On the Fringes of Conquest: Maya-Spanish Contact in Colonial Belize

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Science  08 Dec 1989:
Vol. 246, Issue 4935, pp. 1254-1259
DOI: 10.1126/science.246.4935.1254


The defeat of the Aztecs of Mexico by Hernán Cortés in 1521 was but the beginning of a long and torturous conquest of Central America that did not always result in the mastery of people and production for which the Spanish had hoped. The Maya of the resource-poor Yucatán peninsula were spared the heavy colonial hand that held fast to central Mexico and its riches. In addition, the dense forests of the peninsula served as a haven for refugees fleeing oppressive conditions in colonial towns. Despite the paucity of documentary information on Maya communities of the frontier, knowledge of Maya-Spanish relations in the 16th and 17th centuries has advanced in recent years through archeological and ethnohistorical research. Work in one region of the Maya lowlands has brought us closer to an understanding of the early interaction of the rulers and the ruled.

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