Under the direction of Dr. Thomas Hester, Ms. Shirley Mock will collect data for her doctoral dissertation. She will conduct archaeological fieldwork at the site of Northern River Lagoon (NRL), located in the coastal region of northern Belize. Previous work at the site has indicated an occupation during the Late and Terminal Classic periods when Mayan civilization reached its height. Preliminary data suggest that the inhabitants of NRL were engaged in intensive collection of fish and the production of salt to preserve them. Ms. Mock hypothesizes that these were then traded to interior sites in return for valued materials such as obsidian. To test this idea Ms. Mock will conduct surface survey and then intensive archaeological and geological investigation both to provide more precise dates for the site and to obtain more detailed information on the material culture present. On the basis of floral samples she will also reconstruct changing environment over time. Archaeologists want to understand how Mayan civilization arose in the inhospitable environment of lowland Middle America and then why it rapidly declined. In areas which today are largely uninhabited, Mayan peoples constructed dressed stone temples and were able to support large groups of people in relatively limited areas. At the end of the Classic period this system appears to have fallen apart. Monumental construction ceased and people dispersed into smaller groups. Ms. Mock believes that environmental stress caused by a combination of population increase and related degradation of the land is responsible and she will examine NRL in this context. It represents, she believes, an early stage in this sequence and that the extensive trade in food which developed resulted from nutritional stress in inland areas. She thus is looking at the first stage in the process. This research is important for several reasons. It will provide data of interest to many archaeologists. It will increase our understanding of human-environment interactions and will also assist in the training of a promising young scientist.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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University of Texas Austin
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