Date of Award

Fall 12-1-2015

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Chair

Marie Danforth

Committee Chair Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Member 2

Edwin Jackson

Committee Member 2 Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Committee Member 3

Jennifer Hotzman


This thesis ascertains the sequence of burials using fluoride ion electrode analysis at the colonial cemetery at Tipu, Belize in order to explore demographic and other cultural effects associated with European contact. The cemetery at Tipu in west central Belize, dating from within the first century of Spanish contact, has provided one of the largest and best preserved Maya skeletal series, with over 500 burials recovered. While this series has undergone vast amounts of analysis, there has yet been an analysis conducted to view how patterns changed over time. This is of interest given the rapid culture change associated with the Spanish conquest of the Maya, especially given that fluctuations in population movement due to Spanish programs meant to convert and control the indigenous population. By measuring fluoride ion levels within the sample using an electrode, a relative chronology was determined using both horizontal and vertical location to test for patterning. The spatial location was analyzed for preferential treatment and trends over time. Given the limitations of the fluoride methodology, the sample size was limited to adult burials that had ribs for testing, resulting in 134 interments tested. While previously thought that church nave would fill prior to the surrounding church grounds, the results of the study showed that both areas were utilized concurrently though the spatial preference did change over time. Sixty-seven percent of the earliest burials were mostly located in the nave of the church while this trend switched in the most recent burials. Furthermore, within the nave, the area near the altar, a place reserved for elites and honored members of the community, was used differently as well. At first, the burials were located toward the rear of the nave away from the altar. Toward the end of the cemetery’s use, the altar was the preferred location. Of these more recent burials, 64% of the male interments were located closest to the altar as compared to 40% of the oldest burials. Additionally, the results showed that pre-Conquest Maya characteristics persisted well after the arrival of the Spanish due to either blatant rebellion or slow assimilation. Given these results, previously held assumptions of the cemetery’s usage and Maya behaviors are changed. Giving the interments of Tipu a temporal context, this sheds a new light onto their agency and survival in this tumultuous time.