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U.S. National Science Foundation applies grant to study Maya settlement at El Pilar

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Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2020. 6:54 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: US $289,806 (BZ$579,612) has been awarded from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to a research team led by Dr. Annabel Ford to continue her investigations of ancient Maya settlement patterns and human-environment interactions in the Maya Forest, centered around the Cayo site of El Pilar (“The Pillar”).

Per the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), El Pilar is located north of Bullet Tree Falls in the Cayo District, about 6.2 miles from San Ignacio Town. Named after an army camp in the area, El Pilar is one of Belize’s largest Classic Maya sites with a well-defined ceremonial section including both private and public areas. There are at least 15 courtyards or plazas covering an area of 50 acres. The center has one ball court in the south, a major palace in the north, and a causeway leading to Guatemala. The site covers approximately 75 acres. Some buildings reach 50-60 feet in height. Aguados or water reservoirs, which are located throughout the site, provided much-needed water during the dry season.

The team of researchers and citizen scientists from Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, and the United States will explore the question of why the ancient Maya lived where they did by examining settlement patterns and their relationship to the environment. This includes: 1) completing the archaeological survey; 2) creating a detailed soil map; 3) analyzing new pollen core samples; 4) integrating data in a Geographic Information Systems database, and 5) archiving the digital results of research.

Dr. Ford, research anthropologist and director of the Mesoamerican Research Center at University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB), who first encountered the site in 1983, told Caribbean Culture and Lifestyle, “We are asking what geographic characteristics are influencing ancient Maya settlements.”

“Investigators will expand local networks and partnerships by coordinating activities with community-based organizations, NGOs and governmental agencies; this is to promote greater scientific knowledge of the prehistory and ecology of the Maya lowlands,” she continued. “New data generated by this project will be available to all partners to aid in planning projects for education and development.”

Dr Ford added that the COVID-19 pandemic has created new hurdles for research. “Although it isn’t practical to do most fieldwork right now, the team is still very much working”. However, for the time being, the team will focus on the modeling component of the research.

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