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