Coming to a Close
We returned to the site at the beginning of the fourth session to find our datum strings missing. The same datum, in this case a nail with a string tied to it, is used throughout the course of our excavations to take elevations of artifacts or features we encounter. Elevations help us keep track of spatial relationships between our finds, so the datums are pretty important. We were unhappy our strings were gone, but relieved our fixed points were still in place. Unfortunately, some of the survey crew's datums--used to set up equipment and take shots of architecture and excavation units--were missing. Despite this initial setback, work got underway quickly.
During this final session we needed to wrap up unfinished excavations, draw plan maps and profiles, take final photographs, and make sure all field notes were in order. Excavation units also need to be "backfilled" at the end of the season, even ones we intend to work in again. Doing this helps to protect the archaeological record from the elements. Raul began creating a schedule, determining when each operation should be backfilled based on the amount of work left to complete.
The survey crew, now just Melissa and Lia, wanted to complete mapping the site where we'd excavated and link it to camp by "shooting in," or recording, the trail we hiked everyday. Liz, project artist and all-around computer whiz, was busy assisting the survey crew with renderings of the site based on their data, helping draw plan maps and architectural schematics of various operations, and working with Phil to take photos.
The "stela guys," Hugo and Efrain, besides keeping everyone laughing, began to replicate stelae. The mold-making process takes several days per stela and produces a latex mold they can use twice to create life-sized replicas. Two is the limit because the mold deteriorates when it's used, and the quality of a third replica is reduced. Hugo and Efrain stayed at the site longer than the rest of us (a full 20 days) to complete their work with the stelae this season. They started in Plaza 3 with Stela 15, located in front of the area Stanley was excavating (see image).
Juan Carlos Perez and his team finished reinforcing the looter's tunnel at the base of the pyramid in Plaza 1, constructing new walls inside the tunnel. The mason, Don Jose, did an excellent job, and he and Juan Carlos were great tour guides when we visited their operation!
Jennifer excavated the burial discovered behind the camp kitchen with the help of some of the workmen. She and Héctor marveled at the layout of the burial, which they both thought looked more like the style of burial you might see at a highland site, not in the middle of the Petén. Another mystery to unravel! After this work was done, the drainage system for the kitchen wash water was expanded, with the hope of preventing the standing water that attracted many flies, mosquitoes, and other stinging insects.
In the lab, Keith was trying to get a bit more work done before we had to finish packing the artifacts. IDAEH requires a complete list of artifacts that are transported from the site to our lab house in Guatemala City, and this requires a lot of time entering data into spreadsheets. Ana Lucía helped with this after she was done with her work at the site, spending an entire day at the computer.
Phil and Don returned to film and interview the staff, as much had occurred since they were at the site in Session 2. Don, a hardcore nature enthusiast, was excited to see the extremely large barba amarilla snake, or fer-de-lance, "found" by Juan Carlos Meléndez that the Guacamaya Research Station preserved for us. Paulino Morales, Director of Prehispanic Monuments at IDAEH, and his wife, Carmen Ramos, also an archaeologist, came to inspect the site. Señor Morales was quite pleased with all of the archaeological research accomplished this year. Phil and Don took the opportunity to film an interview with him about his career in archaeology.
We also ran into a filmmaker for National Geographic Today putting together a piece on the impact of fires and poachers on the scarlet macaws living in the area of Waka'. This highlighted the idea that our presence was about more than archaeological research. Perhaps we could contribute to the jungle environment's preservation through an ongoing research program resulting in the improvement of Waka'. Clearly, everyone needs to work together to protect this place and its resources, archaeological and natural.
Overall, Session 4 came off without a hitch. We all learned a great deal about this ancient Maya city during the project's first season. Our research also generated many, many more questions about Waka', and we're looking forward to investigating them next year. Personally, I'm proud to be on the staff of an international, multicultural, and multilingual project. My research focus may be the ancient Maya, but Proyecto Arqueológico Waka' gives me the opportunity to learn about living people and modern culture as well.
What's Happening Now?
The fieldwork is over for this year, so what now? Some of the crew is employed at the lab house in Guatemala City, analyzing artifacts from Waka'. They're working with other students who are fulfilling lab requirements of their degree program at the University of San Carlos. Others are on different archaeological projects; for example, Juan Carlos Perez is excavating at the site of Holmul in eastern Petén. A few of us are back in the U.S. Most of the crew will be reunited July 21-25 at the Simposio de Arqueología de Guatemala to be held at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnologia in Guatemala City. There, David Freidel and Héctor Escobedo will present a paper about this year's research at Waka'. Griselda Pérez is also presenting a paper she and Mary Jane Acuña wrote on their previous analysis of ceramics from Piedras Negras. Regardless of what we're doing presently, we all have the obligation to write an informe, or report to be submitted to IDAEH, detailing our 2003 research at Waka'. This report is required every year as part of our convenio (permit agreement) from IDAEH.
Proyecto Arqueológico Waka's plans for next year include an enhanced workmen's facility at the lake camp (new dormitories, latrines, and showers), screening the dining facility at the seibal camp, and improvements to the lab and kitchen facilities. Various crew members are staying at Waka' to complete this before the field season begins in January and to guard the site. Hugo and Efrain recently reported that it was raining cats and dogs (jaguars and monkeys?) and was horribly muddy as the rainy season begins in the Petén. Sure glad I'm not there right now!
Questions? Visit the bulletin board!