Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Anti-looting campaign keeps on keeping on

The Institute of Archaeology launched its Anti-looting Campaign this year. It is an education initiative that needs to spread country wide and possibly global as well, with lectures and posters done to get the message across. Yet the question may arise, what is looting, what can be done, and what is the law behind it?
Looting is the removal of cultural material or antiquities outside of the country of origin. In most cases the pieces removed end up for sale on the black market. What constitutes an antiquity? An antiquity is any artifact or portable cultural material left behind from ancient civilizations such as the Maya, and other early historic people, that are over one hundred years old.
Along with looting comes the destruction of ancient monuments. A monument is any old building, erections or other non-portable objects left behind by ancient civilizations such as the Maya or other historic people such as the colonizers of Belize. Legally, any building over one hundred years is considered a monument. Both monuments and antiquities are legally protected by law under the National Institute of Culture and History Act, Chapter 331 of the Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 2000.
What does this mean to the people of Belize? The Government of Belize, through the Institute of Archaeology, holds all ancient monuments and antiquities in trust for the people of Belize. Our monuments and antiquities cannot be owned, possessed or tampered with by any individual, entity or organization, without prior license to do so, from the Institute of Archaeology.  This refers to all antiquities or monuments, regardless of whether they are situated on land, in water or even under the sea floor.
While no one can own antiquities, you can legally keep antiquities in your possession. Many people come across antiquities while clearing land for farming, even inheriting pieces from family, and would love to display these in their houses or businesses. This can be done legally by applying for a license to have a private collection. Of course this is not a license for any individual to actively go out and seek more antiquities, whether from other people, from surfaces or illegally excavating ancient Maya mounds or from historic sites.
The message of anti-looting is one that is of concern to all of us as Belizeans. Every monument, every antiquity tells its own story. Every piece can add to the story of the history of Belize. Every piece we lose is one story we may never get back. While we have international support, such as the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Belize and the US State Department, we have to do our part here.
So what is to be done if you see someone buying or selling antiquities or destroying a monument? If the police are nearest give them a call then also report it to us at the Institute of Archaeology by calling 822-2106/2227, because once antiquities and monuments are damaged, sold or destroyed, they can never be replaced.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Dr Awe spreads the archaeological word

Dr Jaime Awe is definitely no stranger to the great outdoors and seems a man always on the lookout for adventure whether in the jungle, a cave, and even in front of a microphone with a crowd listening intently on his every word. He recently returned from just such an adventure where he presented not one, or two, or three, but four papers, in three different seminars.

One such seminar was the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) meetings that were held in Mephis, Tennessee this year. At this event Dr Awe presented on two papers. The first was Ex Oriente Lux: Norman Hammond  and the Archaeology of Belize. He followed this up with a collaboration joined by esteemed colleague Dr Holley Moyes on the topic Cave Ritual Among the Early Preclassic Maya of Western Belize.

He followed this seminar with two more presentations, The Rise of Civlization in the Eastern Maya Lowlands: A Belize River Valley Perspective which was presented at Pennsylvania State University and then went to the 2nd Maya at the Lago Conference in Davidson, North Carolina, and shared The Last Hurrah: Terminal Classic Maya Occupation in the Belize River Valley. 

We congratulate Dr Awe on representing not only the Institute of Archaeology but also Maya archaeology in general.

Friday, 30 March 2012

New face at the IA - Josue Ramos

It is time for us to introduce the second of the new staff members who joined our IA family most recently, a resident of the West, Mr Josue Ramos:

Life can be perceived as having 2 categories of people, those who are known to be “born with a spoon” and those who “did without”. I’ll tell you how I got involved in archaeology and will let you decide my category. I grew up on a farm where living was totally dependent on farming. Hence, plowing was vital in preparing the soil, but something interesting was also part of our community. These were the “cultural remains” found spread all over the fields and the folklore around it. It was not until I was 8 years old when I was knocking door to door in San Ignacio Town that I knocked at the doors of the Busman Arnold building where I met a group of “white guys” with tiny brushes and a huge clump of dirt with “bones”. I was not the police, but a child selling “craboo” (a small, usually yellow, sweet, fruit) and the guys became my best customers. Additionally, they saw my interest and actually gave me the privilege of brushing out the dirt of a jaw bone, after a good explanation on the instruction and reason to clean the remains.

It was not until 2006 that I officially started doing field school with Dr. Awe’s project (BVAR) at the site of Cahal Pech. Since then I have always been actively involved with field projects such as UMAP, LCAR and the majority of my time with BVAR. The dream of becoming an archaeologist was with me since childhood, but I didn’t know how or when this would occur.  The story of actually getting my education is a whole book on
its own.  I can tell you that it was not an easy road as those who knew me can attest to, but it was not impossible.  I thank all those who gave me advice, hosted me, educated me, and gave me courage to never quit, all these being better than any financial support. THANK YOU ALL! I graduated in 2010 with a dual degree from Galen University (Belize) and the University of Indianapolis (USA).

Certainly the opportunity given to me to work at the Institute of Archaeology is very fundamental to starting my career. It’s not the end but the beginning as I will contribute my utmost best to the IA. I am confident that I will make a landmark in our country Belize, and will continue to gain lots more experience which will certainly help me in my future education in Archaeology.


Josue E. Ramos

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

New faces at the IA

Here at the Institute of Archaeology we deal with all things ancient, from temples and old pots to colonial bottles and tobacco pipes. Sometimes, however, we do get new finds and new things coming our way, such as bright and eager new employees. We welcome aboard Ms. Sylvia Batty to the ranks, being quite sure she will add her own unique flavor to our varied crew.
"The older you get the quicker time seems to pass by.

While writing this I took the time to reflect on my employment at the IA, schooling and my volunteer work.

I feel so at home in my cozy section of the Research Department at the IA, but I’ve only been behind this desk for 5 days (4 days really, day 1 was an all day trip to Belize City).  Looking back at the years it took me to get here; I can safely say that it’s been a crazy ride.
I started doing volunteer archaeology at age 10. I had always been fascinated with nature and the ‘stories’ behind everything that I saw and touched. I wanted to know more, and I spent a good part of my childhood simply trying to figure out the bigger picture behind everything. After that first field season, I gave up a few weeks of every summer to be in the field. At age 20 I now have 10 years of being in the field, and I’m looking forward to another 10.
Sylvia settles in
Over the years my reasons for doing Archaeology and the direction that I will take with it has been constantly evolving. I started out simply wanting to know more. I wanted to know every aspect of the life of the Ancient Maya. I also wanted to piece together the global history of the prehistoric world. At 15 I knew which areas of archaeology I didn’t want to specialize in but I couldn’t figure out what area I would specialize in. Day 1 as a History major at SJCJC taught me that too many youths did not have respect for their cultural patrimony; I was 17. This led me to explore the perception of archaeology among my peers from an anthropological perspective. I am still appalled by their lack of respect and appreciation for their cultural patrimony. This was also the first time I had an interest in the historic archaeology of Belize.  I would like to thank Ms. Amauri Amoa, Mr. Elizardo Ricalde, Ms. Ritamae Hyde, Ms. Meg Craig and Mr. Nigel Encalada for giving me my induction into the study of history, historic archaeology and ethnography.
 At age 19, after being constantly frustrated by tertiary school Belizean students who were ignorant of their History, I finally realized what I wanted to do in this field. I want to, need to, I will, bridge the gap between researcher and student. It is my hope that proper knowledge of the History of Belize will foster a greater sense of civic pride in all citizens of this country. That is my small contribution to the saga of Archaeology (both Pre-Colombian and Historic) in Belize.
Cynthia Robin-Rivera, Laura Kosakowsky, Nick Hearth, Jason Yeager, Kat Brown, Sherry Gibbs, Jaime Awe, John Morris, thank you all for your mentorship."

Friday, 24 February 2012

Imagine - your own private collection

"If I find something, I wah tek that!" This is a phrase heard often enough in Belize, when people talk about possibly finding artifacts on their properties. Another one we usually get is "How much will you pay me for that?" The truth is, the artifacts are priceless, but not in the way you might imagine. A simple red bowl or colonial bottle may seem to have no real monetary value, but its value to history and our patrimony as a nation is priceless.

We have all seen or heard the stories of people trying to sell items on the black market, some of them getting caught and being charged. There are also the many rumors that if something is found on your property, that it shall be confiscated and your lande title revoked. Rest assured, these are just rumors. The really interesting thing that lots of people don't know, is that they can help in the fight against the black market and even 'own' a piece of such history. Own a piece of history? How is this possible you ask? It takes one simple process, the registration of antiquities. Many people out there have found artifacts such as vessels, arrowheads, old bottles and the like on their properties, perhaps when bulldozing or digging. Sometimes people inherit manos and metates from their parents or grandparents. Perhaps somewhere in a box in the shed or basement is a nice array of colonial bottles and inkpots. And yes, you can keep these legally.

The process of registration simply allows the Institure of Archaeology to have a record of the antiquities one may possess and to issue a proper license for said antiquities. That's it! More and more people are coming to us with stuff they have but were too scared to mention. Well now you all know, there is nothing to fear, well except fear itself. So if you have antiquities, or you are not sure, call us at 822-2106 or email us at iaresearch57@gmail.com and let us know. Help us preserve our nation's long and proud history. Help us stop the illegal selling of our nation's treasures. Help us contribute to the ever growing and changing knowledge of the history of this proud and beautiful nation, Belize.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Maya Arise again on Preclassic Burns Avenue

So, pretty wild right? Finding cultural remains under Burns Avenue on a Sunday? Well, Sunday was just the appetizer, a trailer if you will, to the utter delight and amazement of more great finds today. It was not only a day of linking to the past, but a day where the community came together, to learn of the history of their town, to band together to help those in the hole, or to view with eager curiosity the spectacle that as exploded on the busiest street in town.

At 7am I was on the scene with Josue Ramos and Fernando Cruz. The guys from the ongoing tourism project were there with excavator in tow, to help us go down a some more to reach to the cultural level, making our jobs just so much easier. And after clearing back about 3 more meters of road, about 1.5 meters down, Josue's ever careful eyes spotted archaeology paydirt, which for us is human remains. Well, a part of it anyway. LOVE FM were on the scene early to interview and document the days events, which promised to be quite exciting. 
As this was Monday, the busiest street in town indeed grew quite busy, with spectators lining up the see the
events unfold, to gasp in awe and comment on the skeletal remains that were being uncovered, to speculate how long they thought they were there, and how this individual had met his end. And yes I say his, as Dr. Awe nicely pointed out, the robustness of the leg bones suggest the oddly positioned remains to be that of a man. And this individual did not travel alone into Xibalba, at least the heads of a deer and a peccary joined him in that voyage, as peccary teeth and an antler were found, much to our own excitement and amazement, and that of the lookers on. Eventually our very own bone expert Sherry Gibbs was on the site, in time to see the bones still in situ.

As the day progressed, everyone came out in force to help, from small children helping to screen backdirt, to Mr. Juan and the staff from Mayawalk helping with lights, sweeping the general area to help us with debris and even providing delicious food to fuel our working bodies. Flayvas was on the scene with rich caffeine filled beverages and even jumping in to pull buckets and screen dirt, and even Serendib Restaurant joining the assisting crew by providing much needed dinners to further workers after quite a long day. Did I mention that Nazim Juan and his son Aaron saw my red neck as a sign of sun exposure and quickly came to my aid with a tarp over us? People downtown today were just brimming with good ideas and good old fashioned neighborly help. Even Taylon Angelino, a tourist passing through, made sure to drop by and be our line level dude once more.

All in all, 3 simultaneous units were bring worked on, the previous unit being dug deeper by the students from Galen who were eager to jump in for this once in a lifetime change, the crew in the bone pit comprising of myself, Josue Ramos, Kim Ringland and Luisa Carillo, and April and Gonzo in one smaller unit, where by just scraping the surface they uncovered a beautiful obsidian blade fragment. All in all, today yielded human remains in a baffling position, an antler, long peccary tooth, obsidian fragments, conch shell fragment, and a beautiful partial Joventud red vessel with etches on it, which according to our very own Dr. Awe, possible dates the burial to as early as the Middle PreClassic. But as this partial vessel was associated with the burial, its possible this was a token for the dear departed. All we can certainly tell, is the no Classic vessel fragments were found, so this downtown site is definitely as early as the Late Preclassic. 

There was a lot going on today. There is not enough space on this blog to contain it all. I might forget a few things, but today we were very thankful to anyone who helped in anyway. This project is soon over, and the road will get back to normal. There is a bit more work to be done. But we can all agree that this is one of the most exciting moments in our town's history, and those of us there will always be glad we were part of it. And worry not, as they work progresses and new finds are found, I shall be here to keep everyone informed, about the wonder being uncovered in our little town. Right about now, some chamomile tea and some ibuprofen will help me sink into beautiful slumber, as tomorrow promises to be another glorious day. 

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Who says we get the day off? Burns Avenue becomes new Tenochtitlan

Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest right? How surprised I was to receive a call from my uncle Fernando Cruz, that pottery was being unearthed from beneath Burns Avenue, the principal street in San Ignacio Town. I thought to myself, should I go and take some pictures of a few sherds they are finding and call it a day? At least that's what I thought it was. I was not ready for the Sunday that unfolded, where for once in my life, myself and the fellow archaeology enthusiasts became tourist attractions for a day. 

In the hot sun (and nursing a hangover) I arrived at the site, to find a large trench dug, apparently for drainage pipes. I saw the men pulling out pieces of pottery, and lots of shells as well. I said to myself, you're brave enough, give them the cease and desist order. I puffed out my chest, asked who was in charge, and gave the order. I was told of further vessels that were pulled out, resting in the office of Pacz tours, under the careful eyes of one Mr. Bob Jones. To my amazement, there were partially or almost whole vessels. 

I was very glad when Bryan Woodye and George Thompson, both of the IA, arrived with a police officer to give the official cease of duty order. With the vessels in safety, as well as a bone fragment, shells and hundreds of sherds, they went on their way on previous errands with the treasure in tow. The real fun of the day began, when an impromptu dig was green lighted. Myself, Sherry Gibbs and Fernando Cruz began the salvage operation, and eventually added Galen University students and former students Josue Ramos, Rubio Tzib, Adrienne Wright, April Martinez, Sylvia Batty and Natasha Bani-Sadr. Calling in reinforcements and getting tools and buckets, we set up the 1X1 meter unit, and began to descend further beneath the busiest street in San Ignacio. 

We quickly became a point of interest for the passersby, some who stood or sat and watched for hours as we dug, exclaiming over each pretty pottery piece coming out, the large amount of shells, the ONE obsidian fragment, and even more curious, what seemed like a fragment of historic period porcelain. Tyler Hess (center) and Samantha MacFarland (left) hung around most of the day, giving moral support, encouraging us, and Taylon Angelino (right) became our official line level dude, and how could we not with his years of experience in engineering?

The biggest surprise of the day was when chief Belize Maya archaeologist, Dr. Jaime Awe, showed up to declare that the vessel fragments found thus far were of the Late Preclassic Period, which is about 2000 + more years before Flayvas and Mayawalk were even conceived. And we were glad to know this, as unfortunately to myself and Ms. Gibbs, Dr. Jim Aimers was not around to quickly classify each piece. Ahh Jimmy, we miss you. Dr. Awe, straight from the aiport and quite possible a long flight, came straight to the site, looker as eager as can be just to be witnessing the events unfolding on Burns Avenue, an actual archaeological dig. What can be said except trowels must run in his blood and line levels in his dreams.

After six excavation levels, bags of beautiful chert, nice slipped ceramics, an obsidian flake, lots of shell and jute, and even bone, we had to call it a day when the sun decided to set anyway, and visibility became dim. It is truly something interesting for San Ignacio, particularly in 2012, that we can say that the Maya made their presence known as far as down town, and not only on the glamorous hills of Cahal Pech. My neck is red, my back and legs are sore, and I am dusty and dirty. All I can say, it was the BEST Sunday I have had in years.

Antonio Beardall