Sampling and Timeframes: Contextualizing the Protoclassic and Early Classic Periods at Caracol, Belize

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Book Section

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Publication Title

Archaeological Investigations in the Eastern Maya Lowlands: Papers of the 2017 Belize Archaeology Symposium


Institute of Archaeology National Institute of Culture and History

Publisher Location

Belmopan, Belize



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The era of transition between the Late Preclassic (300 B.C. – A.D. 250) and the Early Classic (A.D. 250-550) Periods is one which saw great change within ancient Maya society. This change is reflected in the ceramics of this transitional era. Ceramicists have had difficulty isolating distinct ceramic complexes within the transitional era and have instead tended to focus on specific stylistic markers (e.g., mamiform tetrapods) that were thought to be hallmarks for this transition. These stylistic markers became known as the “Protoclassic” and, while easily identified, they were never securely anchored within broader patterns of change. To this day the Protoclassic Period remains enigmatic within Maya archaeology. There are disagreements on whether or not the term should be used in Maya archaeology and, if used, how and to what the term should refer. Much of what has been used to identify the Protoclassic falls within the realm of ceramics and, thus, that data class will be the primary one utilized here. This paper first examines the history of and use of the term Protoclassic in Maya archaeology; it then uses data from Caracol, Belize to assess the relevance of the term both to Maya Studies and to interpretations of ancient Maya society.


Biological and Physical Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology