Champotón 2 - The Late Formative Period
The Champotón 2 complex pertains to the Late Formative Period. As in most sites across the Maya Area, the Late Formative ceramic assemblage at Champotón is characterized by a great deal of homogeneity in ceramic production spheres across the Maya Lowlands. During this period communities in the Río Champotón drainage became full participants in the widespread Chicanel sphere (Figure 7.9). At the level of ceramic wares, groups and types, materials from Champotón include typical constituent types within the Chicanel sphere, while at the varietal level regional ceramics display very strong similarities with contemporary Baluartes phase ceramics from Edzná (Forsyth 1983). The phase is dominated by ceramics of the group Sierra (Figures 7.10 – 9.14), with consistent quantities of types from the Flor (Figure 7.15), Polvero (Figure 7.16), and Sapote (Figure 7.6) groups, as well as minority groups such as Caramba, Escobal, San Dimas, Zapatista, Nolo, and Unto (Figure 7.17). The Champotón 2 complex is widespread across most sites documented by the CRSS project, reflecting a major expansion of populations in the region during the Late Formative Period.
In comparison with the transition between Champotón 1A and 1B, there is a great deal of continuity evident between Champotón 1A and Champotón 2. At the level of technological attributes, it could be argued that Champotón 2 slipped and unslipped vessels pertain to the same ceramic wares as Champotón 1B materials (Paso Caballo Waxy Ware and Uaxactun Unslipped, respectively). Forsyth (1983:17, 200-205) has noted this same phenomenon in contemporary materials at Edzna. Differentiation between these two complexes is based largely on form and decorative techniques. Although the Champotón 2 complex shows clear continuity with Champotón 1B, the complex is characterized by a much higher degree of diversity in forms, decorative techniques, and overall ceramic diversity. Dichrome types include Mateo Red-on-cream, Xuch red and black, and Zapatista trickle dichrome (Figure 7.17). Many ceramics include composite surface treatments, including slipped and striated vessels and unslipped exteriors within the Sierra, Polvero, and Flor groups. Form distinctions between Champotón 1B and 2 include some degree of overlap, but in general vessels increase in diameter, wall thickness, and variability in lip morphology, especially the presence of flanges, grooves, and thickened rims (Figure 7.12, 7.15: M-P). This eventually leads to the large, open serving dishes that are characteristic of the Chicanel sphere across the Maya Area.
The spatial distribution of Champotón 2 ceramics reflects a major expansion of populations across the Río Champotón drainage (Figure 7.18, see also Tables 7.3, 7.6, and 7.8). All sites investigated in the region have substantial Late Formative occupations. The sites of Ulumal and San Dimas grew in size and importance during this period, with the latter likely representing large settlements and political centers. Populations along the coast swelled to their maximum density during Champotón 2, which extensive yet dispersed settlement at the coastal sites of Niop and Rancho Potrero Grande. Settlement survey along the coastal margin revealed a near continuous distribution of residential groups, with nearly all tested structures having Late Formative occupation.
The transition between the Champotón 2 to Champotón 3 is problematic due to the lack of evidence of Early Classic materials in the region, little evidence of continuity between Champotón 2 and Champotón 3 assemblages, and possible indicators that the Champotón 2 complex could have continued into the Early Classic Period. In contrast to the extensive evidence of Champotón 2 materials throughout the Río Champotón drainage, settlement survey and excavations revealed very little evidence of Early Classic occupations. These data could be interpreted in two different ways. The settlement survey data were initially interpreted as indicative of a regional occupational hiatus (Ek 2008; Ek and Rosado Ramírez 2005). However, later test excavations revealed small yet consistent quantities of Early Classic ceramics with modal similarities to Tzakol Sphere materials common in the interior Maya Lowlands. However, the Early Classic ceramic assemblage at Champotón was limited primarily to elaborate serving vessels and polychrome pottery. Another hypothesis is that Chicanel sphere ceramics continued to be produced and consumed a few centuries later than in the Peten and Northern Maya Lowlands, perhaps as late as 350-400 AD. In this case the aforementioned polychrome serving vessels would have been either local immitations or trade items of Peten Tzakol ceramics that were consumed in small quantities, with contemporaneous use of Champotón 2 materials.
This latter interpretation is supported by the presence of some diagnostic late Chicanel modes in the Champotón 2 assemblage that are direct precursors of Early Classic ceramics (see Figure 7.12: J, L, M, N). These modes – such as basal flange bowls, z-angle bowls, composite silhouette vessels, hooked rim vessels, and triangular rim bolsters – could indicate production of new Early Classic vessel forms in the long-established Paso Caballo Waxy Ware tradition. A similar pattern of extended use of Late Formative ceramics has been noted in Northern Belize (Kosakowski and Pring 1998) and Edzná (Forsyth 1983), where Chicanel sphere materials were produced until the 5th Century. The great deal of variability in Champotón 2 ceramics at Champotón could reflect this long period of use. Thus, Tzakol sphere vessels could represent trade wares or a serving ware subassemblage, unlike the full Tzakol assemblages evident in the Peten. At the present time, the nature of this transition remains poorly understood.