Archaeology Magazine - Maya Caves of West-Central Belize: Actun Halal: Update 1 - Archaeology Magazine Archive

Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
interactive digs
Actun Halal: Update 1 "Maya Caves of West-Central Belize"
June 30, 2000
by Cameron Griffith


Excavations at Actun Halal's Unit 2, as seen looking toward Entrance One

In June a small group of staff and students conducted excavations in Actun Halal. The site was chosen for excavation because of its similarity in morphological and cultural features with other caves that were explored by the project. Specifically, Actun Halal shares many characteristics with Actun Uayazba Kab, which is in the neighboring Roaring Creek Valley. Both Actun Halal and Actun Uayazba Kab have large, open entrances that maek them more akin to rock-shelters than caves. Additionally, both caves also contain many petroglyphs in the shape of human faces.


Petroglyph 8, exhibiting triangular eye features

Petroglyph 11 on a stalagmitic formation

Excavations at Actun Uayazba Kab took place during the summers of 1997 and 1998. This research yielded the remains of 11 individuals, most of which were interred in an alcove in one of the cave entrances. This alcove contains flowstone formations and two simple faces carved into the cave rock. The 1999 investigations in Actun Halal revealed that Entrance Two of the cave contained a similar situation: an alcove with flowstone formations and petroglyphs. The similarity between these two contexts helped to guide the placement of excavation units in Actun Halal. Units were initiated in order to compare the subsurface components in two similar alcoves from two caves from different regions of Belize. A GIS analysis of the 1999 surface collections in Actun Halal also influenced the placement of the excavation units this season.


A total of six one-by-one meter excavation units were placed in Actun Halal. Units 1 and 4 were placed within Entrance Two and Units 2, 3, 5, and 6 were placed in Entrance One. Units 2 and 3 were placed along the cave walls beneath petroglyphs in order to investigate the possibility of burials in association with the carving. Unit 4 was placed in front of a small passage leading further underground. Unit 5 was placed around a large limestone rock that resembled a monument, in an attempt to ascertain whether or not the down-facing side was carved or otherwise modified. Unit 6 was placed near the dripline of Entrance One near an area with modified flowstone formations. In addition to the excavation units, 18 new petroglyphs were discovered in the cave this season, bringing the total number of rock carvings to 24.

Left, Unit 1 excavations

The excavation units yielded artifact assemblages that are similar to those in Actun Uayazba Kab in many respects, as well as a few different patterns. Although it was expected that Halal would contain human remains and plaster floors like those found in Uayazba Kab, only limited human remains were recovered and no plaster surfaces were located. However, the orientation of the human remains that were discovered indicates that the excavations may have missed the primary interment areas. Thus, there may be burials in the flowstone alcove in Halal, just next to where Unit 1 was placed. Unit 5 also proved to be frustrating. The down-facing side of the long rock was flush with the flowstone below, which made it impossible to determine whether or not carving was present. If time permits at the end of the season, and if an appropriate system can be devised to safely move the possible monument, we'll attempt to flip the stone.

One of the most interesting finds from the investigations in Actun Halal came from Unit 4. In the lower levels, beyond the strata that contained artifacts from the ancient Maya, animal bones and a crude stone tool were found. One of the bones has been preliminarily identified as a tooth from an extinct horse. The tool is a scraper with evidence of use-wear on the edges. If the tooth is in fact equid, this could prove to be one of the more exciting archaeological contexts at the site. The context may date to the Archaic (roughly 7000-3000 B.C.) or possibly earlier to the Paleoindian period (roughly 10000-7000 B.C.). If Archaic, the context would be one of two secure contexts from this time period from the country. If Paleoindian, this would be the first ever context from this time period recorded for western Belize. Further analysis of the artifact assemblage from the lower strata of Unit 4 will be conducted in the laboratory following the field season. Investigations designed to further explore all strata in Actun Halal, ancient Maya and otherwise, are planned for the 2001 season.

Actun Halal Intro