Some great news for the SCRAP team.
Our Field Lab Director, Jill Jordan, was granted a Wenner Gren for her ongoing research into the development and transformation of social networks among potters relative to collapse and migration.
Additionally, our Project Directors, Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown and Dr. Shawn Morton, along with SCRAP GIS specialist Dave Blaine, were granted a SSHRC Explore Grant via Athabasca University for future LiDAR survey in the Stann Creek District.
Congratulations to Team SCRAP!
Happy to finally be able to formally announce our new 4-year grant for research at Alabama. Thank you to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of 🇨🇦 (scroll wayyy down to Alberta to see our listing):
Well, our flight is delayed…. Again. Sitting in a shiny new terminal in Houston, surrounded by strangers heading off to places near and far and for reasons unknown, it seems that this is as good a time for reflecting on the season just ended as any. And what a season it was! SCRAP hosted its first archaeological fieldschool, began the first of four seasons’ research under a big new grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada—this included excavation in the monumental core of Alabama, follow-up settlement research, and initiation of a broad regional geological survey—and welcomed new colleagues in both endeavors.
After dropping the fieldschool students off at the Philip Goldson International Airport at the end of Week 5 (we cried like babies), we traded in our monster of a van for something a little less ostentatious and headed back south. Over the next couple of days we were joined by our colleagues Matt and Danny, and together with the remaining crew, we passed a blistering week tying up loose ends in our excavations (perhaps creating a few more in the process… but that’s a problem for next season), finishing drawings and photographs, and finally backfilling the holes that we had spent the previous weeks so diligently excavating.
Why fill them back in, you may ask? To leave them open would invite damage from plant growth, erosion, and curious passers by. We marked the base of our excavations and will spend the first few days of next season re-excavating what we must to continue. In the end, we gained some resolution on our Structure 1/2 excavations, including the exposure of a well-defined habitation surface. There does not appear to be a stair, though there is a series of low platform terraces, and an alignment of stones perpendicular to the transverse axis of the structure (and below the level of the habitation surface) may hint at an earlier phase of construction. Finally, we may have identified a buried architectural façade in Structure 10, though an organized stair still eludes us. We will return to both areas in 2019.
But digging and filling in holes is only part of the process. All season, we’ve been reporting on the general goings-ons of our lab work (cleaning, cataloguing, analysis, photography and drawing, experimental archaeology, etc.). This work continues after the digging is done, and indeed, accounts for more of our time. In addition to closing up shop in the field, Week 6 was spent finishing up our basic recording and preparing our preliminary report (a copy of all notes, drawings, photos, etc., along with a complete, if basic, catalogue of the material culture recovered are included). Our final task before leaving Maya Centre was to clean, pack and inventory all of our equipment until next time.
Our final week represented a significant departure from these activities, and was spent relaxing for a couple days in Hopkins, then on to San Ignacio, where we attended and presented papers at the annual Belize Archaeology Symposium. This is an extremely important part of the archaeological process and a serious responsibility. The BAS is the primary outlet through which members of the Belizean public, tour guides, and our fellow archaeologists keep abreast of the current work being done in Belize. Some papers deal with theoretical concerns. Others are focused on method. The majority are simply updates on our current knowledge of the archaeological record in Belize, filtered through the particular theme of the year (in this case, challenging dominant narratives in Central Belize). The conference is both informative and a ton of fun. If you happen to be in San Ignacio at the end of June and feel like a hit of archaeology, stop on by!
Alright, that’s about it. All that remains is to say thank you. To all of the students, staff, field crew, thank you. To the directors and administrators of the Institute of Archaeology, thank you. To our wonderful hosts at Nuuk Cheil, thank you. Signing off and finding a coffee.
Meaghan and Shawn
Once again this season, SCRAP has engaged in a series of public outreach and engagement activities. Our 2018 activities have included local teachers and cultural representatives visiting the site; local student volunteers coming to learn to excavate; community get-togethers to discuss ongoing archaeological investigations and to view and handle artifacts discovered this year and in previous seasons; and presentations at village meetings to formally inform community members of our activities, results, and future plans with regard to our research.
A new activity this year focused on our field school student involvement in this outreach. As a final examination challenge, students were asked to create a series of pamphlets to distribute to community members. Two pamphlets were created by each team of students: one introducing the site of Alabama and the other introducing archaeology. We are happy to say the results were a success. Our entire team–including foreign and local members–then voted on their favourite in each category. Last Saturday, we distributed two pamphlets–slightly adjusted here and there–at the village clean-up meeting.
Click on the links below to download the final pamphlet versions:
Click on the links below to download the original designs submitted by each group:
Our final public outreach event this season will be to present our recent research next week at the annual Belize Archaeology Symposium in San Ignacio, Cayo District. This conference is not only attended by other researchers, but also be Belizean students, teachers, tour guides, etc. See the schedule of talks below:
Here is our final blog entry from our field school students–but don’t worry, the rest of the team will keep you posted about the coming week.
Monday, June 11th, 2018
We got back to the field after a lovely weekend away. It’s the students’ last week in the field and we are excited to wrap up our excavations. It felt like an early morning again after our glorious sleep-in on Sunday.
In the settlement, we finished digging down inside the structure. It was all fill, with some ceramic sherds (as always!). Johana and Kristine drew a profile while Gill dug a 50cm x 50cm hole down as far as she could in 50 minutes, since it was the end of the day. We were hoping to get to sterile soil – meaning there are no artifacts in it, and we would finish excavating. We didn’t quite get there, as there were still a couple ceramic pieces found in screening.
In the monumental core, Structure 10 was as eventful as ever! Doug began excavating the hole he found and recovered carbon for radiocarbon dating. They dug below the cobble fall in lot 5B-4 and encountered a packed clay surface, which they believe is the plaza floor. They excavated through the surface, which was only 2cm thick, and found a ballast of gravel and small cobbles. They also removed all of the cobbles in lot 5A-5 and dark dirt, exposing a red clay interval.
In structures 1/2 6A, they continued exposing several possible packed floor surfaces, and were trying to expose the facade of structure 2. Lower down, the group removed 9 granite stones from the rock fall (tough work!) and exposed what appears to be two parallel rows of stones – a possible wall.
Once we got back from site, we had Lab and some of the students catalogued general artifacts while others practiced cataloguing small finds. Seems like it should maybe be simple, but it’s not so obvious! Then we had Miss Elta and Miss Yolie’s tasty cooking for dinner.
Tuesday, June 12th, 2018
As we tried to get in the Vomit Comet (the van) and pull away, we realized we had a flat tire! So we had a slow start to the morning. We got to the site about an hour late.
Shawn, Johana and Kristine went to the settlement for just a couple hours in the morning, to dig the 50cm x 50cm hole down a bit deeper and find sterile soil. They dug down about 60cm altogether. And finished up with the unit. Sad to say goodbye!
At structure 10, they began extending the 1m wide plaza trench into the building in 5B to continue looking for architecture, didn’t find any. In 5A they removed a red clay layer to find it was approximately 25cm thick. Doug accompanied Dr. Joanne Potter (our geologist) and discovered a lot of different types of granites and learned about the milpas on the hillsides surrounding Alabama.
At lunch, it was Miss Juana’s birthday, so we sang her Happy Birthday. And then they gave us ice cream! They’re too nice to us.
At structures 1/2, the upper unit was continuing work to expose the surface. They dug down and hit the fill of the building. Woohoo! The lower unit mapped the top plan and profiles all day. It was a trying, but rewarding experience.
We got back to base and had our showers, and after dinner, Dr. Linda Howie gave a talk about petrography and how it can be used to better understand the who/what/when of the people at Alabama. Very interesting!
Wednesday, June 13th, 2018
Doug accompanied the geologist Joanne to the quarry, and discovered what they think is hydrothermal dolomite – for us non-geologists, that’s dolomite (a type of carbonite) that’s had carbon deposited in it by hot water below. In 5B, they finished leveling a 50cm trench into the building and found nothing new. In 5A excavated they second 1m x 1m unit, finding nothing for 60cm except a piece of granite, which may be a cornerstone from one staircase (maybe), and nothing else. All lots were closed out. It seems like this structure was maybe previously excavated in the 80’s. Too bad!
On Structure 1/2 in the upper unit, they excavated a possible posthole and then finished taking measurements and drawing the plan view. Down below, they pulled three rocks, and exposed what appears to be the granite (always granite!!!) covered surface of the building. They completed the profile, and pulled two more rocks, further exposing the face (?!?!). They also dug a 1m x 50cm hole, where in the last 10 minutes, they came down on half of a round granite slab–to be investigated next week. An exciting day for the students to finish on, leaving lots of work for the future!
The students from the settlement just tried to make themselves useful where they could.
After our day at site, we went back and voted on which pamphlet we liked best to give to the people of Maya Mopan. We had dinner, showered, and off to bed. We mention the shower because of how incredibly important it is. After a day digging in the heat of Belize – we stink!
Thursday, June 14th, 2018
Our last full day in Belize! We had breakfast at the same time as usual, and then had a slow morning, packing up and getting ready to leave. We left the base at 9:00 to head to Maya Mopan for our outreach presentation!
Once most people showed up, Meaghan gave an awesome presentation about what has been done at Alabama, both before this year, and specifically what happened this season. Everyone had a chance to talk about their unit.
Then the field assistants from Maya Mopan, as well as their families and friends, looked at some of the artifacts that we found both this year, and in the 2014 and 2016 excavations. It was so much fun to see the kids getting all excited and learning about all the artifacts.
After lunch, we took some group photos, and the students said goodbye to some of the workers. Then, everyone that wanted to come hopped in the truck and the van to go to the waterfall. All the students, Shawn, Meaghan, Megan, Jill, Dr. Howie and her son Tristan, and Dr. Joanne, Sylvestro, Mr. Paquiul, Hinio Jr. and Mr. Alfonso came along. It was maybe a half hour walk, and then we played around in the beautiful waterfall.
We said goodbye to the last four guys before heading back to Maya Centre for a party! It was Miss Aurora’s birthday party/a goodbye party for us. Mr. Ernesto’s brother has a marimba band and they came and played us music, there were marimba dancers, and all the kitchen staff made amazing food (as always), but also partied and danced with us. It was such a lovely night, and we couldn’t have asked for a better send off.
It was a great way to end our time there and we went to bed tired but happy.
Friday, June 15th, 2018
The day the student leave Belize!
We all woke up again at the normal time and had one last Belizean breakfast, Shawn and Meaghan loaded up all our suitcases, and we said goodbye to Miss Aurora and Mr. Ernesto, and all the kitchen staff – Rick, Miss Elta, Miss Yolie, and Kitty Soft Paws.
We hopped in the Vomit Comet one last time and drove the 2.5 hours to the airport, stopping at the Artbox (a tourist gift shop) on the way. All the students (and Megan) except for Nikki were headed home. She is staying for another week, scuba diving in the Cayes. Lucky! Kathryn also is leaving the site, but heading to Xunantunich to work there for a week before heading home.
We got to the airport nice and early, and found out our flight was an hour delayed. No biggie, we hung out, chatted and had snacks in the terminal. We flew from Belize to Houston, and were a bit worried about our shortened connection, but it ended up being just fine, and we got to Calgary at about 9:15pm. We were sad to leave, but happy to be home.
Thanks (botik) for reading – You’ll still be hearing lots more from Meaghan, Shawn and the crew in Belize.
Bye for now, Niki and Gill.
Some final group photos:
Week 4 has been another week full of ups and downs–but mostly ups here in Stann Creek District and beyond.
Sunday (June 3)
Sunday was a very lazy day, where most of us slept for the most part, because we were still sick from the glorious Placencia. Some of us drank tap-water from the wrong place, some people ate meat that could have been bad, but most of us had heat exhaustion from not drinking enough water and sunbathing in the bright and hot sunshine.
The more fortunate of us, who were feeling good enough to eat lunch did an artifact-drawing workshop with Shawn.
In the evening, almost everybody ate (and held in) dinner. Yay!
Monday (June 4)
On Monday, we did not excavate in our sites because the downpour from the previous day caused the units to flood. Instead, we spent the morning bailing the water out. The settlement area looked like it was affected but the water seemed to have drained out before we arrived. Unfortunately, the units in the monumental core flooded so we had to help bail the water out.
After, we visited the sites of Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun. We were supposed to visit these sites on Sunday but since most of us were sick, we decided to go today instead. It was rainy when we arrived at Nim Li Punit but that didn’t stop us from having a blast! Despite its small size, Nim Li Punit is famous for its many carved stelae. Interestingly, the site’s name came from a stela that depicts a figure wearing a large headdress! In the K’ekchi language, Nim Li Punit means “big hat.”
We visited the site of Lubaantun after we left Nim Li Punit. Lubaantun is known as the largest Maya site in Southern Belize and it is also famous for being the central location about the legend of the Crystal Skull. The Crystal Skull was allegedly discovered by Anna Mitchell-Hedges at the site of Lubaantun. Despite the wonders surrounding the Crystal Skull, the legend is proven to be false by modern science and is largely believed to be a forgery by the public as well.
Tuesday (June 5)
On structure 10 (Operation 5) we have closed Lot #3 which was at what we assume is the plaza area. We have continued to dig horizontally inside the structure, hoping to find the fill of the building and some more defined architecture.
In the settlement area (site ALA – 045A), we finished the top plan drawing for sub-operations 3F and 3C in order to map out the rocks that make up the platform. We also finished the cross-section drawing to map the rocks in the southern portion of the sub-operations.
Large part of the day was also spent on trying to save the site from flooding (again). However, this time the water just started soaking through the soil and because the whole operation is on a slope, there was nothing we could do about it. As the rain got stronger after lunch, we had to leave one hour early after the local field assistants helped us fix the tarps. We can only hope that we don’t have to build SCRAP’s Ark tomorrow.
After work, Dr. Kathryn Reese-Taylor who arrived yesterday, checked up on all of us who are working on independent research paper, to find out if we need any help. She is very approachable and helpful so we are sure everything will go smoothly. Meaghan then gave a lecture about household and settlement archaeology.
Wednesday (June 6)
Finally a sunny day! It significantly lifted up everybody’s mood, which made the day go by much faster. Therefore, lots of work was done on both structure 10 and in the settlement.
After bailing water from the northwest corner of sub operation 5B we had to map the whole structure 10 (operation 5), both from top and profile view, as there were many changes in Lots going on. The mapping was slightly more complicated than it probably had to be, as we have caused ourselves some problems with miscommunicating the data. Next time we will make sure that only the person drawing the map is recording all the data necessary, as it should help avoid any uncertainties that cause us our precious time.
Digging in the building we have reached a cobbled surface and Mira has found our operation’s first piece of obsidian, about 2×1 cm big.
In the settlement area (Site ALA – 045A) we began to excavate the middle portion of our sub-operation (3F), and a part of the previously excavated sub-operation 3C from 2016, inside the platform feature in hopes to uncover something. We designated it as Lot 15 and we had to dig very carefully in case something important is found. I wonder what we’ll find inside!
During lab Shawn taught the rest of us how to draw artifacts and we love it! Many of us will probably consider volunteering in the ARKY labs at U of C and maybe making some extra cash with this cool new skill.
Thursday (June 7)
On Thursday we discovered a red clay in a vein like shape in sub operation 5A. In 5B, going inside the building we noticed changes in matrix and identified three different ones, so we made artificial stairs to divide the matrixes and be able to make a top plan map if them.
Out in the settlement area, one of our local field staff (Mr. Juan Paquiul), found a very large portion of a ceramic vessel in the northwest corner of the unit. Apparently, this find is the most complete vessel found in the site of Alabama thus far (how sad)!
In the evening, Kathryn gave a lecture about her own research at the site of Yaxnohcah. The site is located in the state of Campeche in Southern Mexico and has been occupied since the Preclassic Period. Yaxnohcah is considered one of the largest Preclassic sites in the Maya Lowlands in terms of the structures in the site and its area.
Friday (June 8)
Today went by very slowly, as most of the day at structure 10 was spent mapping the area with red clay as well as Lot #4 (dig through building). Very little soil has been screened so we didn’t find anything significant except a few pieces of daub.
In the settlement area, we finished digging Lot #17 in the middle portion of the platform and began excavating Lot #18. We found some lithics, pottery sherds, an obsidian, and an interesting piece that could be amber!
In the evening we watched a documentary about the Maya ‘collapse,’ with a particular focus on archaeological investigations of caves in the Cayo District of Belize.
Saturday (June 9)
Early in the morning we set out on the road to Cayo. We finally got to see the beautiful Hummingbird highway, through which we all slept the first day arriving from the airport. Our first stop was the sight of Xunantunich. There we met Dr. Jason Yaeger whose archaeological group is still excavating the site and it’s hinterlands to this day. He gave us a great tour around, explaining all the building’s purposes and the meanings of symbols on the main palace. We climbed on top of El Castillo and had the most amazing view of the whole site and the jungle and cities surrounding.
After, we went to have lunch at Benny’s and checked in at the gorgeous Martha’s Inn. It’s luxurious rooms were a welcomed (and needed) change for all of us.
As soon as we were done exploring San Ignacio and having some foo-foo drinks, we were invited for a BBQ party at Meaghan and Shawn’s friend’s house. Miss Kay taught us how to make tortillas and fry jacks. Later in the evening Adela was happily surprised by a birthday cake for her upcoming birthday. It was delicious! The evening was very pleasant and relaxing for everybody, as well as the night spent on the comfy beds.
Sunday (June 10)
We left the inn early in the morning to get breakfast and Erva’s Restaurant (thank you to Karim and the entire staff) and then headed out to the site of Cahal Pech. We got an exclusive tour from Dr. Claire Ebert who conducted research at Cahal Pech. Cahal Pech dates to the Early Middle Preclassic making it one of the oldest Maya sites in Western Belize. Claire guided us around the site and then we were given free time to explore the site ourselves. About halfway through our tour however, rain started and continued for the rest of time at Cahal Pech. Despite the sudden downpour, we had a lot of fun exploring the site and its passages in the structures!
After Cahal Pech, we drove to the Blue Hole to swim into. We decided to swim in the Hole despite the slightly colder weather and the freezing water and had a blast! We also went into the cave in the Blue Hole just to see what it looked like and found darkness and bats!
Then we finally went home to Maya center after a fantastic weekend in the Cayo district before dinner. We also met the new members of the SCRAP Project: Jill Jordan, Linda Howie, and Joanne Potter, who all arrived over the weekend.
We are looking forward for the last week of the field school and we hope you enjoyed this blog!
Adela & Johana