Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Maya Saga Continues

A Maya archaeological dig happening in downtown San Ignacio? Yeah, we know it is well heard of by now. It has been 4 days since the news broke, 3 days since the burial was found, and pictures of the dig were plastered all over the internet, shared on Facebook, blogs, and even on TV. Two more days have gone by, and the digging continues. Ok, so no more burials are popping out, but the ongoing trench work being dug by powerful machinery has allowed us to view how much further the cultural remains go, how deep, and can help us to piece things together, to get an idea of what was going on here more than 2000 years ago.

2000 years does not seem that long does it? Not if you think of how old the world is and how millions of years have passed since life spring out of primordial soups and ooze. But 2000 years has allowed for much nicer evidence to be left behind, for us to discover, and create an image of our little town before it was out town. But our town it is now, with a proud heritage, and this discovery has brought out the best in people. With little time to waste, the best option we had was to do a salvage operation, to save what we can, document what we must, to allow the process of civilization and town beautification to continue. Volunteers were welcomed to make the process go much faster and we were never short of such folks around.

The third day in digging yielded less in terms of actual goods, but much more in the information we can receive. There was a clear pattern developing in terms of where to find the cultural material. The men of the work force waited patiently, scraping carefully, to allow us to quickly jump in, take depth levels of the continuous level of cultural material, and even seemed now to be part of the excitement. We found no bone this time, but that did not stop spectators from milling around, eagerly anticipating something new to pop out of the soil being scraped by trowels. In the afternoon on the third day, the most exciting moment came when a rim was spotted, and yielded a somewhat whole, though fractured, vessel. Since the workmen were pretty much done, we thought it was a good time for some of the students of Galen to be a part of the dig, to learn how to uncover the artifacts with time and precision. It was also a good time for primary school students to come and see a part of history instead of only reading about it, or waiting to see items in a museum behind a glass case.

And finally on to the fourth day, which was a bit less eventful and which saw a more rapid progression towards the end of the pipe laying for that section of road. The sun was still hot, PVC plumbing was exposed, the cultural remains ran along the same layers, and good community relations continued with coffee, sodas and refreshing chicken soup at Flayvas.

One of the most interesting finds of the day came 30 cm from the surface of the road, a hollow leg of a vessel with a scroll tip. This was quite exciting if for 3 days all you got were rim sherds, not that rim sherds are bad. But this was different. What was more amazing, and for a few seconds quite puzzling, was when Dr. Awe examined it and claimed it was from the Post Classic. But wait, didn't you say the stuff coming out for the past 3 days was Late Preclassic? How can this be? As he explained to myself and Josue, since this was near the surface, it could easily have been brought down my prehistoric flood waters from Tipu, a Post Classic site. It made sense to us, or we would have been left speculating whether the Maya foresaw us digging there, and just decided to have some fun at our expense.

As the day wound down, the sun getting less bright and bones and muscles more weary from exhaustion, the smiling face of my good buddy and coworker Melissa was enough to lift the spirits. She got to see what the excitement was all about, hear all the stories of the past 4 days, and watch as an impromptu class session unfolded with high school students learning about the only major find of the day, and learning that obsidian comes from a volcano, and not from under the sea. It those innocent moments that warm the heart.

The last 4 days have been exciting and also educational. I have learned how to quickly decide when to change levels in a unit, how to handle impromptu salvage work, making the best records possible given almost impossible circumstance, but perhaps most important, that in time of need, humanity does exist and people are willing to help in whatever way they can. I've made news friends, strengthened existing relationships, and built my own confidence by taking responsibility for work being done in a field I love. Just as soon as I think Maya archaeology cannot get anymore interesting, that amazing ancient race continues to baffle me and shakes my own thoughts on what this wonderful town once was. I can easily wish that a discovery of this magnitude happens once a month. But for now I will relish in this one while I have that chance.