Freedom8 Mesoamerica



Las Milpa
was a major ceremonial center in northwestern Belize. The site is composed of 11 plazas and about 50 structures. The center of this site was first recorded in the 1930's during a general survey of archaeological sites in the region.
Las Milpas is composed of a large public sector in the northern part of the site. This main plaza is one of the largest in the Mayan world and the public sector is dominated by it. Some of the tallest temples, rising to upwards of 66 feet, are found surrounding this plaza. Many Classic Period Stelae are found here. The southern part of the site is dominated by a secluded acropolis with three interior courts probably occupied by royalty.
From the little available data, Las Milpas followed the same development pattern as other major centers of the region. The main buildings are representative of the Classic period, which suggest some Preclassic activities. But no evidence of Postclassic building or stelae have been found. This suggests that Las Milpas fell into decline at the same time as many of its neighbors.
During the Late Classic Period, there is evidence of a rapid population growth at Las Milpas leading to extensive use of all the natural resources of the area. Much of the visible remains of Las Milpas date from this period. During this time, the ceremonial center of Las Milpas was expanded to its full extent as one of the major sites of the Mayan Lowlands.
The area around has numerous dwellings from simple house mounds to large elite palaces. One of these palaces, Dos Hombres, approaches Las Milpas in size. Over 60 substantial sites have been located in the area and others are regularly found. During the Classic Period, it is theorized that the entire area would have been cleared of forest and that wetland agriculture was intense. There is evidence that the Maya utilized terracing and elaborate water management systems. The evidence of terracing suggests that the Maya began to cultivate even the steepest slopes of the region.
The spectacular growth of the Early and Middle Classic Period was followed by a sudden collapse in the early 9th century. The collapse signaled a massive depopulation of the interior regions of the area, while those sites near water, such as Lamanai, appear to have survived into the Postclassic period. Most of Las Milpas returned to forest after the collapse. A Yucatec long house in the main plaza indicates the occupation of the site by an entirely different Maya culture shortly after the collapse.
Prior to starting a major excavation of the site in 1988, the Las Milpas area had been heavily looted. Several large looter trenches cut through nearly all the main temples. Today, the site is heavily monitored and protected by the Programme for Belize, a Non-governmental organization out of Belize City. Much of the area remains covered by tall tropical forests. Wildlife abounds. Troops of howler monkeys are often heard in the surrounding forests, and a rich bird fauna has been recorded. This region of Belize has one of the highest densities of Jaguar in the country.