By Michael Bawaya

A vaulted passageway that connects plazas A and F at Cahal Pech. These narrow passageways restricted access into the private domain of the city’s Classic period rulers. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz.

Jaime Awe had an epiphany. He was scrutinizing a sweat bath he and his crew had uncovered at Xunantunich, a Maya ceremonial center in western Belize, when he realized there were two hearths and two entrances. The only reason for a second hearth and entrance, Awe deduced, would be if the sweat bath had been remodeled; and, based on associated cultural remains, if it were remodeled, that would have occurred after the city was abandoned around A.D. 900. Due to the similarities in the material culture, he thinks people who remained in the area after the city center was abandoned may have eventually reoccupied Xunantunich’s site core for a generation or two.

There’s roughly a dozen people working in several different excavation units by the sweat bath, and Awe bounds from one excavation area to the next. He was born in British Honduras, a colony of the British Crown found on Central America’s east coast. When of school age, he learned the history of Great Britain, rather than that of his native land. To entertain themselves, Awe and his brothers (he was the ninth of eleven children) would dig up artifacts in various places, including their backyard, that had no affinity with the Crown. In 1973 British Honduras was renamed Belize, and by September 1981 it was no longer tethered to Great Britain.

The Olla Altar in Actun Tunichil Muknal features several ceramic jars and dishes that remain in their original context.| Credit: Jaime Awe

Wanting a career in archaeology, Awe went abroad for his college education, eventually earning a Ph.D. from the University of London in England. (He was the first Belizean to earn a Ph.D. in archaeology and he subsequently became the director of Belize’s Institute of Archaeology.) In 1988 he established BVAR to learn the deep history of Belize. BVAR is shorthand for the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project, an interdisciplinary endeavor that incorporates research, conservation, education, and tourism. Awe, now a professor at Northern Arizona University, continues to lead the project, along with his codirectors Julie Hoggarth of Baylor University and Claire Ebert of the University of Pittsburgh.

Pottery stands discovered in royal tombs in Structure B1 at Cahal Pech.| Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz

The site core at Xunantunich with structure A1 in the foreground and the Castillo in the background. The Castillo architectural complex served as the royal palace of Xunantunich’s ruling family. | Credit: Jerry Rabinowitz

These photographs were taken before and during the excavation of structures B1, B2, and B3 at Cahal Pech...| Credit: Jaime Awe

...Fourteen crypts and tombs containing sumptuary grave goods were discovered during the excavations. | Credit: Jaime Awe

This is an article excerpt from the Winter 2022-23 edition of American Archaeology Magazine.  Become a member of The Archaeological Conservancy for your complimentary subscription!


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