Goodbye, SCRAP 2018. Hello, SCRAP 2019!

The SCRAP team is ending 2018 and starting 2019 with a bang.

December Belize Trip

From Dec. 8-23, we (SCRAP Co-Directors, Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown and Dr. Shawn Morton) travelled to Belize for meetings and a short lab session.

During our first week, we visited the Institute of Archaeology to pick up the letter acknowledging our presence in the country to conduct lab work under our 2018 permit. We also had an encouraging and productive series of meetings with the director and various associate directors of the Institute about upcoming projects.

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A stormy sky over the NICH/Institute of Archaeology in Belmopan. Luckily, it was sunny skies during our meetings 🙂

We visited with colleagues and friends in Maya Mopan village to keep them posted on project happenings, to consult regarding plans for our upcoming season, to keep up on village happenings, and to wish everyone happy holidays. The remainder of our first week was spent getting to better know the people and places of Hopkins—including our new favourite hangout, Ella’s Cool Spot.

 

During our second week, we moved to our field camp for a week of lab work—ongoing analysis of materials recovered during last summer’s excavations in the monumental core and settlement zone of Alabama. This work included

  • Analysis of pottery forms, pastes, and surface treatments/decoration to determine temporal designations and function.
  • Analysis of lithic debitage and tools to determine raw material type, manufacturing techniques, and overall functions, along with some possible temporal designations.
  • Closer analysis of small and/or special finds, including grinding stones, worked pottery sherds, fishing tools, projectiles and axes, etc.
  • Illustration of pottery rim profiles for the purpose of communicating vessel shape and for comparison with vessels from elsewhere.
  • Artifact photography for the purpose of communicating artifact appearance, comparisons, and for future illustration and 3D modelling purposes.
  • Archaeological testing and experimental studies to determine the actual material of our mysterious ‘amber’ pieces encountered during excavations in the settlement zone.

 

 

Exciting Times in 2019

2019 is shaping up to be an exciting and busy time for the SCRAP team. In May, we will begin the second season of our SSHRC Insight Grant field research, focused on the reasons behind the rather sudden appearance of more complex development at Alabama and how it was sustained; our field season will last from mid May to early August. Should all go as planned (which, you never know in archaeology), we will be involved in a lidar survey of the Pearce Ruins (10 km away from Alabama) in the spring, thanks to funding from various sources including a SSHRC Explore Grant (via Athabasca University). In March, we will also begin the consultation process for our new education/heritage-conservation Augmented Reality (AR) project, funded by a National Geographic Explore Grant. We’ll also complete our 2018 Final Report about our summer excavations in time for our March trip, and will be releasing a series of social media posts that explain the content of the report in a somewhat more entertaining fashion than is the norm for technical reports in archaeology.

 

From our team to you/yours, we wish you a very joyous New Year 2019 full of wondrous adventure!

Cheers,

The SCRAP Team

Congratulations Team SCRAP

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!

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Jill and Ms Aurora making pots

SSHRC Insight Grant for Alabama

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):

http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/results-resultats/recipients-recipiendaires/2017/insight_savoir-eng.aspx

 

 

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Canadian field school students and Belizean field assistants working hard on a residential mound at Alabama (SCRAP 2018)

 

SCRAP 2018: The final weeks

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.

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We attended the primary school graduation in Maya Centre–we’ll also say “Happy Graduation” to our first cohort of field school students 🙂

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.

Botik,
Meaghan and Shawn

SCRAP 2018 Public Outreach & Engagement

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.

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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:

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Archaeology_Pamphlet-FINAL

Click on the links below to download the original designs submitted by each group:

PlumbBobbettes_Group-Archaeology

PlumbBobbettes_Group-Alabama

Ixtuculil_Group-Archaeology

Ixtuculil_Group-Alabama

Chulche_Group-Archaeology

Chulche_Group-Alabama

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:

SCRAP 2018 Week 5: Final Field School Week

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.

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From the left: Mr. Paquiul, Gill, Kristine and Dr. Shawn Morton finishing up – taken by Johana Delos Reyes

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!

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The settlement unit with the hole in the middle – photo by Gillian Taylor

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.

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Ms. Juana and Mr. Catarino. Photo by Gillian Taylor

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!

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Mr. H. Chiac  Jr., Mr. L. Salam, and Mr. J. Chiac removing one of the rocks under the supervision of Dr. Reese-Taylor.  Photo by: Niki Phillips

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.

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Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown giving the presentation

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.

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Everyone taking a look at some of the interesting artifacts – photo by Gillian Taylor

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We all had a delicious meal of rice and beans. We can’t believe how much amazing food Miss Juana made for us all!!

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.

 

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Photo taken by Gillian Taylor

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.

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Miss Aurora in her beautiful dress – photo by Gillian Taylor

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:

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