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Archaeologists link Maya demise to “trophy skulls”

Posted: Monday, June 10, 2019. 7:38 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Recent finds at ancient Maya sites in Belize may help shed light on the collapse of the powerful civilization that ruled our area for centuries, writes professor Gabriel D. Wrobel of Michigan State University.

The associate professor of anthropology writes for online academic research site, The Conversation, that it is one more piece of the puzzle, joining environmental degradation, warfare, drought and other causes for the collapse of Belize’s Maya cities.

At Pacbitun, located on the Cristo Rey-San Antonio Road outside of San Ignacio, Wrobel writes that two trophy skulls – defleshed, painted and marked with the Maya phrase for “trophy skull”, while another was found at a site called Pakal Na.

Professor Wrobel says the skulls were worn around the neck as pendants, war trophies of the heads of defeated foes. The Pacbitun skulls and nearby ceramic vessels are dated to the eighth to ninth century AD before the site’s abandonment and lead to suggestions that the area was invaded by rising powers in the north, specifically the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, against the established dynasties in the south.

With other finds, archaeologists are not only trying to establish what happened, writes Professor Wrobel, but also how those involved reacted, and the general role of violence and, potentially, warfare as contributing to the end of the established political order in central Belize.

These finds and others will likely be discussed at the upcoming Archaeology and Architectural Symposium hosted by the Institute of Archaeology of the National Institute for Culture and History (NICH).


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