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: