Cerro Maya, Belize | CruiseBe
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© Cerros Ruins/Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0

Cerro Maya

History and museums
ancient ruins, maya, historic sight, sightseeing, walking, guided tour

Cerros is a Maya archaeological site in northern Belize that reached its apogee during the MesoamericanLate Preclassic. At its peak, it held a population of approximately 1,089 people. The site is strategically located on a peninsula at the mouth of the New River where it empties into Chetumal Bay on the Caribbean coast. As such, the site had access to and served as an intermediary link between the coastal trade route that circumnavigated the Yucatan Peninsula and inland communities. The inhabitants of Cerros constructed an extensive canal system and utilized raised-field agriculture. The core of the site immediately abuts the bay and consists of several relatively large structures and stepped pyramids, an acropolis complex, and two ballcourts. Bounding the southern side of the site is a crescent-shaped canal network that encloses the central portion of the site and encloses several raised-fields.
Residential structures continue outside of the canal, generally radiating southwest and southeast; raised-fields are also present outside of the canal system.
From the time of its inception in the Late Preclassic Era, around 400BC, the site of Cerros was a small village of farmers, fishermen and traders. They made use of its fertile soils and easy access to the sea, while producing and trading product amongst the other Maya in the area. Around 50 BC, as their economy grew and they began to experiment with the idea of kingship, the inhabitants of Cerros initiated a great urban renewal program, burying their homes to make way for a group of temples and plazas.
The first of the new constructions was the Structure 5C-2nd, which has become the most famous piece of architecture at the site. It marked the northernmost point of the sacred north-south axis of the site, which was complemented by a ballcourt (Str. 50) which lies at the southernmost point. As kings died, others came along and new temples were constructed in their honor. The last of the substantial constructions at the site (Str. 3A-1st) occurred around AD 100, and many of the other structures appear to have been abandoned before then. From then on, any new construction was probably limited to the outer residential area, as the population began to decline severely.
Apart from a small occupation at the end of the Late Classic period, Cerros has been abandoned since AD 400. This once glorious site was left for ruin and remained virtually unnoticed until Thomas Gann made reference to "lookout" mounds along the coast in 1900, drawing interest to the site.
Archaeological work began at Cerros around 1973 when the site was purchased by the Metroplex Corporation of Dallas, who intended to build a tourist resort around the ceremonial center. Fortunately, these plans failed and the site was given to the government of Belize. In 1974, archaeologist David Freidel and his team uncovered evidence that suggested that the site was of the Late Preclassic period. In 1975, when a dedicatory offering cache was uncovered at Structure 6, further evidence was provided that Cerros was indeed a Late Preclassic site.
Throughout the 1970s, research was allowed to continue when the National Science Foundation funded further excavations. The original team completed their excavations in 1981.
In the 1990s, Debra Walker and a team of archaeologists began a series of new excavations to investigate the site's demise at the end of the Late Preclassic Era. In addition to the research done at the site, Walker's team also had radiocarbon dates run on newly found artifacts. They also recalibrated several dates from the original research in order to establish a tighter chronological sequence.

© Cerros Ruins/Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0

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