Thursday, December 20, 2007

This is the End…

Maybe not my only friend, but not an unwelcome one.

Well it has been a long season, 24 weeks to be precise. After years of planning and scheming the map of Xtobo has been completed, and 32 test pits have been excavated. There have been fun days, hot days, wet days, boring days, dusty days, painful days, and plain and simple hard days, but the goals of the year have been met. What comes next is the analysis of the artifacts collected at Xtobo, then general data analysis from the whole project to figure out what it all means. Finally will be the writing of the dissertation. So maybe it’s not really the end, but it is a landmark.

Most importantly, I would not be where I am today without the immense assistance of a number of people. Dan Griffin, despite being frequently lampooned in this blog, has been of more assistance than I can really qualify. Despite all the effort that has gone into this season, I have little doubt that Dan would be ready and waiting to go to the field every morning for many years to come, before he would call it quits. Let us not forget Scott Johnson, too. Scott actually showed up pre-permit letter, and very patiently waited with me for that day when we’d get our chance. He very much helped the season get off to a roaring start. Emit Luty joined us mid-season, catching the tail end of the mapping and the beginnings of the excavations. With out Emit’s help we might still be mapping those crazy sacbes. And certainly not least, I want to thank the boys from Ucu. Something tells me they won’t be reading this, but I certainly would not be here today without all of their immense help. Where else can you find someone who will go out and chop down a forest all day with a machete and still giggle on the truck ride home?

And one more thank you to all of you who have read along through out the season. Your comments and emails have provided much cheer.

This will be the end of the blog for this season. There will inevitably be another season at Xtobo, despite all that was accomplished this year there is still much more to do, and those exploits just may find there way to this page in the future. Until then, I wish you all the best of luck and a happy holiday season. As for myself, I am now off to California to spend a happy few days with the four and a half members of my immediate family!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Extra Innings, With No Steroids Required

So things are beginning to wind down for good old PAX (Proyecto Arqueologico de Xtobo). Next week will be our final official week of field work. This week however, has seen the completion of the absolutely necessary test pits, and we have moved into bonus territory. Unfortunately for the boys from Ucu, my interests do not seem to align with theirs. You see they seem to enjoy it when we dig pits next to the larger structures, as those pits produce large numbers of artifacts. I however keep asking them to dig by the little house mounds, which produce very little in the way of artifacts. From a sampling prospective there are simply more small house mounds, and therefore it is important for us to test more of them then the other types. From a social studies standpoint, I’m well aware that the inhabitants of the large structures had access to more resources, and I’m much more interested in affirming just how much the people of the smaller residences had access to. I try to explain this to my boys, but every time I bring them up to yet another small little mound they like to point out the other larger mounds in the area.

With the end in mind, I would like to thank all of you who have kept up with the trials and tribulations of my recent life as an archaeologist. It has not always been easy, and it has been very nice to know that people out there are interested in what has been happening. I will update you all on our final week in the field, but after that Mixtu’ux will be shutting down until another field season arises. There will still be plenty of work at hand, but it will be slightly less interesting lab work. I mean I’m sure you would all love hearing about how I spend all day staring at little bits of pottery, but I will restrain myself.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

This Way to Xtobo

The test pit program at Xtobo has resumed its rapid pace, making it look feasible that there will be time for at least four to five extra pits before we shut down for the year. Unfortunately many of the pits excavated this week came up very low in terms of total artifacts found, but frequently the lack of an object can still yield information. If the data consistently shows that the small houses of Xtobo had little to no pottery, this may allow a very interesting insight into the material means of the site’s inhabitants, although it does make for slightly less exciting excavations.

Despite this lack of pottery I’m happy to report that Xtobo is garnering some attention from the archaeological community. On Friday we received a somewhat unexpected visit from a group of Mexican archaeologists, two of whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with. I had been hoping to attract them out for a visit for sometime, but was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen. They were all quite impressed by the many features of Xtobo, not least of all by her alluring and mysterious sacbe plaza. Opinion is steadily growing that this feature may represent an ancient market place, a theory which I do not find unpalatable, but that I had resigned myself to not being able to test this year. However, a second wave of interest in Xtobo may change that. Another group of archaeologists who are currently studying market places at ancient Maya sites has expressed interest in coming to Xtobo to also test the site. All of the details have not been smoothed out just yet, but nevertheless it is exciting to see others begin to take interest in the site.

Xtobo and I have come to an agreement however. Regardless of how famous she becomes, she promises me that she will not change. She will still treat me with same tender care which she has always shown me, a.k.a. “knock you on your behind heat,” excessively thorny plants, and all manner of biting and stinging insects. Ah Love!!!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sucker Punched in the Yucatan

Hello loyal readers, and anyone else happening to check in. Well with the incredible success of the first two weeks of excavations there was bound to be a week of slower progress for one reason or another. This week lined up a few of those reasons one after another.

First of all we were down one this week as last week was Emit’s last week on the project. He may miss being an archaeologist, but I don’t think he’ll miss the Subim ants. Come Monday morning two of the Ucucians (Dan’s word for the people of Ucu) also failed to show up. Apparently they had both found other work that was more tempting, or at least promised to be more stable, as all are aware that the project is winding down. Wednesday we were beset by our old friend Mother Nature. Despite several weeks of very dry weather, it managed to drizzle on us for much of Wednesday. We kept the digging up for as long as we could, but there’s just only so much digging and screening one can do in the rain before everything becomes a smear of mud. Thursday Dan abandoned us for a bird watching festival. And on Friday two more Ucucians took the day off for personal reasons. Thus bringing the grand total of excavators down to three, when just a week ago it was nine. Our numbers should be back up to a healthy seven people come Monday morning, but who can say what force may strike next.

On a side note, for those of you who haven’t seen the new pictures yet, on Thursday I managed to get some great close-up pictures of a massive Tarantula. She measured about three inches from stem to stern, and was more than happy to pose for me. It was a nice morale boost for me after watching the workers wound but not kill a beautiful rattle snake on Tuesday. I’m fighting a losing battle here to explain to the Yucatecans that such creatures do not set out to hurt humans, but I hope that all of you recognize that far more of these “fierce” creatures are killed by humans then humans by them.

Oh, and you can find the photos here:

P.S. Some of you may have noticed that Dan is mentioned more frequently in the blog these days. It’s somewhat of a survival mechanism as any week I don’t mention him he gets very grumpy!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is That a Sherd, or a Rock, or Flint, or Shell, or a Fossil?

So many months ago now we began the game of “Is That a Structure?” While wandering our way through the monte of Xtobo we would come across random rocks that almost, but not quite, looked like an old house mound. The rather frustrating part of the game was that there was no real answer. Now we have begun a new game, which sometimes has a few more answers, but not always.

As we continue tearing through test pits like Grease Lightening (go ahead and sing the song, you all know it), we continue to find geological oddities. Most of the pottery sherds are relatively obvious. They have flat sides (since they were once part of a plate or jar) and they tend to be relatively soft. But sometimes they can be strangely hard, and we frequently run into look-a-like rocks, and soft crumbly rocks that feel like pottery. Then there are all those random limestone fossils. They can be quite pretty, but for an archaeological study they don’t mean too much. So I have to occasionally dash the hopes of an eager Mayan who just made the find of a century. Perhaps the most difficult determination has been Flint (or Chert) vs. fine grained limestone. Flint was used by the Maya, and everybody world wide, to make chipped stone tools like knives and arrowheads. Since flint forms naturally inside of a limestone system, that also means we get things that almost became flint, but not quite. So far I think we only have two real pieces of flint and a lot of look a likes.

In order to break all this overwhelming tension involved in making these complex decisions, the boys from Ucu have invented yet another new game, “Who threw that pebble at me?” Now since I’m sure none of you will be familiar with such a foreign game I will explain. While screening through the dirt, or digging it up, everyone finds a ready supply of small pebbles. When no one is looking these pebbles can be thrown over one’s shoulder at another fellow excavator. Then they have to try and guess just who threw the rock. Dan has shown great cultural literacy and has been able to insinuate himself into this uniquely Mayan game.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Test Pits R’ Us

The grand switch has finally been made. The mapping of Xtobo has been finished, and this week we began excavating the test pits necessary for this year’s project. Some of you may have been surprised by just by just how much time an archaeologist can spend not digging, well that’s all changed. Every day now I get to come home covered in dirt from head to toe.

The name of today’s blog is inspired by the rapid progress that has been made so far. Approximately 30 test pits need to be dug across the site, and in our first week we have already finished 5 and started the 6th. So obviously if we can maintain that pace I just might finish up this project sooner than I had expected. And not only have the test pits been proceeding rapidly, but they have also been very productive. The main thing we are looking for is pottery sherds (broken bits of pottery). With these I will be able to further confirm the dating of Xtobo, as well as, hopefully, gain some insights into the different sorts of activities that were being carried out at the different types of structures. So far the test pits have produced, not huge quantities of sherds, but significant quantities. In addition they have also produced four obsidian blades. Obsidian is a naturally occurring form of volcanic glass, which can be strategically shaped into long thing blades that can be incredibly sharp cutting tools. Finding these blades at Xtobo is particularly significant because the nearest sources of obsidian are highlands of Guatemala or central Mexico. Thus these little bits of stone offer instant evidence of long distance trade.

The other significant item coming out of test pits of pieces of marine shell. Now Xtobo is not all that far away from the ocean, it would be approximately a day’s walk with a direct road, but its nice to have confirmation that everyone likes to go to the beach for a day!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Han Solo has saved the day!

So for those of you who have not memorized the original Star Wars movie, like Candy and myself, let’s go through a brief recap of the finale. As our protagonist, Luke Skywalker, zooms along the Death Star trench seeking to fire that perfect shot, which will destroy the entire station, he is beset from behind by a squadron of TIE fighters. Just when it seems certain that he will be blown from the sky, Han Solo sweeps into view dispersing the ever closing TIE fighters, and thus allowing Luke to get off that perfect shot, thus saving future of the rebellion against the evil empire.

Well my very own Han Solo has swept in to keep my very own rebellion alive a well. After four months of mapping and hacking through the monte, my parents insisted on a recuperative trip back to the homestead. It has been a very good break, and quite restorative, which will allow me to plunge full throttle into the new excavations come Monday morning.

We did work for the first two days this week, officially completing the mapping process at Xtobo. It’s likely there are more buildings out there in the forest, but they will have to wait for another season. We’ve successfully mapped more than 67 hectares, and 362 buildings (plus those sacbe things). It’s been quite a ride, and there’s little doubt that the excavations will prove to be just as strange and challenging.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Almost there … Almost there …

Now if only the TIE Fighters won’t shoot me from behind.

The clearing of the fancy grid squares of Xtobo was semi-officially finished on Friday afternoon. There are a few spots that need to be double checked or expanded upon, but we are very very close. The mapping process is running a few structures behind the clearing, but in short the process of mapping the site of Xtobo should be wrapped up by Monday or Tuesday. There will still be some data manipulation to be done, and of course the map will have to be redrawn to fit what I wanted to the site to look like, but the good news is we are almost there!

The mapping process has been both incredible and trying on a daily basis. We found far more buildings buried in the forest then I had originally speculated (the final tally will be around 360 or so). We also found many more pozos, or ground wells, then I had expected, which particularly helps to explain how the population could have survived here. What was once thought to be two peripheral sacbes has become some sort of defined open plaza that will likely keep me scratching my head for decades to come. And of course there was the constant battle with the creatures of the monte. Five and a half snakes were dispatched with (one corral snake was in the process of eating another corral snake, thus the half a snake). At least three colonies of Africanos (Killer Bees) were side stepped. Scott was stung by a scorpion. Juan Balam received a dose of Chechem sap in his eye. And Dan was given a black eye by an ant measuring about 2 millimeters long. But we are all still standing, and the map data has been backed up … twice.

The fight is hardly over though. Once the map has been finished we will transition to excavations. These will be a relatively minor affair for this season. There will be no grand tunnels dug into the pyramids, or massive horizontal clearings. Instead we will be digging small trenches along side a series of structures in hopes of finding the long discarded garbage piles of Xtobo’s residents. Garbage is the true “gold” of archaeology and will allow us a much greater understanding of the lives of these people. We’re not quite there yet, but I’m sure Han will be clearing the way for us any minute now.

P.S. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what the TIE acronym stands for without looking it up!

Friday, October 26, 2007

100% Correct!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to state that my blog entry from last week was 100% correct. I told you all that the sacbe-like structures emerging from the scrub-forest were quite possibly a form of boundary marker between the sites of Xtobo and Kintunich. I also said that in one week I would likely recant that conclusion. Well I stand before you today (or rather reach out to you via the netherworld of cyberspace) to tell you that I was right, I knew exactly what I was talking about. I can proudly say today that I have completely changed my mind as to the function of said sacbe-like structures. Of course they weren’t a boundary marker between Xtobo and Kintunich, how silly. (Now if only Dan would stop saying “I told you so.”)

What has brought about this revelation you may ask? Well, a fourth sacbe has been spotted beneath the burgeoning growth. It still has yet to be cleared off, but enough of it has been seen to state with some certainty that it forms a fourth side to our previously three sided square. This is a very unusual, if not unique, structure within the Maya world. What we have seems to be a four sided plaza, defined on each side by a low wide mound, looking very much like a sacbe. There are some gaps and holes in the defining edges, but we can’t quite explain why that may be just yet. The interior regions of the plaza continue to be largely empty, further confounding any reliable explanation as to the structure’s purpose. The word that seems to keep jumping from people’s tongues is market, and while it is certainly possible that this represents a defined market space, that is a very difficult concept to prove.

As my lovely sister-in-law has pointed out, I have been more than remiss in providing you all with pictures of Xtobo in action. I’m afraid that I do not have any pictures of Sacbe Mixtu’ux, or the other sacbe-like structures. I will need to take some for thoroughness’ sake, however, let’s just say that Xtobo is a bit camera shy. She is a beautiful, mysterious lady, but she is also very coy. She does not like to let the whole world see her charms, without paying the price of a personal visit. Or if you prefer the blunt description, its all a bunch of rubble covered in greenery that wont photograph worth a @!*&!#@^%@!*. Nevertheless, I have cobbled together some of the better images so far from this season. You can find them by following the link found below.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Yet Another King Arthur Reference…

So I’ve already covered Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. This week we shall move on to T.H. White’s Once and Future King. For those of you who have not read the former please see my earlier summary. As for the latter it is a marvelous modern retelling of Arthurian legend. When I read it, oh so many years ago, I was particularly struck by one passage. A young Arthur was being instructed in the ways of the world by a truly magical Merlin (if you will see the earlier entry Twain preferred Merlin as a charlatan) by turning him into different animals with the idea being that he would gain new perspective from these roles. Well in one passage Arthur was turned into a goose, and as he was flying around with the other geese, they informed him that they simply did not understand the wars of humanity. They fought and fought over boundaries of land, yet from the lofty view of the flying V the geese could see no lines on the ground making up these boundaries.

Despite the inability of the geese to see these lines, humanity in almost all of its forms has insisted that they exist. Typically they are not physically defined, although a few historic examples to the contrary do spring to mind. Well my ever increasingly addled mind has suggested that perhaps we have a particularly old example of delineated territory in the contexts of Xtobo. The so called sacbes, or raised causeways, of which I have been muttering about for the last two weeks, may in fact not be sacbes. Oh, they certainly look a lot like sacbes, but there are consistent and regular gaps in the structures, which doesn’t particularly make for a good road. Also there is of course that other previously mentioned problem in that they don’t really go anywhere.

Before we move on, let me rehash some information from the olden days of Costayuc. Located a mere 1.5 kilometers (or just under a mile) to the north of Xtobo’s central plaza, is the central plaza of another ancient Maya site named Kintunich. Now, there are quite few structures located in the intervening space, and the actual distance between the two sites may be no more than a few hundred meters, or in other words the sites are basically within shouting distance of one another. If they were both living vibrant communities at the same time, they would have been more than neighbors. Whether they really were occupied at the same time, I cannot say, but the information I do have at least suggests there is a decent possibility they were. But as we all know, we don’t always get along with our neighbors. Sure they are always the weird ones with obnoxious habits, and it’s clearly not our fault, but it is a problem none the less.

The former sacbes of Xtobo, now better referred to as … things, would not even begin to pass for true defensive walls, but may just have served as a manner of telling those snooty Kintunich neighbors just whose territory this was. (Or perhaps it was the other way around.)

But, we still await the clearing of some grid squares at Xtobo, and there is an almost certain chance that I will recant this explanation one week from today. Nevertheless, I hope that it will at least clear the air of those ever circling vultures that have lately been mistaking my intellectual musing for a creature who has lost hope in life and will certainly fall over soon to provide them with a hearty meal.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lost in the Woods

The more and more time we all spend in our cities, the more we forget which way is which. And I don’t suppose Google maps are really helping that scenario. But like most complaints referring to how great the good old days were, its all a bunch of rubbish. People are no ruder today then they were fifty years ago, and kids have always listened to something that really doesn’t qualify as music. And, 2500 years ago people had absolutely no idea which way was north, south, east, or west.

I know this, and can state it with great certainty, because I spend my days lost in the woods of Xtobo. I keep following this road, but it keeps turning, and winding, and splitting (yes now it has a fork in it). Every step along the way provides one with a wonderful sense of the majesty of the ancient Maya engineers. You can see the precise straight lines that they were able to manage with no more than the simplest tools. And the lines stretch to beyond the horizon (or for the next 10 feet, you choose). In the end it’s simple, we’ve discovered the answer behind Xtobo’s twisting winding road to nowhere. They were lost, plain and simple, lost. They hoped if they just kept piling up rocks then everything would come out all right in the end. We may never know the fates of the road building crew, did they ever make it home, were they spoken of in hushed whispers, or championed as heroes who never gave in despite their perpetual lost-ness? But we do know one thing, they can certainly give a boy a headache.

Perhaps by next week a clearing will be found, and we will be able to see the sun and the stars again. Until then Dan and I will be cheered by our new companion Emit, who has come to see the wonders of Xtobo. We’re not quite sure if he believes our tales of the old days when we drank two gallons of water in a day to stay dehydrated, but he nods and smiles kindly at us “old hands.” I could tell you all about what happened when the subim ants came visiting yesterday, but I suppose all rookies have their days.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

@#*!&@# Sacbe Mixtu’ux

So many of you who tune into the same Bat Channel at the same Bat Time each week are already familiar with the term sacbe. For those of you who are not, a sacbe is essentially a Maya road, or raised causeway. The Classic period Maya built many of these sacbes, particularly here in the north, one of which is more than 100 kilometers long. But not all sacbes were built to go between cities, many more were built as pathways between prominent structures within a site. Prior to this season seven such internal sacbes were known at Xtobo. There are five which connect with the site’s central plaza and radiate out to neighboring buildings. The two remaining sacbes were found in the northwestern periphery of the site. Now frankly these two “peripheral” sacbes have always been a problem. One ends somewhere near a relatively large architectural complex, but the three remaining sacbe ends were more or less floating in null space.

I have been greatly looking forward to reaching these sacbes in the mapping process, because neither has been properly cleared and mapped. Previously they have only been glimpsed through the excessive foliage, while I have tried to follow their course with no small amount of difficulty. Well this week I finally got to see the first of these sacbes begin to emerge from the forest. Things were going swimmingly until some more rubble was noted just past where the crew had identified the eastern end of the sacbe. At my urging the clearing continued, while I went back to mapping. Later in the day when I returned to check on the work I expected to find that the sacbe had petered on for another 10 to 15 meters and ended. I was disappointed. It would appear that the said rubble was actually the remains of yet another sacbe oriented to a different angle from its neighbor.

Now keep in mind we are still missing the typical large buildings or plazas for a sacbe to end at, now in addition we have a third sacbe that seems to go nowhere. Dan quickly christened this new sacbe as “Sacbe Mixtu’ux.” Now I’m sure all of my loyal readers will immediately assume that Dan chose that name in honor of this blog. After all he is an avid reader of it himself (despite being out at the site everyday), and let’s face it, he pretty well hangs on every word I say and never talks back or disagrees with me. However the name is a more than apt description of the sacbe in Maya and quickly won the approval of the boys from Ucu. Mixtu’ux is the word in Yucatec Maya for “nowhere.” Hence the sacbe has been christened “The Sacbe to Nowhere.”

Granted we haven’t finished the mapping, and perhaps we will still come across something that allows us to make some kind of sense out of these sacbes. Right now though, they are so very interesting to me, and at the same time so damned unfathomable that the arguments as to their nature have become an unending Mobius strip in my brain. Here’s hoping I can turn them off long enough to get some sleep this weekend!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere! Part 2

So, some time ago now I wrote an entry telling you all about the many pozos, or ground water wells, that we had been finding. Indeed we have found several more, and more then ten viable water sources are now known for the site. It looks as if I will have to retract some previously made statements about the surprising lack of water found at the site.

However that is not the reason for this week’s installment on water at Xtobo. This week we received a backhanded slap from a new friend named Lorenzo. Most tropical weather systems form out in the Atlantic, and make there way to the west, eventually either effecting some portion of the coastline, or turning back out to sea. But Lorenzo decided to form in the actual Gulf of Mexico. The first satellite views hardly gave me cause to worry though, because the storm was well on the Western side of the Gulf. Nevertheless the storm found a way to feed no small amount of moisture onto the Yucatan Peninsula.

In an average month of September this region receives approximately 7 inches of rain. Due to the wet and soggy nature of working at Xtobo this month, I have little doubt that we were already over our 7 inches before this week even began. Thanks to rain stats delivered by Dan, we can conservatively estimate that we received another 7 inches this week alone, if not much more. By playing dodge the clouds we were able to work Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday was called off due to a lack of space between the clouds to use as dodging space. And Thursday, well Thursday we made it about halfway out to the site before turning back. Although my truck does have the secret button, which turns it into James Bond’s convertible boat/car, I didn’t think it was time to give that secret away in front of foreign agents. By Friday the storm had moved on, and we could go back to our lives. There was plenty of evidence of massive quantities of water (i.e. mud), but we were able to work again.

It would seem that the majority of you who have already heard about our rains are low on your own annual rain totals. There is only one possible explanation … Global Warming!!!

Saturday, September 22, 2007


This was to be a big week as we were going to reach a grand total of 200 structures mapped at Xtobo. However, we instead decided to roar past 200 and by the end of the day on Friday we had finished mapping in a total of 229 structures. What particularly makes these numbers significant is that my original, admittedly by the seat of my pants, estimate was that we would map in around 250 structures for the entire site. And here we are sitting at 229 with almost half the site still to go. The fancy interpretation of which is, more structures equal more people. Xtobo appears to have been a more active and vibrant community than even I had expected.

As an additional measure of progress I invite you all to click on the map posted below. The base map that you can currently see was put together before the beginning of this season. It shows the previously mapped structures of the site center, along with points representing other known structures. On a week by week basis I have been updating this map to track our progress. When you click on the map below it will show you an animation of the last 11 weeks strung together. The black lines represent trails that have been cut, and the filled squares represent cleared and then mapped quadrants. Regrettably the quality of the maps has been somewhat degraded by the animation program.

There is much work still to be done at Xtobo, but week by week we are making great progress. I originally estimated, again by the seat of my pants, that it would take three months to map the remainder of the site. It looks like we will go over that estimate by a few weeks, but considering how far off I was on the estimate of total structures at the site, I think we’re doing pretty good. I hope that all of you are making as much progress towards your goals.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

An Illinois Yankee in the Maya Court

One of my perpetual favorites of American literature is Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Perhaps not as well known as good old Huck Fin and Tom Sawyer, but nevertheless a wonderful example of the imaginative capabilities of Twain’s mind. The protagonist of the story is an inventive Connecticut engineer from Twain’s era who through a fortuitous bump on the head is transported back in time and place to King Arthur’s court. With the best of American ingenuity the protagonist introduces modern technology to the court and soon he is considered the greatest magician of the day. After all Merlin could only mutter and wave some smoke around, he never produced a fancy metal rod, which made a loud bang and smoke while at the same time killing a knight in his tracks.

As of yesterday the protagonist of this journal (that would be the author) had his own engineering puzzle to ponder. Regrettably however no one bumped me on the head sending me 2500 years back in time. Oh Dan was all eager for the challenge, but it was decided that it might not work. A relatively large building was discovered by the workers from Ucu early this week. The first few times I saw the building it looked a little odd, but with it still covered in vines and dense vegetation there wasn’t much point in trying to figure out quite what was going on. Well yesterday the building was finally clear from the tenacious grip of the forest, and at first glance it still didn’t make much since. The vast majority of the larger buildings at Xtobo, and through out the rest of the Maya world, are basically rectangular. This building had two long straight sides arranged at right angles to each other, but then the other side of the building was more or less missing. The stone that it was built with also looked different; it lacked many of the refining touches used on all the other buildings. Then it was noticed that to the North East there was a smaller pile of stones located exactly in position to make the building a roughly 100 x 80 feet rectangular platform. In short, the pieces of the puzzle seem to suggest that this building was begun, but never finished.

Now, that may seem like a relatively minor conclusion for a once a week blog meant to try and keep people from forgetting that I exist while I’m so far away. However, if the conclusion is correct it could have a larger impact on the interpretation of the site. This building was among the largest at the site, and depending on how big it was intended to be, it could have been among the 5 largest buildings at the site. Given the close ties among large architecture, leadership, and religion, among the early Maya that would be some what like finding a church/court house abandoned only half completed. In the context of Xtobo there is one obvious conclusion that we can leap to. A building such as this suggests that either the rulers fell out of power rapidly or that the site was abandoned rapidly. Right now it is estimated that Xtobo was abandoned around 300 BC, but many other sites in the region continued to be occupied after that time. So there should be a specific reason why Xtobo itself was abandoned. This building may go a long way to uncovering that reason.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Visitors from a Foreign Land

The theory since day one has been simply that as we move further away from the center of Xtobo there should be fewer buildings, and thus the work would proceed more rapidly. This week reality decided to intercede. The boys from Ucu did a heck of a lot of clearing, but made relatively little forward progress in terms of the number of grid squares cleared. This is simply because they found a whole mess of structures. This is good, in that we most certainly want to document every piece of surviving evidence left behind by the former inhabitants of Xtobo, but somewhat bad in the simple since of it may take some what longer to complete that documentation. You never quite know what will happen out here though, so perhaps next week the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction. This week the mapping did speed up though due to the triumphal return of Dan. Xtobo had missed him.

The big event of the week however would have to be the royal visitation that occurred yesterday. Not only were we visited by Dan’s wife Cher, but also my parents made the long trek down from Chicago to check out just what the heck I’ve been doing down here. Surprisingly enough everyone seemed to be impressed by my piles of rubble. We made the grand circuit from the central plaza and its flanking pyramids, down to the humble house mound clusters. Everyone was taught which plants not to touch, and which insects would give the most pleasant greetings, and everyone came through the day with flying colors. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the appearance of a fox on top of one of the structures during the tour. I was not even aware that there were foxes in Yucatan, but we were given a beautiful view of such a creature making their existence rather indubitable.

So in short tourism has begun at Xtobo. We are expecting the first bus load of camera wielding tourists to arrive some time next week, and the five star resort and spa will start construction later this month. So tell your friends they better come quickly if they want to see the true unspoiled glories of Xtobo. If they wait too long they will have to put up with someone trying to sell them a piece of kitsch at every turn, and a bunch of people clapping in front of every building in order to discover the truly remarkable properties of reflected sound waves off of stone. Boy, those Maya’s sure were geniuses.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


It’s perhaps not something that we always like to talk about or even think about, but all of us are vulnerable in varying degrees. There are of course those major life threatening events, but those are a universal in every walk of life. This week has brought attention to a particular vulnerability in my life, or perhaps you could say a lesson that I should have already learned.

In order to carry out the mapping at Xtobo I am making use of an instrument known as a Total Station. A Total Station is a fancy electronic distance measuring device. Basically it shoots a smaller laser beam out to a mirrored prism. That beam is then reflected back to the machine and the distance between the two is measured. Also measured are the horizontal angle (or compass bearing) and the vertical angle (i.e. whether the instrument is level with the horizon, or looking up or down). Using those three numbers and some fancy trigonometry three dimensional coordinates can be computed and then turned into a topographic map of the site. This piece of machinery is, to put it mildly, vital to the mapping efforts at the site. Therefore, it is a point of vulnerability.

The topographic map of the site was actually begun in 2005. During that season I brought a total station down from Tulane to be used at the site, only to discover upon setting it up in the field that it was broken. This was a crisis moment. As I looked into the possibilities of getting it fixed I discovered that would take approximately four weeks, when I only had five remaining weeks in country. I was lucky that year, and a magnanimous Bruce Dahlin, a neighboring archaeologist, offered a similar machine for my use. I will point out that I did learn at least a bit of a lesson from this experience. Earlier this year when I picked up the total station at Tulane I made sure to set it up and test that it was working. From what I could tell that day it was entirely functional, but as a vital piece of equipment the vulnerability remains.

Although this vulnerability was first tested earlier in the season by a malfunctioning data recorder, we were not shut down, as the tried and true pencil and paper data recording method shall not fail. However, this week further assailments have been made at the shaking fortifications. On Monday this week the total station refused to stay powered up. A call into a repair center brought about what was a very simple answer; just clean the battery contacts with a pencil eraser. Well that worked for a couple of days, but now the batteries are boarder line again. A call has been made to find a replacement battery, and it is hopefully on the way.

Perhaps I can never do away with all vulnerabilities, but I hope with each passing year I can gain the wisdom to avoid a few more of them.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I Do Bite My Thumb at Thee

Another week has come and gone at Xtobo. This week was disrupted by the aforementioned Hurricane Dean. The inhabitants of Mérida collectively bit their thumbs at Dean, or other wise told him just what they thought of him. The result was a day of gusty winds, with virtually no rain. I would like to thank all of you for your well wishes during the storm, but we were lucky enough to have no real problems. The site of Xtobo faired equally well, with just a few tree limbs broken off here and there. Unfortunately other areas of the peninsula did not fair so well. Please send your best wishes to the inhabitants of southern Quintana Roo.

A further thumb in the eye of Mean Dean was the progress that was made at the site this week. Despite missing a day of field work, more grid squares were cleared and mapped this week than any previous (That’s right Scott and Dan, you knew it would happen). To be fair though, the speed of progress has more to do with the fact that we are now starting to move into the peripheral regions of the site. Thus there are fewer structures in general, and those that are there tend to be smaller. In essence we have moved away from the ritzy homes of the political elite, and out to the neighborhoods of the less influential. These structures, however, are if anything more important to developing a full understanding of how the site functioned as a living community.

Archaeology has long struggled with an excessive focus on the rich and powerful inhabitants of humanity’s past. When I tell people just what it is I do, the more informed conversationalist will frequently ask questions about pyramids, palaces, and royal tombs, the some what less informed person just asks about gold. But no society is made up of solely the rich and powerful, and no society could truly survive and function without the lower classes. The goal of my study at Xtobo is to understand how the people who once called the site home functioned as a society. This means an understanding of population at all levels. Thus, from now on we will not be pyramid hunters, but hunters of the humble abode.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Run to the Boarder, With a Quick Retreat to Mérida

So as I reported last week, Scott left the project this week to return to New Orleans for the fall semester. Dan also left this week to attend the first birthday of his first grandson, although he will return. So that left me out at Xtobo with the boys from Ucu for the rest of the week. Anselmo now gets to ride shot gun, and Erik is learning the fine art of stadia rod holding. Lot’s of clearing got done, but the mapping is going a little slower. I did catch up on some photography though, anyone want to see some pictures of rubble?

But the big fun of the week had to be today. I entered Mexico back in mid February at which time I received a 180 day tourist visa. Having renewed similar visas before, I was not overly concerned about the procedure this year. However, when I arrived at the immigration offices last week I was informed that 180 days was the maximum tourist visa allowed by law. No worries though, all I would have to do is cross the border and immediately reenter Mexico. Sounds simple right? Well today I drove to Belize (which ended up being about 5 hours away instead of the 8 or 9 I had thought it would be). Upon entering Belize I was greeted by Michael, one of the country’s delightful residents, after which point I don’t quite remember what happened. Something about, “Leave your truck here and lets walk back over the boarder,” and for some reason my wallet is a quite a bit thinner than it was in the morning. Nevertheless, I have a new visa and a new import permit for my truck. Let’s just hope I can finish all this up by this coming February before my papers give out once more.

The quick retreat had something to do with a tempest of some magnitude, also known as hurricane Dean. This second new friend of mine is making a hard track towards the Yucatan peninsula. Right now it looks as if it will give the east coast a good thrashing, and provide us with a bountiful supply of rain. Seeing as I live in a concrete bunker, I’m not too worried about being blown away (after all it’s not a house of straw or wood). So I’m ready, let Dean come, and huff and puff, but he won’t blow me away.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Scott Johnson Wears Old Lady’s Clothes

He really does, I swear! He told us all about it, I don’t know why, but he did. I mean Dan and I tried to change the subject, but no he just kept going on and on about it.

On an unrelated point, Scott will be leaving us this coming Wednesday. He still has two more days in the field at Xtobo, but his time is wearing thin. As my friend Crorey would say, Scott has worked like a Greek through out this field season. (Apparently the saying is “He works like a Trojan,” but as Crorey says it was the Greeks who rowed all the way over to Troy and built the horse and all, while all the Trojans did was sit behind their walls. Well I guess Hector did a few things, but that’s beside the point. Even more beside the point is that I have never heard anyone beside Crorey use either version of the saying.) The point being Scott has given more than his all this season, and I could not thank him enough for it. He’s been there at pre-dawn 5:50 am, loading up the truck. He’s been there for every sting, scratch, bite, and plant induced rash produced by the friendly environment of Xtobo. And he keeps asking every night if there’s more he can do. On top of all that he fixed my microwave.

Progress at Xtobo has been very rapid this year (you know putting aside all that months of waiting for a permit stuff), and that has been in large part due to Scott’s efforts. He will be missed by those of us who carry on at the site. And although he may not admit it, I’m sure he will miss the early mornings, the hostile environment, and of course the pleasant company of me and Dan.

Best of luck Scott!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Is That a Structure?

So an executive decision was made this week. The system of trails was still not quite done come Monday morning, but we were quickly running out of mapping work to do, and frankly mapping in the trails was getting a little tedious. So we’ve jumped ahead and started with the clearing of the architecture. The way this will proceed is that each of the 100 meter by 100 meter squares created by the trail system will be checked systematically for architecture, any structures found will then be cleared, and finally mapped in.

This new phase of work has brought about the new latest craze in game shows called, “Is That a Structure?” As some of you already know, Yucatan is a very, very, flat place. Back in the good old Costayuc days, when we were looking for new sites, it was almost guaranteed that any little bump we saw when looking out the truck window must be a structure. But now that I’m going over a smaller area with a much finer toothed comb, it’s not quite as easy as all that. Across the landscape of Xtobo one routinely finds outcroppings of bedrock, which from 15 meters away, looking through dense vegetation, take on the appearance of a constructed building. Sometimes, when you get up close and personal with the phantom outline of a structure it becomes quickly obvious that you were fooled. Then there are those times when you look at it, look at it again, and then look at it yet again, and you still don’t know what it is. Dan and Scott coined the phrase “Potential Of Structure” for these regions, also known as P.O.S. And yes there is a second meaning for that acronym, but I’m not about to spell it out since my Mother reads this.

Despite these occasional difficulties with the “Is That a Structure?” game, it has been a very exciting week. During Costayuc we made a very basic map of the central buildings of Xtobo. Two years ago, I duplicated that map, but in a much more detailed fashion. A few new buildings and features came out during that season, but in large part the map of the site did not look very different. Now, for the first time in 5 years, we are really truly adding new buildings on to the map. The results so far are more than interesting. We shall see what it all looks like, but a strong pattern is emerging of each major building being oriented towards the central plaza. This may sound relatively obvious, but it is not a common form of organization for Maya sites. I’ll restrain myself from wild speculation for the time being, but it’s definitely enough to peak my interest!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere!

The field work continues in the mighty scrub forest of Yucatan. As in any good scrub forest, water is a vital commodity. For those of you unfamiliar with such an environment, you might imagine it as a forested desert. For a few months a year rain buckets down in almost disastrous quantities, but for the remainder of the year it is nearly bone dry. In addition, northern Yucatan has very thin soils. The solid limestone bedrock is found only a foot or two beneath the surface of the soil, and in the case of Xtobo one can frequently see bedrock right on the surface. So the sum results of these conditions are a forest composed of smaller trees that are quick to grow and reproduce. Thus if they do not survive the dry season they can quickly be replaced in the next wet season. Typically, the only large trees to be found in a region are directly associated with a permanent water source. Which in the case of Xtobo would be a small natural well reaching the water table, or an artificial well dug by the ancient inhabitants of the site. Due to these conditions wells are typically easy to find. Alas, my dear Xtobo has largely bucked these traditional rules.

In previous years spent working at the site it was rare to encounter water sources at the site. I repeatedly badgered local informants asking where water was available in the region, but repeated the only answer was at the “noria,” or colonial well, of Rancho Xtobo. I was forced to conclude that the said noria must have been built on a previous water source, but resigned myself to never being able to prove it. This reluctant conclusion may still be correct, but this last week of work has suggested it may no longer be a necessary assumption.

As the workers from Ucu have continued to cut trails across the site to provide access to its remote corners, they have literally crossed over three previously unknown ground wells. Three new wells is a serious addition when one considers that previously only one was known, with a second hypothetical water source at the noria. Even more remarkable is that these wells have showed up on 1 meter wide trails being cut every 100 meters. The odds of three showing up on the brechas would seem to almost insist that more wells will be encountered as the grids squares being formed by the trails are searched.

In triumphal confirmation of the above hypothesis Dan Griffin and Scott Johnson encountered a fourth water source on Friday afternoon a few meters inside of one of the prepared grid squares. Now both Scott and Dan have claimed responsibility for finding the well, and they have also both proclaimed that the other person found it. They seemed to have lost a bit of perspective as I, as project director, am clearly the individual responsible for having found it, despite being half a kilometer away checking on trail cutting. Nevertheless, this new fourth source of water presents an interesting possibility. Unlike the previous three wells located this season, there is actually water in it. The other wells are filled in with all manner of leaves, rocks, and general sediment, thus blocking access to the water table some 6 meters below. The new well has water only a half a meter or so below the ground surface. One potential reason for this is that it is not a well at all, but rather a “chultun.” That is to say it may be an artificial water reservoir carved by the long ago inhabitants of Xtobo, and lined with plaster to hold water.

Given the aforementioned general scarcity of water in a scrub forest, its conservation would have clearly been of vital importance to the people living at the site. After all, while working at the site, approximately 10 people consume 5 gallons of water in a day. Those sort of quantities start to quickly add up, thus finding viable water sources around the site of Xtobo adds a vital piece to our understanding of the life of those who once lived at this place.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ni Chac, Hoch, and Africanos, Oh My!

Well so far the work has continued well at Xtobo. The system of trails providing access to the site is over half done, and lots of great architecture is emerging from the forest. Next week the work crew should jump from 6 people to 10, so we should start moving much more quickly.

The most notable feature of the week though would have to be the army of insects present at Xtobo. The workers repeatedly ran into nests of Ni Chak, a local species of hornet. Even my ayudantes (helpers) Scott Johnson and Dan Griffin felt their wrath. We also spotted a few Hoch, which are giant inch long ants. So far I have avoided their bite, but, so I’m told, they are as painful as the Ni Chak. And, last but not least, was a nest of Africanos. And for those of you wondering, yes, that does mean Africans. But in this case it refers to the Africanized Honey Bees, or as they are better known in the States, “Killer Bees.” That lovely name was of course propagated by our wonderfully hyperbolic media outlets, but none the less they are not pleasant creatures. They have a tendency to swarm attack, which is what makes them dangerous. So far we have avoided any incidents, and I hope it will remain that way.

There are of course gentler creatures to be found in the environs. A small but unmistakably cute snail oozed its way across our path earlier in the week. There was a certain lizard who just refused to stop sunning himself in the open trail. Every time I passed by he ran for cover as if his life depended on it, but each time I returned he was back out in the open. And before leaving the site on Friday afternoon Anselmo brought us a turtle that he had found hiding under his bag of gear. The poor little guy wanted nothing more than to find some shelter, but he was denied his release a few times to show him off to someone new. But in the end he was allowed to run, or rather crawl, free.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Week in Review

Well the first week of field work is done and gone. It was a bit of a transition going from waiting and waiting and waiting, to working under the gentle rays of the Yucatecan sun, but it was still one heck of a week.

So far we have started to open a system of trails in order to allow access to all quarters of the site. The opening of such trails involves chopping your way through dense, thorny brush. And it’s a very good thing that I don’t have to do it myself. They say that the Yucatec Maya are born with machetes in their hands, and its not hard to see why. They can fell trees with one smooth blow that I have to hack away at four or five times. Fortunately I get to be responsible for the mapping.

As the trails have opened, a few previously unseen building have come to light. It makes me all the more excited for the actually clearing of architecture to begin. So far what I know of Xtobo consists primarily of the large public buildings. Its sort of as if you knew the downtown region of a city, but nothing about what laid around it. This year is all about the people. I want to know who was living at this site, and under what conditions they were living. And most importantly I hope that I will be able to say roughly how many people were living here.

After a good starting week, I am looking forward to all the rest of the weeks to come.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A Day Two Years in the Making

Today field work officially began at Xtobo. It’s been two years now since the end of the last field season, and nothing could have felt better than to begin working again. Although the site has endured the torments of 2500 years, in my comparatively short time working at the site I can see it dissolving bit by bit each year. I hope to save the information about these pioneers before it disappears for ever. The more I can do each given year the better.

The workers from Ucu were fantastic. They cleared more distance on the new trail system that I had expected they would. And things always go more slowly on the first day, we can only go up from here. The current roster of workers is on average older than my last crew. As such they are far more prone to speaking Maya. Of the five of them, four definitely prefer to speak in Maya, as such something tells me my Maya will be getting better this year. If anyone needs some help with translation just let me know!

I’m not sure if I can really relay the sense of excitement that I have had all day. The forest surrounding the site is usually described in rather harsh terms. Every plant has its own form of thorns. Some are down right toxic. There is also a plentiful supply of biting insects. And of course the temperature was easily pushing 100 degrees. Despite it all, everything I see before me is beautiful. The contrasting shade and sun, the vibrant growth, and even the thriving tick population all stir some emotions. Maybe after five months of hard fought days my opinion will change to some extent. But I know that ever time I return to Xtobo, she will always be more beautiful.

And a few photos to share:

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


That’s right, believe it or not, but field work on the Xtobo project will officially begin this coming Monday morning. Its been a long time coming, but it will definitely be worth it.

This evening I attended the official town meeting in Ucu. It started off really well. When I arrived there were about 10 or so people waiting at the building where the meeting was to be held. This was far better than last week when there were only about 3 people there. So I greeted the Comesario Ejidal (the individual who oversees the use of town lands). He is someone who worked with me back in 2002 during the Costayuc project. Having a preexisting relationship with the current town official has helped a lot. I sat down with him and the other people who had gathered. I proceeded to explain to them what it was I wanted to do at Xtobo, and answered a few of their questions.

All was going really well, but they seemed to be waiting for something. It turns out this was just the warm up meeting. In all about 50 or 60 people showed up, at which point I was asked to speak to the whole group and explain what it was I wanted to do. Impromptu speeches in Spanish are always fun, but I had pretty well thought through what I wanted to say. For the sake of those more comfortable talking in Yucatec Maya, my speech was regiven in that language by one of the officials. After that everyone seemed to break off into individual discussion groups, pretty much all of which were going on in Yucatec as well. Most of the discussions seemed to be revolving around the issue of worker rotation. I have agreed to change work crews every two weeks. It will mean a little more work on my end, but it will distribute the work among all those in town that need it.

After individual discussion had worked its way through I faced some questioning from the people gathered. One gentleman was particularly concerned about my legal status, so I read my official government permission letter out loud. And another very fierce looking woman asked about what would happen to any valuable objects recovered. Despite my efforts to reassure her, she maintained her fierce expression.

Eventually a vote was called for and the yea’s carried the day. As I thanked them and prepared to leave, my fierce faced lady cracked a joke about the site maybe being famous one day, and her face broke into a smile more beautiful than I could have imagined her capable of given her earlier expression.

It was a night I will not soon forget.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So guess what …

That’s right, Dave will not be starting field work just yet.

The town meeting that was supposed to take place tonight to discuss whether I could work at Xtobo, well it didn’t happen. We were given the political two-step. The person who I’m pretty sure has the power to say whether or not I can work, kept telling me that he does not have that power, and that some other individuals have to agree. (Lacking 100% fluency can really suck sometimes.) The soonest we could apparently call a new meeting was Tuesday. So, one more week of waiting. One more week.

Maybe then I will have entertaining things to tell you all about.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

One More Bump in the Road

Friday started off really well. I hadn’t heard from the INAH officials about the receipt for the money I had paid over, or about the permit letter they were preparing for me. So I called my inside source Friday morning, and I was told that the letter was ready, but he didn’t know about the receipt. Personally I wasn’t too concerned about the receipt; it was the permit letter authorizing my activities that I wanted. So I ran over to the local INAH offices, and with remarkable simplicity I was able to pick up the permit for Xtobo, and with only a slight delay the receipt was also handed over to me. After months and months of waiting I had the official permit in my hands, and it was a great feeling.

There was only one more step to be had, and that was to go out to the town of Ucu and arrange for workers. The site of Xtobo is located on what is referred to as Ejido land of the town of Ucu. Another consequence of the 1920’s revolution in Mexico was that all towns were given tracts of land for public use. Any member of the community can use the land for collecting firewood, growing a plot of corn, etc. Since the site is on this public land I need the permission of the official in Ucu to work at the site. When I went to arrange for workers and ask for this permission, we hit a small delay. Because I’m starting up a roughly 5 month project in town, it was decided that the question of my permission to work at the site should be brought before a town assembly. This is a very standard political occurrence here and I don’t anticipate any problems. However, the assembly won’t be held until Wednesday evening, and I had hoped to start working on Monday. So we have one more little road bump before field work can begin.

So before that work actually commences, I thought I should maybe explain a bit of what I’m doing, and what kind of place Xtobo is. Evidence for human habitation in the Yucatan Peninsula is pretty scant before approximately 700 BC. There is some evidence that people at least occasionally came through the area, but there are no known permanent settlements. After 700 BC, that all changes. The majority of Maya archaeological sites across Yucatan have yielded broken bits of ceramics (sherds) that date to what we call the Middle Preclassic period (technically 900 BC to ca. 300 BC, but no one was in Yucatan for the first 200 years). Until the last few years it had been thought that the Middle Preclassic sherds found at all these sites were evidence of no more than a few small scattered groups of farmers. But, in part due to work was involved in a few years ago, Yucatan is now known to have had a large population during the Middle Preclassic. Most of the sites from this time period consist of little more than small groups of houses, but there are many of these little sites. So the occupation may not have been large, but it was very expansive. Xtobo is one of only a few larger sites in Yucatan at this time. It would have been a political, economic, and ritual center to the people of the surrounding area. Some of the architecture at Xtobo exhibits similarities to other areas in Mexico and Northern Central America, thus suggesting that Xtobo engaged in at least a minimal amount of contact with these neighboring regions. Most likely that interaction would have been through trade interactions, but part of what I am looking for at Xtobo is further evidence to the nature of these contacts.

The Middle Preclassic is very early in the grand scheme of the history of Maya civilization. I won’t be finding large monuments with long written statements, or many of the other things found at the later and more famous Maya sites. But what I am hoping to do is to shed some light on the earliest expression of Maya cultural complexity in Yucatan. That may not be too easy of a task, but at the very least I will come out of this season knowing a lot more about Xtobo.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On the Verge

Well I had hoped to start posting updates on this blog some time ago, but as many of you have heard there have been some delays this year. I came down to Mérida, Yucatan, in February to continue work at the site of Xtobo for my dissertation at Tulane, but the permit that I was supposed to work under disappeared. As such I had to apply directly to the Consejo Arqueologico (Archaeological Council) of the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History). They over see all archaeological work in Mexico, and thus they are the people you need to deal with if you want to work in this country.

After the Mexican revolution in the 1920’s a law was written stating that all resources beneath the ground were considered government property. Of course at the time the primary purpose of this law was to nationalize all mineral resources. For those of you less familiar with Latin American History, Americans have had a long history of coming south and basically seizing natural resources and monopolizing the profits from them. Guatemala’s attempt to kick these foreign monopoly’s out of their country in the 1950’s got them labeled as a communist country, and an outpost of the Kremlin, and the CIA was sent in to over throw the democratically elected leader. Hind sight demonstrates quite clearly there was no substantial communist presence in the country let alone a drop of Kremlin influence. Anyway I’m going a bit off topic. The wording of the Mexican law allowed it to eventually be turned to archaeological resources. Thus providing much needed federal protection of archaeological sites in Mexico. Thus the trade off, I have to deal with massive Mexican government bureaucracy, but thanks to them there are still places for people like me to work.

But the permit saga is nearing completion. This morning I met with INAH officials and arranged to pay the required tax on my project. Once my check clears in a couple of days I will be given the official permit letter. As soon as I have that letter in hand I can arrange for workers and the field work can begin.

This season will provide all the data I need to write my dissertation, but really it will only provide a preliminary look at the site of Xtobo. In previous seasons down here I have documented the extent of the site and created a good quality map of the political center of the site (i.e. the main plaza flanked by pyramids). This summer I will start mapping the peripheral regions of the site where the residential architecture is found. Once the map of the site is complete, the next step will be a series of test excavations. I will be putting 1x4m trenches along the back edges of several structures looking basically for garbage dumps. Garbage is the gold of archaeology, it can tell us an amazing amount about who was living in these places. Once the dissertation is complete I hope to move on to larger scale excavations of the actual architecture at the site, but one step at a time.

This blog somewhat collapsed last time I was working down here, but now that I have my own internet connection I will try to update you all on my progress once a week or so.

Photo Albums

I have emailed a list of photo links to many of you a while back, well there have been some updates. I will keep the complete list of links here if you ever are wanting to see what there is.

El Tajin:
Olmec Photos:
Yucatán Environment:
Ek Balam:
Ruta Puuc:
Yucatán Churches:
Loltun Cave: