Archeologist Dr. John Rick, of Stanford University, reports from the field

December 12th, 2012 | USFUVG

A snapshot from the dig:  A quick look at the happenings here, high above and overlooking the glorious Lake Atitlán and its volcanic landscape. This is the continuation of years of sporadic fieldwork, preparation, anticipation, and finally, fruition. The site, made up of earthen mounds of predominantly Preclassic age (first millennium B.C.), sits beside the modern Kaqchikel Maya community of the same name, a small, quiet town gradually graduating to the modern world, but not so fast that the women would lose their traditional elegant dress of long wraparound skirts and bright handwoven or embroidered blouses.

An example of the geophysics survey suggestive of important underground spaces.   The December dig found a sculpted bedrock base of one of the pyramids within the mounds towering over the corn fields.

An example of the geophysics survey suggestive of important underground spaces. The December dig found a sculpted bedrock base of one of the pyramids within the mounds towering over the corn fields.

The excavations are lead by my Guatemalan colleagues, who oversaw the paperwork with the government agencies for the permissions, and assembled most of the field kit and bags, trowels, tapes and cords, and so much more.  I arrived with 200 lbs of real heavy metal technology – resistivity equipment – to spend a very brief overnight in Guatemala City.  We whisked efficiently to San Andrés (SAS) to find a bunch of 1x2 meter units going down like elevators – pretty fast excavation, testing the edges of the mounds, the possible plazas, and chasing the ever-driving diagnostic pottery fragments that will someday definitively give us the ages of the site, its relations with other contemporary communities of the highlands and the Pacific coast.  The team consists of Carlos, the Guatemala director, Eduardo advanced student leader and general manager-overseer, and apprentice UVG students Leti, Alejandro and Chandro.

So little is really known about this site that we can’t miss in choosing what to do, but still it’s better to have some idea. My interests get strained between wanting to know if there’s an early Maya village hidden underneath the cornfield between the mounds, yet still wanting to know how these really big projects of monumental construction were put together, and how they served or subtly subjugated those who built them.  Earlier fieldwork in 2005 had hinted that house floor-like surfaces do indeed await us, starting two or three feet below the now-fallow furrows of the milpa cornfields.  But the site is a big space, and since excavation is destruction, it would be great if we could get some information about what lies beneath the surface without actually messing up the place.  That’s where resistivity comes in – one of the techniques in the geophysicist’s tool box.  In this case, it uses a complex series of electrode combinations to measure something very simple – the degree to which the intervening ground resists the passage of electricity.  Many assumptions later, the method can potentially separate out different types of soil, or rock, or especially the very resistant air that lies within underground holes.  The drawbacks?  Well, you have to have a source of strong electricity, string long and somewhat delicate cables, and transport what seems like an elephant’s weight of electrodes, central unit, etc.

In sum, that’s my major contribution to this short season of project renewal.

More to come …

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