Help us solve some of the mysteries at Cahal Pech!

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Today we had a very exciting day excavating the different units in Cahal Pech!

Currently our group is working on the plaza that connects the main pyramid (called B1 for the plaza it is located in) with  a smaller pyramid to its right (B3).  Last year students helped excavate the plaza between the main pyramid and the left pyramid (B2).

Cahal Pech Site Map, Cayo, Belize

Cahal Pech Site Map, Cayo, Belize

What the heck is an E-Group structure?

The area we are excavating is part of a triadic pyramid complex, which is known as an E-Group structure. (This is a general term for triadic pyramid complexes, the “E” has nothing to do with the letter E on the above map).  E-Group structures have been found all over the Maya world.  They consist of three pyramids joined together by plazas.

1200 year old plaster – wish the walls in my home would last that long!

The B3 pyramid wall is still covered in its original plaster. The plaster wall in amazing shape considering that is over 1,000 years old. This is very rare in the jungle conditions of Maya sites.

Original plaster on 1,200+ year-old wall of plaza at Cahal Pech.

Broken symmetry in a very symmetrical Maya world

We were excited to discover that the B3 pyramid and the plaza are very different from the B2 pyramid and plaza.  First of all both the plaza and the walls are wider and higher than the other side.  It's often said that the Maya loved symmetry, but we found that isn’t always true.

The pyramid wall also has a subapron structure, which doesn’t exist on the other pyramids at the site.

You can see the walls on each side of the plaza are different. This is unusual in Maya construction. Further excavation may help us solve this mystery.

A sub apron is a decoration that the Maya used around some of their buildings.  The mystery about this plaza is why they would put a sub apron on one side, but not continue it to the other wall ???  Usually Maya structures are very symmetrical, but this one appears not to be.

It may have something to do with Cahal Pech itself, and the way it evolved over time.  There are other inconsistencies in the architecture that we observed.  For example, pyramid B3 has round walls, while pyramid B1 (from about the same time period) does not.

Stela Mystery

The Maya often carved rocks into small monuments, which they would use for ritual purposes.  We actually found one three feet above the point where the site was mostly abandoned.  Were some Maya using the site for ceremonies 100's of year's later?

Here is the stela we found. Parts of it are broken. It looks like there may have been some carving on the broken pieces.

Between buildings B1 and B3 (pyramids), there is a plaza about 2.5 meters wide, while the plaza between buildings B1 and B2 is just 2 meters wide.  The wider plaza has more than one floor, also.  Why?  We don’t know yet, but Doug Tilden and his team of excavators are working on figuring out which floor is the main one and why the rest exist.

Something that caught our attention is the existence of charcoal about one meter above the floor of the plaza between B1 and B3.  According to Doug, this coal is not something of natural origin.  It must have been left by human activity.

Mario is measuring how high the charcoal is above the original floor. As we excavate more, we may be able to determine whether it was used for cooking or ceremonies. It was obviously used many centuries after the plaza was abandoned,

We also found that the floor of the plaza was largely intact.  We feel fortunate to find the floor since in many locations the floors, which are made of plaster, have dissolved.

There are a series of other mysteries yet to solve regarding the plaza.  In addition to the different floors and the subapron; one wall is taller than all the other walls on the main pyramid. Why did they build it so high ??

The B1 pyramid wall’s bottom is 25 centimeters higher than the wall across the plaza. Why would the two walls on either side of the plaza have different bottom levels ???

Stayed tuned as our team digs to find the truth about these mysteries:

The excavation team is preparing to remove the third section of earth and collapsed rock and dirt from the pyramids.  Hopefully the answers to these questions lies buried under that excavation.

Post by 17 year-old Mario Villeda who is part of the teenage excavation team and lives in San Ignacio, Belize; some pics by Veronica Burkhart

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Posted on: July 13, 2012 | Categories: AFAR, Archaeology, Belize, Education, Service Learning US & Belize teens


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