Excavations of a peri-abandonment deposit at Cahal Pech, a Classic Maya center in the Upper Belize Valley, showed an increase in Mount Maloney Black (MMB) ceramics compared with earlier Terminal Classic contexts. This change is intriguing because the type is closely associated with Xunantunich, a nearby political center. To explore the causes of this change, we characterized a sample of MMB sherds to identify their origins as a proxy for underlying regional interactions. We sampled MMB sherds from four locations: the peri-abandonment deposit, two peripheral localities in the Cahal Pech polity, and the Xunantunich epicenter. In total, 89 sherds were characterized, both for paste, using neutron activation analysis (NAA), and for slip composition, using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). The NAA study indicated that MMB sherds from Cahal Pech were produced locally, and included a paste group previously identified with Preclassic contexts at Cahal Pech, over a millennium earlier. The slip study was augmented by x-ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and Raman spectroscopy, which provided additional information on the colorants, particle sizes, and homogeneity. The study expanded to include comparative characterization of a fine ware black slipped pottery type from a site north of the Belize Valley as a control. MMB slip recipes vary sufficiently to provide differentiation between recipes, and they partially pattern by locality. We conclude that the observed ceramic change likely relates to a narrowing, not an expansion, of exchange networks. This multi-method study, unique in the Maya lowlands, provides insight into ceramic production and exchange and charts new research directions.
- Identifying local interaction through ceramics
- Intra-laboratory LA-ICP-MS analyses
- Paste composition using NAA
- Slip composition using LA-ICP-MS
- Terminal Classic Maya
- Utility serving vessels