Collaborative Archaeology in the Yucatán

I am the Program Director for a cultural heritage initiative, InHerit, based at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. My job involves many different tasks, some only tangentially related to my training as an archaeologist, including general program management, grant writing and fundraising, and public outreach.

On this Day of Archaeology, for the third year in a row, I am part of a collaborative archaeology project on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Our project is entitled Proyecto Arqeologíco Colaborativo del Oriente de Yucatán (Collaborative Archaeology Project of Eastern Yucatan), or PACOY for short. The project is a partnership between archaeologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and from the Universidad del Oriente de Yucataán (UNO), and the community of Tahcabo. The archaeology project is trying to locate the residential structures of the Maya people who lived in the town immediately preceding and following the arrival of the Spanish. We know from early historical documents that this location was occupied prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The presence of temple mounds and house mounds dotting the surface of the landscape further testifies to this occupation. A colonial church, built in the early 17th Century at the latest, was one of the earlier churches to be built in the region. In both the prehispanic and colonial periods, villagers were obligated to produce quantities of woven textiles and honey. The name, Tahcabo, may be derived from the prodigious quantities of honey produced there.

Postclassic mound adjacent to the colonial church.

Postclassic mound adjacent to the colonial church.


Remains of the old colonial church.



Thus far the archaeological project has focused on mapping and survey work. Our survey has recovered artifacts that suggest a nearly constant habitation of this area from the Pre-Classic period through the modern days. The draw of the landscape is clear: numerous rejolladas (soil-filled cenotes) provide fertile soil for agriculture; several cenotes provide a year-round source of water; and numerous caves not only provided a safe refuge during times of trouble, but also had spiritual significance for the Maya.

In addition to this archaeological work we are also partnering with the community to strategize priories for the investigation of their heritage and to address other quality-of-life issues that the community has identified. Community members are interested in archive work that will document the early history of their community. Parents are interested in developing additional Maya language resources for their children to ensure that they are literate in Maya as well as Spanish. To that end we have plans to work with community members to record local stories and histories in Spanish and Maya that can be bound together for distribution within the village.

Community meeting to discuss the project.

Community meeting to discuss the project.

Students participating in a photo-voice project.

Students participating in a photo-voice project.

One of our project members, UNC graduate student Maia Dedrick, conducted a photo-voice project with a group of secondary school students to identify the good things about living in Tahcabo and the problems that they face as well. The community has formed an incipient heritage committee who we meet with on a regular basis to discuss what we are finding, what the community needs and interests are, and how we can address those with our project or other resources that we might bring to bear. An outstanding UNO student, Lourdes Chan Camaal, speaks Maya and lived in the village for several weeks before the start of archaeological investigations this summer. The relationships she formed have been essential in fomenting the collaborative goals of this project.

July 11, The Day of Archaeology, was the last day of our field season this year. I spent the morning with project members passing out bilingual (Spanish and Yucatec Maya) coloring book to the primary school students and leading the children in a number of games. The passion of these children, and their desire to learn more about their community’s history, is one of the more rewarding parts of my job.

Playing games.

Playing games.

School girls reading the coloring book.

School girls reading the coloring book.










That evening, we signed an agreement between the State Archives of the Yucatán (AGEY) and our nonprofit arm, The Alliance for Heritage Conservation, to work together to tell the stories of some of the earliest towns in this region. This agreement will open a number of opportunities for PACOY as the project moves forward and we continue our work in Tahcabo and the region.

PACOY directors Ivan Batun and Patricia McAnany signing the agreement between AGEY and The Alliance.

PACOY directors Ivan Batun and Patricia McAnany signing the agreement between AGEY and The Alliance.

Living and managing archaeological sites in a historic urban landscape: Mexico City

“Let’s start from a statement speaking about the city of the ancient Mexicans: Mexico-Tenochtitlán has been and still is the root of all that has happened in this enormous metropolis, it is the substratum of the nation’s capital.”

“Vamos a partir de una afirmación al hablar de la ciudad de los antiguos mexicanos: México-Tenochtitlán ha sido y es la raíz de todo lo que ha acontecido en esta enorme metrópolis, es el sustrato de la capital del país.”

– Miguel León Portilla (2001).

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Sacred Square of Tenochtitlan, at the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.


Mexico City is the capital of the United Mexican States (official name of Mexico) and the fourth most populated city in the world with 21 million inhabitants, according to the recent United Nations revision on World Urbanization Prospects (UN 2014), just after Tokyo, Delhi, and Shanghai. Its historical background is vast and currently visible as an expression of continuity of human occupation through time and accumulation of cultural layers by landscape transformation, where its World Heritage value lies.

Founded in AD 1325, taken and afterwards destroyed by the Spanish army during the conquest in AD 1521, the pre-Hispanic city (‘cities’) of Mexico-Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco located in central Mexico was once the capital of the Mexica Empire. Today, for those who live in or visit Mexico City it is difficult to imagine, or be aware, that below the streets and colonial buildings of the Historic Centre, a city on an island, in the middle of a lake, connected to the mainland and surrounding settlements by straight causeways, existed just a few centuries ago. Since the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan until modern Mexico City today, the human occupation in the urban area has been permanent and constantly growing.

Diego Rivera's mural of the everyday life in Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco (National Palace).

Diego Rivera’s mural of the everyday life in Tenochtitlán-Tlatelolco (National Palace).

I live in Mexico City, more specifically in the Historic Centre, which was declared Historical Monuments Zone by the federal government in 1980, and inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1987, alongside with the southern lakeside colonial town of Xochimilco, as one of the world’s outstanding urban landscapes, which illustrates the historic transformation of the environment and the great periods in the history of the Mexican capital. The actual boundaries of the World Heritage Property follows the boundaries of the Historical Monuments Zones, according to the limits of the city in the 19th century (perimeter A), and a buffer zone (perimeter B, where I actually live).

Wider perspective to see the dimension of the urban area of Mexico City with the Historic Centre boundaries.

Wider perspective to see the dimension of the urban area of Mexico City with the Historic Centre boundaries.

Mexico City's Historic Centre boundaries. Perimeter A (red) and Perimeter B (blue). The main archaeological sites are indicated.

Mexico City’s Historic Centre boundaries. Perimeter A (red) and Perimeter B (blue). The main archaeological sites are indicated.

Not only I live in the historic centre, but also I work in the area, in the back of the Metropolitan Cathedral (the biggest in America), next to the Templo Mayor Archaeological Zone. I’m currently working at the Sites Operation Department of the National Coordination of Archaeology, within the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), which is the government body responsible of the preservation, conservation, communication and research of the cultural heritage in Mexico. On this matter, it is important to clarify that the cultural heritage in Mexico is regulated by federal law, and this means also the conceptual definition of that heritage, which is identified as artistic (20th century), historical (1521 until 19th century), and archaeological (before 1521, the year of the fallen of the pre-Hispanic city of Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco, by the Spanish army).

Bearing in mind those cultural heritage specifications, on my daily basis at the Sites Operation Department as the planning and management in chief, alongside with my colleagues, I look forward to the management of the archaeological heritage, specifically of the 187 archaeological sites officially opened to the public in the country. This is a really impressive number, if we consider that the INAH is the only institution responsible of the archaeology in the whole country, and that in total there’s an estimate of about 45,000 registered archaeological sites. But, my job is not only directed to these 187 sites, also to the 130 archaeological sites with some kind of visit, even though they are not officially opened to the public. The Sites Operation Department have the responsibility to look for the management, protection, regulation, infrastructure development, and operation and logistics of the sites organisation of personal and resources. It is the archaeological heritage, before 1521, the cultural resource that my department is responsible of.

The pre-Hispanic archaeological remains of Mexico-Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco have been identified and excavated in particular areas within the Historic Centre of Mexico City, from the first findings in 1790 of the ‘Coatlicue’ and ‘Piedra del Sol’ monoliths during reformation works of the city’s main plaza (known as “Zócalo”), to the discovery of the ‘Coyolxauhqui’ monolith in 1978, from where the research and excavations of the Templo Mayor next to the Metropolitan Cathedral begun, consolidating the INAH’s Urban Archaeology Project (PAU), until today.

Coatlicue (left) and the Piedra del Sol or "Aztec Calendar" (right). Both monoliths were found in 1790 in the main square.

Coatlicue (left) and the Piedra del Sol or “Aztec Calendar” (right). Both monoliths were found in 1790 in the main square.


Coyoulxauqui monolith (1978).

Coyoulxauqui monolith (1978).

Archaeological research within urban contexts was a new approach in the first half of the 20th century, when the Mexican administration was keen on the research directed to the study and reconstruction of the most prominent and monumental archaeological sites around the country (e.g. Teotihuacan and Chichén Itzá). The constantly growing development and urbanization of Mexican cities brought a new concern with archaeological practice, reflected in the increasing implementation of archaeological strategies to rescue and preserve the archaeological heritage under threat of damage or destruction by the new urban developments, which was (and still is) more evident in Mexico City and the metropolitan area.

Tlatelolco Archaeological Zone, north of the Historic Centre's boundaries.

Tlatelolco Archaeological Zone, north of the Historic Centre’s boundaries.

Cuicuilco Archaeological Zone, in the southern part of the city, all surrounded by urban areas.

Cuicuilco Archaeological Zone, in the southern part of the city, all surrounded by urban areas.

Current research strategies to approach the archaeological heritage within urban areas in the last 25 years in Mexico City and other Mexican cities around the country have been determined by pressure of the constant use of spaces within the city. The archaeological activity is restricted in time and space, and precise and holistic strategies are needed and have to be improved, which sometimes are influenced by the political context.

Going to the office, I walk by every day next to archaeological remains integrated to the colonial buildings or modern urban spaces, which are the visible witnesses of the pre-Hispanic layer of the city, and are mostly un-recognized and misunderstood. Some examples of archaeological remains within the historic centre are the pre-Hispanic stone in Madero Avenue with an Aztec design called “Chalchihuitl”, a military shield; the snake head in a colonial building corner where the City Museum currently is; the temple of the god of wind, also known as the “Temple of Ehécatl” within one of the most crowded metro stations, Pino Suárez (discovered in 1968 during its construction); the Templo Mayor archaeological zone, and even Tlatelolco archaeological zone, further north the Historic Centre’s boundaries but part of the pre-Hispanic cultural landscape of the island-city of Tenochtitlán.

A stone with an Aztec design in a colonial building facade (Madero Avenue).

A stone with an Aztec design in a colonial building facade (Madero Avenue).

Snake head integrated to a colonial building corner (City Museum).

Snake head integrated to a colonial building corner (City Museum).

The temple of the god of wind, within Pino Suárez metro station.

The temple of the god of wind, within Pino Suárez metro station.

Because of this panorama my MA dissertation in UCL was related with the interpretation of the wider context, the historic urban landscape, in order to communicate to the public the relevance of understanding all these remains as part of a single environment, and not as isolated sites without cultural context. At my working department, we look for the development of a management system that considers this current context on the cultural heritage management in the city, trying to take advantage of the Historic Centre boundaries and work in a planning process in all management levels, world heritage, federal declaration, archaeological sites, the public, conservation, interpretation and communication. It is such a challenge, not only alongside the country, but also because the complexity of the city’s cultural layers. Working in the management plans of Templo Mayor and Tlatelolco, we can link both sites not only in a management level, which is regulated by the Institute (which is an advantage in the sense of coordination of resources, processes, and information), but also in the wider interpretation level, looking forward to a better preservation and understanding of the sites within a common cultural landscape.

Diego Rivera's mural of Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco. Tenochtitlán on the right, Tlatelolco on the left.

Diego Rivera’s mural of Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco. Tenochtitlán on the right, Tlatelolco on the left.

Templo Mayor Archaeological Zone (Tenochtitlán).

Templo Mayor Archaeological Zone (Tenochtitlán).

A model of Templo Mayor Archaeological Zone, where is possible to appreciate the context of the site within the main buildings of the Historic Centre (Templo Mayor Museum).

A model of Templo Mayor Archaeological Zone, where is possible to appreciate the context of the site within the main buildings of the Historic Centre (Templo Mayor Museum).

Tlatelolco Archaeological Zone (also known as "The Three Cultures Square")

Tlatelolco Archaeological Zone (also known as “The Three Cultures Square”)

Another perspective of Tlatelolco Archaeological Zone.

Another perspective of Tlatelolco Archaeological Zone.

Following the UNESCO’s historic urban landscape statement, the key to understanding and managing any historic urban environment is the recognition that the city is not a static monument or group of buildings, but subject to dynamic forces in the economic, social and cultural spheres that shaped it and keep shaping it. The archaeological heritage in Mexico City’s Historic Centre could be sources of social cohesion, awareness of the pre-Hispanic past, factors of diversity and drivers of creativity, innovation and urban regeneration.

Mexico City's main square, also known as "Zócalo", with the colosal flag, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the National Palace.

Mexico City’s main square, also known as “Zócalo”, with the colosal flag, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the National Palace.

Madero Avenue, which connect the main square with the west of the Historic Centre. The Latin American Tower in the background.

Madero Avenue, which connect the main square with the west of the Historic Centre. The Latin American Tower in the background.

Mexico City's skyline, with the volcanos Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl in the background.

Mexico City’s skyline, with the volcanos Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl in the background.

And, finally, I would like to share my personal project looking for a wider and friendly communication of the archaeological heritage in Mexico City, the country, and international context. I created CONARQUEmx, an outreach communication initiative which includes articles, photography, academic perspectives, and guided tours to the unknown and untold pre-Hispanic Mexico City.

Writing! Reports, Articles, Chapters, and the Dissertation

What many new students to archaeology may not realize is that doing archaeology means doing a lot of reporting. And this week, for me, that means doing a lot of writing and writing related activities. I’m a PhD candidate at Indiana University and conducted my dissertation research as part of the Proyecto Arqueológico Nejapa/Tavela based in Oaxaca, Mexico directed by Dr. Stacie King.

Eli’s desk is all set up and ready for her to work.

Eli’s desk is all set up and ready for her to work.

Monday and Tuesday, my friend and colleague Meghan and I met up at my office in order to motivate each other to do some dissertation writing. Meghan was comparing her ceramic assemblages to other sites by combing through older dissertations and data tables. I was reading book chapters and putting those citations into the appropriate places in my dissertation.  On Tuesday afternoon, I took advantage of my second computer monitor to watch the World Cup match while I worked on digitizing an excavation drawing.

Yesterday, my co-authors and I received good news that our article was going to be published very soon but that the editors wanted us to add additional images. So I took the time to select the appropriate photographs and make nice black/white versions of them. I was also working cross state and national lines with my adviser and colleague on a proposal for an XRF study (X-ray fluorescence, a non destructive form of chemical analysis) of obsidian collected during our field work in 2013. (I’m here in Indiana, my colleague Andy is in Tennessee, and my adviser Stacie is in Oaxaca!)

A fabulous image created this week of an architectural plan of a site included in my dissertation.

A fabulous image created this week of an architectural plan of a site included in my dissertation.

Writing/reporting are important aspects of the archaeological process and archaeologists are ethically compelled to disseminate their research and findings to a wide audience through reports, articles, and presentations. And though I know the writing is important, I’m still stealing the occasional wistful glance out the window and daydreaming about using my trowel.

Excavating an Archaeologist’s Desk

In honor of the Day of Archaeology, in which we endeavor to display the “wide variety of work our profession undertakes day-to-day across the globe” (Day of Archaeology 2012 [archaeologists cite things]), I’m throwing this together as an archaeologist who embraces three different roles within the profession, has worked across 10 states and 3 foreign countries (Mexico, Cuba, and the British Virgin Islands), and still hasn’t finished graduate school (much to the chagrin of many, including myself).
To convey this complex existence, I’m choosing an archaeological metaphor and excavating my desk. My workspace is, to no surprise, a reflection of the many things that occupy my time, pique my interest, and, I hope, lead to some insight into the pasts of the common people of history, a group that counts my ancestors, German and Welsh immigrants, among its numbers. I have imposed a classification system on the contents of my desk, by which I will unpack the contents and, in turn, my life as an archaeologist working in the SAU Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Indiana Jones once told a student (while running from the KGB) “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you gotta get out of the library.” While I fully endorse this sentiment, you must realize that a lot of archaeological research involves bookwork. We read a lot about the work of our forebears as a way to help orient our own research, building on and modifying that which came before, and to avoid scientific dead-ends. The books on my desk include those oriented towards:
Dissertation: I am a doctoral candidate at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, the cradle of historical archaeology in the United States. I am trying to knock out a dissertation that will be the final step in my formalized education. This requires both books on epistemological issues relevant to the way I do research, such as Tim Murray’s Time and Archaeology or Anders Andrén’s Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. Combining the clarity of thinking derived from such sources with the results of fieldwork are then combined with the insight derived from other books, such as D.W. Meinig’s The Shaping of America and Kenneth Lewis’s The American Frontier to produce a document that will add to the historiography of southwest Arkansas and the American West… and earn me a diploma (please please please).
Teaching: I just finished teaching two classes at Southern Arkansas University, one a survey of world archaeology and the other a criminal justice research methods class. The detritus from preparing the lectures, including Catherine Hakim’s Research Design and Henn et al’s A Critical Introduction to Social Research still haven’t left my desk. They’re actually checked out from the University of Arkansas (5 hours away), so the next time I get called up to the coordinating office in Fayetteville, I’ll drop them off.
Methods: We demonstrate our competence as archaeologists in the field, showing each other and the cosmos that we can dig properly (carefully and fast), map precisely, and document our findings appropriately. I’ve got Hester et al’s Field Methods in Archaeology on my book rack for reference, and the bookshelves surrounding my desk are full of books on aerial remote sensing and LiDAR research.
Conference preparation:  One of the high points of any archaeologist’s professional year is a conference. For me, that usually means the Society for Historical Archaeology meetings, though in my current position the Arkansas Archeological Society conference is important as well. I’d like to go to the Fields of Conflict conference this year, but Budapest is a bit out of the range of my wallet (my truck needs work…). This week, I’ve been pulling together a session for the SHA with colleagues and classmates at William & Mary, and I’ve been using the abstract books from past conferences and De Cunzo and Jameson’s Unlocking the Past to write abstracts and encourage the session to take form.
Fieldwork Papers
As mentioned above, proper note taking is an integral part of archaeology. Documentation of context is key. It separates us from looters, provides a basis for scientific work, and is a backstop for ideas and information that might otherwise get missed. If ideas were baseballs, an archaeological dig is like being a catcher behind home plate, facing a battalion of pitching machines. Even if you’re Johnny Bench, you can only hold so many of those baseballs at once. Paperwork is like having a canvas bag to put those ideaballs (I’m liking this metaphor less and less) in so you don’t lose them. On my desk may be found
–        A green 3-ring binder from Area B of the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Training Dig, directed by my boss/friend/mentor Jamie Brandon. See his post here on the dig itself. The stack of papers inside is probably 2 inches thick. All of that came from two weeks in the field. It’s a lot of stuff to sift through, but every sweat-stained word is archaeological gold.
–        Field books. I see three, though there may be more buried in there somewhere. These nifty little books, usually with yellow covers, have waxed pages, making them resilient in rainy or sweaty conditions, and are the place where we jot our notes about the project we’re working on. My field book from the Society Dig contains the shot log for our surveyor’s total station, so we have a redundant copy of all that information. I also have my field book for site visits done on behalf of the Survey. The notes I take in the field can then be transposed into either a site form, which I submit by way of report to the Survey, or included in subsequent publications on that research. Writing notes, particularly under hot or busy conditions, is one of the disciplines that archaeologists must learn. As with so many other things, when it comes to notes, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. In some positions, such as federal jobs, field books are part of the paperwork associated with a project and subject to subpoena and other legal strictures, so don’t draw too many cartoons about gophers in them.
The final big section of research-related equipment can be classed as technology.  Technological advancements in computing, remote sensing (Johnson 2005), data sharing (Kansa 2012), and numerous other fronts in the past twenty years is revolutionizing archaeology. The very fact of this blog post, the internet, and personal computing is evidence of this. Hallmarks of this advancement are, of course, found on my desk.
–        Computer: Shocking, I know. Nowadays, computers are everywhere and used in most pursuits, but mine is special, consarnit! First, it’s a laptop on a dock, which is necessary given the high mobility of many archaeologists. Since you can’t bring sites to you, we have to go to the sites, often for extended periods of time. We just finished two weeks at Historic Washington State Park, and in the last year, I’ve spent weeks at Toltec Mounds, Wallace’s Ferry, and Prairie Grove, all in Arkansas, as well as making numerous trips to the Coordinating Office in Fayetteville. My Army job was just like that, as was my time with the NPS, just that in the federal gigs, the projects are usually spread over greater areas. Laptops are essential in taking our computing power along with. Crucial to that computing power is the software held on the machine, particularly, in my case…
–        Geographic information system (GIS) software. I do a lot of work with spatial documentation and analysis, so I need mapping software. Being able to document the location of sites and areas within sites is an important part of the documentation process.
–          Scanner: I scan lots of things, primarily to make back-ups (hard to lose all copies of a document) and to share them with colleagues. Information sharing is a big part of the research process, as those who share your interests and expertise are not likely under the same roof as you. This is partly why conferences are so important. Information exchange stimulates, as Poirot liked to call them, “the little grey cells” and advance the discipline. Scanners help make that possible.
–        Telephone: Again, rather mundane, but an important part of my job. The Arkansas Archeological Survey does a lot of public outreach work for people of all walks of life from across the state. My station covers 11 counties in southwest Arkansas, and I get calls to come out and look at sites or assist colleagues at museums and parks in the area with public outreach work (come to the Red River Heritage Symposium at Historic Washington State Park on the 28th of July). Much of that begins with a phone call.
As this all should indicate, I spend a LOT of time working, well more than 40 hours a week. As a result, I spend a lot of time in the office or in the field, and my desk contents reflect that.
–        Coffee mug and empty Coke/Diet Coke cans: I am a caffeine addict, plain and simple. I often get little more than 5 hours of sleep a night, and with as stacked of a to-do list as I have, it’s rather unavoidable. I can’t keep up with a friend, who runs on five cappuccinos a day, but there are times when I wonder how awesome that feels. I’m guessing “pretty.”
–        Mulerider Baseball cup: Our host institution and my erstwhile employer, Southern Arkansas University has a great baseball team, and the Muleriders just won the GAC Championship… again. Great job, guys! One of the ways I avoid having the pressures of all of these jobs and responsibilities burn me out is by having a mental outlet. For me, that’s baseball and hockey. We don’t get much of the latter down here. However, the baseball stadium is right across the parking lot from the office (really, I can see it from my desk), and those evening games are a nice break from the grind.
–        Yellow duct tape: Why yellow, you might ask? Because every station in the Survey system was allocated a color to mark their equipment with so that we could tell whose stuff is whose when we collaborate on projects. Our station’s color is yellow, Henderson State’s is orange, Toltec’s is blue, etc. etc. etc. Marking things as ours helps avoid confusion and trowel fights.
–        Field hat: I saved this for last because it’s one of my favorite things. For archaeologists, the attachments we form with crucial bits of equipment can be very strong. Many people still have their first trowels, and carefully guard them (think of a mitt for a baseball player). They’re things, but they’re things intimately tied up in the art of our discipline, and that makes them special. For me, there are three things that fall into this category. My trowel is the first, and I keep it distinct from all other trowels by wrapping the handle in hockey stick tape. The second is my Brunton pocket transit (think a compass on steroids with neon flames shooting down its hood), which is not only a very useful bit of equipment, it was also my father’s when he was doing his dissertation, and that carries great meaning to me. Finally, there is my field hat, a mid-crown cattleman with a 4” brim from Sunbody Hats in Houston, Texas. No matter how hot it gets, it’s always a little cooler under this thing, and it was a wedding gift from Jimmy Pryor, the owner of Sunbody and a childhood friend. It’s a link to home and my wife all at once, and it cheers me up when I’ve been out on a project for a couple of weeks and starting to get a little barn sour.
Now, having looked at these piles for a few hours while writing this, it may be time to do some cleaning…
Andrén, Anders
1997     Between Artifacts and Texts: Historical Archaeology in Global Perspective. New York: Plenum Press
Day of Archaeology
2012    About the Project. Electronic resource (, accessed 29 June 2012).
De Cunzo, Lu Ann and John H. Jameson, Jr.
2005     Unlocking the Past: Celebrating Historical Archaeology in North America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Hakim, Catherine
2000     Research Design: Successful Designs for Social and Economic Research. New York: Routledge.
Henn, Matt, Mark Weinstein, and Nick Foard
2006     A Critical Introduction to Social Research. Los Angeles: Sage.
Hester, Thomas R., Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder
2009     Field Methods in Archaeology. 7th edition. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Lewis, Kenneth
1984     The American Frontier: An Archaeological Study of Settlement Pattern and Process. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
Meinig, D.W.
1988     The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 2: Continental America, 1800-1867. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Murray, Tim, editor
1999     Time and Archaeology. New York: Routledge.

Professional, Avocational and Public Involvement in Archaeology in Arkansas

This year’s “Day of Archaeology” finds me attempting to reorder my life just following the 2012 Arkansas Archeological Society Summer Training Program.

The Arkansas Archeological Society (AAS) was formed in 1960. It is open to anyone—from any walk of life—who is interested in archaeology.  This year I dug alongside retired school teachers, firemen, administrative assistants, college students, engineers, electricians, high school students, retired mill workers, social workers, research foresters, park interpreters (and park superintendents)  and college English instructors.  Many of these so-called avocationals have been doing archaeology for more years than me (some longer than I’ve been alive).  Two of our long time volunteers this year were 86 years old.  Anna Parks has been coming to the AAS “Summer Dig” since the 1970s, and Van Schmutz shoveled all day long in the hot sun despite his age.  Our youngest was 9 years old— Andy Colman who came with her mom, Carolyn, from Chicago, Illinois to learn about archaeology.

The 1836 Hempstead County Courthouse is ever present during our work at Historic Washington State Park in Arkansas.

Way back in 1964, a series of weekend excavations began under the direction of University of Arkansas Museum archaeologists and AAS members.  In the late 1960s the AAS was instrumental in lobbying my organization—the Arkansas Archeological Survey—into existence.  Thus the Survey and Society began partnering on digs by 1967.  By 1972, what had begun as a series of weekend events had expanded into a 16-day training program with excavations at various sites across the state.  Some have claimed that it’s the oldest and best program of its type in the country.

For the second year in a row I had the honor of directing the AAS Summer Dig at Historic Washington State Park in the southwestern portion of the state of Arkansas in the southern United States.  Between June 9 and June 24, 2012 over 100 volunteers and staff helped me investigate the site of an 1830s commercial district on what would have then been the edge of western expansion of the United States (Washington was a border town with first Mexico and then the Republic of Texas until Texas was annexed in the late 1840s).

The AAS has been doing archaeology in Historic Washington State Park since 1980, but these last two years have focused on the merchant district for which we have very few historical documents.  There are no known photographs and only a single map from 1926—long after fires in the 1870s and 1880s put an end to this vibrant business area.  Over the last two field seasons we have recovered the remains of at least 6 different buildings,  4-6 cellars and/or trash pits and tens of thousands of artifacts that will help us tell the story of this once important regional hub on the edge of the “cotton frontier.”

The archaeology was great, but I am always amazed at the layers of public archaeology going on at these events.  On one level we are teaching

the volunteers how to be archaeologists—not only through digging but also through a series of half-day seminars taught in two sessions throughout the dig.  This year we offered Basic Excavation (for first time attendees), Basic Laboratory Procedures, Site Survey, Mapping, Human Osteology, Indians of Arkansas, and Establishing Time (a class that helps volunteers understand dating techniques used by archaeologists).

On a second level of public archaeology, the volunteers and professionals on site then educate the general public about the value and methods of archaeology.  As we were excavating in an Arkansas State Park this year this was done constantly as we has many curious visitors every day.  Although I was “running the show” I rarely had to stop my work to help explain things to visitors as one of my colleagues and/or volunteers would quickly rush in to take over (and even demonstrate) what we were doing.

Of course, although the dig ended on June 24, there is still much to do.  In these days following the 2012 Summer Training Program I (and Carl Carlson-Drexler, my Research Station Assistant) have been moving equipment, organizing paperwork and field notes…Today I’m captioning the hundreds of digital photographs taken during the dig.  The two years of digging in the merchant district in Historic Washington State Park has produced more than twice the amount of artifacts than I recovered during my dissertation research (and I poked at that site for almost a decade!)…so I now have my work cut out for me…

More pictures from the 2012 AAS Summer Training Program can be found here:

Pictures from last year’s dig (2011) can be found here:

Find out more about the Arkansas Archeological Society at their website:


You can read more about the AAS work at Historic Washington State Park at my Farther Along blog:


5 Reasons Why I Became an Archaeologist

1. Travel

Ever since my parents took me on a trip to the Caribbean as a child, I plotted to find a way to spend every winter in the tropics. I wanted to get paid to travel. I wanted to escape the Chicago snow.

My chance came in grad school when I had the opportunity to teach field schools in Belize. I was in grad school for a long time so I was able to look forward to flying south with the birds each time spring semester rolled around.

Since completing my MA and PhD in Archaeology I’ve continued living a nomadic life by working on projects in Mexico, California, and Arizona. What I didn’t expect was that I’d eventually tire of travel after moving from motel to motel off remote desert highways as a CRM archaeologist. So now I’m what they call an armchair archaeologist, and today I’m exploring world archaeology via posts to this blog.


British Museum International Training Programme : Facebook Group

The British Museum International training Programe  (ITP) , is a six week course arranged with several UK museums, in museology, art galleries. for experts, archaeologist and all students around the world.

Most Participants come from different parts of the world From :Afghanistan, Brazil China , Egypt, Ghana, India ,Iran , Iraq, Kenya, ,Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Palestine , South Africa ,Sudan, Turkey, UAE and Uganda.

However, during the ICTP 2009, a facebook group (ICTP) has been launched to keep communication between ICTP participants, BM staff, and collegeus from other participant Museums. The group gives its members the chance to share their news through posting on group wall, and uploading their photos on the group. The ICTP facebook group has an international environment, with its 84  members from more than 16 countries, sharing different cultures and languages, but all has same interests in Museum Studies, Archaeology, and history…etc. Moreover, the group celebrated all kinds of events social and professional.

The group has been developed well over the past months, and it starts to become an excellent communication link between participants and a gathering point to all members. It also started a self introduction of itself towards further participants. For the first time, the group had sent welcoming PowerPoint slides before the beginning of the programme to both ICTP  participants of 2010, and 2011 and plan to send it Annually .

The group also developed and now has an offical e-mail:

where you can e-mail the group, and all of your comments will be automatically posted on the group wall.

We will be very happy, to see you on our group, to participate and share with us your experience in Archaeology, Museology, Galleries, and any related subject. : This is our link on facebook :


Its our pleasure to have you in our goup 🙂 Your Always welcome !!!


Haytham Dieck

BM-ICTP facebook Administrator

Aztec Archaeology at Calixtlahuaca, or Not One of My Better Days


I’m an archaeology graduate student working on lab analysis of Aztec artifacts in Toluca, Mexico.   In 2007 I was part of a team that spent six months excavating at the nearby site of Calixtlahuaca, and ever since then have been spending my summers sorting through an apparently never-ending amount of broken pottery.  Calixtlahuaca was an important city of the local Matlazinca culture before the Aztecs conquered it, so my research questions address how the Aztecs controlled their conquered provinces and whether this produced changes in how people in those provinces lived.  So far, I can tell you that tortillas became a lot more popular after the Aztecs arrived!

Disclaimer: Friday was not one of my better days, and should not be taken as representative.

Most my drama for the day occurred before I ever arrived at the lab in the morning.  First, my apartment was out of gas for the water heater and stove.  As several other posters have pointed out, archaeologists run on coffee, so the lack of hot water put a damper on things.  Then, my taxi got rear-ended half way out to the lab, in what was clearly a mutual-fault situation.  (Toluca drivers generally qualify as reckless even by Mexican standards, so I usually get in, pray, and tell myself that any taxi driver still on the road has to at least marginally competent.) The driver strapped the rear bumper back on, asked me if I was fine, and had the other party follow us until I got dropped off.  The two drivers were discussing who was going to pay for damages when I left them.

Our lab is located in a former hacienda that has been converted to hold several social-science graduate programs for the state (as opposed to the nation) of Mexico.  This last week, however, was a vacation week for the entire staff before the new semester starts, so most the usual services are canceled.  By the end of the week, the facilities were just about out of water.  (All Mexican buildings have large water storage tanks to even out irregularities in the water distribution schedule.  Many also have extra water brought in by tanker if they don’t receive enough from the local government.)  The power was also out all day for unrelated reasons, which meant that the coffee pot in the lab didn’t work either!

There were six of us in the lab for the day: myself, a student from a local university program, four women from the modern village of Calixtlahuaca, and the daughter of one of the staff members from the college.  Over the course of the day, we had two main things going on, with occasional side forays as distractions came up.  First, we were quickly skimming through bags of sherds from plowzone, erosional, mixed, or otherwise low value levels.  In these bags we noted ceramic types that date to particular periods, took out particularly good examples of types to add to our reference collection, and took out special items like whistles or figurines.  Even if we only pulled out a couple things from each bag, getting the catalog numbers onto the pieces themselves and then noted on two paper forms, took almost as long as skimming the whole bag did in the first place!

Second, we were doing full classifications of the pottery from more important contexts, like under floors or in trash pits.  Full classifications involve deciding what type of pot each sherd came from, and if it’s decorated, what type of decoration it has.  Besides basic cooking pots and bowls, we get fancy grinding bowls (the original food processors for making salsa!), a bunch of different types of incense burners, and the occasional pitcher, miniature pot, or tortilla griddle.  For the decorated types, some are local, some are Aztec, and a few are from other parts of Central Mexico.

At the end of the day, I went home to discover that my (non-archaeologist) housemate hadn’t had the gas tank refilled, so my whiplash-stiff neck had to go without a hot shower.

More on the Calixtlahuaca project can be found at:

Adventures with the Maya

On Fridays, my husband and I are usually writing or researching or doing school visits, but this week we were at home working on our website. We co-write and illustrate a Maya-themed adventure series for 9-14 year-olds called The Jaguar Stones. Eight years ago, we gave up our jobs in a London advertising agency to become writers in rural Vermont. At that point, I knew nothing about the Maya and never dreamed that one day my life would revolve around them – to the extent that we’ve now explored nearly forty sites in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize, got to know many leading Mayanists, presented at the AIA Archaeology Fair, and visited countless schools around the United States.

Our books – note the Bulgarian edition that just arrived!

It all started when we decided to write a children’s book set in the jungles of Central America. My husband Jon had grown up there and the book grew out of his memories of a wild childhood. So at first, the Maya pyramids were just a cool background for our story. But the more we researched the Maya, the more we realized that truth was more fascinating than fiction.  It soon became apparent that most textbooks were out-of-date and did not reflect the latest archaeological findings. Since then we’ve made it our mission to bridge that gap.

Everything we write is checked by Harvard professor, archaeologist and epigrapher, Dr Marc Zender, who keeps us up-to-date with the latest thinking. For example, one of our main characters was a Maya king nicknamed Lord Six Rabbit, a name we loved. Six Rabbit was supposed to be his birthday in the Maya calendar, but Dr Zender advised us that the Rabbit interpretation of that day glyph is now seen as Aztec. (The Maya reading now being star, as in Venus the morning star.) Given the amount of misinformation that’s already out there about the Maya, we wanted our books to be as accurate as possible. So, with a sigh, we changed our king’s nickname (and his birthday) to Six Dog.

When we visit schools, we often wear pith helmets in a tribute to one of my personal heroes, Sylvanus Griswold Morley – the dashing, daredevil director of the Chichen Itza project and WW1 secret agent. (I even gave the hero of the Jaguar Stones the middle name of Sylvanus.) Or sometimes we wear leather hats like the most famous archaeologist of them all, Indiana Jones. But one of our greatest pleasures is meeting and talking to real life Mayanists. We’re trying to film as many of them as possible for our website and today Jon was editing an interview with Dr Mark Van Stone, Professor of Art History at Southwestern, leading expert on 2012 and author of one of the best books on the subject. When it’s up, you can view the interview here, along with all the others. Link to archaeologist videos

In the clip, Dr Van Stone is talking about how the myth of the world ending in 2012 arose and why it’s complete nonsense. If kids google 2012, they find literally thousands of websites proclaiming doom and gloom and blaming it on the Maya. Many children are terrified, but it’s virtually impossible for them to access the truth. So when we visit schools, we try to empower the students to question everything they read on the Internet and give them a much broader understanding of the Maya world. We also try to convey something of an archaeologist’s life with a video mash-up of archaeologists and anthropologists talking about their hairiest experiences – usually involving skulls, snakes, scorpions, giant centipedes, cave spiders, killer bees and, in one case, a cockroach sandwich.

This student made dolls of four characters from our book. Ah Pukuh - Maya god of death, Lola - a modern Maya girl, Lady Coco - a howler monkey, Lord Six-Dog, Maya king.

This student wrote a hilarious tourist guide to Xibalba, the cold, wet Maya underworld, "a wonderful place full of suffering, misery and sorrow."

While Jon was editing videos, I was scanning in some amazing projects presented to us by students on our last book tour. I’m trying to create some new teacher pages to go along with our lesson plan CD. Sometimes we’ll walk into schools and find ourselves surrounded by Jaguar Stones projects on every wall. Other times, they’ll decorate the school like a jungle in our honor. One school even had a fog machine to generate an appropriately spooky atmosphere. Recently, a student wrote to us and said: “I used to want to be a doctor and save lives, but now I want to be an archaeologist.” Not sure how I feel about that one.

The Maya king holding court in our dining room.

If we get the website sorted before the end of the day, I’m also hoping that we’ll get around to packing up the Maya king costume that’s currently adorning a mannequin in our dining room. We originally made it to take to schools, and we set it up last week for some passing tourists, but now it’s scaring our dinner guests! I think it’s the taxidermy eyes in the jaguar mask that freak people out. Of course, no actual Maya king costumes survived the jungle and the Spanish conquest, but we based our design on wall paintings and sculptures. I spent many long hours on eBay bidding for the feathers and found a Las Vegas showgirl headdress that we deconstructed to form the base. The whole thing was made and put together by our niece who’d had experience making circus costumes at university. When we take the costume to schools, it’s usually modeled by a teacher, much to the students’ delight. We had it with us for school visits in Florida when we went to the Maya at the Playa conference last year. Predictably a late-night reveler insisted on trying it on and wore it back down to the bar where the eminent archaeologist speakers were still, ahem, gathered. We thought they might be horrified at the liberties we’d taken in our design but they all loved it and many of them posed for photos with it!

As soon as we’ve got the website updated and the costume packed away, it’s back to work revising, editing and illustrating The Jaguar Stones book three.”