A Day In the Life of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project

When Crist wrote about the Chan Chich Archaeological Project in April it was in anticipation of the group’s arrival. Now that we’re several weeks in I’ve had the opportunity to assist them first hand, in part as a “guinea pig” for guest involvement as citizen science participants. Fellow contributor Phil Karp (a veteran of many citizen science programs) was enthusiastically up  for the experience as well.

The team of archaeologists and field school students, led by Texas Tech University associate professor Dr. Brett Houk, is studying the ancient Maya at Chan Chich and surrounding sites. Several weeks into their dig they’ve made significant progress, and they gamely accepted the challenge of taking novices into their ranks.

We began at the beginning, well known to be the very best place to start, with a new “lot” located next to a well-established excavated area. Step one was to measure out the 2×3 meter area, first by staking the corners, then running string around the perimeter. The position of “level” was calculated and recorded for each line, including the diagonals. The purpose of this documentation is to be able to prepare a grid to register the exact level and position of any findings for future reference.

Once logged and photographed, we began the actual labor of digging, carefully removing the surface dirt. Despite the relative softness of the loamy soil (made even softer by recent rains), between the rocks and the tangle of roots, digging was challenging business. And since the idea is to remove layer by layer, it requires  teamwork to stay in synch. Detail is of the utmost importance, with a systematized gradation of soil type, color and even particle size, with a chart to remove the subjectivity of personal description.

I was particularly impressed by the team’s efforts to include us in a variety of tasks, from using the Munsell chart, to sifting the sandy debris from the more advanced areas of the dig – where we found small pieces of pottery and stone tool fragments – to beginning the work of cutting down the edges or “walls” of the lot we were working.

Brett complimented my walls as he passed by, adding that in the archaeological world you’re judged by your unit walls. I’d say he knows how to ensure his volunteers come back for more!

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