Beekeeping among the modern Maya of Yucatan, Mexico, reflects an intricate network of symbiotic relationships between bees, flowering plants, humans, and the managed landscape, which includes both settlements (kaaj, [kah]) and the cultivated and fallow farmlands surrounding them (k'ax). Native stingless bees are valued today both for the honey and wax they produce and the crops they pollinate. This study utilizes the ethnobiology of modern Maya stingless beekeeping to interpret the material correlates of ancient Maya beekeeping through archaeological exploration at Late Formative (200 BC–AD 200) Cerro Maya, Belize. Our contemporary data focus on the species of bees kept, the characteristics of wood species preferred for hive structures (hobon[ob]), the functional parameters of limestone disk hobon covers (mak tuun[ob]), and the plant species identified in symbiotic cultivation with them. The ecological and cultural factors that mediate stingless beekeeping in the present day provide important insights for the interpretation of ancient beekeeping practices at Cerro Maya, evidenced in the worked limestone disks hypothesized to be ancient mak tuunob. Beyond Cerro Maya, the documentation of beekeeping activity throughout ancient urban centers has important implications for the interpretation of urban green spaces in early Maya cities. Together with information on the ritual use of hive furniture and effigies, these data suggest ancient elites recognized the importance of pollinator species, and that deliberate management of stingless bees was standard practice during the period of agricultural intensification known as the Late Formative.
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Vol. 40 • No. 3