Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



Dissertation excavations were carried out in 2019 and 2022 at the underwater sites of Ta’ab Nuk Na and Ek Way Nal in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize. Sea-level rise submerged the sites in antiquity and preserved the artifact record in red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) peat. Red mangrove peat can be used as a proxy for sea-level rise. The goals of the two excavations included: 1) excavating a 14m-long transect within and extending beyond building J at Ta’ab Nuk Na to determine the function of the building, 2) investigating the production of salt making pottery at Ta’ab Nuk Na; 3) extracting two sediment column samples from Ta’ab Nuk Na for paleoenvironmental reconstructions; and 4) excavating and extracting a sediment column sample from a strip of existing red mangroves growing on dry land that bifurcates the site of Ek Way Nal to determine the rate of sea-level rise at the site.

The artifacts from the transect excavations were evaluated regarding their type and spatial layout. Results indicate that building J was used as a salt kitchen by the ancient Maya. A selection of artifacts from the transect were 3D digitally imaged and were digitally measured. The results show some degree of standardization among the ceramics.

Sediment samples from Ta’ab Nuk Na were subjected to loss-on ignition, microscopic identification, and radiocarbon dating. Analyses revealed a high organic content, made up primarily of fine red mangrove roots. Sea-level rise at the site and the ancient Maya occupation overlap for a brief time at the end of the Late Classic Period.

A 1m x 2m unit was excavated at Ek Way Nal to extract a 170cm-long sediment column from the excavation wall and to determine if the cultural layer from the site on either side of the strip of land continued underneath the area. Cultural material within the excavation and column confirmed the site does continue underneath. A sample from the sediment column was subjected to microscopic sorting and will be sent for radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the sediment and cultural material at that depth.



Committee Chair

McKillop, Heather

Available for download on Tuesday, April 15, 2025