by Norman Hammond

LaMAP is an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional investigation of an ancient Maya city in Belize, based at Boston University and co-directed by Professor Norman Hammond and Dr. Gair Tourtellot. It is sponsored by the National Geographic Society, Boston University, and private donors, and operates in cooperation with the Programme for Belize under a permit from the Government of Belize's Department of Archaeology. Fieldwork involves the participation of faculty and professional staff from Boston University, other U.S. institutions, the United Kingdom, Germany and New Zealand, and is linked with a Field Study in Archaeology program of Boston University International Programs which allows students from other universities to obtain archaeological field training and experience.

 La Milpa lies in northwestern Belize, close to the borders with Mexico and Guatemala and in the extensive ecological preserve owned by Programme for Belize. The site is some 190 metres (620 feet) above sea level on a limestone ridge, in an upland tropical forest. The ceremonial precinct is on the highest part of the ridge, with the Great Plaza (Plaza A) at the northern end embracing some 20,000 square metres, one of the largest open spaces laid out by the Classic Maya. The plaza is bordered by four major temple-pyramids, and contains two ball-courts: the visible architecture dates to the Late/Terminal Classic periods (AD 750-900), although structures of the Early Classic (AD 250-600) and Late Preclassic (400 BC - AD 250) periods have been encountered in excavations. The Great Plaza also holds 16 of the 18 stelae so far known at La Milpa: these fall into two groups, the earlier dedicated between ca. AD 350 and 500, the later between AD 750 and 850, although most are plain or eroded and only Stela 7 has a fully legible inscription and date of (November 30th, AD 780).

 Excavations in the Great Plaza have included numerous probes to establish the architectural development of the site, together with complete exposure and preliminary consolidation of Structure 5, the small temple associated with Stela 7 and the ruler Ukay. An elite burial of the 5th century AD found in 1996 is thought to be one of the Early Classic rulers of La Milpa.

The southern sector of the site center consists of numerous rectangular courtyards enclosed by long, low range buildings, thought to have served as administrative structures and elite residences. Most of these were constructed in the Late Classic, when La Milpa underwent a dramatic expansion of population size and density. Several detached clusters of buildings are also thought to be elite residences: investigation of the Structure 69 Group in 1996 revealed a complex architectural history that included the construction, and subsequent demolition, of a large masonry building, replaced by a Terminal Classic temple. This, and at least one other late structure at La Milpa, have plans indicating the influence of northern Maya culture in Yucatan towards the end of La Milpa's history.

Movement of stelae, including the rededication of fragmentary monuments in front of Structure 1 on the Great Plaza, and offerings of incense-burners, suggest pilgrimage use of the plaza in the Terminal Postclassic/Contact period (AD 1500-1650), with the ultimate offering being rum from a bottle of ca. 1804-30 to the ruler image on Stela 12.

 The settlement survey of La Milpa corroborates closely the history of the city as documented in the central precinct. Mapping to date has covered the entire central square km, together with an eastern transect extending more than 6 km to the limits of settlement, and a shorter northern transect. Complementing this are 15 randomly-located intensive survey zones. Numerous long stony banks and berms have been found, mostly associated with residential platforms. Some are clearly property boundaries, and others follow contours, and may be connected with water management and erosion control; some, however, are unrelated to the topography and of unknown function, although a less-coherent and perhaps desperate attempt to combat environmental degradation is suspected. Excavations in 1996 confirmed the artificial origin and late date (where datable) of this engineered landscape, which will be investigated further in 1998.

 Other programs for 1998 include subsurface radar mapping of the Great Plaza area to seek further elite burials, detailed mapping of a sector of settlement between the radiating transect lines, and study of a major courtyard complex in the south part of the ceremonial precinct.

                                                    the following LAMAP pages contain online versions of papers presented at the 1999 annual meeting of SAA in Chicago

                                                                   LAND AND PEOPLE OF LA MILPA

                                              SHIFTING AXES: SPATIAL EXPRESSIONS OF POWER AT LA MILPA


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