1. Introduction
Home Up Acknowledgements Background 1. Introduction 2. Locale; Exploration 3. Field Methods 4. Architecture 5. Ceramics 6. Sacbes, Sea Access 7. Culture History Appendix 1 - Lot Registry Appendix 2 References


Introduction to the Muyil site

            Muyil is an ancient Maya site on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico whose probable preconquest occupation spans the years from 350 B.C. to A.D. 1500. (See Map 1) Little about the site is known, and no long-term program of archaeological work was begun at the site until I initiated a project there in 1987. The site has several unusual features. Among these are its mixture of architectural styles (evidence for long occupation), and its location, 12 km from the Caribbean Sea, but with navigable access to the sea by lagoons, a canal, and a creek. The site consists of several groups of temple-pyramids, large elite residential platforms, an intrasite sacbe, numerous house mounds, and extensive areas of field walls.  

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Map 1 Muyil region

            Muyil's location is remarkable in two other respects. First, it is on a boundary between a well-known Maya area — Coba, plus the northern Quintana Roo east coast sites — and an area which is marked by its lack of archaeological data and research — the Quintana Roo interior to the south­west of a line from Coba to Tulum.  Second, Muyil is located near Coba (44 km). Muyil, with its advantageous coastal loca­tion, probably grew in economic strength during the Classic by means of trade passing through it en route to and from Coba, a much larger site.

            Current evidence suggests that the Middle Formative settlement of Muyil preceded that of Coba. During the Late Formative and the Classic periods, the two sites show similarities particularly visible in the ceramics. The culture history of Muyil diverges from that of Coba in the Postclassic when the relation­ships between Muyil and other Postclassic coastal sites become more important than its associations with Coba. At Coba both new construction and occupied area diminish in the Postclassic. The population of Muyil, however, expanded in the Late Postclassic, and the site settlement patterns changed notably (Witschey (1987a, 1987b, 1987c, 1988a, 1988b, 1989; Witschey and Trejo 1988). Much of this research concerns these similarities and differences.

The Muyil research program

            The research program at Muyil was designed to determine the site size and settlement pattern, as well as to map all structures. For this, a survey was designed to investigate and map the site and to examine the environs. The survey highlights the natural features that may have attracted the first settlers. Muyil is on the edge of the karstic shelf and it surrounds a collapse in the surface limestone. A sacbe (Maya roadway) was identified and its associated structures and its relationship to the Muyil lagoon are shown to be important through much of Muyil's history. The variety of architecture at the site shows relationships to the south and the Peten as well as to the north coast and the East Coast style found along the Quintana Roo coast of the Caribbean.

            The research program at Muyil was also designed to excavate a sufficient quantity of ceramics to permit statistical analyses directed at several questions. Among these questions were when Muyil was settled and occupied, how Muyil and Coba were related, how many ceramics of Chichen Itza arrived at Muyil and when, how the numbers of Chichen Itza ceramics at nearby sites compared to the numbers at Muyil, how the timing of the arrival of Chichen Itza ceramics at Muyil was related to the arrival of ceramics from the Puuc region, and how Muyil's population changed in the Postclassic. These questions were investigated by the design of an excavation strategy, collection of sherds from stratigraphically controlled test excavations, the determination of the type and variety of the ceramics, and statistical analyses of the sherd counts. An orthogonal factor analysis was used to suggest which groupings of sherd types might be associated, and the resulting factors were seriated and shown to have stratigraphic significance, and therefore shown to be related to their time of deposition of the sherd types that made up the factors.

            The ceramic analysis indicates the time of settlement of the site (Middle Formative), the dates of occupation of the site (all periods from the Middle Formative through the Late Postclassic), and the relative similarity in sherds and in sherd proportions between Muyil, Coba, and Xelha for sherds from Chichen Itza.

            The ceramic analysis and the survey, when combined, indicate the construction date and usage of the sacbe system. The canal connecting the Muyil lagoon with the Chunyaxche lagoon (along Muyil's sea access route) was investigated and shown to be natural, perhaps with human intervention for cleaning and dredging.

            The following material is organized so as to present the background of the locale, early explorations, and prior research in chapter 2. Chapter 3 gives a description of the techniques employed in the field to conduct the survey and to recover ceramics. Chapter 4 provides a detailed description of the architecture found at the site, and, with the maps of appendix 5, forms the results of the survey.

            Chapter 5 describes the techniques of the ceramic analysis, including identification by type and variety, recording, statistical analysis, and the factor analysis. Seriation of the factors is illustrated for several test excavations to support the argument that the factors themselves seriate within the test excavations. A ceramic sequence for Muyil and its context with other Maya ceramic sequences is presented. The chapter concludes with a summary of the other ceramic artifacts (such as spindle whorls and fish line or net sinkers) and non-ceramic artifacts (such as bone, obsidian, chert, ground stone, and shell) as well as caches and burials. These artifacts, caches and burials are more fully described in appendixes 8, 9, and 10.

            Chapter 6 contains a examination of the evidence related to the sacbe system and the sea route from Muyil to the Caribbean. It provides survey details, construction dates, and evidence that the Maya of Muyil may have extended the sacbe eastward to accommodate an eastward retreat of the Muyil lagoon shoreline. Chapter 6 also reexamines the old evidence for a man-made canal connecting the Muyil lagoon with the Chunyaxche lagoon, and presents evidence from this research that indicates the canal is a natural watercourse.

            Chapter 7 presents a culture history of Muyil and incorporates the wider peninsular context of activities at Muyil. It includes a summary of the evidence for first settlement, the relations with Belize sites in the Early Classic, the cessation of Belize connections in favor of ties to the west and the Puuc during the Late Classic, the detailed findings about the ceramics of Chichen Itza at Muyil and other sites, and the events of the Postclassic at Muyil including population increase, changing settlement patterns, and ties to the east coast Postclassic resurgence after the collapse of Coba. The chapter summarizes the research findings of the dissertation and presents them in a chronological context.

            The Muyil research presented here provides a description of a medium-sized Maya site that developed during the Classic in the shadow of an enormous neighbor, Coba, and then followed a separate development course in the Postclassic. Allowing for the constraints of the project research permit, which precluded any excavation of structures, the survey and the ceramics provide a detailed picture of a site that was apparently continuously occupied for nearly two millennia.


© Copyright 2000-2005 Walter R. T. Witschey   Page last updated Wednesday, April 02, 2008