Yucatán Peninsula

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 We know from early historical documents that this location was occupied prior to the arrival of the Spanish.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.

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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.