Welcome to the Proyecto Costa Escondida

Investigating the complex interrelationships between the Maya and their coastal environment in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

The Proyecto Costa Escondida (PCE) is composed of an international, interdisciplinary research team that is investigating the dynamic relationship between the natural world and the people (past and present) who have called the north coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico home. We have found evidence of approximately 3000 years of human occupation along the north coast, and we are interested in understanding how social and environmental factors conditioned human coastal adaptation in this area over the millennia. The PCE has four major, interrelated research agendas: 1) Archaeology, 2) Climate Research, 3) Fisheries Studies, and 4) Sustainability and Community Development. The PCE study area is located within the Yum Balam Protected Area for Flora and Fauna, but this exists in the shadow of Cancun and the Rivera Maya; an area that has been the fastest growing region of Mexico for over a decade and that caters to over 13 million tourists annually. The wild and unexplored characteristics of the north coast stand in stark contrast to developed east coast just around the tip of Cabo Catoche. The timing of this project is critical as plans to further develop Isla Holbox, the pristine barrier island that frames the north part of the study area, are being proposed by private entities and the Mexican government. By bringing together this diverse research team, the PCE will not only be able to study what has happened in the past, but we will be able to situate that knowledge within the context of current issues facing the people of the north coast, and make substantive contributions to development plans that will ensure the cultural and natural resources are protected and a sustainable livelihood is available for future generations of coastal residents.


The archaeological component of the project is focusing on two pre-Columbian Maya settlements, Vista Alegre and Conil, and a number of historical sites (i.e., Xuxub and San Eusebio) situated along the north coast. The artifacts from the sites reveal approximately 3000 years of human occupation along the coast. However, this occupational history has not been continuous and has been punctuated with substantial ebbs and flows. The correlation of these population declines and periods of reoccupation with broader socio-political and environmental processes is a major focus of our research. The archaeology team is lead by Glover and Rissolo and includes colleagues from the US and Mexico. In Mexico Chris Götz of the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY) is studying the faunal assemblages from the sites and Derek Smith is studying the archaeological mollusks along with conducting modern ecological studies. Vera Tiesler and Andrea Cucina, also from UADY, are investigating the human remains recovered to address questions of diet and health among the past populations. Chris Morehart from Arizona State University is in charge of the paleoethnobotany work, and Dan Leonard, a recent graduate of the University of California, Riverside (UCR), is investigating the ways that the ancient Maya utilized the wetland environments that extend from the coast into the interior. Joe Ball and Jennifer Taschek of San Diego State University are assisting with the ceramic and artifact analysis. Zachary Hruby of Western Kentucky University is investigating the lithic artifacts, in particular the obsidian materials from Conil and Vista Alegre.  Jennifer Mathews of Trinity University and Jon Gust of UCR are conducting the research on the historical sites in the study area; bringing the time periods investigated by the project into the early 20th century.


History of the Project

The PCE began in 2006 under the direction of Drs. Glover and Rissolo. While initially focused on the archaeology of the north coast, it quickly became apparent to Glover and Rissolo that they would need a more diverse group of researchers and a broader research agenda if they were truly going to be able to understand the complex relationships between the ancient Maya inhabitants, their natural environment, and their broader social, political, and economic spheres of interaction. To this end, Glover and Rissolo assembled an interdisciplinary research team composed of a coastal ecologist (Derek Smith), a coastal geoarchaeologist (Beverly Goodman and her PhD student Roy Jaijel), and a hydrogeochemist (Patricia Beddows). They received a one-year grant from NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research (OER) and conducted a pilot study in 2011 at the ancient Maya port site of Vista Alegre. The results of this project revealed a rising sea level over the past 3000 years, fluctuating access to freshwater, and tantalizing evidence of past storm events. Since 2011, Glover and Rissolo have begun research at the neighboring Maya site of Conil, a site reported by early Spanish conquistadors to have had 5000 houses.  In 2015, this team was awarded a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation and will be expanding work in the area beginning in early 2016.


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