This post continues the story of my recent time in Belize: performing archaeological field work and learning about jaguar conservation. Entering “Journey to Belize” in the search bar to the right will help you get caught up.
I awoke at 4 am on May 24, feeling excited to be heading into the field. This would be my first time hiking in a subtropical forest, and I was eager to start. So I hurriedly prepared for the day and made my way to breakfast. While there, one of my supervisors told me that I should bring at least five liters of water with me – maybe even six. I scoffed at this, thinking the number was excessive. Being no stranger to hot weather, I figured four liters would be plenty. Time would tell if that was true.
But for now, the priority was to get to Dos Hombres: an impressive archaeological site located near our own. The Program for Belize Archaeological Project (PfBAP) is structured as follows. There are two sessions per summer, and students from several different schools partake in each one. Each school has its own priorities and field sites; located in various parts of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area. To facilitate learning, we occasionally toured other schools’ sites. Today the Humboldt crew and I would be visiting Dos Hombres, which is where Elon University was working. So we piled into the back of an aging pickup truck and headed for the location.
Once there, we hopped off the truck and began the walk to Dos Hombres. As I mentioned in the previous post, northwest Belize contains a few large escarpments that were formed by the slumping of the Yucatan Platform. The road was located on top of one of these escarpments, whereas Elon’s and Humboldt’s field sites were located at the bottom. The first leg of our trail thus consisted of a long descent. Our path was not particularly steep, but wet leaves made it slippery. We had to carefully watch our feet to avoid tripping on the many rocks and roots, and our heavy packs did not help anything. This became doubly true once we reached the bottom of the escarpment, where the trail narrowed considerably.
After walking for entirely too long, we reached Dos Hombres. Dr. Rissa Trachman was Elon’s project supervisor, and she proceeded to give us the tour.*
When Dr. Trachman began speaking, we were standing in a flat space that was surrounded by triangular hills. To me these hills looked natural, since they were covered with native vegetation. Therefore I was stunned to learn that they were actually overgrown temples, and that we were standing in the middle of an ancient plaza. Dr. Trachman told us that Dos Hombres offered a wealth of information: far more than she initially realized. Dr. Trachman began working there as a PhD candidate many years ago, hoping to quickly examine the architecture and move on. However, the first structure she opened turned out to be a temple that was full of artifacts. She has consequently been returning to Dos Hombres ever since.
Dr. Trachman also talked about how excavate Mayan temples. The first step is to locate the main stairway, and to follow that to the primary opening. This allows one to know exactly where they are on the structure, which is a crucial element of scientific archaeology.
Dos Hombres was comprised of multiple sections, and we spent about two hours exploring it. One memorable feature was a chultun, which is a storage cave dug into the limestone bedrock. These caves can contain valuable information, but they are dangerous to enter without respirators. The air within them can destroy human lungs, because of a fungus that grows on bat guano (droppings). A man associated with the PfBAP once entered the chultun at Dos Hombres, and as he did so the fungi released their spores. His lungs became horribly infected as a result, and he was bedridden for weeks.
As we finished our tour in the late morning, it was already clear that today would be unusually hot for northwestern Belize. This will feature prominently in the next part of this series.
*Looting is a serious problem in Belize. For this reason, the Program for Belize asks participants to avoid sharing photographs of active excavations on social media. Hence the lack of original photos in this post.