Household Composition and Ritual Patterning:

Continued Investigation of Residential Groups near Caracol's Epicenter:

2008 Field Report of the Caracol Archaeological Project



Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase

University of Central Florida


            The 2008 field season of the Caracol Archaeological Project ran from the end of January through the middle of March. Twenty-four individuals were formally involved in the production of the archaeological data reported on within this report (Table 1). The research undertaken at Caracol during the 2008 field season was designed to build on the results of the 2007 field season in which significant ritual variation was uncovered in both epicentral Caracol and in an outlying residential group. While appearing to be a fairly normal residential compound before investigation, excavations in the GRB Group proved otherwise. The southern building, Structure I5, was a finely constructed stone building, which had once been vaulted. Rather than a rubble-filled platform supporting a perishable construction, a formally constructed stone room (Structure I1) was situated on the western side of the northern pyramid (Structure I2). Usually only associated with eastern buildings, a face cache was found within the steps of the northern pyramid. Excavations in the eastern building, Structure I5, uncovered a series of stratified face caches, many of them associated with eccentric obsidians and other small items; both the number of face caches and their associated artifacts presented an anomalous situation in comparison to the vast majority of other residential compounds that had been excavated. All of these ritual and construction features were interpreted as being related to the status and/or occupation of the residents of the GRB Group. Given the fact that other patterned cache variation also had been documented in residential groups to the northwest of the epicenter, the 2008 field season sought to determine whether other unusual residential complexes existed elsewhere in close proximity to the epicenter. Towards this end, two residential groups in close proximity to the South Acropolis were tested during 2008 in order to ascertain if other ritual and/or household variation could be defined for Caracol. These two groups were nicknamed the "Culebras Group" and the "Palmitas Group." Both groups did produce archaeological materials that amplified known residential group patterns for the site (e.g., D. Chase and A. Chase 2004a).


Background: Excavation of Maya Residential Groups

            The characterization and composition of Maya households has comprised a basic research question for Maya archaeologists for more than half a century. While the archaeological identification of Maya residential units as small platforms distributed over the landscape was established on the basis of the principle of abundance at the turn of the twentieth century (Thompson 1897), only limited excavations of house mounds were undertaken by the Maya archaeologists (e.g., Wauchope 1934) until the onset of more formal settlement pattern studies by Gordon Willey in the Belize Valley (Willey et al. 1965). Most early archaeological programs of excavation in the Maya area focused on the large structures and buildings that comprised the centers of most Maya sites. This initial focus on central monumental Maya architecture led to equivocation over the nature of Maya settlement. Were the temples and palaces at the center of vacant ceremonial centers (Willey 1956)? Or, were these constructions the nucleus of true urban settlements (Becker 1979)? The block mapping of 16 square kilometers of settlement surrounding the center of Tikal, Guatemala (Carr and Hazard 1961) eventually tipped the balance toward a general agreement that the Maya had urban centers, but debate about the nature of Maya cities is still ongoing (A. Chase and D. Chase 2007; D. Chase et al. 1990; Fox et al. 1996; Sanders and Webster 1989). Archaeological investigation of Maya residential groups has grown exponentially since the publication of the Tikal map, but exactly how such groups are constituted and situated in terms of an urban center is poorly defined. The research undertaken during 2008 sought to gather data that, when conjoined with previous investigations, helps refine our understanding of Maya residential settlement at the urban site of Caracol.

            The site which has seen the most amplification of settlement pattern definition is perhaps Tikal, Guatemala. There, Marshall Becker (2003) analyzed the 2,500 mapped residential structures and defined some 690 residential groups. He then analyzed these 690 groups for repetitive architectural patterning and was able to define a series of 10 distinct plaza plans (Becker 1971, 1982). Becker (2003, 2004) has argued that each of these plaza plans can be identified through both architectural arrangement and material archaeological signatures. While Becker (2004) frames the discussion of residential groups at Tikal in terms of an "architectural grammar" for 10 plaza plans (PPs), only four of his plaza plans relate to residential groups and these can be recast in terms of two dichotomies. These contrastive features are, first, formal (PP2, PP3, PP4) and informal (PP5) layout based on group integration and directionality. These arrangements are then further differentiated based on the presence of ritual (PP2, PP4) and non-ritual (PP3, PP5) architectural features (Becker 2003:258-264). The ritual features consist of either a central altar (PP4) or an eastern shrine / mausoleum (PP2). At Tikal, 14-15% of the recorded groups exhibited eastern shrines (Becker 2003:259); less than 1% exhibited a central altar.

Thus, the most common residential layout for Tikal is a formal non-ritual residential group. At Caracol, in contrast, the formal ritual residential group comprises the most common layout. The limited ritual focus found at Tikal contrasts with settlement data from Caracol, which demonstrates that the east-focused residential groups constitute over 60% of all recorded plazas (A. Chase and D. Chase 1996). As at Tikal, central shrines occur infrequently at Caracol. Given the widespread distribution of east-focused shrines groups at Caracol (A. Chase and D. Chase 1987, 1994; D. Chase and A. Chase 1998), it may be expected that archaeological data would permit elaboration on the diversity in the "architectural grammar" that can be seen in such groups.

            Archaeological investigations into these eastern shrines at Caracol have helped define patterning in the general function and use of these structures. Similar to Tikal, the eastern structures in Caracol's residential groups generally functioned within a mortuary realm; but, there are significant differences from the Tikal sample. Becker (2004:129) speaks of a "grammatical rule" at Tikal "involving an 'intrusive interment and covering' dyad" where the initial interment was placed into bedrock and then covered by the shrine - with each subsequent refurbishment "preceded by the intrusion of another high status burial" through the existing architecture. Whereas excavation into the Tikal PP2s primarily yielded burials, the Caracol east-focused groups contain a mix of both burials and caches. The Caracol interments were usually not placed into bedrock, but instead were situated in tombs in the cores of the eastern shrines. Many Caracol tombs were additionally associated with entryways that permitted easy access to the chambers for an extended period of time. Even without a formal entryway, Caracol's tombs were re-entered, sometime accidentally, but also presumably for both social and political purposes (D. Chase and A. Chase 2003).

            For Caracol it also has been possible to define both a generalized pattern of deposition and a temporality for these deposits (D. Chase and A. Chase 2004b). A tomb was placed first in the core of the building and then may have been used for the temporary placement of interments that were eventually buried elsewhere. Eventually, one or more bodies were placed within a tomb and re-entry was denied to the chamber through engulfment in a subsequent rebuilding. Once the tomb was inaccessible, the next interment would be placed at the base of the frontal step. Later, another burial may have pierced the frontal step and/or have been placed in the associated plaza on axis to the eastern construction. The sequencing of these events in Caracol eastern structures indicates that they followed a rhythm that was not tied to individual life cycles, but rather to Maya temporal cycles (D. Chase and A. Chase 2004b:220-221), indicating that these eastern constructions functioned to integrate Caracol's residential groups into broader ritual arenas (D. Chase and A. Chase 2009). They were not simply individual ancestral shrines. While ancestors may have been buried in these buildings, only a small percentage of a group's inhabitants actually were interred within the residential group (D. Chase 1997).

            Of even more interest in terms of the architectural grammar of these groups is the conjunction of the eastern interments with caching practices at Caracol. Special cache containers, termed "finger bowls" and "face caches" (D. Chase and A. Chase 1998) were often placed to the front of the eastern shrines. Occasionally, the caches were incorporated into the building itself by being placed beneath front steps. And, in unusual circumstances caches were placed in the core of constructions, but this was not the normal practice. However, in at least two cases, face caches were located within the core of an eastern construction and in one case multiple caches were placed without the expected tomb. Thus, differences occur in the patterning associated with some of Caracol's eastern buildings. But, why? And, are these differences patterned? And, can such differences be predicted from surface remains?

The Problem: Variations in the Pattern

            Over the past twenty-three years, a number of residential plazas have been investigated in the immediate vicinity of the Caracol epicenter. For the most part these residential units have exhibited patterns traditionally associated with east-focused residential units, although informal structure groupings (2000 field season) and non-ritual residential groups (2006 field season) have also been purposely excavated. Two epicentral acropolis groups have also been tested, the Northeast Acropolis and the Central Acropolis. Both of these architectural complexes may be considered to be high status residential groups; and, investigations in both groups replicated site-wide ritual patterns, emphasizing the shared nature of the rituals by Caracol households of varying statuses. In the Northeast Acropolis, the single eastern pyramid, Structure B34, contained face-caches, burials, and tombs (D. Chase and A. Chase 2003). The Central Acropolis mimicked the summit of Caana in having both northern and eastern pyramids. While the northern building in the Central Acropolis revealed a royal tomb beneath its stairway, excavations into the eastern buildings in this residential group revealed tombs, caches, and burials that reflect patterns found in residential groups throughout Caracol (D. Chase and A. Chase 1996).

            While there is widespread uniformity in ritual patterning throughout Caracol in east-focused structural groups, variability does occur in some of the residential groups in the immediate vicinity of the epicenter. Several of these groups display variations from the repetitive archaeological signatures found in the eastern buildings within the outlying settlement. For instance, although associated with burials, Structure D9 lacked both a tomb and caches. Structure I5 was similarly lacking the axial tomb that is typical of Caracol eastern shrines, but this construction had a series of caches and eccentric obsidians deposited within its core. The eastern construction Structure F4 contained neither tomb nor cache; instead, its western counterpart, Structure F2, contained a tomb that was the locus of a complex re-entry and re-deposition event (D. Chase and A. Chase 2003). While Structure J8 exhibited both a tomb and caches, this residential group was also associated with a low central altar that yielded over two dozen lip-to-lip "finger" caches. Thus, distinct archaeological variations do exist within Caracol's east-focused residential groups and it should be possible to gain further information on (and, perhaps, "understand") these variations by contextually examining proximate groups.

Research Undertaken During 2008

            Toward the goal of understanding the compositional differences in ritual patterning, two residential groups were selected for excavation during the 2008 field season, the C20 or "Culebras" group and the D29 or "Palmitas" group (Figure 1). The groups are neighbors, being divided from each other by the Pajaro-Ramonal Causeway. Both groups are also close to the South Acropolis, which has witnessed considerable investigation, and their proximity to this complex may be taken to imply that some interaction took place between these units. Thus, the archaeological data recovered from these two groups can be situated in terms of information from the South Acropolis ( ). As a result of the 2008 investigations, five structures were investigated within the Culebras Group and three structures were excavated within the Palmitas Group. The ritual deposits that were recovered fit other residential patterns recovered from Caracol – except for the Early Classic Period cache recovered in association with Structure C21. Importantly, certain architectural constructions within these two groups also indicate that there was significant variability when compared to general residential groups elsewhere at the site: Structure C17 yielded a well-constructed frontal shrine room; Structure D32 produced a vaulted-room building complete with an exterior façade decorated with stucco pseudo-glyphs; and, Structure D27 appears to have been a formally constructed sweatbath. Thus, while the research goals of the field season were met in terms of finding variability within residential groups in the immediate vicinity of the Caracol epicenter, the features that were encountered have raised new questions about the composition of residential groups that need to be tested in the future.

Culebras Residential Group: Structures C17-C23 and D22-D26.

The first residential group selected for investigation is set amidst terraces approximately 150 meters east of the South Acropolis and was nicknamed "Culebras" (see Figures 1, 2, and 3). The western side of this group is set on a higher terrace level than the eastern side. Single buildings define the southern and northern edges of the lower eastern plaza. What was originally thought to be a possible plain monument located at the southwest corner of Structure C17 was shown to be a cornice stone from a vaulted building (although no vaulted buildings are in evidence in this group as a result of the 2008 investigations). The eastern edge of the Culebras Group is bounded by four separate constructions, two of them (Structures C20 and C21) resembling small square raised shrines; both of these buildings were excavated during 2008. A small "altar" construction (Structure C22) is set in the center of the lower plaza on axis with the northern building but intermediate between the two eastern shrines. This small platform was also excavated. Thus, the 2008 field excavations within Culebras focused on all three constructions that were considered to have had ritual usage based on surface considerations. The western (Structure D25) and northern (Structure C17) buildings in Culebras were also investigated during 2008.

Structure C20 (Figure 4)

            Structure C20 is the northernmost eastern shrine building in the Culebras Group. It rose just some 1.10 meters above the plaza. Very badly defined base-walls and a possible door jamb were visible on the summit of the structure (Figure 6). The latest frontal stair or stair-balk could also be discerned without excavation.

            Operation C179B (Figures 4, 5, 6, 7, and 12) was assigned for an axial trench placed over Structure C20. This excavation was 1.50 meters wide and was eventually 8.40 meters long. As a result of this investigation, it is possible to define at least two different phases of construction for Structure C20. The latest upper phase consisted of a single room construction that was bedded on large dry-core boulders. This upper construction was placed over an earlier construction that included finely cut stone facings and plastered floors (Figure 7). This earlier construction apparently sealed S.D. C179B-5, S.D. C179B-6, and S.D. C179B-7; vessels recovered in S.D. C179B-6 date to the transition between the Early and Late Classic Periods. As S.D. C179B-6 is stratigraphically the latest deposit associated with the earlier version of Structure C20, S.D. C179B-5 and S.D. C179B-7 should precede it in time. The earlier version of Structure C20 was pierced by S.D. C179B-3, which can be dated to the early Late Classic Period. S.D. C179B-2 is located almost directly above S.D. C179B-3 and is probably of a similar date. Thus, the earlier version of Structure C20 antedates the early part of the Late Classic Period, as this is the time when the later version of the building was constructed. Construction fill for the latest version of Structure C20 includes pieces of painted stucco decoration stripped from a stone building, indicating that such a construction may once have existed in the Culebras Group or that these decorations were carried in from presumably demolished epicentral construction. The latest deposits recovered in Operation C179B were S.D. C179B-1 and S.D. C179B-4; these were placed in front of the final stairway and date to the late Late Classic Period. Of the seven special deposits recovered in this trench, two were caches and five were burials. The rear tomb shown in Figure 5 was neither excavated nor formally entered; it will be dug in 2009. At the end of the field season, the entire excavation was backfilled, including the area above the uninvestigated tomb.

                        S.D. C179B-1 (Figures 5, 9, and 10) was located at a level below the lowest basal level of the front step, but squarely on axis to the structure. The deposit was badly crushed, but consisted of a lidded face cache (Figure 10a) and a lip-to-lip cache (Figure 10b) that had presumably been placed within the face cache. A total of 8 human phalanges can be associated with S.D. C179B-1; two of them were found within the lip-to-lip cache and the other six were intermixed with and under the sherds that made up the face cache. Additionally, two slate bars (Figures 8e and 8f) and a slate pendent (Figure 8b) were found in the general area and same level of the face cache and possibly may be associated with this deposit. The barble decoration associated with the S.D. C179B-1 face cache is generally associated with caches from within and near the epicenter; barbled face caches have only been recovered in this Culebras deposit, in the GRB Group dug in 2007, in the Central Acropolis, and in the Northeast Acropolis. Thus, this decorative mode may be taken to be indicative of the status of the individuals who occupied this group in the Late Classic Period.

                        S.D. C179B-2 (Figures 5 and 11) was located approximately 50 to 60 cm directly above the capstones for S.D. C179B-3. It consists of the skull of a single individual and could possibly be referred to as a "skull cache." The atlas and hyoid were present along with 1 cervical vertebrae; no axis recovered. There are no clear cut marks on vertebrae. The sex of the skull cannot be determined; the mandible resembles a female, but the skull characteristics are more like a male. Some carries are in evidence in the associated teeth. The individual would have been approximately 25 years of age at death. Below the skull in the fill above the captstones for S.D. C179B-1 were faunal remains (small and large, including deer), a ceramic pipe (Figure 8d), and an obsidian tool (Figure 8j). All of this material may be associated with S.D. C172B-2 and some kind of ritual activity for the deposition of S.D. C179B-3.

                        S.D. C179B-3 (Figures 5, 13, 14, 15, and 16) was an interment placed within a small crypt covered with capstones. The crypt penetrated an earlier floor. The skeletal remains of a single individual, probably and older male, were recovered in the crypt. As the bones were not articulated, this was certainly a secondary burial that was re-interred in this location. The shape of the mandible is consistent with that of a male; however, teeth were not present because of ante-mortem tooth loss and resorption in the mandible. There was also an extra growth on the left fibula, indicative of a potential pathology. Artifactual materials in S.D. C179B-3 included two complete vessels and a jadeite earring assemblage. The vessels have been used to date this interment in the early Late Classic Period. The single jadeite earring assemblage (Figure 16c and 16d) is more expectable from a cache than a burial (for instance, see earlier deposits in Structure A2 and A8; A. Chase and D. Chase 2006) and may indicate the broader ritual roles of these deposits (Becker 1992; D. Chase and A. Chase 2004b).

                        S.D. C179B-4 (Figures 5, 17, 18, and 19) consisted of an interment placed in a crypt constructed just above bedrock in front of and below the front steps for Structure C20. S.D. C179B-1 was located directly above this burial. The crypt contained two individuals and two pottery vessels. Both of the individuals were determined to be males based on an in situ examination of preserved sciatic notches. Along the north-south axis of the crypt, a fully articulated, older adult male had been placed in a prone position with his head to the north. No teeth were recovered with this individual; his mandible had complete ante-mortem tooth loss and resorption. Arthritic lipping appeared on this individual's vertebrae. In the extreme southeastern corner of the crypt a secondary interment had been placed. This individual was disarticulated and had probably been placed into S.D. C179B-4 as a bundled burial. This male individual was approximately 21 years of age based on the 6 teeth that could be associated with him. Filing was noted on his left lower lateral canine and incisor; hypoplasia and tartar were also in evidence on two lower premolars. The vertebrae with the secondary individual were billowed. Artifactual materials included in the interment were two pottery vessels. A small footed plate had been located northeast of the primary individual's head and a polychrome figural cylinder had been located east of the primary individual's lower leg and above the secondary individual's long bones. The part of the cylinder that protruded from the dirt matrix covering much of the burial was well-preserved (Figures 20 and 21); however, the back of the cylinder that was embedded in the lower dirt matrix had largely disintegrated.

                        S.D. C179B-5 (Figures 5, 10, and 22) was designated for a lip-to-lip cache that had once been set on the western edge of the capstones that covered S.D. C179B-5. This cache was sealed by a floor in the core of the earlier version of Structure C20.

                        S.D. C179B-6 (Figures 5, 23, 24, 25, and 26) was assigned to a collapsed tomb that probably constituted the latest deposit intruded within the earlier version of Structure C20. The large boulder fill for the final version of Structure C20 had caused the roof of the chamber to collapse on its northern end, resulting in the infilling of the chamber. The floor of the chamber does not appear to have been disturbed; the tomb's contents are still in situ. The southern end of the chamber had not collapsed and still exhibited an intact capstone (Figure 24). On the floor of the chamber the remains of a single adult individual were recovered; the sciatic notch was identified as being male in the field. The full interment could not be exposed because of the large collapsed boulders that filled the northern end of the tomb. This unexcavated section of the chamber probably contained the skull and torso of the individual as well as additional artifacts. Two ring-based ceramic dishes (Figure 26a and 26b) were recovered in the southern part of the chamber and a complete mano (Figure 26c) was positioned to the west of the body.

                        S.D. C179B-7 (Figure 5) was the appellation given a tomb that was found in the eastern extent of Operation C179B. The chamber was not excavated during 2008 because of time constraints. The exposed capstones were drawn (Figure 12) and a central one was lifted to obtain dimensions for the chamber. The chamber is minimally 1.1 meters wide by over 2.2 meters long; 0.70 meters of airspace runs the distance of the chamber and there may be an entryway at the chamber's southern end. After measurements were taken, the capstone was replaced, the capstones were covered with a tarp, and Operation C179B was backfilled. This chamber is scheduled for excavation during the 2009 field season.

            Operation C179C (Figures 27 and 28) was assigned for an areal excavation of the alley between Structures C20 and C21. The excavation measured 3.1 meters north-south by 3.5 meters east-west. It was hoped to be able to define the corners and building sides of the two shrine constructions, but this did not prove to be the case. Nor was intact trash recovered. The excavation was backfilled at the end of the field season.

Structure C21 (Figure 29)

            As part of the attempt to understand the ritual patterns in the Culebras Group, the second eastern shrine building, Structure 21, was also investigated. Like its companion Structure C20, the southern Structure C21 rose 1.10 meters above the Culebras plaza. However, Structure C21 was far less defined in terms of surface architecture. As a result of investigations into Structure C21, two versions of the building were found and two deposits were recovered.

            Operation C179D (Figures 30 and 31) was designated for the 1.50 meters wide (north-south) by 6.20 meters (east-west) long axial trench that penetrated Structure C21. The construction fill for the latest building was continuous from the ground surface down to an earlier plaza floor. Within the upper core of the latest building, a spondylus valve (Figure 38a) was recovered; it is believed to have been redeposited within Structure C21 as a result of earlier demolition activity. That such demolition took place at the Operation C179 locus was clear from the recovery of a formally constructed step on the southern side of the excavation, resting directly on the lowest plaza floor recovered in the core of the building. Thus, it appears that an earlier construction at this locus had been removed when the latest construction was erected. The removal of this earlier building had also disturbed the upper portions of an earlier burial, S.D. C179D-2, dating to the later part of the Early Classic Period. Excavation in the western portion of Operation C179D also recovered three stones (one forming a corner) of an even earlier construction that had had been engulfed in the plaza. Refuse, including carved bone (Figure 34d, 34e, and 34f) and potentially reconstructible ceramics, abutted these stones; the ceramics were all Early Classic in date. A green obsidian blade fragment and point (Figure 38l) were found in the same fill level, but south of the wall. Also encountered in the core of the plaza at the same level as the Early Classic trash and adjacent to it was a very impressive cache, S.D. C179D-1, which contained the first flint eccentrics recovered at Caracol after 24 seasons of excavation. The two deposits recovered in association with Structure C21 clearly establish this locus as important during the Early Classic Period and indicate that the earlier version of the demolished building likely preceded the use of the Structure C20 locus in terms of ritual.

                        S.D. C179D-1 (Figures 32, 33, and 34) was a very impressive cache deposit placed within the earlier plaza fill in front of Structure C21. Even though placed directly into the dirt plaza fill, the artifacts were embedded in what is colloquially referred to as "cache dirt;" this cache dirt was full of small chips of valuable materials. In the case of S.D. C179D-1, the cache dirt consisted of 747 jadeite chips and 4751 spondylus chips. Also recovered within the cache dirt were 23 chert chips, 32 quartz chunks, 4 obsidian blade fragments, 2 unworked shells, and 138 slate mirror pieces; the scattered distribution of the slate mirror pieces suggests that they did not constitute a single artifact. The central elements of the cache consisted of a jadeite bead (Figure 34aa), a hard stone ball (Figure 34z), and a lump of brain corral (Figure 34g) overlaid by 3 chert eccentrics (Figure 34a-c). Distributed about the chert eccentrics were 8 obsidian eccentrics, 2 obsidian lancets, 6 complete spondylus shells, and 3 stingray spines. As 52 "fish vertebrae" were also recovered, it may be that the 3 stingray spines really represented 3 complete rays, as is noted for other caches at Caracol (Teeter and Chase 2004). S.D. C179D-1 dates to the Early Classic Period and contains the first chert eccentrics recovered at Caracol in 24 years of research.

                        S.D. C179D-2 (Figures 35, 36, and 37) was designated for a burial that was found intruded into the lowest floor recovered in the Operation C179D locus. This floor level had possibly once sealed S.D. C179D-1, thus making the interment slightly later in date than the plaza cache, but still Early Classic. The upper portion of the burial had clearly been disturbed by renovation activities, probably accounting for some of the missing skeletal bone and certainly for the missing olla rim from one of the two vessels placed in the burial. A single supine individual with head to the north had been placed within the cist grave. The individual was probably a young adult aged 18 to 21; no third molars are present and all epiphyses are joined. Sex was indeterminate, even though the mastoid processes suggested the possibility of a male. Slight cribra orbitalia was present on the skull. The recovered mandible was only partial. The upper left central incisor was inlaid with jadeite and is either very worn on nearly filed flat; no inlays were recovered from the mandibular teeth or from the upper premolars or molars (other upper incisors were not present). The lower right second incisor is also either worn or filed. Two Early Classic ceramic vessels (Figure 37) were set above the individual's feet. No other artifacts were associated with this interment.

Structure C22 (Figure 39)

            Structure C22 was the designation given to a low line-of-stone platform that had been mapped in the center of the Culebras plaza. The platform was originally selected for investigation as a possible ritual structure; as mapped, the group appeared to conform to Tikal Plaza Plan 4, designating residential groups with low central shrines; investigations in such constructions at Tikal had recovered skull caches (Becker 1982). As a result of the 2008 investigations in the Culebras Group, it does not appear that Structure C22 was on axis to any of the buildings in the plazeula. The construction proved to be almost equidistant from the Structure C20 and Structure C21 central axes – and, although initially thought to possibly be on axis with Structure C17, the investigation of Structure C17 resulted in the recovery of architectural features that make this unlikely. Exactly what purpose Structure C22 served is unclear, although a single interment was recovered in its southern core.

            Operation C179E (Figures 40 and 41) was designated for the areal excavation that largely encompassed Structure C22. The investigation measured 3.75 meters (north-south) by 3.25 meters (east-west). The humus was removed within this excavation and then a deeper 1.50 meter wide trench, running east-west, was placed over the center of the structure and excavated down to an earlier plaza floor (Figure 39). The central part of the platform that comprised Structure C22 was made up of fire-stone that had been encased within a single line of formally cut limestone that made up the edges of the platform on all sides. The formal platform facing was not well preserved. The rear stones of a buried facing that rested on the earlier plaza floor was recovered on the southern side of the excavation. A single burial was recovered in the upper core for Structure C22 in the deeper axial penetration.

                        S.D. C179E-1 (Figures 42 and 43) was designated for a secondary human interment that had been placed directly within the core of the western end of Structure C22. The recovered bones were not articulated, but the long bones and skull were located within a relatively small area, indicating that they may have once been bundled together. While it was initially believed that all of the skeletal material related to a single individual, analysis showed otherwise. Only four teeth were recovered; the teeth represent 1st and 2nd molars for an 8 years-old individual. The mastoid on the skull was also very small. However, all the post-cranial remains appear to come from an adult male. The epiphyses on the long bones are fully fused and the pelvis was identified as male in the field based on an intact sciatic notch. Thus, analysis demonstrated that the remains of two individuals had been placed within the interment, the postcranial skeleton of one adult male and the skull and teeth of a subadult. Since these bones had been re-interred within the fill for Structure C22 from another location and assuming that the intent had been to re-deposit the bones of a single individual, this would indicate that the wrong skull was selected for re-interment with the adult bones.

Structure D25 (Figure 44)

            Structure D25 was set at the western extent of the Culebras Group, atop a 2 meter high terrace that bisected the residential area and was probably accessed by a stairway that once existed over this terrace. A series of smaller constructions were to the north of Structure D25. Structure D25 was selected for excavation because of its dominant western position in the group and because of a continued interest in western buildings at Caracol to determine if they held Terminal Classic burials in accord with patterns from the southeastern Peten of Guatemala (Laporte 1994, 2004). While isolated human bones were recovered in the excavation, no formal burials were found on the axis of Structure D25.

            Operation C179F (Figures 45 and 46) was assigned to an axial excavation through Structure D25 that measured 9.00 meters (east-west) by 1.50 meters (north-south). At its western extent, the trench was set directly over a terrace facing composed of large boulders. Before excavation, it was possible to discern the outlines of the structure that had once been set on the platform (Figure 46). The basal extent of the building platform was evident on its northern side, but the southern side probably had been uprooted by a large collapsed tree. More central facings indicated that the building rose from above the plaza in three distinct levels. Excavation confirmed that Structure D25 had been built in a single effort and that it was set directly upon bedrock; no earlier constructions were recovered. Human remains were encountered in the plaza fill east of Structure D25, but were not given a burial designation because they were not recovered in association and isolated human bone is quite frequent in Caracol fills and on the floors of Terminal Classic palaces at the site. In the eastern end of the trench, a single tibia (set east-west) was found beneath a laja, a patella was recovered near bedrock (not in association with the tibia), and pieces of a human skull were also recovered over a meter away from the tibia in plaza fill. Although both the front and rear of Structure D25 were excavated to bedrock, no formal deposits and only a few artifacts were recovered. Recovered artifacts of interest included a green obsidian blade fragment (Figure 48j), a partial limestone bar (Figure 48i), and pieces of an effigy burner (Figure 47), possibly of Terminal Classic date. The burner pieces were recovered in the fill immediately above bedrock in the eastern structure core. Two drilled oliva shells (Figure 48a) and a broken shell artifact (Figure 48c) were recovered to the rear (west) of the building. A series of chert artifacts were found in the various building fills (Figure 48h, k, m, o, and p) and a large chert biface (Figure 48g) was recovered in the humus on the structure summit.

Structure C17 (Figure 49)

            Structure C17 is the most massive construction located in the Culebras Group. The building rises 2.20 meters above the lower plaza and dominates the northern end of the plazuela group (Figure 3). Even before excavation, a lower frontal terrace was in evidence for the building platform. Structure C17 was selected for excavation because of its size and in order to gain comparative data to excavated northern buildings in other residential groups (e.g., Structure B40 excavated in 2005 and I2 excavated in 2007).

            Operation C179G (Figures 50, 51, 52,and 53) was designated for the excavation that penetrated Structure C17. The trench was centered on the lower frontal terrace and succeeded in bisecting a doorway feature for what appears to have been a basal shrine room (Figure 52). The excavation measured 10.45 m (north-south) by 2.00 m (east-west) and was dug to bedrock in the center of the construction and beneath the shrine room. In an attempt to define the eastern side of the frontal feature, an additional areal excavation was made. It was located 0.80 m north of southern excavation and ran 1.08 m north-south by 0.80 m east-west; it exposed the interior of the shrine room, but did not encounter the eastern doorjamb. At minimum, two different construction phases were found in Operation C179G. The earliest consisted of a stone paving running north and raised approximately 60 cm above the shrine room floor. An earlier floor was found in the core of the building at approximately the same level as the paving surface. An earlier southern facing was also encountered, which had been covered over by the walls to construct the shrine room (at least on the western side of the excavation). The latest version of Structure C17 was associated with the basal shrine room and must have had a stairway that rose an additional meter above the earlier paving to a raised plaster floor. This floor was associated with features at the summit of the building, which may have included a bench (Figure 51). No formal deposits were associated with Structure C17, although a ceramic lens in dark soil was found immediately above bedrock in the center of the excavation; these pottery materials dated to the early Late Classic Period. A figurine fragment (Figure 48f) in the fill immediately above the interior stone paving may date the latest construction episode to the late Late Classic Period; also found in this fill were a thick-walled jar (Figure 54a) and a broken point (Figure 48r). Another figurine fragment (Figure 48b) was found to the front of the shrine doorway and a worked shell (Figure 48d) and partial bowl (Figure 54b) were to the side of the upper bench.

Summary of Culebras Group

            The Culebras Group appears to have been established in the Early Classic Period. A buried platform that was used at this time was found in front of Structure C21 and the initial construction of Structure C21 dates to the Early Classic Period based on the single burial on that building's axis. The cache found in plaza fill in front of Structure C21 is one of the most elaborate located at Caracol for this temporal era. It is likely that other low platforms dating to the Early Classic Period remain buried within the lower plaza fill of the Culebras Group. Based on the series of burials deposited on the axis of Structure C20, this edifice became the most important ritual structure in Culebras during the Late Classic Period. All of the excavated buildings on the lower plaza of Culebras were minimally modified, if not totally rebuilt, during the late Late Classic Period. The single building investigated in the upper plaza appears to have been constructed directly on bedrock during this same time, if not later, based on the ceramic burner recovered in its fill. In summary, Culebras appears to have founded in the Early Classic Period and to have peaked it terms of architecture and use during the late Late Classic Period. The archaeological data demonstrate that this residential group was occupied for at least 400 years.

            The entire group was backfilled during the last week of the field season.



Palmitas Residential Group: Structures D27-D35.

The second residential group selected for investigation during 2008 is located approximately 100 meters southeast of the South Acropolis and 100 meters southwest of the first group (see Figure 1). The largest construction in the group is the western building (Figure 56). A small squarish pyramid forms the east side of the plaza (Figure 55). Two long and low constructions are located on both the northern and southern sides of the plaza. Three "outbuildings" also appear to be associated with the group, one slightly south and two off the southwest corner of the plaza. Investigations in this residence group focused on Structures D27, D29, and D32, as well as a stone feature in the center of the plaza. Excavations revealed that Structure D27 had been a vaulted stone building with exterior stucco decoration that included a pseudo-hieroglyphic text (that likely ran along the exterior cornice of the edifice). Structure D29 was demonstrated to be a shrine building and produced deposits consistent with those found in other east-structure-focused residential groups. Structure D27 proved to be a small sweat-bath, located slightly behind and northwest of the larger Structure D28 that anchored the northern side of the Palmitas plaza.

Structure D29 (Figure 55)

            Set in isolation on the eastern edge of the plaza, Structure D29 could be identified as a ritual construction even before excavation demonstrated this fact. The substructure platform for the building rose slightly more than a meter above its associated plaza, had a squared plan, and had good evidence for a frontal stairway. Two single course summit facings for a construction were in a bad state of repair (Figure 66). They were located on either side of an open and looted chamber that crowned the summit of Structure D29. The chamber had been re-excavated by the Tourism Development Project prior to 2003, but no associated artifacts had been recovered. The TDP had, however, left a blue tarp covering the chamber. This tarp had subsequently fallen into the tomb and clearly demarcated the extent of their investigations. A constructed screen was also recovered on the southern side of the substructure. Based on the investigations undertaken in 2008, Structure D29 appears to have been built in a single construction effort on top of plaza flooring bedded on dry-core fill. The recovered artifactual materials indicate that the building was constructed and used in the Late and Terminal Classic Periods.


            Operation C180B (Figures 56, 57, 58, and 59) was designated for an axial trench that was placed over Structure D29. The trench measured 7.50 meters east-west by 1.50 meters north-south. It encompassed the looted chamber, which was designated as S.D. C180B-3. A thin overlay of humus was cleared in the excavation to the east of the open tomb. The humus on top of the stair and summit of the structure was also cleared. No new deep penetration of the building itself was undertaken during 2008, primarily because of the time involved in excavating a tomb, S.D. C180B-2, which was discovered immediately in front of and below the stairs for Structure D29. The plaza area in front of (west of) the lower step for Structure D29 was more intensively investigated. The removal of the humus from in front of the building resulted in the recovery of six partial vessels (Figure 61a-f) that can be dated to the Terminal Classic Period. It is suspected that the rest of the reconstructable vessels that are illustrated, as well as additional ceramic pieces, would have been recovered if the front of the building to either side of the stairway had been cleared. Clearing beneath the level of the plaza floor associated with the lower step of Structure D29 resulted in the discovery of capstones in front of this step and of a cache, C180B-1 (Figure 59). Fill material from below the plaza floor included a human incisor and premolar in the vicinity of the capstones, burnt faunal material, an obsidian inlay (Figure 76c), a large chert biface (Figure 76i), and a stalagtite (not illustrated) presumably from a local cave.

                        S.D. C180B-1 (Figures 58, 59, 60, and 61) was assigned for a "finger cache" located in the southwestern corner of Operation C180B. Two small lip-to-lip bowls (Figure 61g) had been placed directly into the plaza fill and had once presumably been covered by a plaster floor. The contents of this sealed cache consisted of two human finger digits (Figure 60). The association of a finger cache with an eastern shrine building is consistent with other Caracol contexts (D. Chase and A. Chase 1998).

                        S.D. C180B-2 (Figures 58, 59, 62, 63, 64, and 65) was assigned for a tomb that was located in front of and partially under the front step for Structure D29. The lower half of the open-air chamber was filled with a densely packed matrix that resembled a soft concrete. This hard matrix completely enveloped 33 vessels that were not warped or crushed, suggesting that the matrix had been purposefully deposited around the ceramics, artifacts, and bone in the chamber. That the bone and ceramics had been placed in a single depositional effort is strongly suggested by the context of a Belize Red footed dish (Figure 64t); half of it is located on the very bottom of the deposit (Figure 63 Plan 4) and half of it is located on the very top of the deposit (Figure 63 Plan 1). Additionally, one of the large dishes (Figure 64z) rested near the top of the deposit (Figure 63 Plan 1) and on the floor of the burial chamber (Figure 63 Plan 3). The vessels (Figure 64) included in the tomb are all of Late Classic date, although some can be seriated into the early part of the Late Classic (Figure 64d, q, s, u, ee) and others may actually be Terminal Classic (Figure 64a, g, m, o, w). That the vessels forms indicate some temporal span in terms of their use suggests that they – and the mixed human bone – in the chamber may have been stored elsewhere before final deposition at the Structure D29 locus. This is also suggested by the concentration of cylinders along the western wall of the chamber (Figure 63 Plan 1). Sherds in the surrounding matrix from a partial cache vessel (Figure 64aa) and from a face cache (not illustrated) also suggest some movement. Thirteen cylinders and thirteen plates/dishes were recovered in this deposit, suggesting a paired relationship between these items, in which one individual would have been accompanied by one cylinder and one plate/dish. The seven additional bowls recovered in the chamber could represent another component form for this pairing. Haviland and his colleagues (1985) have noted that single individuals buried at Tikal were frequently accompanied by one cylinder, one plate, and one bowl in the Late Classic Period.

            Artifactualy materials accompanying S.D. C180B-2 include two limestone spindle whorls (Figure 65a, b) and two shell labrets (Figure 65c, d). At least three sets of shell earrings (Figure 65k-p) were recovered in the tomb, as well as one set of small jadeite earrings (Figure 65q, t). The jadeite earrings suggest that at least one of the individuals within the tomb was of fairly high status. Jadeite (Figure 65r) and shell (Figure 65f-h, s, x) beads were also encountered. Careful screening of the tomb dirt also recovered malachite and three jadeite inlays (Figure 65u-w).

The human skeletal remains within the S.D. C180B-2 tomb were distributed haphazardly throughout the chamber. All were embedded in the almost concrete-like matrix and excavation made it clear that the bone had been secondarily interred in this location, as there was little articulation of remains. At least 17 individuals were represented in the recovered skeletal material. One of these individuals was a sub-adult (3 teeth; several long bones), approximately 18 months to 2 years at time of death. Cranial material was distributed in 18 discrete locations within the chamber. However, based on right femurs recovered, there were minimally 16 adults represented in the chamber. For many adults, no sex determination was possible. Most identifiable remains would appear to be male, although at least one individual was clearly a female. The teeth that were recovered show evidence of inlays (both jadeite and pyrite), empty inlay holes, a variety of filing (notch, flat-filing, and tau-filing), tartar, caries, and hypoplasia. Several elderly individuals had no remaining teeth and evinced resorption of bone in the mandible. In cases where teeth could be correlated with a specific individual, patterns of filing and inlaying were in evidence: one individual had both upper and lower inlays (complete distribution not defined); another individual had no upper inlays, but had lower inlays extending from the 1st premolar to the 1st premolar; yet another individual had filed upper central incisors with jadeite inlays only on the right side (two incisors and first premolar). In summary, between 17 and 18 individuals were represented within this burial; with one exception, all were adults at the time of their death and many had filed or inlaid teeth. All of the individuals were likely accompanied by one or more ceramic vessels. The layout and context of the deposit strongly suggest that all of the skeletal, artifactual, and ceramic materials were deposited in S.D. C180B-2 as part of a single effort, having been moved here from some other staging area.

                        S.D. C180B-3 (Figures 58, 66, and 67) was certainly the most important interment in Strucutre D29. The base of the S.D. C180B-3 chamber measured 2.30 meters in length by 0.90 meters in width and would have had a height of approximately 0.85 meters; this compares with measurements of 1.80 meters by 0.80 meters by 0.75 meters for the S.D. C180B-2 interment. Unfortunately, unlike S.D. C180B-2, no artifactual remains can be associated with the S.D. C180B-3 chamber. The tomb had been looted between the time that it was mapped in 1986 and the time that the Tourism Development Project started in 2000. The Tourism Development Project had cleaned out the looted chamber, but apparently did not succeed in recovering any associated artifactual remains. At the beginning of the 2008 field season, a single tooth was recovered at the rear edge of the interment and a piece of human cranium was found on top of the humus over the front stairs; both are presumably from S.D. C180B-3. The looters had dug through most of the chamber's plaster floor and into the underlying dry core fill. Re-cleaning the tomb's floor in 2008 resulted in the recovery of a human phalange at the floor's juncture with the eastern tomb wall – all that remained of what was surely a rich interment.

Central Plaza Feature (Figure 55)

            An areal excavation was undertaken in the center of the Palmitas plaza. Barely poking through the ground surface, shaped limestone blocks suggested the existence of a line-of-stone feature. While investigations did indeed recover a pile of shaped rocks, exactly what this construction represented and whether or not it was a formal building could not be determined. What was found were two perpendicular lines of stone, which formed an inner corner. The southern line was at least two courses in height; the eastern line was at least seven courses in height based on the collapse pattern that could be discerned in the stones. Another potential line of coursed stone was recovered in the northwestern section of the excavation. However, no formal construction could be discerned.

            Operation C180C (Figures 68 and 69) was assigned for the areal excavation over the central stone feature in the Palmitas plaza. The excavation measured 4.30 m east-west by 3.00 m north-south. Removal of the stones within the squared off corner demonstrated that these rocks rested directly on a bedrock surface. No artifactual material of consequence was recovered from this investigation, although a human tooth was recovered during the excavation of the feature.

Structure D32 (Figure 70)

            Dominating the Palmitas Group, Structure D32 was a long raised mound on the western side of the plaza. Even in its ruined state the building rose more that 3.60 meters above the plaza that it fronted and was over 17 meters in length. No architectural features could be discerned prior to excavation, but penetration of the mound proved Structure D32 to have been a range building, complete with stone walls, vaulted roof, and exterior stucco decoration.

            Operation C180D (Figures 71, 72, and 73) was assigned to an excavation that was placed perpendicular to the central axis of Structure D32. The trench measured 10.50 meters east-west by 2.00 meters north-south. Operation C180D was dug to bedrock both in the interior core of the construction and in the vicinity of its stairway. Excavation revealed a sequence of three different constructions. The earliest version of Structure D32 was found within a narrow slit trench through the upper front terrace. A formally cut stone wall, facing to the south, ran parallel to the trench was set just above bedrock, indicating that the earliest construction at this locus was off-axis to the north under Structure D32. This early building had been encased within Structure D32-2nd, which rose in a series of four levels to form a building; it is suspected that the structure had stone walls and vaulting, like the later version of Structure D32-1st and that doorjambs were located just outside the excavation unit. Based on excavation, the rear facing for Structure D32-2nd was presumably located directly beneath the front wall of Structure D32-1st or had been removed in antiquity, as a deeper cut into the fill beneath the front room of Structure D32-1st revealed three plastered floors associated with the latest room and dry core fill that extended will below the summit level of Structure D32-2nd (see Figure 71). A complete human long bone was recovered from within this fill. The surface of the rear bench for Structure D32-1st was raised more than two meters above old Structure D32-2nd summit floor. As constructed, Structure D32-1st consisted of a single room with an interior width of 2.6 meters and walls that were 0.80 meters thick. A rear bench with its own projecting cornice was raised 0.75 meters above the floor and extended 1.80 meters into the room from the back wall. It appears to have been constructed simultaneously with the back wall. The room floor rose 0.40 meters above a 4.0 m broad frontal terrace that surmounted the bulk of Structure D32-2nd. This frontal terrace then descended to the plaza in a series of four steps that ended on a low platform with a single step-up that remained from the earlier construction. A human interment, S.D. C180D-1, had been placed within the fill of this frontal terrace. The surface of the frontal terrace yielded sheet refuse directly on the floor, resulting in the recovery of a series of partial Terminal Classic vessels, including a flanged burner (Figure 74a) with prong (Figure 74b), a series of bowls (Figure 74e, f, h), and pieces of an appliquéd bowl with stamped impressions reminiscent of pieces recovered in the Barrio Palace during the 2001 field season ( Also recovered on this frontal terrace were a series of stuccoed hieroglyphs that must have been attached to the building cornice (Figure 75). As even the whole hieroglyphs cannot be interpreted, these presumably represent "pseudo-glyphs" applied to the building by an artist who did not understand the meaning of the symbols; similar pseudo-glyphs have been reported by Houston (2000) for the Terminal Classic Period. Other artifactual materials recovered in the excavation of Structure D32 include worked bone (Figure 76a, k), a rounded limestone ball (Figure 76j), and an obsidian core (Figure 76g).

                        S.D. C180D-1 (Figures 71 and 77) was assigned to a human interment sealed in the fill beneath the plaster floor that comprised the frontal terrace for Structure D32. The bone had been placed directly into the fill matrix and was very poorly preserved, but represented the remains of a single child, who was between 6 and 9 months in age (based on tooth development and eruption) at the time of death; the femur length for the child would place his/her age closer to 6 months. All of the recovered teeth were deciduous except for first molars – and, the roots were incomplete on all deciduous teeth. One adult tooth, an upper premolar, with a cavity was also present. Whether this means that the child was originally deposited elsewhere and then moved into the core of Structure D32-1st is a possibility based on the presence of this tooth. The child was placed in a supine position with head to the south and appeared to be articulated, but such an appearance could also have resulted from a tightly wrapped, re-deposited bundle burial. A small obsidian biface point was found in association with the child (Figure 76f) and two pieces of worked shell (Figures 76b, d) were found in close proximity to the interment.

Structure D27 (Figure 78)

            Structure D27 was a low non-descript raised platform set back from the main Palmitas plaza. It was selected for investigation precisely because it was not one of the primary constructions directly fronting the plaza. Before excavation, it was believed that Structure D27 may have faced east; after excavation, it was clear that the building was articulated with the other constructions distributed about the Palmitas plaza. Investigation proved Structure D27 to be a special-function plastered and stone-walled edifice that was probably surmounted by a stone roof. Although located on different sides of their respective plazas, Structure D27 is quite similar in plan to another building, Structure B59, excavated in 2005 in the C Group ( Both Structure B59 and Structure D27 are believed to have been sweatbaths. Both buildings are situated back from the larger constructions on their associated plazas. Both have square footprints, formal stone walls, and a single narrow doorway that leads to an alleyway between two raised benches. Both buildings also have axial burning at their rear walls and both were likely stone roofed, although the form may have been more beehive-like than vaulted, much like the roof of the sweatbath noted for Pook's Hill (Helmke 2006:56).

            Operation C180E (Figures 79 and 80) was assigned for the investigation of Structure D27. The excavation was originally established as a trench with the long axis running east-west because the building was believed to face east before any digging had taken place; this initial trench measure 1.80 meters (north-south) by 6.15 meters long (east-west). Once it was determined that the building actually faced south, the western end of the excavation was expanded to the south an additional 1.80 meters and 4.15 meters to the east. These excavations result in the recovery of most of a square building with formal walls and a central alleyway; the eastern end of the structure had collapsed down the steep hill behind Structure D28. The western end of Structure D27 was excavated and revealed a wall approximately 0.75 meters in height situated on a 0.25 meter high plinth (see Figure 79). Based on the recovered architectural features, Structure D27 was constructed over the northern edge of the raised Palmitas plaza (see Figure 80), probably in the Late to Terminal Classic Period. The central doorway to the structure measured 0.60 meters and the alleyway rose from the level of the plaza in two steps to the area of the sweatbath firepit. The interior of the building measured 3.0 meters deep by 3.2 meters wide. The side benches rose approximately 0.40 meters above the level of the plaza floor. Partial ceramics recovered immediately west of the building included both a small and a large bowl (Figure 74g, h), as well as a Pantano Impressed sherd with a stamped monkey design. Artifacts recovered in association with Structure D27 included a ceramic spindle whorl (Figure 76e), an eroded greenstone celt (Figure 76h), and a chert biface point (Figure 76l). Two eroded ceramic figurine fragments and several modeled-carved sherds were also recovered, all probably dating to the Terminal Classic Period.

Summary of Palmitas Group

            The bulk of the occupation in the Palmitas Group dates to the Late and Terminal Classic Periods. Terminal Classic Period reconstructable vessels were recovered in all excavations, except for the one over the feature in the middle of the plaza. The recovered burials from Structures D29 and D32 have a similar Late to Terminal Classic Period dating. Thus, it would appear that the Palmitas Group continued to be used to a later temporal horizon than the Culebras Group. While the Palmitas Group conforms with the majority of other residential complexes at Caracol in having an east-structure focus, it is unusual in having a formal sweatbath and a vaulted range building. The pseudo-glyphs associated with the western range building also are informative, suggesting that while the individuals living in Palmitas may have been wealthy, they did not possess – or minimally have access to – a full and complete knowledge of hieroglyphic writing. They either could not create or were not permitted to place actual readable texts on their building cornice; this seems strange given their proximity to the epicenter and the existence of readable texts on Caracol's epicentral and core Terminal Classic monuments.

            The entire group was backfilled during the last week of the field season.

La Rejolla and Ceiba Terminus Causeway (Figure 81)

            During 2008, Dr. Ramzy Barrois, a French archaeologist, obtained post-doctoral funding to work at the site of La Rejolla in Guatemala. From previous reconnaissance work carried out by Dr. Nikolai Grube for the Caracol Archaeological Project in the early 1990s, it was known that La Rejolla was a short distance across the border from Caracol's Ceiba Terminus. La Rejolla has monuments that exhibit the Caracol Emblem and make reference to events that occurred circa A.D. 680. A causeway that runs west from the Ceiba Terminus was mapped by the Caracol Archaeological Project in the 1990s and was believed to connect to La Rejolla. In February 2008, Dr. Barrois requested permission from the project to map the causeway from La Rejolla that would connect to the Caracol Ceiba Terminus. Permission was requested for Dr. Barrois to use the Caracol Archaeological Permit to carry out this work and such permission was granted by Dr. Jaime Awe. Dr. Barrois subsequently did map the causeway between La Rejolla and Ceiba (Figure 81). Interestingly, this causeway enters Ceiba from the north and is not equivalent to the earlier causeway running west into Guatemala. As mapped, the La Rejolla Causeway curves around the base of a large hill on its way to Ceiba. It is now believed that the original causeway running west from Ceiba connects to an architectural complex that is located on this Guatemalan hill and that additional causeways remain to be discovered.


            How social groups were constructed and varied is one of the more interesting problems that can be investigated with archaeological data. Caracol's South Acropolis has been extensively investigated and has revealed a sequence of events that began in the Late Preclassic era. Tombs dating to the Early Classic were recovered in Structures D7 and D14, while tombs dating to the early Late Classic were recovered in Structures D15 and D16; burials of Late Classic date were recovered in association with Structure D9. Thus, the South Acropolis was used ritually throughout the Classic Period, but it is not clear that this complex was ever a fully functioning residential unit. The two residential groups that were selected for investigation during the 2008 field season are the closest constructions to the South Acropolis that contain overtly ritual buildings associated with residential housing. The excavation of the Culebras Group and the Palmitas Group had two inter-related goals. First, it was hoped that the recovered archaeological data would permit an exploratory assessment of temporal and ritual overlap with the South Acropolis, permitting a better understanding of this epicentral complex. The temporal overlap between these architectural units is complex. The Culebras Group was clearly occupied during much of the time that the South Acropolis was in use and the timing of the burials largely overlaps. The Palmitas Group clearly sees temporal overlap with the late Late Classic deposits recovered in the South Acropolis. Second, it was hoped that the recovered information would also aid in a broader understanding of ritual patterns in residential groups and how any variation in these patterns was situated within Caracol's urban landscape. What is interesting is that the Early Classic cache recovered in the plaza in front of Structure C21 is much more elaborate than similar materials thus far recovered in the South Acropolis. It is on a par with the materials recovered from an Early Classic tomb in Structure D16 (, but is unusual in terms of its residential siting. This indicates a fairly close connection in ritual content between the Culebras Group and the South Acropolis during the Early Classic Period, suggesting that the people occupying this group may have been directly involved in the affairs of the South Acropolis at this time. The shrine room in Structure C17 in Culebras also is indicative of a fairly close epicentral connection. Interestingly, Early Classic remains are lacking in the Palmitas Group and it may be that this area was unoccupied at this time. However, the Palmitas Group appears to have supplanted the Culebras Group in terms of importance in the Late to Terminal Classic Period. The vaulted Structure D32 and the Structure D27 sweatbath also suggest that the occupants of this group during the Terminal Classic were fairly high status. Given the proximity of this group to the South Acropolis and a general paucity of Terminal Classic remains in the epicentral complex, it may be that the occupants of the Palmitas Group were administering the affairs of the South Acropolis at this time. Thus, a close ritual and residential connection may be established for these two proximate groups. In summary, the interplay between the data collected during the 2008 field season and the existing data from the South Acropolis are quite informative and confirm pre-existing interpretations about the heterogeneity and status variation that existed among Caracol's neighboring plazuela groups.



The bulk of the drafting for this report was undertaken by Lucas Martindale Johnson with parts also being done by Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase; all figures, however, were assembled and finalized within Photoshop by Arlen F. Chase. The field drawings represented within the drafted figures were recorded at Caracol by senior staff members listed in Table 1. As with past field seasons, the Belize Institute of Archaeology has substantially facilitated the the project; without the help of Jaime Awe, John Morris, George Thompson, and Brian Woodye, the field camp and project at Caracol would not have functioned successfully, especially in terms of camp start-up and final extraction. Major funding for the 2008 field season was provided from the Harrison Fund, from the Trevor Colbourn Endowment at the University of Central Florida, and from the Geraldine and Emory Ford Foundation.



Barrois, Ramzy R. and Juan Manuel Palomo

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2004b    "Patrones de Enterramiento y Cíclos Residenciales en Caracol, Belice," in R. Cobos, Ed., Culto Funerario en la Sociedad Maya: Memoria de la Cuarta Mesa Redonda de Palenque, pp. 203-230, INAH, Mexico, D.F.

2009     "Ghosts Amid the Ruins: Analyzing Relationships Between the Living and the Dead

            Among the Ancient Maya at Caracol, Belize," in J. Fitzsimmons and I. Shimada, Eds.,

            Between the Dead and the Living in Mesoamerica, University of Arizona Press, Tucson (in final review).


Chase, Diane Z., Arlen F. Chase, and William A. Haviland

            1990     "The Classic Maya City: Reconsidering "The Mesoamerican Urban Tradition,""

                        American Anthropologist 92: 499-506.


Fox, John, Scott Cook, Arlen F. Chase, and Diane Z. Chase

1996        "Questions of Political and Economic Integration: Segmentary versus Centralized States

Among the Ancient Maya," Current Anthropology    37(5):795-801.


Haviland, William A., with Marshall J. Becker, Ann Chowning, Keith A. Dixon, and Karl Heider

            1985     Excavations of Small Residential Groups of Tikal: Groups 4F-1 and 4F-2, Tikal Report

                        No. 19, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.


Helmke, Christophe G.B.

            2006     "A Report of the 2005 Season of Archaeological Investigations at Pook's Hill, Cayo

                        District, Belize," in C. Helmke and J. Awe, Eds., The Belize Valley Archaeological

                        Reconnaissance Project: A Report of the 2005 Field Season, pp. 39-92, Belize Institute of

                        Archaeology, NICH, Belmopan.


Houston, Stephen D.

            2000     "Into the Minds of Ancients: Advances in Maya Glyph Studies," Journal of World

                        Prehistory 14(2):121-201.


Laporte, Juan Pedro

            1994     "Ixtoton, Dolores, Peten: entidad politica del noroeaste de las montanas Maya," Atlas

                        Arqueologico de Guatemala No. 2, Universidad de San Carlos, Guatemala.

            2004     "Terminal Classic Settlement and Polito in the Mopan Valley, Peten, Guatemala," in A.

                        Demarest, P. Rice, and D. Rice, Eds., The Terminal Classic in the Maya Lowlands, pp.

                        195-230, University of Colorado Press, Boulder.


Sanders, William T. and David L. Webster

            1989     "The Mesoamerican Urban Tradition," American Anthropologist 90:521-546.


Teeter, Wendy G. and Arlen F. Chase

            2004     "Adding Flesh to Bones: Using Zooarchaeology Research to Answer Big-Picture

                        Questions," Archaeofauna 13:155-172.


Thompson, Edward H.

            1897     The Chultuns of Labna, Yucatan, Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and

                        Ethnology, Vol.1, No. 3, Harvard University, Cambridge.


Wauchope, Robert

            1934     House Mounds of Uaxactun, Guatemala, Contributrions to American Archaeology 2,

                        Publication 436, Carnegie Institution of Washington,            Washington, D.C.


Willey, Gordon R.

            1956     "The Structure of Ancient Maya Society: Evidence from the Southern Lowlands,"

                        American Anthropologist 58(5):777-782.


Willey, Gordon R., William R. Bullard, John B. Glass, and James C. Gifford

            1965     Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in the Belize Valley, Papers of the Peabody Museum of

                        Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 54, Harvard University, Cambridge.






Caracol Project Members: 2008 Field Season







                                                Arlen F. Chase                            C1

                                                Diane Z. Chase                           C2

                        Lab Director

                                                Amy Morris                               C111

                        Field Supervisors

                                                James Crandall                            C170

                                                Jorge Garcia                                C144

                                                Lucas Johnson                            C134

                                                Andrea Slusser                            C173

                        Field Assistants

                                                Chris Camargo                            C180

                                                Ryan Collins                              C181

                                                Ashley Forbis                             C182

                                                Lisa Lomitola                             C183

                        Field Affiliate

                                                Ramzy Barrios                            C184




Belizean Labor:



                                                Angelica Meneses

                                                Linda Aurora Meneses

                                                Mirna Beatriz Chi


                                                Carlos Cocom

                                                Julio Galeano

                                                Saul Galeano

                                                Jaime Iglesias

                                                Carlos Ivan Mendes

                                                Gustavo Mendez

                                                Asterio Moralez

                                                Eduardo Tut

                                                Jose Luis Uck





Cover:               Chert eccentrics from S.D. C179D-1.


Figure 1:            Western Caracol epicenter, highlighting the location of the two residential groups

                        selected for excavation during 2008 (after A. Chase and D. Chase 1987).


Figure 2:            Photograph of "Culebras Group," where Operation C179 was located, showing

                        Operations C179B, C179C, C179D, C179E, and C179F.


Figure 3:            Plan of Culebras Group, straddling the C and D Quads of Caracol's map.


Figure 4::            Photograph of Structure C20 excavation showing Operation C179B


Figure 5:            Structure C20 section (Operation C179B).


Figure 6:            Plan of upper building stones for Structure C20 with humus removed in trench.


Figure 7::            Plan of lower building stones and floors uncovered in eastern end of Operation C179B.


Figure 8:            Artifacts recovered in general excavations of Operation C179B: a. ceramic pipe

                        (C179B/14-5); b. slate pendent (C179B/7-1); c. limetstone bar (lot 10); d. ceramic

                        figurine fragment (C179B/3-6); e., f. slate bars (lot 7); g. h., i., l. chert tools (lots 3, 5,

                        and 7); j. obsidian point (lot 4); k., m. chert points (lots 4 and 7).


Figure 9:            Plan of S.D. C179B-1 and lower course of Structure C20 front step.


Figure 10:          Cache vessels from Operation C179B: a. Hebe Modeled (S.D. C179B-1); b. Ceiba Unslipped (S.D. C179B-1); c. Ceiba Unslipped (S.D. C179B-5).


Figure 11::          Plan of S.D. C179B-2 (possible skull cache).


Figure 12:          Plan of capstones over the various deposits in excavation C179B.


Figure 13:          Photograph of S.D. C179B-3


Figure 14:          Section of S.D. C179B-3.


Figure 15:          Upper and Lower Plans of S.D. C179B-3.


Figure 16:          Ceramic and stone artifacts associated with S.D. C179B-3: a. possibly Canoa Incised; b. possibly Machete Orange-polychromex; c., d. jadeite earring assemblage.


Figure 17:          Photograph of S.D. C179B-4.


Figure 18:          Plan of S.D. C179B-4.


Figure 19:          Ceramic vessels associated with S.D. C179B-4: a. possibly Paixban Buff-polychrome; b. Calabasco Gouged-Incised.


Figure 20:          Photograph of cylinder vase in S.D. C179B-4.


Figure 21:          Photographic details from scene in cylinder vase in S.D. C179B-4.


Figure 22:          Plan of S.D. C179B-5.


Figure 23:          Photograph of S.D. C179B-6.


Figure 24:          Section with intact capstones for S.D. C179B-6.


Figure 25:          Plan of S.D. C179B-6.


Figure 26:          Ceramic and stone artifacts associated with S.D. C179B-6: a., b. Machete Orange-polychrome; c. granite mano.


Figure 27:          Photograph of excavation C179C.


Figure 28:          Section through Operation C179C.


Figure 29:          Photograph of Caracol Structure C21 and Operation C179D.


Figure 30:          Section through Caracol Structure C21.


Figure 31:          Upper and lower plans of building stones and floors in Operation C179D.


Figure 32:          Photograph of S.D. C179D-1 in situ.


Figure 33:          Detailed plan of S.D. C179D-1.


Figure 34a, Figure 34b, Figure 34c:          Artifacts associated with S.D. C179D-1: a., b., c. chert eccentrics; d., e., f. spondylus

                        shells; g. brain coral; h., i., j. stingray spines; k.-w. obsidian eccentrics and blades (one

                        eccentric not illustrated); x., y. chert chips; z. metamorphic cobble; aa. jadeite bead.


Figure 35:          Photograph of S.D. C179D-2.


Figure 36:          Plan of S.D. C179D-2.


Figure 37:          Ceramic vessels associated with S.D. C179D-2: a. possibly Valentin Unslipped; b. possibly Pucte Brown.


Figure 38:          Miscellaneous artifacts from Operation C179D: a. spondylus valve (probably associated

                        with S.D. C179D-1); b., d., e., f. worked bone artifacts; c. rounded ceramic; g. shale

                        fragment; h. worked shell; i., j., k. obsidian artifacts; l. green obsidian point.


Figure 39:          Photograph of Structure C22.


Figure 40:          Section of Operation C179E.


Figure 41:          Plan of Operation C179E.


Figure 42:          Photograph of S.D. C179E-1.


Figure 43:          Plan of S.D. C179E-1.


Figure 44:          Photograph of Structure D25 and Operation C179F.


Figure 45:          Section through Structure D25 and Operation C179F.


Figure 46:          Plan of Structure D25 and Operation C179F.


Figure 47:          Partial ceramic incensario from fill of Operation C179F, probably Cohune Composite.


Figure 48:          Artifactual materials from Operations C179F and C179G: a., c., d. worked shell; b., e., f.

                        ceramic figurine fragments; i. limestone bar fragment; j. obsidian fragment; g., h., k.-r.

                        chert tools.


Figure 49:          Photograph of Caracol Structure C17 and Operation C179G.


Figure 50:          Section through Structure C17 and Operation C179G.


Figure 51:          Photograph of upper architectural feature in Operation C179G.


Figure 52:          Photograph of lower architectural room in Operation C179G.


Figure 53:          Plan of Operation C179G in Structure C17.


Figure 54:          Partial ceramic vessels recovered in Operation C179G: a. possibly Valentin Unslipped; b. eroded Tialipa Brown.


Figure 55:          Photograph of "Palmitas Group," showing Operations C180B in background and C180C

                        in foreground.


Figure 56:          Plan of the Palmitas Group, located in the D Quad of Caracol.


Figure 57:          Photograph of Caracol Structure D29 and Operation C180B, showing front step and S.D.

                        C180B-2 (see also Figure 65).


Figure 58:          Section through Caracol Structure D29 and Operation C180B.


Figure 59:          Plan of S.D. C180B-1, the capstones over S.D. C180B-2 and the lower front step for

                        Structure D29.


Figure 60:          Detailed plan of the interior of S.D. C180B-1, showing the two in situ human finger



Figure 61:          Reconstructible Ceramic vessels from the front of Structure D29: a. Valentin Unslipped; b. eroded Palmar Orange-polychrome; c. Pantano Impressed; d. San Julios Modeled; e. Cohune Composite; f. possibly Tinaja Red; g. Ceiba Unslipped (S.D. C180B-1).


Figure 62:          Photograph of S.D. C180B-2 with a detail of southern in situ ceramic vessels.


Figure 63a, Figure 63b, Figure 63c:          Plans of S.D. C180B-2; letters correspond with vessel drawings in Figure 64.


Figure 64a, Figure 64b, Figure 64c, Figure 64d:          Ceramic vessels from S.D. C180B-2: a. possibly Retiro Gouged-incised; b., c., d., f., i., j., k., o., eroded Palmar Orange-polychrome; e.f. eroded Zacatel Buff-polychrome; g., y., aa. Belize Red; h. Tialipa Brown Fluted and Incised; l. Carmelita Incised; m. possibly Bambonal Plano-relief; n. Ceiba Unslipped; p., r., t. San Pedro Impressed; q., s. Machete Orange-polychrome; u. possibly Infierno Black; v. eroded Tialipa Brown; w. Calabaso Gouged-incised; x., z. probably Fallabon Red-on-orange; bb. Benque Viejo Polychrome; cc. Geronimo Incised; dd., ee., gg. possibly Nanzal Red; ff. possibly Botifela Orange.


Figure 65:          Artifacts associated with S.D. C180B-2: a., b. limestone spindle whorls; c., d. shell

                        labrets; e. chert fragment; f.-p., s., x. shell artifacts; q., r., t.-w. jadeite earrings, bead, and

                        inlays (malachite was also present).


Figure 66:          Plan of rear of Operation C180B showing location of looted tomb, S.D. C180B-3.


Figure 67:          Detailed basal plan of S.D. C180B-3.


Figure 68:          Section of Operation C180C.


Figure 69:          Plan of Operation C180C.


Figure 70:          Photograph of Structure D32 and Operation C180D with Operation C180C in foreground.


Figure 71:          Section through Structure D32 and Operation C180D.


Figure 72:          Photograph of trench through Structure D32 and Operation C180D.


Figure 73:          Plans for Operation C180D, showing upper and lower building remnants.


Figure 74:          Partial ceramic vessels from Operations C180D and C180E: a. Monterey Modeled burner; b. unslipped incensario prong; c. related to Sombrero Appliqued; d. Pantano Impressed (monkey design; C180E); e. possibly Pepet Incised; f. Tinaja Red; g. Palmar Orange-polychrome (C180E); h. probably Tinaja Red (C180E).


Figure 75:          Stucco glyph blocks that were once associated with the latest frieze over the doorway for

                        Structure D32; they appear to be pseudo-glyphs.


Figure 76:          Artifactual materials associated with Operations C180B, C180D, and C180E: a. bone tube (C180D/12-1); b., d. worked shells (C180D/28-1); c. obsidian inlay (C180B/8-1); e. ceramic spindle whorl (C180E/20-1); f., g. obsidian biface and core (C180D/29-7; C180D/25-2); h. eroded greenstone celt (C180E/19-3); j. shaped limestone ball (C180D/4-2); k. worked bone (C180D/39-1); i. chert biface (C180B/7-1); l. chert biface point (C180E/13-2); two eroded ceramic figurine fragments (C180E) and a stalagtite (C180B/7-10) are not illustrated.


Figure 77:          Plan of S.D. C180D-1.


Figure 78:          Photograph of Structure D27 and Operation C180E.


Figure 79:          Section through Structure D27 and Operation C180E.


Figure 80:          Plan of Structure D27.


Figure 81:          Map showing the causeway between La Rejolla, Guatemala and the Caracol's Ceiba

                        Terminus (after Barrois and Palomo 2008).