Shallow geophysical exploration at the ancient maritime Maya site of Vista Alegre, Yucatan Mexico

Roy Jaijel, Mor Kanari, Jeffrey B. Glover, Dominique Rissolo, Patricia A. Beddows, Zvi Ben-Avraham, Beverly N. Goodman-Tchernov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Geophysical methods are of great value when investigating or searching for archaeological sites because of their ability to cover a large area in a short time and reveal features and aspects of unexcavated locations. In submerged archaeological sites, the use of seismic survey methods is especially important, as the excavation process is more complicated than at typical terrestrial sites. While the terrestrial portion of the maritime Maya site of Vista Alegre, located in the northeastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, has been mapped and partially excavated, the shallow offshore flooded landscape has not, in part due to difficulties determining the best targets for initiating the effort. Results from an earlier sediment core campaign resolved the character, environmental associations, and ages of underlying sediments, but could only minimally predict the presence of laterally continuous features due to the distance between cores. To resolve this issue, a seismic survey was conducted to extrapolate the spatial extent of these strata. The survey area covered the flooded bays flanking the terrestrial portion of Vista Alegre. This area has been affected by sea-level rise throughout time, and was a likely location of maritime activity in the past. Results from this study provided laterally continuous evidence for sea-level rise, reinforcing the previous study; and also identified the presence of a submerged ridge-basin structure. This structure was unexpected because it was neither continuous nor congruous with natural trends observed terrestrially. This uniqueness could be attributed to significant differences in the submerged landscape, and possibly the presence of anthropogenically-altered offshore features. The interpreted seismic data is useful both for a site-scale spatial understanding of the flooded landscape history, as well as for identifying potential locations for shallow water archaeological excavations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-63
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding of this study was provided by National Science Foundation (NSF grant 1530245 ), Norman Krischer , and Sir Mick Davis . We would like to thank Uri Schattner for his enlightening comments on the seismic data, Eli Shemesh, Crissy Phillips, Verna Gentil, Alec, Rhys, and Shaz Glover, LIG, Wes Patterson, the people of Chiquilá, and the ejido of Chiquilá/San Angel. The Consejo of Arqueología of INAH and Adriana Velazquez Morlet, director of INAH Quintana Roo. Also, we would like to thank the members of the Proyecto Costa Escondido at large. We would like to thank Schlumberger for the donation of Petrel Geophysics license which was used for the seismic interpretation in the PhD thesis of R. Jaijel detailed in this paper. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for helping us improve the manuscript. Any mistakes are ours alone.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors


  • Coastal geomorphology
  • Geoarcheology
  • Seismic
  • Stratabox
  • Yucatan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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