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HISTORY > Maya > Preclassic Period

Preclassic Period (2,500 B.C. - 300 A.D.)

Much of this phase of Maya prehistory remains largely undocumented. Sometime between the end of the Archaic period and the Early Preclassic, the Maya established small agricultural communities. The best evidence for these early Maya communities have been uncovered at Cuello (seen below) and Colha in Orange Walk and Santa Rita in Corozal.

The early Cuello inhabitants constructed oval platforms with thatched houses on top. Most of these structures were residential, though some were for ritual purposes. One such building at Cuello contained skeletal remains of over 20 individuals. The people of Cuello subsisted on shellfish, small mammals, corn, beans and a variety of other plants. These early settlers created ceramics known as Swasey pottery, which were red in color and of relatively simple design.

Throughout the Preclassic period, the Maya expanded across Belize, establishing important communities throughout the north at Lamanai, Santa Rita, Colha and Cuello. The first indications of social and political organization evolved at this time. These young communities began to form into chiefdoms characterized by a class structure distinguished by social, political and economic status. Power was usually passed on through kinship.

With the growth of the cities, Late Preclassic trade took on a greater importance. The exchange of food, tools, pottery and jewelry increased between distant chiefdoms and other Mesoamerican civilizations to the north, primarily the Olmecs. This trade in turn fueled the growth of cities situated along major trade routes such as Cerros at the mouth of the New River (seen above) and Lamanai deep within the interior trade route towards Caracol and Tikal.

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