This post continues the retelling of my recent trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. The previous entries in this series can be found in the “Travel” category, or by searching for “Belize” in this site’s search bar.
A Hot Start
The most memorable aspect of June 5, 2017 was the heat. It felt like I was walking through a hot soup as I made my way to Pretty Group – which I first described here.
Once we had finished our three-mile hike through the jungle, I exclaimed that rain would be a welcome relief. I would later come to regret that.
For now, however, there was work to do. My main task that day was to close the first lot (level) in one of the units at Pretty Group. This required all the roots to be clipped, and nearly all of the loose dirt to be swept up. This would make the unit’s fine details more visible in the photos we were about to take.
Closing lots required careful documentation. In addition to measuring the depth at several points (a process I described here), we always photographed each lot from at least two angles. Sometimes we also took 3D photos.
3D photography was an involved process. To start, the photographer made a circle around the appropriate unit with his or her foot. They then walked around this circle, taking photographs of the unit as they went. Each photo had to slightly overlap the previous one (I forget the exact percentage). The photographer had to make two laps: one while standing and one while kneeling or crouching. Taking 3D photos could get uncomfortable, but it was worth it.
Back in camp, more experienced participants than I could construct a three-dimensional computer model using the photographs we had taken. If done correctly, one could construct a digital replica of the original unit. The level of detail these computer models could capture was remarkable.
An Incredible Find
Later in the day, Humboldt State University’s project director and another one of our students came over. At this point, Pretty Group’s team leader had been working hard all day. She had been removing heavy rocks from her unit, only to find even larger ones.
When our project director arrived, she began excavating in the aforementioned unit. After removing a few more stones, she uncovered the remnants of an extraordinary ceramic bowl. The bowl was in several fragments, but they were well preserved. Our visiting student found even more pieces, and they fit together like a puzzle to reveal the vessel’s original shape. It was a shallow bowl, with a reddish hue and a smooth texture.
Pretty Group’s team leader did not miss the irony. She had been working for hours in this unit, finding nothing but rocks. Our project director, by contrast, located a large bowl almost as soon as she arrived. I found the situation to be rather amusing.
On the way back to camp, my earlier desire for rain came back to haunt me. I was riding in the back of a pickup truck, along with several other students and one of our Belizean workers. Suddenly it started raining – hard. We all got soaked, and the raindrops stung when they hit us. Our worker remarked that I had previously asked for rain, and now I had it. I could not help but laugh.
There was positive news regarding my search for a thesis project in the evening. Sheila, whom I introduced earlier, informed me that she had spoken with Melvis: an experienced guide at the La Milpa Ecolodge. Sheila had arranged for me to meet Melvis in two days, so that I could speak with him about the challenges facing the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area.
I was extremely grateful for Sheila’s help, and looked forward to meeting Melvis. It was a relief to finally have some sense of direction.
The next day, June 6, would be full of learning.