This post continues the retelling of my recent time in Belize: participating in archaeological excavations on Mayan ruins and learning about jaguar conservation. Entering “Belize” in the search bar to the right will reveal the rest of the entries in this series.
On Wednesday, May 31, I continued excavating at Structure 130. But before the Humboldt State crew and I could begin working, we had to complete the three-mile hike to our sites. It was a very hot day, and before long I was covered in sweat. So once we reached our destination, I poured water on my head and gave myself a few moments to cool off. After a minute or two I was ready to dig.
Today, as in my previous days at Structure 130, I would be working with Carlos: one of our Belizean workers. He was only 17 years old, and he appeared quiet when I first met him. But he eventually opened up. Like Miguel, Carlos was patient with my poor Spanish; he even taught me the Spanish names for several animals. For example, he referred to parrots as loros. We had many chances to talk about loros, because small groups of them flew over Structure 130 almost daily: squawking loudly as they went. Earthworms, on the other hand, were called lombrices.
Carlos and I excavated in Unit C throughout the day, which is the unit I helped to set up yesterday. Right off the bat, we found a strange rock. It was shaped like a rough triangle, with two of its edges joining at a 90º angle. In addition, one side of the rock was quite smooth. But most significantly, it was made of granite. Since granite did not occur naturally near our study site, this meant the rock must have been carried in from somewhere else. We eventually delivered the rock to Texas Camp’s lab for analysis.
As we continued working, Carlos and I uncovered a series of stone cobbles (piles of rocks). They aligned with cobbles found in an older unit to give a strong impression of stairs. We were uncovering more of this ancient structure, and hopefully generating more data about it. But today’s most exciting event occurred long after we had returned from the field.
Dr. Valdez’s talk mostly concerned the history of the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project (PfBAP), which I was now a part of. He told us that conditions at Texas Camp used to be much more austere. The dining hall, which we were now sitting in, used to be completely unwalled – leaving it largely open to the elements. Flooding also used to be more of a problem, before a series of well-placed trenches were constructed.
However, I remember Dr. Valdez’s presentation style better than his actual content. He was hysterical. He had a dry sense of humor that I found to be delightfully entertaining, especially since he usually appeared to be serious.
It felt great to laugh, because earlier in the day I had begun to have doubts. I found myself wondering what I was doing in the middle of a Belizean rain forest, trying to conduct field work in a science I knew nothing about. Throwing myself into a foreign country, simply hoping that something good would come of it, was beginning to seem crazy to me.
But I had long passed the point of no return, so my only choice was to press forward.