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!