Thursday, March 28, 2013

Digging in the Dirt at the Santa Rita Ruins

"Archaeology is the search for fact. Not truth. If it's truth you're interested in, Doctor Tyree's Philosophy class is right down the hall. So forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel, and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure, and 'X' never, ever marks the spot. Seventy percent of all archaeology is done in the library. Research. Reading."                                                                                                                         Indiana Jones

Front entrance to Santa Rita

Indy may have been right about the research and reading bit, but when you live here in Corozal and have Mayan ruins practically in your backyard, it's hard to not to get excited about the possibility of finding buried treasure.

The Santa Rita ruins date back to about 2000 B.C. The external temple contains numerous interconnected doorways and rooms and a central room where offerings were burned. Two burial areas were found, one containing an elderly woman with jewelry and pottery, dates back to the Early Classic period. The second burial was dated to 500 A.D. and was discovered inside a large tomb. Findings indicate a warlord was buried there and was found with a ceremonial flint bar and stingray spine used in blood-letting rituals.

Each year since 2001, through its U.S. Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP), the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center has assisted eligible countries in preserving their cultural heritage. The AFCP awarded BZ$100,000 to the National Institute of Culture and History’s Institute of Archaeology for the conservation of Santa Rita in recognition of its cultural importance.  Representatives from the National Geographic Society oversee the excavation efforts, but volunteers are welcome to lend a hand seven days a week.

"If we knew what was there, we wouldn’t have to dig."
Richard Boisvert
NH State Archaeologist

I first went to the ruins about three weeks ago with my friend, Dianna. After checking in with the site supervisor, we were directed to a spot at base of the temple and were shown an area about 4' x 3' where we could begin to dig.
The site crew provides tools for volunteers to use, including a hand picks, paintbrushes, and...

...the all important trowel. You work from the top down, scraping slowly and methodically, mostly with the trowel to see what, if anything, is buried in the dirt. For the longest time, all we found were small stones and snail shells. But as time went on, we started unearthing shards of pottery, which you see as that little pile in the shot above.

To provide some incentive for our digging, one of the supervisors stopped by to show us artifacts that had been unearthed nearby just a few days earlier:

And while being able to see and touch this find was pretty amazing, after a few hours of digging, we were ready to call it a day. Both of us were covered in dirt and dust from head-to-toe, and I'm here to tell you that a shower was in quick order when I got home.

A couple of weeks after that dig, a bunch of us met up at the site to dig some more.

If you compare the shot above with the first one, you can see just how much progress has been made from the last time we were there in unearthing all those stone steps.

From the left: Dave, Bruce, Colleen, and Dianna

Bruce and Colleen go almost every day to ruins and are well known to the crew. It's easy to understand how this can become an addiction. Just when you think you can't dig any longer, lo and behold, you start finding all kinds of pottery shards of all shapes and sizes. On this particular day, we uncovered quite a few, some with raised designs, others with painted symbols.

I feel very lucky to be able to be part of all this, even in a very tiny way. I've learned so much more about this area's history and have gained a deep appreciation for those people who choose archeology as a career. It's hard work, and I only did it a couple of times for a few hours at a clip. I found muscles in my hands and back that I didn't even knew I had. And after being in a sitting position for an extended period of time, there was no ladylike way to bounce right up. Rather it was a case of getting on my knees and pushing up one leg at a time. Egad, talk about a not-so-subtle reminder of aging. And to think folks who take up this profession dig and dig and dig and may not find anything of value at all. As I said, my hat is off to them and I'm grateful that there are those people who have the wherewithal to do this kind of work. It's because of them that people like me can literally touch history.

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