Monday, August 2, 2010

Student Megan Anderson in Belize

There are two things I learned this summer while participating in the Rio Bravo Archaeological Survey Project Field School in Belize: howler monkeys are a lot less cute at 2 a.m., and doing archaeology in the jungle is one of the most amazing things to experience. For four weeks from the middle of June until the middle of July, I worked on the Maya site Chawak But'o'ob in the Programme for Belize Conservation and Management Area of Belize with a group of twelve other students. Staying in a base camp, we climbed into the back of trucks every morning for the 30-minute ride along the old logging road to our site. Snake guards and machetes in hand, we would march 25 minutes along a footpath into the jungle until we reached the ball court area where were working. The site itself is a commoner site built into an escarpment with residential terraces, water basins, and ritual space. Our team divided into small groups and we were able to open excavations in a basin and in front of two caves. It was neat to uncover pot sherds (and in one case a reptilian whistle) from the pre-classic period and hold a piece of history in your hand, and see the way the rock tumble would have been arranged as a wall. With archaeology, history is a tangible thing, something you can scrape up with a trowel and put into an artifact bag.

I was trained in archaeological survey at the site; I used a total mapping station, working its computer, holding prisms, and cutting down vines with my machete for a clear shot (after a day and a few good laughs at my over-enthusiasm, the native workmen taught me how to wield my tool the right way). The best part of this field school was the director's desire to instill in us the importance of using different disciplines to understand the past. For several days I crashed off-trail through the jungle with a pair of biologists and measured trees. The data they collected were used to understand what the forest would have looked like in pre-classic times.

Belize is a beautiful and interesting country, and the archaeologists who work there are passionate about what they are doing and ager to share that knowledge with students and the world. This field school allowed me to take archaeology out of the classroom and experience it in the real world.

Megan is a junior Archaeology major at UE.

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