Late Formative
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Late Formative and Protoclassic (Chumpom ceramic complex, 300 B.C. - A.D. 300)

            The arrival of Sierra Red and other Late Formative and Protoclassic ceramic types indicate that the first settlers at Muyil were joined along the coast by settlers at Xelha and Tancah and that later during this period some of them established a permanent settlement around the fresh-water lagoons at Coba. Robles (1990:55) places the first Coba settlement between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. Canché M. places the first settlement at Xelha at 100 B.C. At Muyil, based on its ceramics, the settlement flourished in the vicinity of the Entrance Plaza Group and the Great Platform, as well as the area where Temple 8 now stands.

            When we compare the Late Formative and Protoclassic materials found at Muyil with those of Xelha and Coba, using the abundant (at all three sites) Sierra Red type as our measure, we find that Muyil and Xelha have a much higher proportion of Late Formative and Protoclassic sherds to Classic period sherds than does Coba. The accompanying chart ( 1 ) uses the sherd counts for Sierra Red, Muna Slate, and Ticul Thin-slate as one means to compare the Formative with the Classic for the three sites. Postclassic ceramic groups, such as Kukula Cream and Navula Unslipped are not included in the chart, because Coba has very small quantities of these types and to include them would distort the comparison. One would expect that if the interior developed concurrently with the coast or earlier, then the proportion of Formative material at Coba would be the same as on the coast or higher. As 1 shows, however, Coba has a lower proportion of Formative to Classic material than does either Xelha or Muyil.

            The distribution of ceramics indicates that communication in the Maya lowlands was widespread in the Late Formative. Abundant Sierra group ceramics are found to the south (Barton Ramie, Cerros), to the southwest (Becan, Seibal, Altar de Sacrificios) to the west and northwest (Coba, Yaxuna, Mayapan, Komchen, Chichen Itza, Mani) and to the north (Cancun, Koxolna). The domestic ceramic Tancah Coarse is reported for sites to the north and west: Coba, Oxkintok, Dzibilchaltun, Kantunil Kin, Cancun, Xcaret, and Xelha plus other interior sites visited by Sanders. (See the site references in Appendix 4.) The early settlements at Muyil and Coba might, on the basis of their Sierra Red: Clear-slip Variety ceramics, have been associated most closely with the Maya peoples of Belize, where this pottery forms a major part of the Cerros collection (Robles 1990:256). However, these early peoples also had ties to the northwest of the peninsula based upon the presence of Ucu Black, Nolo Red, and Caucel Black-on-red types found at sites to the north and west. Although there is no evidence to provide direct support for our claim, we believe that the sea access route described in Chapter 7 must have been in active use during this period, since the earliest settlement along the Quintana Roo coast appears to have been from the sea.

Figure 1 Comparison of Protoclassic and Classic sherd proportions at four sites. (Robles 1990, Connor 1983, Canché M. 1992)


            The ceramic evidence from the Middle Formative, Late Formative, and Protoclassic (the increase in the number of sites with ceramics, the growing numbers of sherds reported, the absence of Middle Formative sherds at Coba, and the somewhat lower proportion of Sierra group ceramics at Coba than is found on the coast) illustrates, I believe, several aspects of settlement in the Muyil area. Settlers came by sea, they settled at Muyil slightly earlier than at other coastal sites nearby, and they settled inland at Coba during the following two to three centuries.

            We may envision the early settlement at Muyil as relying on the Mesoamerican staples corn, beans, squash, and chiles, produced in cleared areas near the settlement, and upon the fresh water available both from the Muyil lagoon and from nearby cenotes. Moreover, the first settlers undoubtedly took advantage of game and fresh-water fish, salt-water fish, and birds of the coast. The first early platforms, as yet undetected archaeologi­cally, were probably constructed at Muyil during this period.



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