Ancient Maya Wooden Structures in Belize to Benefit from $25,000 Preservation Grant
The remains of a set of ancient Maya wooden structures at Paynes Creek National Park
in southern Belize are to benefit from a $25,000 grant from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA)
. The money will be used to fund the building of an observation platform, and also to support an initiative to raise awareness of the site among residents and tourists.
Wooden and other organic remains from the Classic Maya period – circa 250 to 900 AD – are extremely rare. The Paynes Creek structures have been unusually and uniquely preserved by a waterlogged environment at the Punta Ycacos salt water lagoon, where the Maya are known to have practiced a particular method of salt production known as “Sal cocida”. The remains give a rare glimpse of how the ancient Maya used wood.
Using the three year grant from the AIA, the project at Paynes Creek – led by Louisiana State University
professor Heather McKillop – will see an observation platform erected, with a plexiglass window allowing visitors to view the fragile remains up close without posing a threat to them.
McKillop will also spearhead a drive to educate people about the site, its usage and its importance. The programme will include a series of workshops and talks in the region, the building of a website for archaeological tourism – with educational information for schools, tour guides, and the public – and the creation of an exhibition in the nearby town of Punta Gorda.
“It will be great for people to see the wooden artifacts created by the ancestors of the local inhabitants – this kind of awareness is critical for the protection of the site.”
The salt production method “Sal cocida” involved boiling brine in pots over fires in order to make salt cakes. Pots, vessels and other implements used in this process have been discovered in Punta Ycacos, as have the remains of a Maya wooden canoe paddle. The paddle, and other finds, will be displayed in the Punta Gorda exhibition.
In a statement, Maya Archaeologist and AIA Programs Director Ben Thomas commented that the Paynes Creek project “will have a tremendous impact on the local population of southern Belize where many descendents of the ancient Maya still reside today and on the tourists who come to the area. It will be great for people to see the wooden artefacts created by the ancestors of the local inhabitants – this kind of awareness is critical for the protection of the site.”
Founded in 1879, the AIA is North America’s oldest and largest archaeological organization. It has nearly 200,000 members belonging to 107 local societies in the United States, Canada and overseas. The Maya civilization is one of the most fascinating ancient cultures of central and southern America.
The accidental preservation of ancient wooden remains by waterlogged and boggy conditions is a phenomenon that has been witnessed by archaeologists all over the world. In London, a Time Team investigation in 2001 explored the remains of Bronze Age wooden uprights – entombed in mud at the base of the river Thames – which are thought to have once supported the first bridge over the British capital’s great waterway.