College of LAS « Illinois


U of I Anthropologist Is First to Explore Sacred Pools in Belize

Archaeological dig in New Philadelphia

Crocodiles and underground caves are among the challenges facing a team of researchers who will be the first to explore the sacred pools of the southern Maya lowlands in rural Belize.

The expedition, made possible by a grant from the National Geographic Society and led by U of I archaeologist Lisa Lucero, will include a team of expert divers and a geochemist, who will investigate the cultural significance and environmental history and condition of three of the 23 pools of Cara Blanca, in central Belize.

Called cenotes (sen-OH-tays), these groundwater-filled sinkholes in the limestone bedrock were treated as sacred sites by the Maya, says Lucero.

“Any openings in the earth were considered portals to the underworld, into which the ancient Maya left offerings. We know from ethnographic accounts that Maya collected sacred water from these sacred places, mostly from caves.”

The expedition will head to Belize in the spring after the rainy season.

Mexico cenotes

After mapping for fragile Maya artifacts, which they would expect to find at a ceremonial site, the team will take water data and manually drill sediment cores to document any record of drought or other environmental factors that are believed to have contributed to the demise of the Maya.

Fall 2009