Museum researchers receive $53,000 to digitize ancient Mayan collection
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History researchers recently received $53,000 to enhance the museumâ€™s online database of Mayan artifacts.
The two-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities coincides with the museumâ€™s new temporary exhibit “An Early Maya City by the Sea: Daily Life and Ritual at Cerros, Belize,” open through Oct. 7. Florida Museum curator of Latin American art and archaeology Susan Milbrath and
Debra Walker, a museum courtesy assistant curator who has worked extensively in Cerros, received the grant. University of Florida anthropology graduate students Jeffrey Vadala and Lucas Martindale Johnson developed the exhibit under their direction.
â€śSome of the artifacts being displayed are shell trumpets, jade beads, very early cooking pots that date back to 350 B.C., lip-to-lip caches, masks and a huge vessel which originally contained a cache of jade heads in it,â€ť Milbrath said. â€śOne of the interesting things about Cerros is that a lot of the deposits are caches that are specifically very ritual â€“ in other words, they put things in a certain spot, in a certain way and people are able to recover it because the site was pristine and there wasnâ€™t a lot of looting.â€ť
Meaning â€śhillsâ€ť in Spanish, Cerros is located on the coastal edge of the Corozal Bay, in modern-day Belize. As a trade port, it was a significant locale for the late pre-classic Mayan civilization during its height from 50 B.C. to A.D. 300. It also saw a renaissance as a fishing community at the end of the classic era, about A.D. 800-1500.
The Florida Museumâ€™s Cerros Research Online Catalogue was initiated through funding from UFâ€™s Faculty Enhancement Opportunity Fund in May 2011 and includes more than 700 high-resolution photographs of artifacts from the site that will help researchers understand the factors that led to the prosperity of the Mayan civilization. The national grant includes digitization of the collectionâ€™s more than 2,800 objects, field notes, publications and maps, as well as about 50 3-D images of the finest pieces, Milbrath said.
â€śThe quality of the digital photos is such that if you go in and do a search, you can really get quite close and do research that you normally couldnâ€™t do with ordinary pictures,â€ť Milbrath said. â€śFor example, you can actually count the number of wires on a copper bell.â€ť
Based on radiocarbon dating, Cerros occupants mysteriously abandoned the site in about A.D. 375, and re-inhabited it around A.D. 800, during the collapse of other Mayan sites.
â€śCerros is a very cool time capsule because it was occupied for a relative short time period then abandoned, so you donâ€™t get any confusion about the chronology in terms of what belongs where,â€ť Milbrath said. â€śThis is also the only major complete Mesoamerican late pre-classic collection available for study in the United States â€“ not only will it be the only broadly accessible digital archive from the period when foundation of the Maya civilization took place, but itâ€™s also the only large scientifically excavated collection thatâ€™s physically here in a museum.â€ť
To access the Florida Museumâ€™s Cerros Research Online Catalogue, visit http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/latinarch/cerros/gallery.htm.
- Paul Ramey, firstname.lastname@example.org, 352-273-2054