Watch a video presentation of the scope of the Exploring the Hidden World of the Maritime Maya 2011 Exploration, presented by Dr. Jeffrey Glover, and Dr. Dominique Rissolo. Video courtesy of Proyecto Costa Escondida Maritime Maya 2011 Expedition, NOAA-OER.


Hey, Welcome to Vista Alegre,
I'm Jeffrey Glover.

And I'm Dominique Rissolo,
and we are here

in the northeastern corner
of the Yucatan Peninsula

in the Mexican State of
Quintana Roo.

A very interesting, remote,
unique area,

where the Caribbean meets
the Gulf of Mexico.

And we're here at a small
island site-

intercoastal island site
known as Vista Alegre

It was an ancient Maya
port site.

Jeffrey: Yes, and based on
our preliminary evidence,

we see the first occupants
showing up

maybe somewhere around
800 BC, 700 BC

based on our pottery that
we've recovered to date.

We have basically
four major

occupational phases
here at the site.

So we have this first what
we call the middle pre-classic

that's 800 BC, 700 BC
maybe 400 BC.

Then we have a late pre-classic,
early-classic component,

so running from maybe
100 BC up 'til 400 AD or so.

And one of the interesting
things is that

all of the settlements inland
of here that we've surveyed

all seem to have a major
de-population around AD 400

and yet this site really
seems to have a continued,

sort of thriving occupation
for maybe another century or so,

and then we begin to see
this sort of gradual decline

in the quantities of
ceramics that date to

kind of the earlier
middle-classic.

Then we have a hiatus here
where we don't seem to have

anyone living here for maybe
2 - 2 ½ centuries,

and we see a
re-occupation

of the island
around AD 900.

And it's this re-occupation
that's one of the things

that we're interested
in looking at.

and it's associated,
given the timing of it

and given the ceramics and
other aspects

of the material culture
that we've recovered,

it seems to be very closely associated with

the rise of
Chichen Itza.

And of course, something
that archaeologists

and scholars have known
for some time is that

Chichen -- part of it's strategy
for building this sort of

expansive state, was
control of maritime trade

and these maritime
trade routes.

And so the placement of this
site sort of fills a gap

in the location of these
coastal port sites

that we know existed
and have evidence

of relationships with
Chichen Itza.

Of course, we're not
exactly sure

what those relationships are
and that's one of our

sort of major
archaeological questions.

Interestingly, we see around
AD 1100 where

we see a decrease
in population here

and the late post-classic ceramics that we have.

So this dates to say,
1200 AD up until

the time of
Spanish contact.

Our what we call a
"pilgrimage assemblage".

So its these "incensarios"
these incense burners

that have these modeled
effigies- god effigies on 'em,

these paell dishes that
also would have been

for incense burning.

So we don't see any of the
domestic wares

that you would associate
with people living here.

And so it seems, based on
our preliminary

excavations and ceramic
analysis that the site

during that terminal
classic, that AD 900-1100

its fortunes are very much tied
to the fortunes of Chichen,

which adds an
interesting dimension

to what we're
looking at.

And essentially, so we see
this pilgrimage assemblage

in the late
post-classic, and then

we do have some evidence
of historical archaeology,

and that's another
component of the project.

Up until the 19th, early
20th century looking at

some of the extractive
industries around here,

so that kind of brings us up to
speed on what we know so far

about the culture history
of the island.

Dominique: And in addition
to understanding

the role that Vista Alegre
played in facilitating

maritime trade and commerce,
we also want to understand

how the ancient Maya
here at Vista Alegre

and along this
hidden coast,

transformed and interacted with their maritime landscape.

And this is a
challenging area,

this is not an area that
would be typical

of what you would find
at most Maya sites.

The Maya were primarily
agriculturalists,

they would tend to live in
areas of deeper, fertile soils,

access to
fresh water.

This is a very marginal
landscape, its a mosaic

of different kinds of
environmental

types of zones,
and...

So this is a challenge for
us to try to figure out how

the Maya were able to endure
here for centuries,

for millennia, in an area that
otherwise would've been

probably not preferred
for habitation.

Of course, what brought
people to the coast

was the ability to facilitate
maritime trade and commerce.

So what we wanna do is
learn a little bit more

about the
environment,

We're here on
this project to basically

target certain areas
around the site,

to core sediments,
in the estuary

and different types of
inundated environments

around the site
to learn a little bit more

about the
hydrological regime,

sedimentation processes,
to do a sort of

paleoenvironmental reconstruction.

To understand what the
environment would have been like

for the Maya over these
centuries and how they

would have adapted to these
changing conditions.

We've in an environment
where there's quite a bit

of fluctuation in terms
of fresh water and

the availability of fresh water,
sea level,

all these other kinds of
conditions and parameters

that we're trying to
better understand.

So we have a group of folks
here that represent

a range of experiences
and expertise.

And we're here to collect as
much information as we can

in order to better
facilitate that kind of

reconstruction of the
environment

or a more sophisticated
and more refined

understanding of the environment.

Jeffrey: It really is an
interdisciplinary project

and I think that's one of
the things that got us excited

about putting this
project together.

That we could actually bring
these folks

and their knowledge out
to this site.

And it's already been just
so much fun and just an

awesome experience getting
everyone talking

and getting the wheels moving
in everyone's heads.

We have Trish Beddows who's
a hydro- geologist,

who's been working on the
Caribbean coast of

Quintana Roo Mexico
for some time,

we have Beverly Goodman a
geo-archaeologist who's been--

most of her work has been
done in the Med, in fact,

but coming over and bring her
knowledge of ancient harbors

and coastline change,
sea level change,

and Derek Smith, who's
a coastal ecologist

and he's out right now
in a canoe,

with a camera and a notebook
and he's documenting

this mosaic landscape
that Dominique was mentioning.

So we're trying to
understand what's here today,

then looking through
these cores to look at how

these environments have
changed through time.

And once again figure out,
we have this Sacbe feature

that seems to go out into
these harbors.

What did these harbors look
like, in say, 1000 AD

when you had this bustling
commerce along the coast.

Were they deeper, did you
have the possibility of these

"ojo de agua", these
fresh water springs,

where you have basically
cracks in the limestone.

Where the fresh water
aquifer bubbles out

and you really can see
these things today.

Where you can see the
bubbling fresh water

coming out and
we may have had

these springs possibly
in these harbors.

And this something that
Trish is really interested

in looking at and would be
unbelievably cool

to find here if we have these
bubbling fresh water springs

because uh, we've got to
bring all our water in,

For us today
it ah-

Dominique: And the Maya had
to find water here as well.

And figure that there were
probably several hundred people

living here
at any one time.

And there was probably
a transient population as well.

Canoes would pull up,
offer their cargo,

people would
stay the night.

Gear up for the next leg
of their paddle.

So this site had to
accommodate people,

it had to support people,
and that meant

provisioning these
expeditions.

They needed water,
they needed food,

and so it's interesting because
we really want to understand

all the complex social,
political and economic systems

that supported
a site like this.

We want to understand
how this site

supported those systems
as well.

So there's an
interrelationship between

all these different systems
that were in play-

Jeffrey: At varying scales.

Dominique: At varying scales
across the peninsula.

Also it's interesting to
note that-

interesting to introduce into
the conversation, that,

when most people think of
the Maya,

they don't necessarily think
of a seafaring people.

But it was maritime
trade and commerce,

that really in
some ways carried

the latter part of
Maya civilization.

As we move towards the eve
of the conquest,

these are peoples who turned
their attention to the sea.

And these were people who
were connecting parts of

mezzo-America in new
and different ways.

There was this period of
great internationalization

as these seafarers
were making their way

along these coasts from
Vera Cruz all the way

to the bay
of Honduras.

So these were the
maritime Maya,

and we're here to
learn more about them

and we're excited to
have the support of NOAA

to be able to accomplish
these project goals.


Related Links

Download Full Transcript (PDF, 56 Kb)

Exploring the Hidden World of the Maritime Maya 2011

NOAA Ocean Explorer Gallery

Ocean Explorer Podcast NOAA Podcast RSS 2.0 Feed External Link

Ocean Explorer YouTube Channel Video YouTube External Link