Sunday, May 17, 2009
El Pilar city state started between major Mayan Empires 800 BC in Belize
. Ancient History of El Pilar
El Pilar ruins are not far, from from "Falconview Backpackers Adventure Hostel" in Santa Elena Town. About 14 miles. Not many people go there, because of Guatemalan banditry robbing tourists, occasionally from across the border. El Pilar covers about 100 acres and started between the Mayan Empire before the Classical period most often studied. It was a sort of in between major Mayan political Empires, a city state of the Yalbac Hills and the edge of the Belize River Valley. Cahel Pech is older than El Pilar going back to 1500 BC, located right on the hilltop of Western San Ignacio Town. El Pilar straddles the unmarked frontier. The El Pilar, city site dates from 800 BC. The Classical flourishing of the second Mayan Empire occured between 600 A.D. and 900 A.D. The Mayan Calendar started more than 5000 years ago and is ending in 2012. El Pilar is older than the ruins of TIKAL. All the city states as political centers and fuedal kingdoms,stopped about 1100 years ago.
When the British formed a colony and gave British companies all the land, there was a movement by the British colonial government to destroy all the homes and farms of Mayan people living in this area and chase them out. It is a disgraceful part of Belize history when the Maya occupiers of the land who had lived here for more than 6000 years and were burnt out of their villages and homes by the British government and companies claiming the land.
pilarfigure-11El Pilar flourished as a Maya garden city for nearly 2,000 years. It was the largest urban area in what is now the edge of greater Petén. At its peak it housed more than 20,000 people in a mosaic landscape of city houses and gardens, surrounded by forest and agricultural fields. The city had what is rare in the Maya area, an abundance of water: the name "El Pilar" is derived from the Spanish word for watering basin. The venerable Tikal, 30 miles (50 km) to the west, had no naturally occurring water sources.
Through ceramic analysis, archaeologists have determined that major construction at El Pilar began around 800 BCE, in what is known as the Middle Preclassic Period. These early monuments relate to the early growth of settlements in the Belize River Area and predate those of Tikal, only a two-day walk from El Pilar. Concurrently, the Olmec of the Gulf Coast of Mexico were flourishing and the large center of El Mirador was on the rise. This growth would later spread into the core area, foreshadowing the preeminence of Tikal.
In the Late Preclassic Period, beginning 250 BCE, major public centers were known in the entire region from the interior of the Petén to northern Belize. Populations were growing, settlements were fully established, and the path to civilization was underway. At El Pilar the major plazas had been defined and established. This is noted particularly with the formation of the large expanse of Plaza Copal, the first construction of the ball court, and the "E" group thought to be astronomically oriented.
pilarfigure-10By 250 CE in the Early Classic Period there were major public works and a significant population around El Pilar. This period saw the start of the tradition of magnificent carved stela commemorating regal events of succession, marriage, and conquest. Population was expanding but would not reach its height until the Late Classic period. El Pilar's dominance in the local area is evident; El Pilar is only 10km northwest of the Belize River and the numerous minor centers that interacted at the edge of greater Petén into the core area of the magnificent city center Naranjo, about 20 km to the southeast.
The Late Classic from 600-900 CE marks the pinnacle of the Maya civilization, witness to some of the greatest cities and largest populations. El Pilar was the largest civic center of the area, with more than 25 identified plazas in an area of about 100 acres (38 hectares). It is composed of three main sectors named Xaman, Nohol, and Poniente. Two ball courts are found in the Nohol and Poniente sectors that are connected with a causeway. Both of these areas boast broad open plazas. The H'mena acropolis is secluded in the northern Xaman sector. The tallest buildings are 17-20 meters high, offering spectacular vistas of the Maya Forest.
Monumental construction continued at El Pilar with the last major remodeling completed in the Terminal Classic Period (1000 CE). This is a time when formerly important centers, such as Tikal, were in their decline.
This long sequence testifies to continuous and methodical development in the area. After almost two thousand years of occupation, the monuments at El Pilar were left unattended approximately 1000 years ago, but the Maya forest was never abandoned.
III. Rediscovery and Research
El Pilar was unexplored by Western archeologists until 1983. When Anabel Ford began her work as an archaeologist in the Maya forest in 1972, she was interested in the everyday life of the Maya through the study of cultural ecology-the relationships of humans and their environment. While conducting a settlement survey in the forested ridge lands, she re-discovered El Pilar, a Maya urban center with major temples and plazas extending across more than 50 hectares (about 100 acres). At that time locals were using the land for casual agricultural pursuits. Ford was privileged to be the first to map the extent of the site, chart the size and scope of the ancient center, and literally put El Pilar on the map. This began her research spanning more than three decades in and around the site.
In the 1980s Ford launched the Belize River Archaeological Settlement Survey, known as the BRASS project that has emphasized the ancient Maya people rather than the governing elites. Multidisciplinary studies focus on where the Maya built their homes (settlement patterns) and how they fed their large populations (resource management). Archaeology Under the Canopy and the Maya forest garden are important elements of these studies. They may seem disconnected, but in reality they are the thread connecting the past to the present and future as researchers unravel the mysteries of the ancient Maya. In practicing their traditional life ways, the contemporary Maya inform the past, telling us about life around El Pilar at its height. Combining research and development, the project conducts major excavations of temples and plazas while promoting community involvement and tourism.
Excavation continues with survey work in the three main sectors of El Pilar: Xaman, Nohol, and Poniente. An ancient Maya house site uncovered in 1996, Tzunu'un, provides a window into domestic Maya life. An active forest garden surrounds the house plaza to create a living environment.
IV. Visit El Pilar