Chaa Creek: An Ancient Maya Village in Belize, Central America
submitted by C_Michael_Hogan
Large painted Mayan bowl found at the Chaa Creek site. This specimen is replete with detailed zoomorphic and geometric design and is on display at the Chaa Creek Natural History Center.
The Chaa Creek Mayan site is an ancient settlement in the Cayo District of Western Belize. Largely unexcavated, it contains over 70 recognizable Mayan elements including numerous pyramidal mounds and four plaza areas. Artifacts recovered include highly attractive glazed painted pottery, stone implements and a variety of figurines, some of which are exhibited on site at the Chaa Creek Natural History Center.
The site is noted for its large areal extent and prominent multiple mounding in its setting at the confluence of Chaa Creek with the Macal River. The work herein is based upon my on site investigation of January, 2007 plus review of archival literature.
NATURAL HISTORY. While the site today is secondary forest, there is nevertheless rich biodiversity of plants, birdlife, mammals, reptiles and arthropods. This finding is not surprising since this locus marks the gateway to higher less explored steep reaches of the Maya Mountains. In fact not far upriver from Chaa Creek is the obscure Raspaculo Branch of the Macal River where no man may have set foot for a millennium. (Hoagland, 2005) The ancient buried city of Chaa Creek is embedded within the present day Chaa Creek Nature Reserve, a private holding comprising approximately 140 hectares. The reserve is used for scientific research and university level instruction and includes is a nature trail, plants being labeled with Latin and common names. (Lougheed, 2005) There is also a Blue morpho propagation center on site, where thousands of butterflies are raised from the egg through larva through adult stages.
A vast array of flora is present including rosewood, allspice, rubber tree, fiddlewood, mahogany and custard apple. A high proportion of younger trees present indicates the area has been disturbed in modern times. In addition to the closed canopy tropical humid broadleaf forest, there is a working Mayan farm of several hectares developed to demonstrate Classic Period agricultural methods of the region. Many terrestrial animals are easy to view here, such as agouti, deer, tapir, peccary, iguana and the coatamundi. 247 species have been recorded at Chaa Creek (Arvigo, 2004) including various species of toucan, motmot, parrot, hummingbird, flycatcher and trogon. Tarpon, snook and other fishes are found locally in Chaa Creek and the Macal River.
RELATION TO OTHER MAYAN SITES. Chaa Creek is characterized as a Classic Period Mayan site and is likely a satellite of Caracol or possibly even Tikal or Tipu; since excavation is less than one percent completed, it is possible the site has earlier origins such as nearby Cahal Pech dated to 900 BCE. A chief purpose of Chaa Creek was clearly agricultural, with its name ‘’Chaa’‘ meaning chocolate; moreover, the Mayan farm on site has been shown to thrive on the native limestone based soils. Chaa Creek appears to be the iconic form of the “green and stone” blend (Graham, 2007) that Graham describes as a fully integrated farming culture embedded in a sophisticated ceremonial Mayan center.
Its position downstream on the Macal River from Tipu suggests that Chaa Creek may have served as a guard site for Tipu; I am surprised not to have found a literature observation that Tipu’s surprisingly late survival may have been due, in part, to having such a guard site combined with Tipu’s rugged karst upriver situation with limited access by river. Tipu, noted for its finds of over 70,000 pottery elements,(Aimers, 2002) is one of the few sites of all the Mayan culture that survived in tact up until 1707 with the Spanish conquest. Other nearby river oriented Mayan sites include Xunantunich and Cahal Pech, the latter dating to at least 900 BCE . Xunantunich is noted for a pyramid which is the second tallest structure in present day Belize, which temple includes a highly ornate elevated frieze.