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Late Maya culture gets renovation.

Evidence is fast accumulating to support the notion that the Maya civilization of Central America, long thought to have declined in the centuries before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s, evolved and flourished even as Spanish conquest was iminent.

In August, archeologists Diane Z. Chase and Arlen F. Chase, a husband-wife team from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, uncovered the 500-year-old grave of what appears to have been a Maya ruler. Along with other evidence at the site, located on a sea bluff near Corozal, Belize, the burial place reveals "a vibrant civilization at about the time of Spanish conquest," says Diane Chase.

In 1983, investigators led by archeologist David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto found the burial place of another apparent Maya ruler about 50 miles inland from the Chase's site. This excavation also shows, says Pendergast, that the Mayas thrived and traded extensively throughout the Late Post Classic period, from A.D. 1350 to A.D. 1530.

The burial site at Santa Rita, where the Chases worked, was found beneath a small stone shrine. The grave is much like others used for less powerful citizens at the time, says Diane Chase. In addition to the man's skeleton, however, the scientists discovered copper clasps that may have once held a shroud and a number of pieces of stone and metal jewelry, including a pair of gold "earflares" that were inserted in the ear lobe and covered the entire ear. "These were traded-for items," she explains. "The earflares probably came from the Aztecs."

Items such as these were most likely buried only with rulers, say the Chases. The province governed by the inhabitant of the grave, they note, may have been larger than modern Belize, which covers 8,800 square miles.

The Chases, whose 7 years of research at Santa Rita have been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, discovered the 1,500-year-old tomb of a Maya king five days before the grave was unearthed. The ornate tomb contains jewelry, painted pottery vessels, masks and other artifacts, say the scientists. This ruler held his station in the early part of the Classic period, which stretched from A.D. 250 to A.D. 900. During that period, the Mayas constructed large buildgins and the great pyramids that still stand.

Many assumptions about the decline of the Mayas during the Post Classic period come from the writings of Spanish conquistadors and clergy, says Diane Chase, who may have had distorted views of what they saw as an inferior cultture.

"During the Post Classic period at Santa Rita, we see evidence of a more international climate and more extensive trading than what occurred in the Early Classic period," she observes. "The Mayas of 500 years ago probably knew what was going on with the Aztecs [who lived in central Mexico] and may have traded as far south a Peru, with the Incas."

Pendergast says there are some differences between artifacts found at Santa Rita and at Lamanai, the inland Maya settlement he has studied since 1974. Distinctive pottery designs and ornamental styles characterize each site, he points out. "But both sites show that there was a vibrant Maya culture [throughout the Late Post Classic period]," says Pendergast. "The ruler's grave we uncovered may date to A.D. 1544, after the Spanish arrived."
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Title Annotation:two burial sites discovered in Central America
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 5, 1985
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