Week 4 of our COVID-Times Reading Group

For Week 4 of our COVID-times reading group, we read a stimulating article about the survey, testing, and excavation methods associated with “effaced earthen-core architecture” in the Maya region: platform architecture that has predominantly clay/mud/dirt core (fill) faced with dressed or hewn stone. We had eight participants in our conversation–again, from Belize, Canada, and the US–and we were lucky enough to have co-authors Drs. Brouwer Burg and Harrison-Buck join us for a wonderful 2+ hour conversation. Shawn provided a summary and the discussion questions to guide our conversation for this week.

Brouwer Burg, M., A. Runggaldier & E. Harrison-Buck (2016) The Afterlife of Earthen-Core Buildings: A Taphonomic Study of Threatened and Effaced Architecture in Central Belize. Journal of Field Archaeology 41(1): 17-36.


This article focuses on the site of Hats Kaab, in the lower Belize River Valley, and details work conducted there in the early 2010s by the Belize River East Archaeological (BREA) Project. Based on radiocarbon assays and ceramic dates, Hats Kaab was initially constructed in the Late Preclassic, with remodeling in the Late-Terminal Preclassic, and evidence of additional activity in the Classic and Post-Classic periods. A remarkably isolated collection of platforms arranged around a central plaza, it has been interpreted as a special purpose architectural complex of the E-Group type—acting as a functional solar observatory and a venue for large gatherings, including feasting—a persistent place, and a crossroads location. While there is plenty of neat stuff to tuck into with this article, the reason that it was chosen for this week’s reading group was for its parallels with Alabama (the focus of SCRAP’s research) in terms of scale/proportion, construction techniques, and post-abandonment taphonomy.

Discussion Questions.
1. How do we align excavated and surface-collected data? What factors might affect such

2. Hats Kaab is notable (among many more positive things) for the extent to which it has been disturbed and degraded by agricultural development. Alabama has also been heavily impacted by agriculture. To what extent (and how) can we control for this in our field methodology and post-field analyses?

3. Like Hats Kaab, construction at Alabama is composed of clayey earthen fill, with structures faced by cut masonry. This is a question directed primarily at Marieka and Ellie (and Jill, of course). Can you describe BCM? For the SCRAP materials folks, I’m wondering how this might differ from the “weird” daub we’re finding at Alabama. Can we distinguish between the two?

4. Hats Kaab lies at a nexus. So does Alabama. Portable material culture can clearly speak to this position. Can architecture?

5. Can we invoke the persistent place concept at Alabama?