Editor’s note: All images below courtesy of the authors.
Written by: Shawn Morton, Northwestern Polytechnic and Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, Athabasca University
Our careers as archaeologists have been dominated by research on ancient Maya peoples and places, particularly of the Classic Period (ca. 250-900 CE). Since beginning the community-engaged Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project in 2014, our activities have focused on characterizing and explaining the settling and eventual abandonment of a relatively short-lived ancient townsite in Belize.
When urban centres expand rapidly in response to resource development, “instant cities” arise. These remarkable settlements are also called “boomtowns” or “rapid-growth communities”. They typically emerge in what are perceived as severely disadvantaged or isolated frontier zones. They might boom then bust over a short period, boom indefinitely or in cycles, or experience an incomplete boom. Their success is often dependent on their location relative to resource extraction and distribution activities, though not exclusively.
With its location along well-documented inland and coastal trade routes, and with access to an abundance of natural resources on the margins of the ever-expanding heartland of the southern Maya lowlands, the ancient Maya townsite currently known as “Alabama” (ancient name unknown) would seem to fit the “boomtown” bill. We have consistently invoked the concept as a heuristic tool in explaining its development.