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Publication Date

April 2013




Michael L. Brennan a, *, Eleanor M. King b, Leslie C. Shaw c, Stanley L. Walling d, Fred Valdez Jr. e aGraduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA bDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, Howard University, Washington, D.C., USA cDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME, USA dDepartment of Social Sciences, Community College of Philadelphia, USA eDepartment of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, USA The carbonate bedrock of northwestern Belize is poorly understood from the standpoint of both geochemistry and the use of stone in prehispanic Maya sites for buildings and monuments. The friable nature of the rock in this topographically rugged area makes it especially difficult to distinguish mon- uments from bedrock spall, as little carving, if any, survives, and identification rests on location and positioning. The research presented here analyzed 63 limestone samples collected from two sites in the Three Rivers Region of Belize. ICP-MS and ICP-AES were used to characterize the major, minor, and trace element chemistry of the limestone bedrock of the region and determine the amount of geochemical variability. Another important objective was attempting to trace the movement of monument stone and determining whether it was imported from outside of the sites. Bedrock, quarries, and possible monu- ments were all sampled for these purposes. Bedrock proved to be similar across wide areas. However, at Chawak But'o'ob, along the flank of the Rio Bravo, changes downslope in Mg concentration suggest a leaching of the bedrock by meteoric waters based on differences in porosity. At Maax Na, a hilltop site, in contrast, such leaching is not as apparent. Many monuments at both sites were found to be composed of stone similar in chemistry to the local bedrock, including several of the identifiable stelae. However, our analyses also revealed that a few monuments at Maax Na were made of material with a different chemical composition, apparently from stone imported to the site. These results suggest that the Maya deliberately selected certain types of limestone for certain purposes, and may even have traded in non- local rock. Overall, the methods used in this pilot study indicate there is real potential in more intensive, regional assessments of the materials used at archaeological sites, even in areas where the local stone does not have a distinctive geochemical signature. Open Access - Permission by Author(s) See Extended description for more information.

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