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Cerros, a Late Preclassic (300 bce–250 ce) Maya site located in Belize on a narrow spit of swampy land where the New River empties into Chetumal Bay. Cerros underwent a dramatic transformation from an egalitarian fishing and trading community to a cosmopolitian political capital during the Late Preclassic period.

Inhabitants fished in fresh and salt water and also worked wood extensively, probably making dugout canoes. Raised agricultural fields were located both at the site center and near the river's mouth. A large, low platform bordering the nucleated village's shoreline appears to have been a dock. Imported ceramics and foreign stylistic affinities indicate that Cerros was a trading community.

The initial phase of settlement (300–200 bce) was a nucleated village. Slightly later, an elaborately decorated pyramid was built. The south side and lower terraces flanking the stairway of the pyramid were decorated with polychrome painted panels and modeled stucco masks. The use of this pyramid and the nucleated settlement ended in an elaborate ritual, evinced by ceramics and jade that were smashed and left in place. Elite residences and ceremonial structures were subsequently erected over this same area.

From 200 to 50 bce, residential settlement gradually became more dispersed. The transition from nucleated to dispersed settlement and additions to ceremonial architecture at the center were completed by 150 ce. An elaborate system of artificial drainage was used during this period, probably to help compensate for the seasonal availability of fresh water. A massive artificial canal bordered the dispersed settlement zone and drained the central precinct. This hydraulic system rapidly deteriorated following the Late Preclassic collapse of Cerros as a political capital. Settlement at Cerros persisted after 250 ce, but the site never regained the political, economic, or religious importance it had during the Late Preclassic.

See alsoMaya, The .


David A. Freidel, "Maritime Adaptation and the Rise of Maya Civilization: The View from Cerros, Belize," in Prehistoric Coastal Adaptations, edited by Barbara L. Stark and Barbara Voorhies (1978), pp. 239-265.

Robin A. Robertson, Archaeology at Cerros, Belize, Central America, vol. 1, An Interim Report (1986).

David A. Freidel and Linda Schele, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya (1990), esp. pp. 96-129.

Additional Bibliography

Freidel, David A., and Robin A. Robertson, eds. Archaeology at Cerros, Belize, Central America. v. 1-3. Dallas: Southern Methodist Univeristy Press, 1986.

Lewenstein, Suzanne M. Stone Tool Use at Cerros: The Ethnoarchaeological and Use-Wear Evidence. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987.

Mock, Shirley Boteler, ed. The Sowing and the Dawning: Termination, Dedication, and Transformation in the Archaeological and Ethnographic Record of Mesoamerica. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

                                            Kathryn Sampeck

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