SCRAP 2018 Week 3: Five Days on Site in Lovely Belize

After a full week of excavating we have some interesting things to update everyone on! In the rainy morning of Sunday, May 27th we took a tour of the cacao fields and got to see how cacao beans are harvested and dried. We then went to the chocolate factory and made our own chocolate using traditional Maya methods. Picture1

Later in the afternoon some of us went to the Serpon sugar mill, where we saw several ornate pieces of mill equipment from the 1800’s that were left behind. The most impressive was a one-cylinder steam engine, a large iron fly wheel, several very large gears and two large boilers, used to drive a powerful rolling mill to crush the cane. I wonder if there were any accidents?IMG_5210

On Monday, the 28th, at the excavation down in the settlement, rain overnight poured over our sandbag barrier and collapsed part of the north wall, fortunately there was not much damage and we could continue with excavations. We are now on our 5th lot and into the formal residential building. We are able to determine this by the decrease in artifacts, and the matrix being filled with more gravel.


On building #10 we completed the first Lot on the south half of our operation (sub-operation 5A) after digging an average of 10cm through the clay loam to a shallow level of gravel. We then started to excavate the plaza area in Lot #2 on the north side (sub-operation 5B). A fellow student (Miranda George) found a very interesting pottery handle and won the “Find for the Day” prize (a sweet cowboy hat with the Belize flag on it). In the afternoon for our lab we split into two groups, one doing a photography workshop with our supervisor Dave Blaine, learning about the basics of artifact photography. The other group was with our program director Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, where they learned how to properly catalogue the artifacts found in our excavations.

Photo on 2018-06-04 at 6.22 PM

Tuesday the 29th at the settlement (sub-operation 3F) we took 3 charcoal samples for dating. After our 6th lot was completed we extended our pit in two directions, 50cm to the north and 30cm to the south in hopes of uncovering more of the stones from the wall structure. (insert picture of settlement from Tuesday). In operation 6B we uncovered many slabs of granite, one of the local Maya field assistants found two pieces of obsidian blades. That evening we learned about the chronology of the ancient Maya in Belize, and talked about several representative sites including Cahal Pech and Lubaantun, both of which we will be visiting.

Wednesday the 30th at structure #10, it has been 2 full days of all-hands-on-deck digging in the plaza area of sub-operation 5B (north side), getting through most of the clay loam and uncovering a large granite rock lying flat on a possible plaza floor. A fellow student (Adela Melena) recovered a lovely quartz crystal with 4 intact facets. At the settlement one of the local Maya field assistants, Sylvestro, found an interesting piece of unit stamped pottery. At the site of 6B, Niki Phillips and another local field assistant both found obsidian flakes, while the rest of us found dirt!  After we did another lab when we got back from the field where the groups switched so the group that did photography learned to catalogue.

Thursday the 31st at structure #10, after digging an average of 35cm from the ground surface, we closed Lot #2 in sub-operation 5B and spent most of the morning mapping the surface which included 20 granite boulders and 1 limestone boulder. In the afternoon, we set up Lot #3 focusing on the plaza and dug down another 8cm to the base of the granite rock. It is sitting on a semi-consolidated gravel and cobble surface. It looks quite continuous over the plaza area with a strange circular area with no pebbles near the base of the structure slope and appears to have been a hole. We took a carbon sample for dating within this feature. A similar gravel surface has been exposed further up on the slope of the structure in both sub-operation 5A and 5B earlier in the week. In the settlement after finishing our 13th lot we spent the day mapping out the features of our excavation from a top down view, mapping over 34 rocks. Once again in sub-operation 6B we found a whole lot of dirt, so much that we had to use a large geology pick to dig it all out. However, later in the day our supervisor Dave Blaine found a larger, more in-tact obsidian blade, which was very exciting after a full day of shoveling soil. IMG_5237

The only other thing we found that day was a large mama tarantula hiding in the cracks of the rocks. That evening we attended a lecture by Dr. Shawn Morton, who talked to us about monumental architecture in Belize, as well as the rest of the world. Picture3

Friday June 1st was a very rainy day. Upon arriving on site, we discovered that all the excavations had been partially flooded with water overnight, in the lowest areas. In 6B we were able to avoid the mucky areas and map most the granite slabs in the southern half, with the help of the students from the settlement excavation. On building #10 we managed to complete our profile measurements on the entire operation in a N/S direction. Since we have not seen any distinct architecture to date, we also opened Lot #4 which will focus on excavating into middle of the slope to uncover existing intact architectural facings or construction core. After lunch it was too wet on site so we had lunch and then worked in the lab back at home base.

And finally, on June 2nd we visited the beach town of Placencia, where we all split up and explored, ate food, and shopped. Some of us went for award-winning gelato, while others went for a swim in the ocean. However, the one thing we all did together was get a stomach bug and puked our guts out all night! Yay Placencia!Picture5

Thanks for checking in and don’t forget to read next week’s blog!

By: Jada Dowler, Kristine Hubenig, and Doug Smith.