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.


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