Some time ago, workmen on a farm along the Roaring Creek in the City Of Belmopan general area discovered several ceramic objects within a small subterranean chamber. Called upon to identify the objects, I noted that all but one of the pieces were of Maya workmanship. The non-Maya vessel was a large ceramic jar of a type known to archaeologists as olive jars.
At the base of the vessel was a small “kill hole” that had been cut into the jar when the Maya deposited it within the chamber. But what was an object of non-Maya origin doing within a context that was securely of Maya design? Here is the unique part of this story.
Most of the olive jars discovered in Belize were produced in Spain. During their colonization of the Americas the Spanish brought large quantities of these large vessels from Europe. Within them they transported olive oil, wine and various other Spanish products. We also know that between 1580 and 1600 Spanish missionaries traveled from Bacalar in Quintana Roo to several communities along the New and Belize Rivers. In several of the larger towns they built Ramada churches that were used periodically to celebrate mass and convert the Maya to Catholicism.
The site of the Lamanai Maya Temple in Orange Walk has the remains of two such churches. Along the Belize River we know of churches at a town that was called Zaczuus and another at Tipu (near Negroman on the Macal River). The exact location of Zaczuus has not been determined but we suspect that it was somewhere near the mouth of Roaring Creek, between modern day Banana Bank and Roaring Creek Village. Spanish historical records report that a smaller community known as Hubelna located three leagues (roughly 9 miles) upriver on the Roaring Creek.
With this information we can fairly accurately reconstruct the possible events that led to the deposition of the olive jar in a small cave on the Roaring Creek Valley. We believe that the Maya from Hubelna may have acquired the jar from the Franciscan missionaries on one of their stops at Zaczuus. The vessel was then transported to Hubelna, and because of its exotic nature, the Maya felt that it was worthy enough to serve as an offering to the gods of the underworld. At the moment that it was placed in the cave they cut the kill hole at its base to ensure that, in accordance with Maya tradition, the spirit of the vessel would be released and that it would never be used again for non-ritual purposes. And now we know the rest of the story. The Spanish were here long before the British.
Contributed by Dr. Jaime Awe, Belize Archaeological Commissioner. Updated 12 February 2015