Investigations at Caracol, Belize

Previous Investigations at Caracol

1937 Caracol rediscovered by Rosa Mai, a lumberman searching for mahogany trees. The ruins were named “Caracol,” Spanish for “shell,” in reference to the winding logging road that provides access to the site.

1938 A. H. Anderson (Archaeological Commissioner, Belize) initially visits Caracol and notes large number of carved monuments at the site; spends next decade attempting to get an archaeologist to work at the site.

1950,’51,’53 Linton Satterthwaite (University Museum, University of Pennsylvania) conducts investigations at the site. His focus is primarily on recording monuments (stelae and altars) and gaining a sample for display in Philadelphia. He makes a limited map of the site and discovers two tombs and several caches.

1956,’58 A. H. Anderson returns to Caracol and works in the A Group and South Acropolis, excavating two more tombs.

1980 Paul Healy (Trent University) investigates agricultural terraces within the Caracol area and notes an unusually high settlement density for the area.

Current Caracol Archaeological Project Investigations

1983,’84 Preliminary visits to Caracol by A. F. Chase and D. Z. Chase in preparation for the start-up of the Caracol Archaeological Project (1985 – present).

1985 First full field season of the Caracol Archaeological Project; camp building started; cache found in Structure A6, the “Temple of the Wooden Lintel,” and two looted tombs with painted texts are investigated in Structure B20.

1986 Discovery of ballcourt marker (Altar 21) denoting Caracol’s defeat of Tikal in war; this finding leads to new explanation of the “Maya hiatus” – the rise of Caracol to power. Intact painted tomb of a royal woman, dating to A.D. 634, is investigated at Caana. Two other intact tombs with painted dates are also excavated.

1987 Initiation of settlement research at Caracol; realization that there are tombs located throughout the site and not just in the epicenter. Extensiveness of Caracol’s causeway system discovered.

1988 First season of southeast sector settlement research (sponsored by H. F. Guggenheim); recognition that population increase and building boom directly follows Tikal and Naranjo wars.

1989 Second season of southeast sector settlement work. Majority of agricultural fields, housing, and causeways/termini prove to be post-war phenomena; also discovery of increased prosperity at the site in all levels of society. Beginning of USAID and Government of Belize funding. Discovery of Altar 23 (showing bound captives) and contemporary stone points and burning in excavations – indications that Caracol was extremely warlike post A.D. 800. Recognition that final phase of Caana, Caracol’s largest architectural complex, was constructed post-A.D. 800.

1990 Tomb in Structure A7; numerous caches in Structures A2 and A8; South Acropolis found to have a major Early Classic phase.

1991 Causeway system and the site of Caracol is discovered to be much larger than expected (ca. 7 km radius). Jade mask and mercury found in a stone box cache in Structure A6. Intact stucco frieze is found on an earlier building at Caana. Government of Belize declares whole of Caracol area a national park.

1992 Discovery of ruler’s tomb in South Acropolis and royal tombs in the Central Acropolis; together with associated caches, these finds indicate shared ritual patterns throughout the population of Caracol. Government of Belize builds all-weather road into site.

1993 Investigations on Caana locate a royal tomb in Structure B20 and deeply buried ritual deposits in Structure B19. Hieroglyphic texts are found in non-elite contexts.

1994 First of two seasons of National Science Foundation research program geared at determining settlement density and dating in the NE sector of Caracol. Work suggests that the Caracol core area continues to be occupied well past the last dated monuments in the epicenter.

1995 Continuation of study of ancient settlement. Caracol is shown to be even larger and more densely occupied than previously thought. No drop-off in settlement density is found in transects mapped outside the epicenter for 6km to the North and South. More causeways are located by landsat photos and ground survey. Mapping and reconnaissance indicate Caracol (the city) to have a radius of 10 kilometers.

1996 Mapping of the central 9 square kilometer block of Caracol’s settlement is completed; investigations in front of Structure B34 in the Northeast Acropolis uncovered a Preclassic shrine dated to ca. 100 B.C.

1997 Investigations focused on Southeast sector residential groups with open/collapsed/looted tombs with primary support from FAMSI; investigations on the South side of Structure A1 recovered a series of special deposits; mapping extended the core coverage to over 16 square kilometers (see 1997 season summary).

1998 Excavations focused on basal architecture associated with Structures A1, A3, and A8, as well as on a residential group 500 m north of the A Group, where a collapsed tomb and plaza test were dug. Mappaing recorded the Retiro and Ceiba termini and their associated causeways (see 1998 season summary).

1999 Excavations focused on axial trenching of the basal stairs of Structures A2 and A3, as well as on areal exposure of parts of the frontal stairs and substructures associated with these buildings. A residential group was investigated immediately north of the epicenter. Mapping concentrated on recording an east-west transect 6 kilometers north of the epicenter. The Caracol Site Museum opened in late March (see 1999 season summary).

2000 Excavations foucused on structures within the southwest walled area and one residential group immediately south of this area. Mapping concentrated on recording the terraces in the Chaquistero area and in formally linking the Cohune-Chaquistero transcet to the overall Caracol map (see 2000 season summary).

2001 Excavations foucused on the palace structures in Barrio and Caana in preparation for their final stabilization. Structure B26 was trenched and backfilled; Structure B25 was completely cleared; Structure B21 saw some work. Extensive Terminal Classic trash deposits were recovered in the Barrio excavations. On Caana, Structure B18 was investigated at its summit and base, the rooms in the NW Quad were completely cleared and recorded, and two tombs were found at the base of Structure B19 (see 2001 field report).

2002 Excavations foucused on Structures B13, B28, and F4; a deep plaza test was also dug in front of Structure B33. A new stela was found in front of Structure B28 and a new stucco text was recovered in association with Structure B19. The contents and drawings of two residential tombs, recovered by the TDP were processed (see 2002 field report).

2003 Excavations foucused on finding “attached specialists.” Five smaller buildings adjacent to Caracol’s South Acropolis were excavated. Four burials and intact garbage from a collapsed Protoclassic chultun were also recovered. Conjoined work was also done with the Belize Tourist Development Project as they began the stabilization of buildings in the South Acropolis (see 2003 field report).

2004 Excavations continued to foucus on attached specialists. Small structures immediately east of Barrio and west of Caana were excavated. These investigations recovered Terminal Classic line-of-stone buildings and three Early Classic interments. The Belize Tourism Development Project concluded work in January; the last 10 miles of the road to Caracol were paved during the summer (see 2004 field report).

2005 Investigations focused on locating non-palace Terminal Classic occupation associated with small structures in the vicinity of the epicenter. Structure I20 produced a late burial and use-related materials dating to this era; Structure B59 proved to be a late vaulted bulding with interior stone piers. Structures B40, B42, and B44 yielded a series of tombs, burials, and caches that spanned the Protoclassic to Terminal Classic Periods (see 2005 field report).

2006 Investigations focused on locating Terminal Classic in situ remains. Three loci were selected for excavation: a housemound group at the southeastern edge of the epicenter integrated into the epicentral boundary wall; an isolated epicentral structure north of the A Group ballcourt; and, a non-epicentral palace located ca. 500 m northwest of the epicenter. Ceramic remains from all excavated areas dated to the Terminal Classic and included ceramic trade items (see 2006 field report).

2007 Investigations focused on Structures A16, B1, D2, and I1 through I8. While the initial research focus was on the Terminal Classic, it changed mid-season as hiatus era remains were encountered in Structures D2 and in Structures I2 and I5. Particularly notable were the series of face caches recovered in Structure I5, the majority in association with obsidian eccentrics and other objects (see 2007 field report).

2008 Investigations focused on two residential groups southeast of the South Acropolis in order to examine ritual variability in living units that are immediately proximate to the epicenter. Excavations in one group focused on two eastern buildings, a central shrine, and the northern and western structures. In the other group, the eastern building contained a looted tomb and the front of the structure was excavated; also dug in this group were the western palace, a stone concentration in the plaza, and a northern “out” building that had once been a sweat bath.

2009 Investigations focused on three separate programs. The first was a continuation of excavations in Structure C20 to finish the excavation of a tomb found during the 2008 field season. The second – and main – focus for the season was the beginning of areal excavation and deeper penetration of the Northeast Acropolis to define its physical form and developmental history and to eventually stabilize this complex for tourism. The third focus started in April and was the beginning of a new focus on mapping through the use of plane flights employing lidar radar; this program will endeavor to continue the block-mapping of the site’s settlement and terraces (as well as to locate new causeways) through the use of remote sensing.

2010 Investigations focused on three separate archaeological programs and began the coordination of stabilization for Caracol’s Northeast Acropolis. A continuing focus for 2010 was the Northeast Acropolis with further investigation of Structures B31, B33, and B34 – as well as a deeper plaza probe that found an Early Classic deposit; stabilization of the Northeast Acropolis will start in December 2010 in conjunction with the Institute of Archaeology. A second focus for the 2010 season was the start of a multi-season investigation of a conjoined plaza elite group comprised of Structures F30-F42, looking especially at its latest occupation. Five excavations that revealed multiple deposits were undertaken in 2010. The third focus for the 2010 field season was the beginning of ground-checking the 2009 LiDAR DEM, specifically focusing on caves.

2011 Investigations focused on four separate sub-projects. The first subproject was the continuation of the investigation of the double group comprising Structures F30-F42, focusing on Structures F34, F35, and F38 during 2011. The second subproject involved contextualizing the archaeological data collected from Structures F30-42 in terms of three neighboring groups; new excavations were undertaken in Structures F3, F9, F11, F14, F24, and the F1 chultun; these data may be combined with the previously excavated Structures F2, F4, and F21. The third subproject involved ground-checking LiDAR data, especially for causeways and reservoirs. The fourth sub-project involved the stabilization of the previously excavated Northeast Acropolis in conjunction with the Belize Institute of Archaeology.

2012 Research focused on beginning the 3-year investigation of a Maya “neighborhood” involving some 16 residential groups on the plateau upon which the Machete Terminus sits. The 2012 field season saw the investigation of 5 residential groups on the northern end of the plateau, specifically on: Structures K23, K26, and K31 in “Zumba;” Structures K12, K13, K14, and K29 in “Tango;” Structures K15, K16, K18, K19, and K21 in “Dos Aguadas;” Structures K24, K25, and K26 in “Terraza;” and, Structures L74 and L75 in “Salsa.”

2013 Research focused on the second year of a 3-year investigation of a Maya “neighborhood” east of the Machete Terminus on the Mechete Plateau. The 2013 field season saw the investigation of 6 residential groups immediate south of those excavated in 2012, specifically on: Structures L5, L6, L7, L8, L9, and L12 in “Bimbo;” Structures L17, L19, and L21 in “Dulce;” Structures L24, L26 and L27 in “Pan;” Structures L39, L40, and L43 in “Galletas;” Structures L15 and L16 in “Tortilla;” and Structures L75 and L76 in “Migas.” An additional excavation took place in the epicentral A Group plaza on axis to Structure A6 in order to test for ritual deposits associated with Caracol’s E Group complex.

2014 Research focused on third year of a 3-year investigation of a Maya “neighborhood” involving some 16 residential groups on the plateau upon which the Machete Terminus sits.  The 2014 field season saw the investigation of 4 residential groups on the southern end of the plateau and 2 additional groups west of the plateau. The excavations focused in 4 structures (L48, L49, L50, L51) in “Alegre,” 3 structures (L55, L56, L57) in “Dormir,” 3 structures (L33, L35, L38) in “Sonrisa,” 1 structure (L30) in “Tonto,” 1 structure (C38) in “Vergonsoso,” and 2 structures (C46, C55) in “Renegon.”

 2015 Research focused on the first year of a 3-year investigation of early epicentral remains at Caracol, specifically seeking archaeological evidence for potential exterior connections. Deep excavations were undertaken in both the Northeast Acropolis (uncovering a series of early caches) and Central Acropolis (finding an early Late Classic tomb in the plaza). Additionally, Structure B37 (the royal kitchen) and the Structure B36 platform (yielding an earlier Late Preclassic buried structure) were loci for investigation, as was Structure B88 in the Ultimo residential group (producing a series of Early to Late Classic deposits) and the summit of Structure A13.

 2016 Research focused on the second year of a 3-year investigation of early epicentral remains at Caracol, specifically seeking archaeological evidence indicative of external connections. Deep excavations were undertaken in Structure B34 in the Northeast Acropolis, in the Central Acropolis (demonstrated Late Preclassic construction), in the Structure B36 platform (uncovering a Late Preclassic construction), in Structure B37 (believed to have been the royal kitchen), and in buildings adjacent to Structure B118 (uncovering Early and Late Classic depostis).

2017 Research focused on the third year of a 3-year investigation of early epicentral remains at Caracol, specifically seeking archaeological evidence for potential exterior connections. Deep excavations were undertaken on the summit of Caana in order to penetrate the plaza floor 4 m below the Late Classic surface; this suboperation demonstrated that the earlier surface was constructed during the Late Classic Period. Additional excavations were undertaken in three residential groups located northeast of Caana, finding extensive Early and Late Classic deposits. A German television crew was present in February to film our investigations for a documentary program.

2018 Research focused on the first year of a 3-year investigation of the economic structure of Caracol’s Late Classic marketing system through the excavation of residential groups associated with Puchituk Terminus market, 3 km distant from the epicenter, and  residential groups associated with the earlier Monterey node, 6 km distant from the epicenter. Three new residential groups were sampled in the vicinity of the Puchituk Terminus and further investigation of two groups sampled in 1994 was also undertaken. Matrix samples were also systematically obtained from of the Puchituk and Monterey Plazas and analyzed after the conclusion of the field season.

2019 Research focused on the second year of a 3-year investigation of the economic structure of Caracol’s Late Classic marketing system through the excavation of three residential groups on the ridge immediately east associated Puchituk Terminus market (approximately 3.5 km distant from the epicenter. These groups contained a series of burials and caches showing that they were well-integrated into the overall Caracol ritual sphere. Extensive investigation was also taken in the vicinity of the Monterey node, some 6 km distant from the epicenter. Two residential groups excavated here demonstrated significant construction efforts during the Terminal Classic Period; excavations into the public architecture at Monterey yielded a plain ballcourt marker as well as Late Preclassic caches.