SCRAP 2022 Week 6: Public Archaeology & End of Season

This is the final blog post of our 2022 field season. Although our season did not go exactly as we hoped, thanks to the realities of our current world, it was definitely full of interesting events, some cool archaeology, meeting new people, and a wonderful time reconnecting with collaborators, colleagues, and friends who we hadn’t seen in person in almost three years. We’d like to thank our entire field team for all their hard work and dedication, including Dave Blaine, Idelfonso (Elfonso) Cal, Nora Chiac, Higinio Chiac Sr, Justino Chiac, Wilmer Chiac, Alvanio Chun, Juan Coc, Matt Longstaffe, Shawn Morton, Alson Ovando, Diego Paquiul, Juan Paquiul, Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, Lupercio Salam, Saralyn Smith, Doris Teul, and Godwin Teul. Our foreign crew would also like to thank their hosts, Mr. Ernesto and Ms. Aurora Saqui of Maya Centre, for taking such good care of them all season—physically, mentally, and spiritually.

The following blog post was written by Mr. Alson Ovando of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District, who is a graduate of the University of Belize Natural Resources Management Program, and worked with SCRAP this summer as a research assistant.

Public Archeology in Belize: Conducting Educational Outreach in the Stann Creek District

As summer rolls around, schools close for the year and the weather begins to warm up across much of the world. The summer months also signify the start of the Archeology field season in Belize. Most archeological research done in Belize is conducted by about 27 foreign research teams. These research teams are mostly made up of academics and volunteers from all over the world. This is why the summer is the perfect time for them to come to Belize and conduct field studies while schools are on summer vacation.

This year, the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project (SCRAP) team began their field season a few weeks before schools closed in Belize for summer break. This presented a valuable opportunity for the team to conduct archeological outreach at local schools around the Alabama archaeological site. The project director, Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, was invited to speak to the first-year students at Georgetown Technical Highschool (GTH). Over a full day at the GTH, Dr. Peuramaki-Brown and I spoke to five first-form classes about the importance of archeology and how they could participate in archeological research in Belize. They were provided with a handout to take home with them (see below), as well as stickers with the SCRAP logo.

Presentations at GTH
GTH handout

Additionally, the SCRAP team was able to visit the Maya Mopan Primary School. There, Dr. Shawn Morton (SCRAP co-director), presented teachers with donated iPads equipped with an in-house developed app focusing on the Alabama archaeological site. The purpose of the app is to support new online curriculum elements in classrooms while educating students about the Alabama townsite and the life of the ancient Mayas who once lived in the local area. After Dr. Morton officially handed over the tablets and introduced the application to the teachers, he and I were able to visit the Standard 3, 4, and 5 classes to discuss archeology in Belize and give students a first-hand look at some of the artifacts that were found at Alabama. At the end of each presentation, students were given the chance to experience the hands-on aspect of fieldwork when they were challenged to lift or move one of the heavy granite blocks collected from the mounds at Alabama. Although many attempts were made to lift the stone most of the students failed. However, to our surprise, a few students did manage to lift the heavy stone! The SCRAP team used this hands-on challenge to explain that Maya houses were built on elevated platforms with heavy stones like the ones the students tried to lift. These types of stones were also used to build stairs and other architectural pieces. At the end of the visit, many of the students were intrigued and gathered at the last class the team visited to ask questions and see the artifacts. I was glad to be a part of such an essential part of the scientific process and a meaningful learning experience for those students.

Ultimately, conducting archeological outreach increases awareness about archeology in the Stann Creek District and educates Belizeans about the role they can play in helping archeologists learn more about the past and present through their unique and diverse perspectives. Many Belizeans are also shocked to learn that SCRAP even exists and conducts yearly archeological research in Stann Creek. SCRAP hopes to inspire a deeper appreciation for archeology among Belizeans of the Stann Creek District and foster stewardship of historical artifacts and monuments. In the future, SCRAP will be looking at more ways to conduct outreach in schools and among the wider Belizean public.

Fortunately, one way SCRAP has been able to engage Belizeans is by building awareness of archeology in Belize through social media. In fact, they recently made a list of “5 Belizean Archaeology Pages to Follow” put out by Heritage Education Network Belize. By staying consistently active on social media, SCRAP and other archeology project teams working in Belize have been able to inform the public of their recent activities. Social media has also made it easier to plan events and engage people of all ages. Not to mention, social media provides the perfect platform for sharing stories from the field, pictures, opportunities, and other helpful pieces of information about archeology in real-time.

Past SCRAP outreach activities

 After working with SCRAP and participating in their outreach efforts in Belize this field season, I was asked to provide some recommendations for archeologists who want to engage more Belizeans online. The most effective tool to gain an audience and engage with them is through social media. All archeological teams working within Belize should have a strong presence on social media and I recommend using a cross-content creation strategy for social media. This simply means taking pictures or videos of things happening day-to-day at the field site and posting those pictures and videos to multiple platforms. For example, if you take videos each day or week they can be shared on Facebook, YouTube shorts, Instagram Reels, Twitter, and TikTok. If you take pictures you can share that picture with a short description on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Both pictures and videos can be used for longer blogs on a website and then shared on each social media platform with links to the website.

@scraparky on Instagram

Another way to grow a Belizean audience is by tagging or posting in relevant groups that would find the topic of archeology and Belizean history interesting. For example, find Belizean social media groups that are focused on culture, history, art, and any other relevant groups of people that would enjoy seeing archeological work being done in Belize. Collaborating with big Belizean social media personalities can also grow a larger audience. Belizean influencers with large followings based on travelling lifestyle in Belize could provide exponential interest. Inviting Belizean influencers to volunteer or visit a project site to make content for their page could create a surge of interest in archaeology. Another helpful strategy is to engage the Belizean media. It is important for archeology teams to make the media rounds before the start of their field season to spread awareness about their presence in local communities and engage local interests. Securing a spot on a local morning talk show, radio shows, or on the nightly news will reach a large audience and garner widespread interest across all platforms. As teams become more consistent with creating content for social media their audiences will grow and generate long-term followers, likes, comments, and the viral sharing of archeological content from their pages. Eventually, creating an online community focused on archeology will not only keep stakeholders, rights holders, and interest groups engaged but will inspire a whole new generation of Belizeans to appreciate archeology and engage with projects taking place in their communities.