Digging up the facts on Status and Power in Ancient Maya Society

This past Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed communal land tenure to the Mayas living in southern Belize. That settles the issue of property rights, but how did the Mayas really govern? Insight to that question will hopefully be found at a symposium that opened this morning at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. It's the eight of its kind and this year, the experts will be studying the Status and Power in the Ancient Maya Society. News Five's Delahnie Bain found out that thirty papers will be presented for discussion. Here's her report.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

Archaeology enthusiasts are discussing the many intricacies of Belize's ancient Maya societies. Approximately thirty speakers are presenting on research projects at the eighth annual Archaeology Symposium, which is being held in Belmopan. This year the focus is on Status and Power in Ancient Maya society.

Dr. Jaime Awe, Director, Institute of Archaeology

"We think that it's an exciting topic because we often want to understand how is it that ancient societies and ancient cultures govern themselves. What were the differences between the people who ruled and those who were ruled? So these are some of the themes that we will be examining at this year's symposium."

Lisa Lucero

Some ancient Maya communities are now tourist attractions such as Alton, Cahal Pech and the like. But along with the well known sites, the presentations at the symposium will include newly discovered locations. One of those is in the Cara Blanca area and was discovered in an ongoing dive expedition.

Lisa Lucero, Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois

"What we did find was a massive underwater cave, probably as far as we know it's the largest in Belize underwater. It starts at thirty meters below surface and goes to about sixty meters or basically almost two hundred feet; forty meters wide, eighty meters deep minimum and we also found geological beds with mega fossils of perhaps mastodons and mammoths. They’re no longer bone, they’re stone now so they’re fossils. We found huge crystal vanes, crystals the size of soccer balls."

Another area currently being studied for artifacts is Belize's first capital, St. George's Caye.

Jim Garber

Jim Garber, Professor, Texas State University

"We're looking at various aspects of the battle and the old houses on the settlement. We're doing a lot of research on the old cemetery; it's the oldest English European cemetery in the country. We wanna shed some light on the early history of Belize as a nation and the birth place of Belize was out on that caye. Many of the records were destroyed by hurricanes and fires and just through time and so we're gonna have to piece it together by what information we do have in the archives and archeology by digging it up."

Jaime Awe

"Some papers for instance will try to understand and explain how is it that people become rulers, when does this happen and why does this happen. Other papers will also talk about what happened when this government eventually fails around the time of the collapse of the Mayan civilization. We will be seeing papers on Caracol and this new technology to survey sites that are completely under jungle cover today, there will be papers being done on some new work that's being done in the Toledo district especially at a site called Uxbenka."

Director of the Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Jaime Awe, told us how the information gathered at the symposium is used.

Dr. Jaime Awe

Jaime Awe

"One of the things we do is we publish a book on the papers that are presented here. This information is then used by teachers at elementary schools, at high schools, at University of Belize, at Galen University to teach young Belizeans about the prehistoric times of Belize. The information that comes out from these symposiums provide all of us with better knowledge of the Belizean past. We're still learning as we go along about the first people who made Belize their home."

Today's session saw the attendance of persons from the tourism industry, students, archaeologists and the general public. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

The symposium winds down on Friday.