The Middle American Research Institute and the MARI-GISLAB are proud to host maps by non-affiliated Maya scholars on its ArcGIS Online portal. We are pleased to announce today Gair Tourtellot’s map of La Milpa with additions by other scholars who worked at the site in the 1990s. There is a plain version of the map and an interactive one.

Gair Tourtellot surveyed La Milpa using a total station between 1992 and 1996. Subsequently he completed the inked version of the map that H. Shelley turned into a beautiful illustration. In 1998, I had the privilege of converting Gair’s masterful inked map into GIS files over the course of one summer. This project was part of Gair’s decision to publish his map in a novel and more accessible way, as a PDF file posted on the internet, with financial support from the National Geographic Society and with the ability to download and interrogate raster files and reach different conclusions from those of the La Milpa Archaeological Project (LaMAP). Thus, in 1999, Gair Toutellot’s La Milpa map became the first Maya site map to ever be published online with no charge or restriction. The now dated website (the internet was only about 10 years old) I created for it (in html 😊) included the PDFs and shapefiles, some of Gair’s SAA presentations  and a few other data such as 3D views of the site and an AIRSAR image of the region.

The original website viewed with the Netscape web browser on Unix workstation in 1999

Gair, Norman Hammond, and other members of the LAMAP La Milpa Mapping project produced several other SAA papers, book chapters and journal articles related to the mapping project, (see bibliography below).

Prior to digitizing the map I had the privilege of being part of Gair’s survey team during the 1994 season, also digging some of the famous/infamous berm features.  I had previously excavated at La Milpa center under Norman Hammond’s direction in 1992 (Hammond and Tourtellot 1992).

Viewshed from La Milpa Str. 1 to LM East group.
Viewshed from La Milpa Str. 1  (tinted green at upper left) to the LM East group at lower right (3D view in GRASS-GIS).

I also had the fortune of overlapping and become friends with the creators of the data included in the present map, many of whom were fellow graduate students. Here is a brief personal note on how this map came about:

One of the most significant methodological observations Gair shared at the time was that the La Milpa survey should be designed to take advantage of various diverse sampling schemes, each with its pros and cons, which, when combined, resulted in a robust and comprehensive sample of the La Milpa settlement, including its urban center and its periurban sprawl in a 5 km radius. 

Gair’s sampling scheme involved a 1km central quad to thoroughly map the main plaza and associated urban area, including some of the royal and sub-royal palace compounds. From there, he traced two transects, one to the east with 500m width up to 3km out, where the largest group in that direction was encountered, La Milpa East, a Plaza Plan 2 group (Becker 1982). The East transect continued up to 5 km from the center with only 100m width, one to the south, 200m wide, with a small extension to the west to capture the largest group in that sector, La Milpa South, also a Plaza Plan 2, only slightly smaller in area and size of architecture than LME.  Gair and his team (with Kristen Gardella, Marc Wolf and Jason Gonzales, among others) also went out to the largest hills between the survey transects to test the hypothesis that these were all occupied by large groups and/or minor centers in the of La Milpa orbit. Among these, were La Milpa West, a Plaza Plan 2 mirroring La Milpa East at the exact same distance from La Milpa center and La Milpa North, a palace group to the north also at about the same distance from La Milpa.

An image of the original PDF first published online in 1999. (postscript output of GRASS-GIS)

Later, as I was digitizing all these groups in the Boston University GIS lab I serendipitously realized that they formed a quincunx with the La Milpa plaza at the center, three Plaza Plan 2s and one palace groups at the 4 ends of a cross, at the incredibly consistent distance of 3.5 km from the center (Tourtellot et al. 2000, Estrada-Belli 2002). These groups appeared to be part of a Late Classic development during the peak period in La Milpa history tied to its 8th century ruler Ukay Kan featured on Stela 7 (Hammond et al. 1998).

Two lines connecting LM West to LM East and LM South to LM North groups, forming a cross-shaped pattern centered on the Main Plaza.

Another serendipitous discovery was the regularity with which large residential groups were distributed around La Milpa. In each transect the top ones (in terms of area) were separated by a about 1 km. All other groups and structures seemed to cluster around these (Tourtellot et al. 2003). All these observations, instilled in me the conviction that Lowland Maya settlement was more organized than we had been able to recognize up to that moment (or even today).

The largest plaza groups on the East and South transects in 1km distance zones from the LM plaza. (GRASS-GIS)
Structures and berms in 100 m zone increments from the five largest Plaza Groups on the LM Eastern Transect.

Separately, but still under Gair’s guidance, John Rose had drawn a random sample of 15 250x250m survey blocks within the 5 km radius zone. These were to be mapped and excavated to provide the basis for his doctoral dissertation (Rose 2000).

Within the same zone, another semi-random sample of seven survey blocks was drawn by Hubert Robichaux (1995) along a brecha marking the limit of the Programme For Belize property, west of the La Milpa center. Meanwhile, Julie Kunen worked nearby mapping and excavating six randomly selected and equally sized survey blocks within the Western Bajo. Her study of bajo islands formed the basis for her dissertation (Kunen 2001).

In addition to these surveys, but not featured in the present map, was the 12 km long survey transect drawn by Jon Hageman from Dos Hombres to La Milpa center (Hageman 1999). It was thanks to his work that the “lost” site of Say Ka was finally relocated (Houk and Hageman 2004), after Tom Guderjan’s (1991) initial report and several failed attempts by others who shall remain unnamed.  Gloria Everson excavated Terminal Classic settlement on the East Transect (Everson 2003)

Finally, I’d like to mention that during this time other mapping and excavation dissertation projects were conducted in the area: at El Güijarral, La Milpa’s nearest minor center, by Paul Hughbanks (Hughbanks 2006) and at Dos Hombres, La Milpa’s largest minor center (“minor center” only by virtue of being within its Thiessen polygon), by John Lohse (2001) and Brett Houk (1996) under the umbrella of Fred Valdez and R.E.W. Adams Three Rivers Region University of Texas project. Vern Scarborough, Fred Valdez and colleagues carried out a study of water management on the local aguadas in 1991 and 1992, as well (Scarborough et al. 1992).  It has been a privilege and a pleasure for me to work with and get to know these scholars and friends.

Selected Bibliography

Becker, Marshall

               1982      Ancient Maya houses and their identification: an evaluation of architectural groups at Tikal and inferences regarding their functions. Revista española de antropología americana 12:111.

Estrada-Belli, Francisco

2002      Thinking Big: Designing the Ancient Maya Landscape of La Milpa, Belize. Context 17(1): 9-11

Everson, Gloria

2003      Terminal Classic Maya settlement patterns at La Milpa, Belize. Ph.D. thesis, Tulane University. Electronic document https://digitallibrary.tulane.edu/islandora/object/tulane:27476

Hageman, Jon B.

2004      Late Classic Maya social organization: A perspective from northwestern Belize. Ph.D., Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Hammond, Norman

1993 Cities in the Jungle: Field Study at Cuello and La Milpa, Belize, 1992. Context 10 (3-4): 1, 5-9.
1993 Back in Belize: Investigations at Cuello and La Milpa, 1993. Context 11 (1-2): 9-12

1997 Waiting Time in Belize: Patience and Persistence at La Milpa. Context 13( 1-2):1-6.

1998 “A Pillar of State..Majestic, Though in Ruin”: the Royal Acropolis of La Milpa.
Context 14 (1) : 11-15.

Hammond, Norman and Gair Tourtellot

1993      Survey and Excavations at La Milpa, Belize, 1992. Mexicon 15 71-75.

1999      Shifting Axes: Spatial Expressions of Power at La Milpa. In 64th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Chicago.

Hammond, Norman, Gair Tourtellot, and Francisco Estrada-Belli

2003 Thinking Big: Designing the Ancient Maya Landscape of La Milpa, Belize.
Context 17 (1): 9-11

Hammond, Norman and Ben Thomas

1998 Another Maya Throne Room at La Milpa. Context 14 (1): 15-16

Hammond, Norman, Gair Tourtellot, Gloria Everson, Kerry Sagabiel, Ben Thomas and Marc Wolf

 2000      Survey and Excavation at La Milpa, Belize 1998. Mexicon 22:38-45.

2002 The Persistence of Memory: Two Millennia at the Great Plaza of La Milpa.
Context 17(1): 1-3

Norman Hammond, Gair Tourtellot and John Rose

1995 Beating Around the Bush in Belize: Archaeological Survey at La Milpa, 1994. Context 12 (1): 5-9.

Hammond, Norman, Gair Tourtellot, Sara Donaghey and Amanda Clarke

               1996      Survey and excavation at La Milpa, Belize, 1996. Mexicon 18(5):86-91.

1998      No slow dusk: Maya urban development and decline at La Milpa, Belize. Antiquity 72(278):831-837.

Houk, Brett A. and Jon B. Hageman

               2004      Lost and Found: (Re)-Placing Say Ka in the La Milpa Suburban Settlement Pattern. Mexicon XXIX(6):152-156.

Hughbanks, Paul James

               2006      Landscape management at Guijarral, northwestern Belize. Ph.D., Tulane University.

Kunen, Julie

               2001      Study of Ancient Maya Bajo Landscape in Northwestern Belize. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Lohse, Jon

2001      The Social Organization of a Late Classic Community: Dos Hombres, Northern Belize. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Texas at Austin.

Robichaux, Hubert Ray

1995      Ancient Maya community patterns in northwestern Belize: Peripheral zone survey at La Milpa and Dos Hombres. Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin.

Rose, John Janson

2000      A study of Late Classic Maya population growth at La Milpa, Belize. Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh.

Scarborough, Vernon L., Matthew E. Becher, Jeffrey L. Baker, Gary Harris and Fred Valdez Jr

               1995      Water and land at the ancient Maya community of La Milpa. Latin American antiquity : a journal of the Society for American Archaeology. 6(2):98-119.

Tourtellot, Gair

1995 A Mapper’s Experience in Belize. Context 12 (1-2): 10-13

Tourtellot, Gair, Amanda Clarke and Norman Hammond

               1993      Mapping La Milpa: A Maya City in Northwestern Belize. Antiquity (67):96-108.

Tourtellot, Gair, Francisco Estrada-Belli, John Rose and Norman Hammond

               2003      Late Classic Maya Heterarchy, Hierarchy, and Landscape at La Milpa, Belize. In Heterarchy, Political Economy, and the Ancient Maya: The Three Rivers Region of the East-Central Yucatan Peninsula, edited by V. L. Scarborough, J. Valdez, F.  and N. Dunning, pp. 37-51. Arizona University Press, Tucson.

Tourtellot, Gair, Gonzalez Jason and Francisco Estrada Belli

               1999      Land and People at La Milpa, Belize. In 64th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Chicago.

Valdez Jr, Fred, Richard. E. W. Adams, Vernon L. Scarborough, Stan Walling and Nicholas Dunning

               1997      Programme for Belize Archaeological Project. In 62nd Annual Meeting of The Society for American Archaeology, Nashville, Tennessee.

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