When I first sought Galen as an option to further my studies, my sole purpose was to enrol in the archaeology program. So, believe my dismay when I was told that archaeology was no longer offered as major. I felt like a little kid who was eating a quadruple scooped ice cream, which was smothered in whip cream, drowned in chocolate syrup and had an enormous juicy scarlet cherry placed perfectly on the top, when suddenly some stranger comes marching along, slaps the ice cream out of the kids hand and continues walking along, leaving the kid lamenting over a dying dream. Apparently, the archaeology program was replaced with anthropology. When I first heard this transition, I was like Anthro-what? Is that the study of ants? But I was later enlightened. Anthropology is the umbrella and archaeology is just a subfield under it. Ms. Gibbs explained that during the summer semester the field archaeology was taught by Dr Jaime Awe. For that split second my heart stopped beating. Dr. Awe has always been my role model, and having the opportunity to work with him for an entire month would be the highlight of my life! I didn’t need to hear anything else. Galen here I come.
When the summer semester finally came, I was disappointed when I learnt (that for some unfortunate happenstance) Dr. Awe was not going to be the lecturer. Instantly I felt like the child who lost her ice cream again. But all hope was not lost. Let’s take this story at the beginning. Three students, Kaycee, Nadeine and I, had signed up for the class which was supposed to last two weeks in July; however, Nadeine and I had decided to do an additional course which took us to the beginning of August. Our instructor for both courses was Antonio Beardall. Antonio (Toni for short) usually conducts the excavation sessions for the entire month of July. During this period he usually work with\ teach Belizean students (and pretty much anyone else who is interested) the basics of archaeology and the excavation process. Through this act, he not only gives students (primary, secondary and tertiary) something constructive to do during their summer break, but also educates and empowers them (and occasional foreign by-passers) their history and heritage, something which I must say is quite lacking in our society.
Apparently last year, excavation works had already begun in plaza G as well as on structure B4. Last year’s excavators were able to expose a passage way within the structure. This find indicated that it was not one structure but rather two structures entwined by the passage way. Evidently, this year’s aim was to decipher whether the structure protruding to the back was a part of the B4 or was a third structure on its own.
It was our task to unravel the mystery that was craftily hidden by time. With time against us (starting one week late), we were not about to shy away from a challenge, especially since we were in a competition against the boys. Our unit, G2-40, was quite small (2.25 x 2.25) in comparison to the Boys unit (PLG). As we dug we began to formulate several ideas about the structure. First we thought it was a place of offering because we found tattered artefacts. Then a terrace-like structure began to form, so we thought it was a terrace. But as we dug further another terrace began to form; hence, we thought it was a step that led to another structure. As to which assumption was correct, only the report will tell when it comes out. Unfortunately, we never met our goal, but we were able to expose an earlier lay of structure B4, which was pretty impressive. Nevertheless, we manage to excavate several bags of chert, obsidian, bones (mostly faunal), quartz, cobble, slate, ceramics (both diagnostic [pretty paintings and carvings on it] and indiagnostics [the not so pretty bland shards]) and shells (both marine and fresh water). If I had to choose the highlight of our excavation, I would say it was discovering the diagnostic ceramic shards. One had Mayan hieroglyphs on it; another had a painted frog on it; whilst, the other had a painted rat. Observing the ceramics shape, I deduced that perhaps it was once from a plate that retold the story of the hero twins from the Popul Vuh, (Book which retells the Maya creation story). Although there is a high possibility that my theory was incorrect, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment that I was able to forge theories like an official archaeologist.
Having to teach high school, junior college and University students, Toni had to make the theoretical sessions a little bit interesting. In the afternoons, after excavation, he would lecture. But the interesting part came when it was quiz time. Most teachers would have given a written quiz, but Toni isn’t like most teachers. In order to ensure that we learnt the material, we played games (Maya Family Feud and Jeopardy), which proved to be more successful. For a written quiz some students would have cheated; whilst, many would have crammed only to recall a portion of the material temporarily. In contrast, we had no idea what was going to come up in the game, nor did we know when we were going to play until the day before; therefore, we had to be on our toes. Some of you may be thinking “so what? No big deal”. However, whilst normal teachers rewards with a grade, Toni rewards with chocolate cake to the winner, which was incentive to perform at our best. Up to this day, I can still recall 93 percent of the material covered. Yet, it never felt as if I was in a class. Very little did it occur to me that I was in school. I felt no anxiety nor did I feel the pressure of having to pass, a feeling which caused me to excel.
Now I know that this method does not sound enticing, but words cannot do justice to retell our experience. I guess that is it; it’s better to personally experience it rather than just reading it. From the first day I climbed to the top of Cahal Pech hill, to the very last day I trotted down, I was in utmost bliss. If I was given the choice to work with either Toni or Dr. Awe, I would choose Toni within a heartbeat; no questions asked. Personally, I have grown mentally and physically. I feel as if I have evolved in some aspects (if that even make any sense) Sometimes what we want, isn’t what we need. Every disappointment is for the better.
by Julia Arzu ( Anthropology Major)