I know, I know. The point of a weekly blog is that it is posted, well, weekly. And while I’d like to hide behind the anonymity of the royal “we” on this one, as I type this from the comfort of my Flagstaff apartment, I am acutely aware that I (not we) didn’t manage to get this out in time. In my defense, the last three weeks have been exceptionally busy. Let me explain…
The two busiest times in any field project are at the beginning and at the end. While at the beginning this activity is fueled by excitement for the coming season, at the end the dominant emotion is anxiety. Is everything properly buttoned up? Did we wring out as much information as we possibly could? Have I answered my basic questions and do I have enough to complete that next publication or to propose that next grant? Just how over budget are we? All of this in the knowledge that our time is finite, marked by the hard deadline of our plane tickets home.
Inevitably, you come out the end of the season with more questions than answers and a “To Do” list the length of your arm (12 pt font) for the next season. But I’m happy to report that thanks to the efforts of our hard working project members, we can count this season among the successes.
Weeks 8 and 9: Our Last Weeks of Field Work
The end of our field work was blessedly staggered, allowing for each piece to be wrapped up in its own time and with the attention needed.
Matt and his crew were the first to hit the finish line; a couple hundred shovel tests and one deep stratigraphic test unit added to the books since they began in May. What took nearly 8 weeks to dig out was filled back in a day and a half. Sylvestro, Higinio Jr., Damacio, and Aaron barely broke a sweat!
Meaghan, Virginia, and the two senior Mr. Chiacs finished next. Their excavations succeeded in hinting at a much deeper settlement history than we had hitherto encountered, and illuminated something of the complex construction history (method and timeline) of hands-down the nicest set of stairs ever found by this project. Again, nearly 4 weeks of excavated earth was put back in less than a day.
The final excavations to finish were my own (if you didn’t gather earlier, I am a procrastinator), despite the tireless work of Mr.s Paquiul, Cal, Salam, and our volunteer, Diego. In the end, our comparatively large excavations (8 x 3 m, through platform and plaza, alike) at a presumed temple platform in Alabama’s monumental core delivered on questions of construction history, method, and materials, an infuriating lack of architectural stone leaves us scratching our heads. Were we digging stairs? A ramp? Were the stones stripped from the structure in the recent past? In the distant past? Where they never there? Grrr! We filled in this excavation on Friday morning.
Why fill in our excavations? Particularly if we are planning on returning to these locations in future? It is both a legal requirement of the permit granted to Meaghan by Belize’s Institute of Archaeology, and the ethical thing to do. Alabama is not a tourist site. It is not protected, save by the good will of the property owner and community. It lies within an active orange orchard. There is no money available for keeping the site clean. An open excavation in these conditions would be a danger for workers and equipment, and would quickly succumb to the cumulative effects of erosion, plant roots, and the questing hands of passers by. We backfill our excavations not because we are trying to hide something, or because we like making more work for ourselves, but because the earth has protected these one-of-a-kind places for more than a thousand years, and if we are fortunate, it will continue to do so.
Week 10: The End is Nigh
Following two public presentations on this season’s activities in both Maya Mopan and Maya Centre—such public engagement has been a hallmark of SCRAP since its inception, this time, with the Chairman and Alcalde of Maya Mopan arranging for a marimba and dancing in association—we snuck to the beach for a well-deserved breather before our lab week commenced.
This past week, we…
-Cleaned, repaired, inventoried, and stored all project and personal equipment.
-Completed basic cataloguing and conducted more extensive ceramic and lithic descriptions/analyses.
-Photographed and illustrated relevant objects before likewise placing these in storage.
-Scanned and compiled all notes, plans, profiles, etc., and ultimately turned these in to an expansive preliminary report for the Institute.
Why do we produce such a report if we are going to produce a final report later? Again, it is both a legal and ethical requirement. The preliminary report (in this case, more than 400 pages long, not including photographs!) represents our raw data. It is no less than the complete record, as best as we can record, of our activities. There isn’t much interpretation in this document (that will come later), but, knock on wood, should something happen to us, archaeologists that come after should be able to pick up where we left off. It is our recording and preservation of such a record that most significantly separates archaeologists from looters. This is the most important thing we do, and the reason that SCRAP has a lab week at the end of the field season.
And with that, another field season for the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project comes to a close. Thank you again to the whole crew and to those that we’ve come to rely upon to pull this off. Thank you to Mr. H. Chiac Sr., Mr. J. Paquiul, Mr. I. Cal, Mr. L. Salam, Mr. J. Chiac, Mr. S. Chiac, Mr. H. Chiac Jr., Ms. V. Chiac, Mr. D. Sho, Mr. A. Tush, Ms. J. and Mr. C. Teul, Mr. C. Teul, Mr. J. Teck, and to the residents of Maya Mopan. Thank you to Mr. Greene and Ms. Canton of Greene Groves Orchards. Thank you to Ms. A. and Mr. E. Saqui, Mr. G. Saqui, Mr. R. Saqui, and the other good folks at Nuuk Che’il Cottages in Maya Centre. Thank you to Ms. Ella and Mr. Kenny of Ella’s Cool Spot, and the staff of Driftwood, both in Hopkins Village. Thank you to our volunteers–Mr. D. Paquiul, Niki, Gillian, Frank, and young Mr. T. Teul–and the team from UNESCO Suriname-Belize Heritage Mission. Finally, thank you to friends and colleagues, new and old, at the Institute of Archaeology, the Institute for Social and Cultural Research, and the Stann Creek House of Culture. We’ll see you next time!
Shawn and the SCRAP Team