Easterly panoramic view of Structure B1 (formerly Str. II-A) from the base to the summit, during excavations in 2007. Note the butt of Stela 1 in the foreground. Detail of composite photo-mosaic courtesy of Muggs Alexander (2007). Click on the image to see larger view.
Location: Cayo District, Upper Belize River Valley. The site lies 9.4 km downriver (roughly northeast) of the modern town of San Ignacio and 26.1 km upriver of the country’s capital, Belmopan. The site is situated on rich alluvial bottomlands, on the southern bank of the Belize River on land managed by the Central Farm Research Station. The mean elevation of the site fluctuates approximately between 90 and 105 m above MSL. The site is situated in the SE quadrant of the NAD27 UTM Grid 028 / 190.
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Site description: Baking Pot is a Major Centre consisting of the remains of two groups of monumental architecture. The northern of the two groups is Group A (formerly Group I) and the southern group is Group B (formerly Group II). The two groups are interconnected by the 306-m long Causeway 1. From Group B Causeway 2 spans 377 m to its terminus complex in the southwest. The 177-m long Causeway 3 connects Grp. A to the Yaxtun plazuela. Causeway 4 runs east-west and may have originally spanned the 1.3 km distance separating Group B from the adjoining settlement group known as North Caracol Farms. Together Groups A and B as well as Causeways 1 and 2 cover a total surface area of c. 5.6 hectares (of which c. 26 % are taken up by Causeways 1 & 2).
Group A consists of 21 masonry structures arranged around two plazas and one raised palatial court. Included among these are two ballcourts (Ballcourts 1 & 2) that formally-define the northern and southern entrances into Group A, respectively. Two large pyramidal structures (each c. 13 m high), a medium-sized ancestor shrine (Str. G), a small plaza-central platform (Str. N), and a series of additional range structures represent the other buildings of Group A.
Group B is more nucleated than Group A and 6 of its 21 structures define the perimeter of the Group B plaza. The remaining structures are arranged around a series of 5 raised courts that together form the largest palatial complex of Baking Pot. As such most of the structures of Group B are administrative-residential structures of the palace. The tallest edifice of Group B is Str. B1 (formerly Str. II-A) a pyramidal building that measures 17 m in height (above the modern plaza surface). At the SW corner of the plaza is Ballcourt 3 that defines the formal entrance to Group B.
Map of the site: The first map of the site was produced by Oliver Ricketson Jr. as part of his work at the site in 1924 (Ricketson 1929: Plate I). This map, however, encompassed only Group A (then referred to as the “North Group”, and only subsequently as Group I). Between 1954 and 1956, as part of Gordon Willey’s settlement survey, Causeway 1 and the monumental architecture of Group B were mapped by William R. Bullard Jr. as was a 48.5 ha area of adjoining settlement (Willey et al. 1965: Fig. 177). At the time, Group A was not re-mapped, but was instead traced off directly from Ricketson’s original map. Between 1992 and 2000, as part of the BVAR investigations of the site, James M. Conlon remapped large portions of the monumental architecture, Causeways 2, 3 & 4 and surveyed up to 3.0 square km of the surrounding settlement. Starting in 2007 surveying of the site was renewed, beginning with re-mapping of Grp. B, efforts headed by Jillian M. Jordan and James C. Pritchard. The settlement area was also extended under the supervision of Julie A. Hoggarth and Eva Jobbova to the west, northwest and north resulting in a total of 5.8 square km of mapped settlement.
Map of the monumental epicentre of Baking Pot as mapped by the BVAR project as of 2000. Map and survey by James M. Conlon (1993-200) with modifications by Christophe Helmke (2007). Map aligned to UTM grid north.
History of research: Baking Pot has been researched by five major archaeological projects. The first was of short duration (March – May 1924), headed by Oliver Ricketson Jr. and focused on Group A and the human interments of Str. G (now Str. A17) in particular (Ricketson 1929; Willey et al. 1965: 303-304).
After this early start excavations of the site did not resume until 1941, at which point Str. II-A (now Str. B1) was thoughtlessly quarried for limestone as part of highway construction in the vicinity (Bullard & Bullard 1965: 11; Willey et al. 1965: 304). A. H. Anderson, as Archaeological Commissioner, promptly responded by stopping the quarrying and initiated salvage operations focused on Str. II-A.
Thereafter, between 1954 and 1956 as part of Gordon Willey’s pioneering settlement survey the monumental epicentre and a 48.5 ha portion of the adjoining settlement were mapped by William R. Bullard Jr. (Willey et al. 1965: 305; Bullard & Bullard 1965: 7) and four test excavations conducted by Willey (Willey et al. 1965: 305-309, Fig. 177).
Seven years later, in 1961, the site was investigated by Bullard and his spouse who focused their efforts on Str. II-A (now Str. B1) by documenting the architecture exposed by Anderson, trenching the summit and continuing testing of exposed architecture (Bullard & Bullard 1965; Willey et al. 1965: 304-305). In addition, the eastern half of Ballcourt 3 was exposed (now Strs. B3 & B4).
The fifth and most recent archaeological project to focus on the site of Baking Pot is the BVAR project, under the direction of Jaime J. Awe. BVAR research at Baking Pot has spanned over two major phases. The first was initiated in 1992 and lasted until 2000 and was focused on the survey and excavation of peripheral settlement. The settlement survey under James M. Conlon was initially focused on excavations of the Bedran plazuela group (1992-1994) in the western periphery. Upon completion of the Bedran excavations attention shifted to the comprehensive mapping of Baking Pot’s eastern settlement continuum (1995-1997 & 1999-2000). In addition, exhaustive excavations of the Atalaya plazuela (M-161 through M-164) were undertaken by Allan Moore; Jennifer Piehl extensively excavated a series of smaller housemounds (M-102, M-129, M-131, M-193 & M-194); and Carolyn Audet initiated excavations of the Yaxtun plazuela (M-198 through M-200).
Concurrent to this settlement research a variety of excavations were conducted in and around the northern Group I (now Group A) of Baking Pot. These excavations were initiated by testing Causeway 1. Subsequently, the playing alley of Ballcourt 2 was first tested for the incidence of ballcourt markers and associated special deposits. Structures E, F, N (now A5, A9 & A10) and the sloping benches of Ballcourt 2 were partly exposed and tested by excavations under Jim Aimers. Ballcourt 1 was then tested by axial excavations by Josalyn Ferguson.
With the completion of the doctoral research of Allan Moore, Jim Aimers and Jennifer Piehl, the second phase of BVAR investigations began in 2001 and lasted until 2004. As part of this second phase Carolyn Audet completed the thorough excavations of the Yaxtun plazuela and a variety of housemounds of the site’s core settlement area were partly exposed and tested by excavations (M-51, M-188, M-197, & M-203). With Yaxtun completed, Audet and Awe went on to expose and trench the important ritual structures associated with Causeways 1 and 2 (M-190 & M-209). The summits of Str. B (now Str. A1) and E (now Str. A5) of Group A were also investigated in search of tombs and special deposits, which yielded surprising finds. The last year of phase two was focused on two palatial structures of Group B (Strs. B8 & B9, formerly designated Strs. B & G), the testing of the plazas of Groups A and B and Court 1 of Group A to refine our understanding of the dating of epicentral constructions. As part of Phase 2 investigations an electromagnetic survey was also conducted by Tracy Sweely in search of buried “hidden mounds”. To follow-up on results of this survey further test excavations were conducted.
Spike-applique censer found within Bu. B1-9, Structure B1, Baking Pot. The spikes that are applied to this and other comparable censers are made to mimic the young Ceiba and Sapote trees, which hold a special significance in ancient and modern Maya cosmology and ritual practice. The charred residue of what may well be a mixture of pine and copal resin was found adhering to the inside of the vessel, confirming its ancient function.
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Text: Christophe Helmke (17th of August, 2007).