Recent GSAR-Sponsored Work at August Pine Ridge, Belize, Central America
Starting late last year, GSAR Board members Mike McBride and Jon Lohse planned and then executed a brief season of archaeological investigations at the village of August Pine Ridge (APR) in northern Belize, Central America. Our work was initiated in response to reports of artifacts including fluted bifaces as well as Archaic points coming from the area. An initial visit confirmed many of the details, and following discussions with Belize’s Institute of Archaeology, we made to obtain a research permit and secure funding for a three-week season. This work was carried out from mid-May to early-June, 2023. With help and support from local village residents and leadership, we were able to address many of our project goals for the season.
First, we learned a lot about the village and its natural setting. Located on a sandy geologic formation, the local economy is driven largely by sand quarrying. The sandy soils support an open savannah-like vegetation community, with lots of pine trees (hence the name, August Pine Ridge) but very little agriculture. During the process of digging sand to support regional construction, artifacts from the Archaic and Paleoindian time periods have come to light. Based on what we saw in the field, there seems to be a low chance of finding stratified archaeological deposits in the area. However, we do believe that intact and spatially discrete and localized cultural deposits are present and should be expected in controlled excavations. Indeed, we encountered what we felt were three or four examples of these during our short season.
The cultural record of this area today is known almost completely from these ad hoc collections. One of the aspects of the archaeological record of APR is that very little Maya-period occupation appears to have taken place here. We hypothesize that, as maize agriculture became increasingly important, people moved off of the pine ridge to be closer to productive agricultural lands. By comparing artifacts that we’ve seen in local collections with well-known types and technologies, we surmise that virtually the entire period from Paleoindian (around 13,000 years ago or so) through Archaic up to the appearance of Maya settled villages (around 3,000 years ago or so) is represented.
This would easily make APR one of the most significant preceramic study areas known anywhere in Central America. Most sites tend to represent one or two, maybe three periods of occupation without the multi-millennial sequence we estimate here.
Briefly, we have documented literally dozens of fluted biface specimens in all stages of completion, manufacturing failure, and discard. Late Paleoindian forms allow us to make inferences about long distance, but shrinking areas of cultural interactions, ranging from Central Mexico to northern South America. Archaic remains will help us understand important Holocene-period transitions as well. We look forward to continued work at APR, and to sharing these findings with the GSAR membership.