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The Round the World trip has taken the RTW travelers and occasionally me to some very exciting and interesting places.  But probably one of the most exciting was the archaeological excavation that was done in parallel with the Succotz School project in Belize.

Teresa has already posted below on the RTWwithus website about the school project. It is the story of how a remarkable convergence of people and groups worked together to help improve the school as well as to gain a better understanding of each other’s culture.  As Teresa mentioned, the Davidson Day School students were in Belize as part of an annual archaeology field school that is operated by the non-profit American Foreign Academic Research  (AFAR) in cooperation with the Belize Valley  Archaeological Reconnaissance Project (BVAR). This field school has, for the past six seasons, provided the opportunity for students from Florida and now North Carolina to gain hands on experience in excavation and conservation of Mayan sites at Cahal Pech in western Belize. This year I was privileged to work with the students on the dig.

Students Get Ready for the Dig

Hard Work Digging

Sifting for Artifacts

But this year was very special.

In the field, archaeology is a laborious process.  Forget Indiana Jones; archaeology is long hours of carefully moving dirt and roots and rocks, It is endless sifting of buckets of soil for the occasional piece of broken pottery.  It hacking off a tree root only to find a bed of tarantulas underneath.  It is hot sweaty and dirty work.  And it all has to be documented.  Daily logs, measurements from every angle and direction, constantly checking to see that your markers have not moved and that your elevations are accurate. Writing out and logging hundred of tags for the artifacts found in the soil and in the sifting. And in Belize that work is carried on in a very hot, humid environment.

The main task this year was to be to excavate and if possible conserve a complex of three pyramids that the jungle had long reclaimed in Cahal Pech. The pyramids were covered in soil, vegetation and dirt in some places up to six feet.      Mounds similar to these pyramids are quite common in Belize. They are evidence of some kind of structure, but what kind of structure, you never know until you dig.  Often the limestone blocks that make up the outer layer of the pyramids have collapsed and the inner core of earth and rock now slumps into a difficult to recognize heap.

Did I mention that this is hot, humid tiring work ?? Yet the student of Davidson Day took on this work alongside trained archeologists and always under the watchful eye of Dr. Jaime Awe and Mat Saunders with an enthusiasm that was contagious.  From 7:30 each morning until 3:30 PM we hauled dirt, we sifted, we measured, we measured again, we drew profiles, we sifted some more, we moved a mountain of dirt in a bucket line from the top of the pyramid to the plaza below. And always there were ready hands to assist in all aspects of the work. And then at 3:30 when those of us who have done this before were ready to collapse under a tree in plaza , out would come the Frisbee and that amazing youthful energy would be channeled in a different direction.


The students from Davidson, assisted by three veterans of the Florida AFAR program were on site when a remarkable discovery was made. On one of the pyramids, covered over in vegetation and soil, a tomb was found. Not just any tomb but from all appearances a royal tomb, undisturbed for the last 1,400 years.  The discovery was made by Dr. Awe’s BVAR team just above the area where we were working with the Davidson students.  I am very indebted to Dr. Awe for allowing us to describe the find and include photographs of some of the pieces which came from the tomb.

The find appears to be royal due to the quantity of jade and other items of a ruler’s status that adorned the two skeletal remains found in the tomb. As beautiful as the jade and other ornaments are the real find was two carved rings which contain Mayan glyphs as well as some form of a carved needle which also contains a partial glyph.  The ring glyphs refer to the ruler’s name.  This is the first ruler’s tomb to be excavated and fully documented at Cahal Pech. There is still much work to be done studying and evaluating the find but it is clearly of great significance to the history of Cahal Pech, a medium sized Mayan city, but one that has a period of Mayan occupancy extending over 2,000 years.

The Tomb

Carved Ring

Bowl from Tomb

Jade Figure

Jade Ornament

To be on site while such amazing finds are being made is an experience that I am sure the students will not soon forget.   Oh yeah, and what did we find on the pyramid itself after all that hard work.  We were rewarded with considerable intact structure at the base of two pyramids we worked on this year as well a well defined walls and connecting structure between two of the pyramids.  Even where the pyramid structure had collapsed, the Mayan gods were smiling on us. The wall fell over in a near perfect 90 degree angle to its original position, allowing us to remove the cut stone for restoration.

Pyramid Plaza

The Plaza connecting two pyramids

As soon as we finished conservators from the Belize Institute of Archaeology started work on restoring the excavated portions of the pyramid. The pyramid structure will be accessible to all visitors to the Cahal Pech Archaeological Park to wonder at the massive structures of the complex civilization of the Maya.

I am sure that both the school project and the archaeological excavation will provide the students with a new perspective on cultures and peoples that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

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Posted on: July 2, 2011 | Categories: AFAR, Archaeology, Belize, Fun Facts - Cultures and Countries, School roof and library Belize


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