The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


New research on the Colonial Period Maya Cemetery at Tipu, Belize

MARK N. COHEN1, MARIE DANFORTH2, NANCY ELWESS3 and JUSTIN SABINO1.

1Anthropology, SUNY Plattsburgh, 2Anthropology and Sociology, University of Southern Mississippi, 3Biology, SUNY Plattsburgh

Saturday 8:45-9:00, Galleria North Add to calendar

The Maya population from the visita mission cemetery at Tipu in western Belize offers insight into the colonial experience on the frontier of European contact. Its remote location allowed residents to negotiate Spanish control during existence of the church from 1541 until 1707. It also permitted maintenance of many precontact cultural traits, such as participation in established trade systems and retention of kin networks. The skeletal series of 550 individuals was excavated the 1980s, and previous studies concerning a variety of health markers, including growth arrest indicators and stature, suggest that the overall health status was quite good. Life expectancy was rather low, but this may result from service of Tipu as a refugee center.

Recent research on the series has re-evaluated several health indicators, such as hypoplasia and periostitis, using more current scoring standards, and has confirmed their generally low frequencies at Tipu compared to contemporaneous populations. Emerging technologies have also allowed investigation into new health and ancestry markers, including mtDNA and bone morphometrics. Other efforts have focused on spatial interpretation of the cemetery. An interactive 3-dimensional map has been created with ArcGIS that permits any demographic or health marker or combination thereof to be displayed. Recent fluorine analysis, which has demonstrated no temporal patterning of cemetery usage, will allow reanalysis of existing data for changes over time. It is anticipated that these new investigations will provide a more nuanced understanding of how location and other factors may have buffered the health of the Tipu Maya.

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