The Belize River Archaeological Settlement Survey (BRASS) was initiated in 1983 by Anabel Ford (University of California, Santa Barbara) with the permission of Belize's Department of Archaeology and its then Commissioner Jaime Awe in the upper Belize River area north of San Ignacio, Cayo. Previous work had shown that this area was occupied early and continuously, and could have been logistically important for the ancient Maya, situated on a major seasonally-navigable river between the Caribbean and Tikal in the heart of the Maya area. However, beyond that the area had received little attention.
The BRASS project was designed to examine the cultural ecology of the Belize River area, with an eye towards appreciating the full range of Maya society, both the monumental and the mundane. Using environmental and geographic information as a backdrop, the project collected data that identified where the ancient Maya lived, when they lived there, and how they made use of the area. The results of the study have allowed us to assess the distribution of house sites and communities as well as their relationship to the natural environment.