New Perspectives and Reinforcing Experiences

This week’s blog is by Canadian undergraduate student Riley Steidel, who joined SCRAP this year as a field assistant/volunteer. While last week’s blog by Dave talked about “Lasts,” Riley’s blog focuses on “Firsts.”

It was nearly one year ago exactly when I contacted Dr. Meaghan and Dr. Shawn for the first time in the small hope of being able to work on their Alberta-based Old Bezanson Archaeology Project (OBAP; see @obaparky on Facebook/Instagram). It didn’t exactly feel like something that would pan out for me (despite my best attempts at optimism, disappointment is often the rule rather than the exception). Still, I’ve habitually jumped at opportunities, no matter how far-fetched they seem. It turns out that working on OBAP wasn’t as ludicrous as it first appeared. They hired me that summer, and I got to work on an archaeological “dig” for the first time.

Me (yellow vest) and my friend Isabelle excavating along a early 20th-century settler house foundation berm at the Old Bezanson Townsite in Alberta, Canada.

That experience in Bezanson solidified my introduction to archaeology. Before that summer, I was still humming and hawing over what I would inevitably do at university, with my degree, and in the workforce. While it’s impossible to say definitively what will happen in the coming years, I can confidently say that my path seems more straightforward. Now that I am in Belize (another situation where I anticipated disappointment), I am getting an altogether new perspective on things, but one that does nothing to dampen my resolve.

Back in Alberta, I drove to the site around eight every morning. I was staying at home, sleeping in my own bed, and living the same as I had been for most of my life. Working in Belize has been different. Here, I hear other languages (e.g., Mopan, Belizean Kriol, Spanish), taste different foods, see new plants (funnily enough, one of my greatest interests), and live altogether differently. One evening a few days ago paints this picture quite perfectly.

Belizean landscapes are so beautiful, I seem like a decent photographer!

The season’s first rain had just fallen, and we were invited to join Mr. Ernesto and Ms. Aurora’s family for dinner. As always, the food was home-cooked and delicious. The menu on this particular night was a lovely turkey soup with a side of rice and candied pumpkin. To drink was this absolutely delectable rice juice (“Horchata”). After we finished dinner, Mr. Ernesto stood up. He told us we were entering the planting season for corn, an important staple crop in the Maya diet. He explained that traditionally, Maya would do certain things to predict how the crops would fare. One such activity is Bul or Puluk. In this game, two or four players try to get as many points as possible by going from one side of a board to another, moving according to four pieces of corn marked on one side—essentially, two-sided dice. It sounded like a fun game, and I was honoured to participate in it as SCRAP’s representative! It was a fun game, even though I wasn’t particularly good, and I was up until midnight playing with everyone. It was tough waking up the following day to head into the field, but it was well worth it!

Here I am (in the blue shirt) battling it out with my game partner against our opponents. I ultimately failed.

So what am I getting from all this?

The first thing is a new perspective on how archaeology is done in Belize as compared to my experience in Alberta and seeing another country’s actions toward their Indigenous Peoples. Both are critical topics that have the potential to be very applicable to my future back home. Another important aspect is our personal interactions with the communities within which we operate. It can be seen in how we, as project members, take part in local traditions, be it Bul, a blessing and offering ceremony by Mr. Ernesto and Ms. Aurora, or any of a dozen small customs that are a part of the daily life of the Maya Peoples we work and live with. The honour I feel for being allowed to partake in, and the respect I see in the project for these crucial traditions, give me hope for the future of archaeology because if one project can do it, all of us should be able to.

Almost the entire SCRAP crew atop the recently cleared Coconut Mound at the Alabama Townsite, Stann Creek District, Belize: young and old, foreign and local, experienced and inexperienced, women and men. Watch for our formal crew photo next week with our full team!

I wasn’t sure what I would do at school a year ago. Six months ago, I was pretty confident I was on the path that I had chosen. Now, as I sit in the darkness of another Belizean night, I am sure. I know it is a long road ahead, a practically unfathomable distance before me. I don’t know where, when, or with whom I will work. Still, I can confidently say that archaeology will be a part of my future. I hope each new experience—each of my “Firsts”—will show me new perspectives that I can carry forward in school, work, and life.

It Feels Something Like an Ending

This week’s blog post is written by Mr. Dave Blaine who is a student in the Master’s of Interdisciplinary Studies at Athabasca University. Here he reflects on his first week in Belize and the future.

Its about 3pm on Saturday afternoon, and I’ve been travelling by bus, taxi, and commercial jetliner for most of the last two days. I’m squeezed into a tiny, noisy airplane with 8 other passengers, all of them clad in the garb of sun-seeking vacationers.

The pilot races onto a taxiway, corners hard and peels onto the runway – taking off quickly and unceremoniously – as though the departures gate at Belize City’s Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport was for him, just another bus stop.

Out my left-side window, a strut supporting the wing reads #FlyMayaBelize.  Beyond that, a seemingly endless expanse of turquoise Caribbean. I raise my camera to my eye and immediately start shooting. It isn’t lost on me that this may well be my last visit to Belize for the foreseeable future. SCRAP’s current funding cycle ends this season, and I will launch the final project of my master’s in September. There’s an unmistakable air of completion and ending to this season, and regrettably, rather than sitting back and enjoying the voyage, my head is reeling with images, shot lists, and to-dos.

Short Flight to Dangriga

This is my last chance to make good… and I’ll be damned if I’ve figured out yet just how to tell this story.

SCRAP has become a blur to me. A jumble of interrelated scenes, and diary entries that only the benefit of hindsight will eventually help coalesce into something vaguely story-like, and hopefully with an insight or two to share. The last week has been filled with these little vignettes:

Touring Ms. Aurora and Mr. Ernesto’s farm, chewing on stalks of fresh-cut sugarcane, while their farmhand, Don Antonio – who looks for all the world like The Old Man of the Sea – spreads spoonfuls of a pasty green mixture around the bases of several plants, to save them from the leaf-cutter ants.

Mr Ernesto and Ms Aurora at their farm

Digging out last year’s excavation, the rock-hard backfill dirt eventually peeled off the plastic sheeting we had laid down to preserve the unit floor and walls in the same way accumulated ice might chip off a frozen sidewalk. Sharing that comparison with my Belizean companions, to which a philosophical Mr. Paquiul observes very simply, “Different places.”

Digging out 2022 backdirt at ALA-003C

Sitting in the passenger van, while Meaghan and Shawn buy a round of ice-cold drinks after an especially hot day, Mr. Justino, many years my senior, laughs out loud when I suggest I might be getting too old for this. With a tinge of regret, he tells me that he thinks this may be his last season in the field.

Mr Justino preparing to build a shelter

This strikes me. He joined SCRAP in the field in 2018, the same year I did. That’s when I knew… this isn’t an ending. SCRAP will carry on, with new partnerships, funding opportunities, research questions, and initiatives, to become the regionally focussed project that it was meant to be, and that it deserves to be. Our companions will carry on, building their communities, and advocating for their culture. And I’ll carry on as well, taking this multimedia storytelling thing I’m concocting to the other archeology projects of the world, like I should.

No not an ending, but probably a Last.

Lasts are tricky. As people, we don’t usually see them coming with the same clarity as we see Firsts.

As I reflect on the people I’ve met, worked, and lived with over 4 all-too-short seasons of fieldwork; people whose knowledge, experience, and generosity I’ve been privileged to share; I can’t imagine any other circumstances in which I would have become so close, so quickly, to so many different people, and it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this may be the last time I will see many of them, and I will miss them.

All Of This Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again

If, like Meaghan and Shawn, you are “of a certain age,” you’ll recognize the title of this blog as an oft-repeated quote from Battlestar Galactica. The show and its subtext, while arguably kicking off this Golden Age of television that we are currently enjoying (btw, what are you doing reading this? Have you seen The Last of Us yet?!), have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this week’s blog. The quote itself, however, captures the feeling with which we start this, our seventh field season of the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project (SCRAP).

This has happened before. We are returning to the Alabama Townsite and the Stann Creek District, continuing our research program into the timing and tempo, the flavour, and the identities and motivations of those driving the development of this Ancestral Maya townsite in the latter half of the Late Classic period.

Last Sunday (with only a few minor bumps along the way… picture the airport scene from Home Alone), co-directors Meaghan and Shawn arrived safe and sound in Belize. We spent three days staying with our good friends in Cayo (thanks, Ms. Erva and Mr. Landy), made trips to Spanish Lookout to purchase equipment, and reconciled ourselves to the relative heat of Belize.

On Wednesday, we picked up our second rental vehicle (thank you, Mr. Eldridge at Flames Auto) and headed to Belmopan. We had an enjoyable lunch with Maya Prince: an activist, journalist, and host of the Maya Culture-Belize Facebook Page, who is making an impact across Belize and beyond. We also met with Dr. Badillo at the Institute of Archaeology. We caught up on some exciting initiatives they are driving and picked up our research permit (Brett Houk, we are No. 11… which is like “1” but twice).

Our lab buddies.

We then went south, receiving a warm welcome from our hosts, friends, and SCRAP collaborators in at Nuuk Che’il Cottages in Maya Centre (Ms. Aurora, Mr. Ernesto, Rigo, Gabriel, and Marroquin Saqui). On Thursday, we braved the scariest task in any archaeological project: opening up our storage. We pulled out, dusted, sorted our gear, set up our lab and room, and added to the list of things to buy! We set up our various communications systems on Friday and did some “work” work.

Saturday, we drove out to Maya Mopan to meet with community leaders (including the village Chairman, Alvino Teul) and various project members and supporters (old and new) before picking up Dave and Riley at the Dangriga airport, getting them settled, then having a lovely dinner at Driftwood in Hopkins.

Finally, on Sunday, we loaded the van with Dave, Riley, and Ms. Sonieda Teul (our new Educational Outreach Advisor) and visited both Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit in the Toledo District. We also made sure to stop by Che’il Mayan Products for some delicious, cold chocolate milk!

This should all sound familiar if you follow us on Instagram or Facebook (@scraparky). As previously written on this blog, this first week is about preparation for the coming season. By this point, the process is pretty smooth (we even had time to enjoy ourselves!).

And it will happen again. This year, however, our preparations are bitter-sweet. This season is the last covered by our current SSHRC Insight grant, which means it represents a transition. As usual, we’ll keep you apprised of our activities as the season progresses, with our weekly blog posts written by different project members and in a different voice each week, along with some special “extra” posts. We’ll also spend some time looking back. How has our understanding of Alabama developed over the past seven years? Which of our ideas has found support? Which haven’t? How have our methods changed, and what have we learned? And we’ll look to the future. How do we pivot to the following research stage at Alabama and Stann Creek District? What else do we and our local colleagues want to know? How do we build on what we’ve learned? How can we develop along with our communities, and how will this require us to change?

We look forward to exploring these ideas, and we would be grateful for your input. (Leave us a comment!)

So say we all.

Visualizing a Settlement Survey at Alabama

Have you ever visited an Ancestral Maya town or city, and toured around the monumental temple platforms, residences, and ball courts? Did you know those make up only a fraction of the entire town or city? Surrounding that monumental area are hundreds or thousands of houses and other buildings and spaces where people went about their daily lives. This map shows all the places to date where we have located the remains of additional buildings (white, blue, and red triangles) surrounding Alabama’s monumental core or “downtown” (yellow triangle). More buildings exist beyond the orange orchard rows of our primary survey area (green boundaries), the majority of which we have yet to document. Additional concentrations of artifacts away from buildings were also identified (white and blue circles). Do you see the area in the southwest portion of our survey where there are few triangles or circles? This is the portion of Alabama where the banana plantation operated in the 1950s and 1960s (and also the source of the site’s unusual name, as the owners were from Alabama, USA). Compared to the later citrus operations, land preparation for bananas was far more destructive and, therefore, most evidence for the remains of the ancient buildings that were once in the area is now gone. Thank you to our hard-working team at the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project, including MANY residents of neighbouring Maya Mopan Village, who helped identify mounds, conduct this survey, and create the map! Soon we’ll be ready to showcase our survey from the neighbouring site of Pearce in the Cockscomb Basin–but that one was done using LiDAR! Stay tuned!

KULCHA presentation recording

If you missed Dr. Meaghan & Dr. Shawn’s recent presentation at the Belize KULCHA Symposium, you can see it here. We start around 22:10, though the other presentations in our session on Ethical Archaeology are amazing and you should give them a watch as well!

2nd Annual Belize KULCHA Symposium

Once again, Drs. Peuramaki-Brown and Morton will be presenting on behalf of SCRAP at the open-access, online Belize KULCHA Symposium, Oct. 5-7, 2022.

Their presentation is on Day 1 (Wednesday, Oct. 5), in the 1-2:30 pm afternoon session (GMT-6; Belize Time) is titled “Local Communities and Archaeological Research: Exploring Ideas from Belize to Canada.” You can read the full abstract below.

See the conference program by clicking here.

Links for individual Facebook Events:

Day 1 Morning Sessions:

Day 1 Afternoon Sessions:

Day 2 Morning Sessions:

Day 2 Afternoon Sessions:

Day 3 Morning Sessions:

Day 3 Afternoon Sessions:

For more information visit:

Heritage Education Network Belize

Local Communities and Archaeological Research: Exploring Ideas from Belize to Canada

Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, Athabasca University

Dr. Shawn Morton, Northwestern Polytechnic

SCRAP and OBAP Teams

Abstract: In this presentation, we take up the KULCHA Symposium organizers’ call to consider the role of communities in our research programs. Specifically, we’ll look at how geographically local communities can and should play a role in archaeological research. We ask how we as researchers have grown and can continue to grow as community-engaged and community-based scholars, despite never having been trained or mentored as such. We also explore how we are working to create research-team cultures that emphasize community involvement in all activities. To demonstrate our learning journey, we relate experiences from two programs of research: the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project (SCRAP) and the Old Bezanson Archaeology Project (OBAP). In Belize, this includes six seasons of foreign-led, community-engaged archaeological research in the Stann Creek District at the Ancestral Maya town of Alabama, alongside the local community of Maya Mopan Village and surrounding areas. In Canada, it encompasses our two seasons of local-led, community-based research in the Peace Region of Alberta at the early 20th-century settler townsite of Bezanson, alongside the local community of Bezanson today and surrounding areas. We discuss the similarities and differences between our two research programs and their associated “local” communities and consider our successes and failures and how each experience builds upon the other. We conclude that there are no one-size-fits-all models for such community-involved endeavours. Still, their pursual is what makes archaeology worthwhile and most impactful today.

Bio: Meaghan is an Associate Professor in the Anthropology Program at Athabasca University (AU) in Canada. She has been involved in archaeological study in Belize since 1999. Her research focuses on the built environment and production studies of material culture. She investigates how individuals, households, and communities negotiated their positions in locally and regionally defined socio-political and economic institutions. She also studies the impact of such negotiations on the overall processes of ancient settlement and urban development. Visit Meaghan’s AU profile to learn more.

Shawn is an Anthropology Instructor at Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP) in Canada. He has been involved in archaeological study in Belize since 2003. His research interests focus on the roles of architecture/built space, ritual, and religion in the constitution of group identity at local and polity levels, particularly in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. Visit Shawn’s NWP profile to learn more. 

Websites: and 

Social Media: Facebook and Instagram @scraparky @obaparky

SCRAP 2022 Week 6: Public Archaeology & End of Season

This is the final blog post of our 2022 field season. Although our season did not go exactly as we hoped, thanks to the realities of our current world, it was definitely full of interesting events, some cool archaeology, meeting new people, and a wonderful time reconnecting with collaborators, colleagues, and friends who we hadn’t seen in person in almost three years. We’d like to thank our entire field team for all their hard work and dedication, including Dave Blaine, Idelfonso (Elfonso) Cal, Nora Chiac, Higinio Chiac Sr, Justino Chiac, Wilmer Chiac, Alvanio Chun, Juan Coc, Matt Longstaffe, Shawn Morton, Alson Ovando, Diego Paquiul, Juan Paquiul, Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, Lupercio Salam, Saralyn Smith, Doris Teul, and Godwin Teul. Our foreign crew would also like to thank their hosts, Mr. Ernesto and Ms. Aurora Saqui of Maya Centre, for taking such good care of them all season—physically, mentally, and spiritually.

The following blog post was written by Mr. Alson Ovando of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District, who is a graduate of the University of Belize Natural Resources Management Program, and worked with SCRAP this summer as a research assistant.

Public Archeology in Belize: Conducting Educational Outreach in the Stann Creek District

As summer rolls around, schools close for the year and the weather begins to warm up across much of the world. The summer months also signify the start of the Archeology field season in Belize. Most archeological research done in Belize is conducted by about 27 foreign research teams. These research teams are mostly made up of academics and volunteers from all over the world. This is why the summer is the perfect time for them to come to Belize and conduct field studies while schools are on summer vacation.

This year, the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project (SCRAP) team began their field season a few weeks before schools closed in Belize for summer break. This presented a valuable opportunity for the team to conduct archeological outreach at local schools around the Alabama archaeological site. The project director, Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, was invited to speak to the first-year students at Georgetown Technical Highschool (GTH). Over a full day at the GTH, Dr. Peuramaki-Brown and I spoke to five first-form classes about the importance of archeology and how they could participate in archeological research in Belize. They were provided with a handout to take home with them (see below), as well as stickers with the SCRAP logo.

Presentations at GTH
GTH handout

Additionally, the SCRAP team was able to visit the Maya Mopan Primary School. There, Dr. Shawn Morton (SCRAP co-director), presented teachers with donated iPads equipped with an in-house developed app focusing on the Alabama archaeological site. The purpose of the app is to support new online curriculum elements in classrooms while educating students about the Alabama townsite and the life of the ancient Mayas who once lived in the local area. After Dr. Morton officially handed over the tablets and introduced the application to the teachers, he and I were able to visit the Standard 3, 4, and 5 classes to discuss archeology in Belize and give students a first-hand look at some of the artifacts that were found at Alabama. At the end of each presentation, students were given the chance to experience the hands-on aspect of fieldwork when they were challenged to lift or move one of the heavy granite blocks collected from the mounds at Alabama. Although many attempts were made to lift the stone most of the students failed. However, to our surprise, a few students did manage to lift the heavy stone! The SCRAP team used this hands-on challenge to explain that Maya houses were built on elevated platforms with heavy stones like the ones the students tried to lift. These types of stones were also used to build stairs and other architectural pieces. At the end of the visit, many of the students were intrigued and gathered at the last class the team visited to ask questions and see the artifacts. I was glad to be a part of such an essential part of the scientific process and a meaningful learning experience for those students.

Ultimately, conducting archeological outreach increases awareness about archeology in the Stann Creek District and educates Belizeans about the role they can play in helping archeologists learn more about the past and present through their unique and diverse perspectives. Many Belizeans are also shocked to learn that SCRAP even exists and conducts yearly archeological research in Stann Creek. SCRAP hopes to inspire a deeper appreciation for archeology among Belizeans of the Stann Creek District and foster stewardship of historical artifacts and monuments. In the future, SCRAP will be looking at more ways to conduct outreach in schools and among the wider Belizean public.

Fortunately, one way SCRAP has been able to engage Belizeans is by building awareness of archeology in Belize through social media. In fact, they recently made a list of “5 Belizean Archaeology Pages to Follow” put out by Heritage Education Network Belize. By staying consistently active on social media, SCRAP and other archeology project teams working in Belize have been able to inform the public of their recent activities. Social media has also made it easier to plan events and engage people of all ages. Not to mention, social media provides the perfect platform for sharing stories from the field, pictures, opportunities, and other helpful pieces of information about archeology in real-time.

Past SCRAP outreach activities

 After working with SCRAP and participating in their outreach efforts in Belize this field season, I was asked to provide some recommendations for archeologists who want to engage more Belizeans online. The most effective tool to gain an audience and engage with them is through social media. All archeological teams working within Belize should have a strong presence on social media and I recommend using a cross-content creation strategy for social media. This simply means taking pictures or videos of things happening day-to-day at the field site and posting those pictures and videos to multiple platforms. For example, if you take videos each day or week they can be shared on Facebook, YouTube shorts, Instagram Reels, Twitter, and TikTok. If you take pictures you can share that picture with a short description on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Both pictures and videos can be used for longer blogs on a website and then shared on each social media platform with links to the website.

@scraparky on Instagram

Another way to grow a Belizean audience is by tagging or posting in relevant groups that would find the topic of archeology and Belizean history interesting. For example, find Belizean social media groups that are focused on culture, history, art, and any other relevant groups of people that would enjoy seeing archeological work being done in Belize. Collaborating with big Belizean social media personalities can also grow a larger audience. Belizean influencers with large followings based on travelling lifestyle in Belize could provide exponential interest. Inviting Belizean influencers to volunteer or visit a project site to make content for their page could create a surge of interest in archaeology. Another helpful strategy is to engage the Belizean media. It is important for archeology teams to make the media rounds before the start of their field season to spread awareness about their presence in local communities and engage local interests. Securing a spot on a local morning talk show, radio shows, or on the nightly news will reach a large audience and garner widespread interest across all platforms. As teams become more consistent with creating content for social media their audiences will grow and generate long-term followers, likes, comments, and the viral sharing of archeological content from their pages. Eventually, creating an online community focused on archeology will not only keep stakeholders, rights holders, and interest groups engaged but will inspire a whole new generation of Belizeans to appreciate archeology and engage with projects taking place in their communities.

SCRAP 2022 Week 5: Transitioning to “Flabby Lab”

As our field season heads into its final week, we’ve transitioned into lab work slightly early. This is partly due to us being short one Lab Director this season (we miss you, Jill!). This week, our blog will hopefully help you understand what goes on “behind the scenes” with all the ancient belongings (artifacts and ecofacts) after they have been excavated from the ground at the Alabama Townsite.

We jokingly refer to the lab portion of our field season as “Flabby Lab.” This is because we go from very active days at the site—walking and digging all day long—to mostly stationary work at tables. In reality, the work of a research archaeologist primarily takes place behind desks, microscopes, and computers; the fieldwork portion of the year is relatively short.

Step 1: Check-in

Ancient belongings are bagged in the field according to “lot”: a system of record-keeping and provenience documentation used during excavations. On SCRAP, we do not separate items into various categories (e.g., pottery, lithics) until they arrive in the lab. We only separate items in the field if something particularly delicate or sensitive is uncovered. For example, breakable/sharp obsidian placed in individual plastic containers, or the recovery of human remains. The latter, which we have yet to encounter at Alabama, can often appear in unexpected locales and require special consideration. These considerations would occur in consultation with local cultural/religious representatives and the Institute of Archaeology. 

When excavation supervisors arrive at our field lab at the end of the day, they check in their artifact bags in our check-in binder. This allows us to keep tabs on all ancient belongings brought in and their progress through the washing, sorting, cataloguing, analysis, and storage stages. Any ecofacts collected—e.g., carbonized materials—are also checked in.

Step 2: Cleaning

Most artifacts then need to be cleaned to be appropriately sorted and analyzed. Our team members do this with buckets of water and toothbrushes—no different than the standard toothbrushes you use to brush your teeth (purchased for the purpose… we don’t raid each other’s toiletry kits). You must wet your brush and gently remove dirt from ceramic sherds and stone flakes. You must also take care not to destroy any delicate details such as painted designs. Depending on the weather, the artifacts are then placed to dry on screens for a day or two.

Step 3: Sorting

Once dry, the artifacts are sorted according to material type and/or technology. For example, common SCRAP categories for bulk materials (commonly recovered items) include ceramic, chipped-stone lithics, and daub construction material. They are bagged separately, though notes are made of their co-occurrence as a complete assemblage.

Step 4: Basic cataloguing

Once separated, all belongings are counted and weighed. They are placed in heavy-gauge plastic bags with tags inside and out labelled according to lot/context. They are then given individual or bulk catalogue numbers.

Step 5: Preliminary analysis

Following basic cataloguing, or sometimes alongside it, we further document materials via drawing, photography, 3D scan, etc. Further analysis also involves describing shape, colour, method of manufacture, etc. We complete a variety of spreadsheets and forms at this stage, which will provide documentation not only for our own further analysis but that of future archaeologists. 

Step 6: Additional analysis or export

Some ancient belongings are subjected to further study in the field, often with digital microscopes. Unfortunately, other items require additional study that is not currently possible in Belize. An example would be charred or carbonized wood and seeds that we use to provide more accurate dating of archaeological contexts. For this, we must send samples to labs in other parts of the world. To do that, we must seek permission from the Government of Belize via the Institute of Archaeology. In the case of carbon, permission is sought to export these materials for destructive analysis; only the analysis results are returned to Belize. For the export of any actual artifacts, we seek permission for export for a limited period, and all items must be returned to Belize within a year. Significant justification must be provided to be granted an export permit.

Step 7: Storage and Outreach

All ancient items are stored in Belize for additional future study and for use in teaching and outreach activities. Anyone can come and request to see these items—they are always here. Currently, SCRAP storage is located in the Stann Creek District, but we are actively seeking to arrange a facility in the local community nearby Alabama (following the security requirements of the Institute of Archaeology).

If you have any questions about this process, please reach out in the comments or by email to


Meaghan & Shawn

SCRAP Co-Directors

SCRAP 2022 Week 4: Socioeconomic Institutions @ Alabama

This week’s blog is by SCRAP Field Director and Ph.D. Candidate Matthew Longstaffe.

In late April, I jetted off from Calgary to Mexico to begin my second (albeit much delayed, thanks to COVID) spring/summer of dissertation fieldwork. For a month, I was in the jungles of the Calakmul Biosphere in southern Campeche, where I was excavating in the residential compound of a wealthy ancient household in the ancient city of Yaxnohcah. By late May, I was on my way to Stann Creek to join up with my SCRAP colleagues to begin excavating at Alabama.

My fieldwork in Stann Creek and Campeche is to collect data for my doctoral dissertation at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

Broadly, my research at both Yaxnohcah and Alabama is grounded in three overarching questions:

  • What integrative strategies did people use to participate in socioeconomic institutions?
  • How is this participation reflected in the archaeological record of residences?
  • How does participation in socioeconomic institutions impact the social organization of communities? 

But what exactly do I mean when discussing “socioeconomic institutions”? Here, I borrow a definition from Holland-Lulewicz and colleagues (2020), who conceptualize institutions as “organizations of people that carry out objectives using regularized practices and norms, labor, and resources.” Within this framework, I consider institutions not immaterial or abstract but tangible social phenomena with material outcomes. Regardless of their specific form and objectives, “socioeconomic” institutions integrate individuals and groups across communities through their shared purpose of provisioning society through, for example, production, consumption, and/or distribution of material goods. Marketplaces, craft guilds, task-oriented labour groups, and reciprocal labour pools are all examples of socioeconomic institutions. 

At Yaxnohcah, I am investigating a residential compound located immediately next to a neighbourhood marketplace. I explore the possibility that the people who lived in this residential group played a role in organizing and administering this community-level socioeconomic institution. 

But what am I doing at Alabama? In contrast to other, more well-researched areas of the Maya lowlands, we know very little about the socioeconomic institutions of Alabama and, to a certain degree, the Stann Creek District more broadly. SCRAP hypothesizes that resource development was a key driver of rapid growth at Alabama. I believe that socioeconomic institutions emerged to help support these activities, integrating this community’s households into social, political, and economic networks operating at multiple scales.

Picking up where we left off in 2019, this field season, we are excavating at one of the largest and best-preserved settlement sites outside the Alabama monumental core. The site is ALA-002 and lies roughly 1 km from the monumental core or “downtown” of Alabama. This settlement site has shown strong potential for providing the data types necessary to address my research questions. In 2019, investigations at ALA-002 found intact, reasonably well-preserved architecture and numerous, well-stratified artifacts of different material classes. This year, Shawn, Dave, and I are supervising excavations at the settlement site’s three mounds. We hope to further clarify the architectural forms of their platforms (and associated superstructures when possible) and expand our artifact database.

Together, the data collected will be critical for understanding the overall function of ALA-002 and the activities that took place at this location. Thus, one of my study’s goals (which will help address my research questions) is to use excavation and artifact data to reconstruct the socioeconomic practices of the people who lived at this settlement site. For example, material analyses of recovered artifacts (e.g., ceramics, tools, and other objects) should provide us with information to evaluate the type, scope, and scale of activities that occurred at ALA-002. Furthermore, by analyzing these artifacts and looking for patterns in their distribution, we can identify local and non-local belongings that can tell us about broader trade relationships, signifying participation in socioeconomic institutions. These are just a snippet of the analyses we plan to undertake. Still, this type of information can help us understand the relationships residents of ALA-002 exemplified within the socioeconomic organization of Alabama and the surrounding region at various times.

As a final aside, because it’s too cool to ignore, one of the more interesting findings so far this year is evidence that two locations at ALA-002, although constructed and principally occupied during the Late and Terminal Classic periods, appear to have been reoccupied (for at least a time) during the Late Postclassic and possibly into the early Colonial period. While our analysis is still preliminary, a wide array of temporally diagnostic artifacts, notably projectile points, ceramics, and purpose-made ceramic net-weights, support this interpretation.


Holland-Lulewicz, Jacob, Megan Anne Conger, Jennifer Birch, Stephen A. Kowalewski, and Travis W. Jones (2020). An Institutional Approach for Archaeology. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 58:101163.

SCRAP 2022 Week 3: Dirt, Rocks, and Ticks

This week‘s blog comes from one of our new SCRAP team members, Saralyn Smith, who is an MSc student at Western University.

Two weeks ago, I landed in Belize City around noon on a Saturday. It was my first time leaving Canada, my first time leaving home, and my first time flying. My ears hurt, and my legs were cramped, but I was beyond excited as soon as the Caribbean air hit me. It marked the beginning of a five-week learning experience.

Block C2 access road with foothills in the background

After completing my Bachelor’s of Science not one month earlier, I began a Master’s of Geology. This new journey would start with this trip to collect soil samples from the ancient Maya townsite of Alabama. The goal is to better understand the agricultural patterns during the peak occupation period at Alabama–approx. 700-900 AD. I will begin geochemical carbon analyses when I return to Canada and receive the shipped samples I have collected here (pending export permit from the Institute of Archaeology).

Some colour…

While it has only been two weeks, many interesting things have happened. I have discovered that I am a beacon for every biting, stinging, and pinching insect Stann Creek District offers. I should have brought equally as much hydrocortisone as I did sunscreen. On that note, I have further realized that it is possible to sunburn through a hundred layers of SPF 50—my swollen, bumpy, and crispy arms can attest. At least I can say that this is the best watch-tan I have ever had.

When the itching kept me up at night, I sought out Ms. Aurora for help. After glimpsing my arms, she said my bites were watering, which was a kind way of saying that each of my 80-something fly bites was leaking off-yellow puss. She offered me an herbal afterbite from her shop that contained Red Pollywood and Jackass Bitters. This soothed my bites enough that I slept four hours without waking, which was a significant improvement. As I have said from the beginning, it is all part of the adventure!

While I have been forced into a knowledge of insects, I have also gladly learned much from my team members. As the newest team member with SCRAP and a geologist-in-progress, I was welcomed with open arms. With varying backgrounds and experiences, everyone brings something wholly unique to the table. They taught me about the granite-rich geological history of the area, which is intriguing and crucial to my research. The countless archaeological finds troweled from the units on site each day serve as pieces to an ever-growing puzzle, which has been forming for years now and will continue to take shape in the years to come.

The wildlife might just be one of the most fascinating parts of this trip. The howler monkeys call for the rain, the jaguars roam close and yet far, and the leaf-cutter ants slowly dismantle entire trees before my eyes. A green-and-yellow snake slithered across my boot and up the nearest banana tree just the other day. While some might have quaked at the sight, I would take ten thousand snakes over a singular tick any day.

I really, really hate ticks.

One thing that cannot be overstated is how immersive the experience has already been. Not only have I been thrust into another cultural world, but I have had the privilege to converse with and learn from locals living here. I have whined about the heat countless times and revealed how much I miss snow and ice, only to laugh at the alarmed reactions I receive. I vow to never complain about the cold ever again.

Collecting and sampling soil cores

I would not be able to participate in this field experience if it were not for the funding offered by both my home school and SCRAP/SSHRC. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Big thanks to Dave for the two pictures above that impressively capture my amateur soil sampling skills and make-shift handle protector. That rag is in actual tatters now.

I and my house gecko (ceremoniously dubbed ‘Greg’ by my family via video chat) encourage anyone reading this to go out into the world and experience something—anything—new. Go and learn, reach out, open up, and uncover the countless differences worldwide.

It’s one thing to learn in a classroom. It’s entirely different to live it.