CHAMPAIGN, Ill. They were illiterate farmers, builders and servants, but Maya commoners found a way to record their own history by burying it within their homes. A new study of the objects embedded in the floors of homes occupied more than 1,000 years ago in central Belize begins to decode their story.
The study, from University of Illinois anthropology professor Lisa J. Lucero, appears in the Journal of Social Archaeology.
Maya in the Classic period (A.D. 250-900) regularly "terminated" their homes, razing the walls, burning the floors and placing artifacts and (sometimes) human remains on top before burning them again.
Evidence suggests these rituals occurred every 40 or 50 years and likely marked important dates in the Maya calendar. After termination, the family built a new home on the old foundation, using broken and whole vessels, colorful fragments, animal bones and rocks to mark important areas and to provide ballast for a new plaster floor.
Maya royals recorded their history in writing and in imagery carved on monuments, Lucero said. "But the commoners had their own way of recording their own history, not only their history as a family but also their place in the cosmos," she said.
"These things are buried, not to be seen, but it doesn't mean people forgot about them," she said.
"They are burying people in the exact same spot and removing bones from earlier ancestors to place them somewhere else, or removing pieces of them and keeping the pieces as mementos."
This "de-animation" and reanimation of the home marked the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life, Lucero said.
Anthropologists have known for decades about such rituals, but Lucero chose to look more closely at how the arrangement, color and condition of the buried artifacts lent them their symbolic meaning.
She and her crew found about a dozen human remains in the two homes they excavated in a smal
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign