This summer I participated in the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project (BVAR). This project focuses on the research of Maya sites in the Belize Valley and it is presently working at three sites: Cahal Pech, Lower Dover, and Baking Pot. I had the opportunity to work at latter two sites.
I spent the first couple days in San Ignacio, Belize learning the basics of excavation before I went with a group to the remote jungle site of Lower Dover for two weeks. We stayed in cabins in the jungle where we slept with mosquito nets, showered with rain water, and walked with flashlights at night to avoid stepping on tarantulas. The site was about a half mile hike in the jungle from the camp. Lower Dover is a Terminal Classic site where excavations only recently began in 2010. This field season focused on excavating a plaza structure to determine its architecture to establish a chronology of Lower Dover. I helped to excavate a ceramic cache, which also contained faunal remains and obsidian, and then painstakingly re-uncover it with a spray bottle and paintbrush after a torrential downpour covered it in mud. I also worked in another unit to establish the site’s chronology by uncovering as many stratigraphic levels as quickly as possible before the season ended. This involved recognizing when there was a level change and very reluctantly having to break through several plaster floors of the plaza with a pick.
The last two weeks I worked at the site of Baking Pot, which has been under excavation for about 20 years and dates back to the Preclassic Period. Baking Pot is covered by modern farms and we had to navigate through a maze of corn fields to reach the mound under excavation. The objective was to expose the architecture of one structure and determine the mound’s chronology with a test pit that measured around 20 feet at season’s end. Since it was the end of the field season, most of the work at the mound was last minute digging, endless screening, and backfilling. Most of the time I was washing and processing artifacts at the ‘lab’ located on a livestock farm. The lab was really just a barn for storage, the porch of the livestock veterinary office, and the outdoors. Thus, we had some curious four-legged visitors that would attempt to eat or play with our equipment and we periodically had to run for cover whenever a stampede of cattle ran through the lab area while we crossed our fingers that they would not trample our drying racks full of
On the weekends I visited other Maya sites in Belize and Guatemala. I’m looking forward to participating in another field school next summer, whether it is with BVAR again or another program in Belize. Overall, I learned a lot from my experience in Belize and gained invaluable insight into archaeological fieldwork. Nothing in the classroom can ever completely prepare you for work in the field, but fieldwork offers invaluable experience and the best stories definitely come from the field.