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First Mayans to Encounter New World Travelers Find New Home at USM

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – One of the largest collections of Maya remains have made their way to the University of Southern Mississippi. According to Professor Marie Danforth, the remains date back to 1540s, and were uncovered from Belize in the early 1980s from a church and its surrounding graveyard.

“They would have been the first people to see a Spanish individual, and also to have encountered the effects of contact – the new technology they were seeing, such as, guns, horses, and the new diseases the Spanish were bringing as well. And just the disruption the Spanish presence had on trade networks and everything else that had been in place for hundreds of years,” said Danforth.

She says researchers are sorting through the skeletal remains of the over 500 individuals in an attempt to reconstruct each of them in their entirety. Danforth hopes to compile more information about how the Maya were affected by encountering the Spanish, and how the Maya adapted physically and culturally in light of the new world they were being presented with.

“A lot of times when we think of the Europeans coming in, we think of them essentially dominating and sometimes totally eliminating the Native American groups. One of the things that has been emerging a lot more, is that a lot of those groups, especially our Maya, actually negotiated with the Spanish and had a lot of power in determining what their relationship with the Spanish would be.”

Also, the skeletons will remain at the college indefinitely, although they are still owned by the Belizean government.

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