The Dynastic History and Archaeology of Pusilha in Toledo, Belize
Pusilha is a notable archaeological site within San Benito Poite, Belize, dating back to the Late Classic Maya era. It was a major urban center, serving as a trading hub between the eastern and western portions of the empire. Its discovery has yielded a great deal of insight into this secondary Maya site, revealing an overview of the socio-political relationships between larger and smaller cities. Because of Pusilha, we now know the Maya were less interested in absorbing smaller conquered sites into larger ones than previously believed. While research into Pusilha began in 1927, it has not stopped.
The fact that Pusilha straddled the Poite and Pusilha rivers may be a good explanation why it served as a major urban center for the Maya. Its location right between the Caribbean Sea and the Maya Mountains, made in an optimal spot to receive goods and ideas. When considering the locations of Caracol, Tikal and Copan, it makes sense that Pusilha was a major center of commerce within the lowlands.
Initial investigations began with Thomas Joyce 1927 and saw to the relocation of its most preserved stelae to London’s British Museum. Joyce also took an exhaustive look at the many ceramics found within the site in 1929. Pusilha would enjoy a breather period until Geoffrey Braswell’s Pusilha Archaeological Project in 2001. This new venture has since uncovered three notable areas central to Pusilha. Thanks to the ceramic records and at least one stela, we know when Pusilha was occupied. “Stella P” mentions a date equitable to 570 C.E., a date prior to the Late Classic period. The last notable date found within the site corresponds to 798 C.E.
Looking over the many records and structures, Pusilha was a secondary polity explicitly connected to Copan and Quiriqua and plausibly connected to Tikal, Caracol and the Peten region. Despite its proximity to other sites, current evidence indicates Pusilha was an independent settlement.
Other evidence points to Pusilha as an elite-led Maya complex. Eight rulers are connected with the Pusilha glyph with an additional two from Terminal Classic. 39 individual names have been found by epigraphers, including one whom ruled over Pusilha and another whom ruled over Copan. Pusilha is also significant because its bridges have survived into the present day. Pusilha’s existence is a glimpse into another approach to how the Maya handled settlements. Unfortunately, true understanding of this site will require additional research.