Journey to Belize: Roots, Rocks, and Repairs

This post continues the retelling of my recent trip to Belize: performing archaeological work on Mayan ruins and learning about jaguar conservation. The remainder of this series is located in the “Travel” category of this blog.

On June 6, 2017 I returned to Structure 130.

June 6, 2017 started off quite differently than the previous day. Instead of being hot and humid, the weather was cool and cloudy. This made the walk to our field sites much more comfortable. Today I worked at Structure 130, which I had been to several times before. But no two days of archaeological field work were ever the same, and the events of June 6 followed that pattern.

My main task that day was to excavate Unit D. This was a rectangular unit located on the top of an artificial mound; artificial because its foundation was a centuries-old Mayan structure. Unit D was positioned next to a large tree, and a thick root dissected the unit vertically. At times this root provided a great place to sit, while at others it was just in the way.

Here’s my beautiful sketch of Unit D at Structure 130. Notice how perfect it is.

The south portion of Unit D was full of large stones that used to comprise the mysterious structure we were trying to learn about. Our team leader thought the stones might form a diagonal wall, given their alignment. Miguel, a Belizean worker whom I introduced here, disagreed. He guessed that the stones were originally oriented differently, and that they had been rearranged by expanding tree roots. Both explanations seemed plausible to me, showing how ambiguous archaeological evidence can be.

Regardless of how the stones came to rest where the were, I had to dig through them. Our team leader thought they might be concealing an ancient floor, and she wanted to find out.

This proved to be a tedious process. For the time being, we wanted to leave most of the large stones where they were. This meant I was mostly restricted to scooping out small portions of dirt at a time. Fortunately, Miguel made faster progress than I. Unlike the south side, the north half of Unit D was relatively stone-free; Miguel was also a better worker than I was. So while I was scraping out dirt from in between tightly-packed stones, he was making headway.

Near the end of our shift, Miguel found something remarkable: a hole. When we called our team leader over to examine it, she became visibly worried. She asked Miguel if the hole had been covered by a rock, to which he replied, “Yes.” This was not the answer our team leader had been hoping for, because it meant that Miguel might have found a burial.

I was puzzled by our team leader’s reaction, since I was excited about the possibility of locating a burial. She informed me that excavating burials is a lot of work, and that Miguel had uncovered this hole at the end of the day. This meant we did not have enough time to properly explore it – at least not today. So we packed up, hiked the three miles to our truck, and began driving back to camp. But we did not get far.

On the way home, we were suddenly startled by a loud dragging noise. Our project director stopped the vehicle to find out what was wrong. A metal bar that was used for spare tire storage had broken off from the bottom of our truck, and was dragging on the ground.

It was no wonder the bar had fallen, since it looked like it had already been broken. Someone had literally tied it back onto the truck with flagging tape, which is made out of thin plastic. Naturally, this flimsy material did not hold. Our project director temporarily fixed the bar with duct tape, and we were off.

Later that night, there was a special event planned in Texas Camp. Dr. Brokaw, whom I first met on May 25, was giving a lecture about the ecology of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area. This will be the topic of the next post in this series.

14 Thoughts

  1. How exciting. I’m with you, I’d have thought the discovery equally fascinating. The “dragging” sound that came after however, initially made the hair on my neck bristle, wondering what on earth you’d gotten into. LOL That was well written.

    Liked by 1 person

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