Defining the development and meaning of a commemoration complex : the Los Pisos Courtyard, La Milpa, Belize
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The current research takes place at La Milpa, the third largest Maya center in Belize, Central America. The primary aim of this research was to investigate the development and function of "palace" courtyard complexes within Maya centers. More specifically, this research chronicles transformations in the built environment and activities taking place, particularly rituals, in the Los Pisos Courtyard from the Late Preclassic to the Late/Terminal Classic periods (400 B.C.-A.D. 900). Consequently, an attempt to correlate shifts in the built environment with changing sociopolitical fields and ritual practice was engaged. The role of agents in the construction and use of the built environment is of particular importance to the study of Maya monumental architecture. Therefore, the incorporation of social theories of structure and agency were employed in order to create a dialogue between the built environment and the people of La Milpa. This research project explored how the Los Pisos Courtyard developed in concert with the central precinct and its role within the La Milpa community. Excavations conducted by the author coupled with LaMAP (directed by Drs. Norman Hammond and Gair Tourtellot) excavations revealed that during the Late Preclassic period the Los Pisos Courtyard and Plaza A were cleared and leveled as the central precinct began to take form. During this time it is argued that the 3 m natural hillock on which the Los Pisos Courtyard rests was an open space used for ritual activity and community engagement. By the Early Classic period, a massive construction program occurred and the courtyard began to take its present configuration. The most significant change occurred during the Late/Terminal Classic period, when colossal construction efforts took hold of the entire site. Through monumentality and verticality, the Los Pisos Courtyard became an exclusive and segregated space designated for the most important inhabitants of La Milpa. Although the Los Pisos Courtyard became an exclusive locale, it may have remained an important symbol that served as a mnemonic device used to invoke memories that legitimated the power and authority of the elite.