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Athabasca University

Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown

Maya archaeology is an exciting field of research, with many new sites and artifacts (re)discovered each year within the modern countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Particular areas of interest include how the ancient Maya settled on the landscape, acquired raw materials, crafted “things”, and then distributed, used, and disposed of these items. The Maya had sophisticated methods and systems of resource extraction, manipulation, and trade going back to Formative times (ca. 1800 B.C.- A.D. 250) and continuing well into historic periods. In concert with these activities, villages, towns, and cities sprung up in advantageous places on the landscape, increasing in their degrees of urban complexity over time.

Figure 1Explorations of urban development and resource management in the ancient Maya lowlands.

Figure 1: Map of the Maya area showing the location of Alabama and Yaxnohcah


Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, Assistant Professor in the Centre for Social Sciences at AU, is a Maya archaeologist and is currently involved with two major research programs. Maya archaeology is an exciting field of research, with many new sites and artifacts (re)discovered each year within the modern countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Particular areas of interest include how the ancient Maya settled on the landscape, acquired raw materials, crafted “things”, and then distributed, used, and disposed of these items. The Maya had sophisticated methods and systems of resource extraction, manipulation, and trade going back to Formative times (ca. 1800 B.C.- A.D. 250) and continuing well into historic periods. In concert with these activities, villages, towns, and cities sprung up in advantageous places on the landscape, increasing in their degrees of urban complexity over time.

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Figure 2: 2015 field crew of the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project standing in front of massive granite slab used by the ancient Maya of Alabama. (Photo credit: Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project 2015)


Meaghan’s primary research project, funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant, is located in the Stann Creek District of Belize. A little understood area of urbanization and resource development lies from the Maya Mountains in Belize to the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Research by the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project (SCRAP) aims to rectify this knowledge gap, and current investigations are focused on the site of Alabama (Figure 1). Alabama is a historic designation for the area, named by the owners of a banana plantation that previously occupied the area. The ancient Mayan name for the site is unknown.

The monumental epicentre of Alabama consists of 21 major structures, including an ‘acropolis’ and ballcourt where the Mesoamerican ballgame was played. These structures are arranged around three plazas with acauseway leading into the site from the surrounding residential settlement zones. Meaghan’s current research aims to understand the development of Alabama as a possible example of rapid resource-based urbanism (boomtown), which arose during the Late Classic period (ca. 600-800 AD) in relation to the exploitation of local staple resources such as granite for the manufacture of corn grinding implements and construction material. 2015/2016 field and laboratory members (Figure 2) include students from Canada (including an AU anthropology undergraduate student), the US, and Belize, as well as local Maya community members. For more information, visit www.scraparchaeology.com

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Figure 3: 2015 field crew of the Proyecto Arqueológico Yaxnohcah. (Photo credit: Proyecto Arqueológico Yaxnohcah 2015)


Meaghan’s second project is located in the Calakmul Biosphere of Campeche, Mexico, where she is co-director of the Proyecto Arqueológico Yaxnohcah, along with colleagues Dr. Kathryn Reese-Taylor (University of Calgary) and Dr. Armando Anaya Hernandez (Universidad Autónoma de Campeche). The goals of the most recent (2015) field season included ground-truthing results of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data obtained in 2014, in order to gain a better understanding of the distribution of buildings and civic infrastructure across the vast Maya city of Yaxnohcah.

The team of 25 archaeologists and local excavators (Figure 3) have also initiated investigations of ancient houses to determine occupation dates and settlement distribution patterns of the Maya who lived at the site beginning over 2500 years ago. Intense studies of vegetation patterns and water catchment systems at the site, as they exist today as well as in the past, were also a critical focus of the month-long season. For more information, visit http://www.ucalgary.ca/reesetaylor/research

Updated March 03 2017 by Student & Academic Services

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