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Tony Rath's

HISTORY > Maya > Postclassic Period

Postclassic Period (900 A.D. - 1500 A.D.)
(based on information from the Belize Postclassic Project)

Traditional archaeological thought characterizes the end of the Classic Period as the beginning of the end for the Maya civilization, and the Postclassic has traditionally been described as a militaristic, decadent, and degenerate phase in Maya history.

Maya were warlike during the late Classic
Depiction of War-like Maya During Late Classic Period

But recent finds in Northern Belize present a slightly different interpretation. Excavations of Postclassic communities by the Belize Postclassic Project at sites like Laguna de On and Caye Coco at Progresso Lagoon have uncovered evidence of over six centuries of cultural adaptation that occurred after the Classic period "collapse" of Maya civilization and continued into the era of 16th century Colonial Spain.

Progresso Lagoon with Caye Coco in background
Progresso Lagoon with Caye Coco in Background

Based on archaeology instead of Spanish accounts, researchers are finding this period was a move away from the religious and ritual domination of the high priests in the Classic Period to a more rational society. During this period the power centers of the Maya culture migrated from the Maya Lowlands north to the Yucatan where then Spanish first encountered this civilization.

Map of Progresso lagoon and Mayan Settlements
Map of Progresso lagoon and Mayan Settlements

The Maya created island and lagoon shore communities in rural jungle settings. Confronted with the opportunity to create their society anew with the collapse of mighty cities of the Classic period, Maya villagers in northern Belize discarded some of the fancier trappings of divine kingship like large monumental buildings and stelae that commemorated the deeds of boasting rulers. These Postclassic villagers reorganized a society focused on economic production and mercantile exchange that resulted in greater affluence for all its members.

Temple of the Jaguar N-10-9, Lamanai
Temple at Lamanai

Although the lowland populations where greatly reduced at the start of the Postclassic period, there were still Maya living in Belize during the first contact of the Spanish. The site of Lamanai, is among the few examined sites of this period that exhibits continuous occupation from the Classic through the Postclassic periods. Not only did the people of Lamanai continue to build and trade with their neighbors, but they also continued to live around the center until around 1675. The Spanish founded a mission at Lamanai in 1570 that was abandoned by the Spanish during a revolt of the Maya in the 1630s. The foundations of the old church are still intact.

Old Spanish Church at Lamanai
Old Spanish Church at Lamanai

Northern Belize was the focus of this social restructuring, beginning in the early 9th century A.D. throughout the subsequent Postclassic period (A.D. 1100 - 1500). During Colonial times, Belize was known as the "resistance frontier," an unconquered zone where rebel Maya successfully rejected Spanish dominance and retained their own beliefs and governance for almost 200 years.

Mural from Santa Rita Site in Corozal
Archaic Preclassic Classic Postclassic
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