeology Project
Meanwhile, another team led by the University of Illinois anthropology professor, Lisa Lucero, explored some of the freshwater pools of Cara Blanca, Belize. The 25 freshwater pools were important to the ancient Maya civilization.
During their 2010 project, they found fossilized animal remains, pieces of pottery, and a massive underwater cave. They dove 8 of the 25 known pools of Cara Blanca. The team of divers had to avoid crocodiles and move around massive submerged trees to map the freshwater pools.
Project leader, Lisa Lucero, suggested that the pools were a source of fresh water. The only vessels found were water jars in the structures built near the pools. While it’s possible the pools were like wells, the chemistry of the water in each was distinct and contained a lot of soluble minerals that would have a negative effect on its drinkers over time.
The team also suggested that the Mayans were making offerings to the rain god and other supernatural forces, in an attempt to end the drought they were experiencing. Add to that the Mayan belief in cenotes (cen-OH-tays) – openings in the earth including caves and water-filled sinkholes – were portals to the underworld. And in these cenotes, the Maya would leave offerings. Thus, some researchers have suggested that the area was a sacred site and a place of pilgrimage for the Maya.
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The cultural richness of Belize is clear. The history of Belize is curious and fascinating and the diving is like no other place on earth. Could these pools, which are deeper than they appear and connected via a massive network of caves, be connected to the Great Blue Hole?
Come check out some of the world’s best dive sites and discover the history of Belize for yourself. It seems that wherever you go in Belize, on land or underwater, adventure awaits!
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Just 30 miles from Belize City, Belize Dive Haven is located in pristine Turneffe Atoll. Consisting of creeks, lagoons, mangrove islands and cays, the atoll is home to over 500 species of fish, 65 different species of stony corals as well as birds, turtles, manatees and dolphins.