We reassess San Estevan's role within the Late Formative period political geography of northern Belize. This medium-sized site has been interpreted as a subsidiary center to Nohmul that ruled the area along with Cerros, Lamanai, and Colha (Scarborough 1991). It has also been suggested that scores of autonomous polities existed in the region at this time (McAnany 1995). We examine these contrasting models in light of our recent excavations in the central precinct of San Estevan. These excavations reveal a stratigraphic sequence of Middle through Late Formative period deposits. Excavations document that the central part of the site was plastered over after 50 cal. B.C. - at roughly the same time as monumental construction projects were also started at Cerros, Nohmul, and Lamanai. San Estevan's central Mound XV was built on these plaster surfaces during the Late Formative period as was the adjacent ballcourt. Based on our new excavation data we suggest that San Estevan was an independent polity during the Late Formative period. Further, we propose that San Estevan competed, and engaged in warfare, with other medium and large regional centers and was one of ∼12 independent polities forming a political patchwork across northern Belize.
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