Week 1: Setting Up, Digging Out, and Preliminary Adventures in the Foothills of the Maya Mountains

This week was our first full week in the field (Alabama site) and we hit the ground running… well, running with sweat, at least. After picking up Jill, Niki, and Frank on Sunday and getting settled into our “field camp” in Stann Creek District, Belize—we unpacked our lab and prepped for our first day of field work. At day’s end, we travelled to nearby Hopkins for an evening of pizza and fun.


Our newly screened-in lab

On Monday, after a late breakfast, we met with our Belizean collaborators—happily greeting friends from past seasons and meeting a couple of new individuals—, inspected the areas that we’d be focussing our efforts on this season, and went over the general plans.


Discussing and debating plans for 2019 season

The folks from the village near the site had gotten an early start to avoid the heat of the day while clearing our excavation areas, so we called it quits early. That night, Meaghan schooled Shawn and Frank at dominoes.


Shawn pretending he’s better at dominoes than Meaghan

On Tuesday, we departed Maya Centre at our regularly scheduled time of 6 am and breakfasted in Maya Mopan. The guys set up an extensive tarp palace (rain shelter) in the monumental core and we re-established the boundaries of the 2018 excavations at Alabama Structure 1&2 (we’ll be continuing in this locale this season).


Excavations at Tarp Palace (a.k.a. Structures 1 & 2)

Meanwhile, a couple of kilometres to the southwest, a small crew began prepping for excavation of a mysterious granite feature first recorded in 2015 when Mr. Chiac Sr. (our Foreman) showed it to Meaghan, wondering what it might be. Originally interpreted as a staging area for the extraction of granite from the neighbouring streambed, the team was interested in ascertaining whether the feature was truly cultural, and to when it may have dated.  Was it related in any way to ancient community efforts at granite extraction for architectural blocks or other artifacts? Our ace Lab Director, Jill, strutted her stuff in the field, exploring the wild world of sand and clay in the Waha Leaf Creek valley. Hopkins beckoned yet again, along with our friend from Cayo (grown-up grandkids in tow), Mr. Landy.


Jill digs sand.

On Wednesday, we cleared the backfill out of the 2018 Op 6 excavations at Structure 1&2, where we will be revisiting some cool architectural finds uncovered at the end of last season. We also started excavating our granite feature, finding only a single potsherd within (thanks, Niki)! This, along with a stone axe uncovered by Higinio the following day, confirmed the feature was cultural, and we currently believe this to be the intentional shoring up of a natural terrace area, perhaps to prevent erosion for agricultural purposes (currently being used for growing jipijapa and bamboo with cacao and banana lower down, the steward of which was also curious as to original purpose of the feature). In present day, agricultural terracing is not a common technique used in Stann Creek, and its use in the pre-Columbian past of the region had only been hypothesized by archaeologists in the 80s and 90s. Future carbon dating will hopefully confirm the pre-Columbian designation, and we are now looking for a graduate student to do future terrace studies (hint hint), with a particular focus on understanding the extent of its use during the period of Alabama’s “boom.” The evening brought further excitement. As the water was out, we elected to drag our sweaty selves to Hopkins for a well-deserved dip in the Caribbean.  Nothing like an all-natural seaweed scrub and salt on the bug bites to put you in a positive frame of mind!


Excavations at granite feature (Higinio, Niki, Frank)

On Thursday, we began excavation in earnest at Structure 1&2, following up on leads suggested in 2018. Two questions dictate our efforts here: First, what is the temporal span of construction represented at the locale? Tantalizing evidence for an earlier structure running perpendicular to the principal mass of Structure 1&2 was identified at the end of the 2018 season, and a conspicuous pile of granite slightly above the final plaza level may suggest post-Classic, post-abandonment, reuse/visitation. Second, how were earthen-core, granite-faced structures actually built and how have the taphonomic processes of a millennium transformed them?  Excavations continued at the granite feature in the foothills and our Lab Director took control back in camp. At the end of the day, we returned home to find water still in absence. This time, a quick trip to the Sittee River at Kendal cooled us and cleansed us. For dinner… All we can say is black dinner for the main and stewed pumpkin with 3lbs of sugar for dessert… sigh…amazing…


Frank and Virginia screening Tarp Palace matrix

Friday. Oh, Friday. How we love you. Meaghan completed her excavations in the foothills (mapped, profiled, 3D modeled, and backfilled), and Shawn completed a second full day of excavations at Structure 1&2. We ended the day with celebratory Ideals (basically Mr. Freezes) and headed back to camp where we enjoyed a delicious supper and the best dessert ever concocted by human or god: a banana pineapple fritter with chocolate sauce (thank you, Rigo)!


Working and relaxing in Hopkins.

Weekend was free for crew to catch up on work, relax, or whatever. On Saturday, we hung out in lab all morning doing work, until we picked up Dave at the airport. We then took him to a “Welcome Back to Belize” evening in Hopkins, hanging out at Ella’s Cool Spot.

That’s all for now. We’ll cover Sunday to Saturday of Week 2 next time. Stay tuned!

The SCRAP Team