Here we are, as deep as I’m willing to go (for fear of getting completely lost) into the caves of the Raxruja Viejo project – a deep cave excavation in collaboration with, and under the direction of, my co-director Chloe Andrieu (CNRS) and assistant co-director, Julien Sion (Sorbonne).
In my last blog post, Colossal Cave Excavation, I shared a short video of my supervisory visit to the cave subproject, the Raxruja Viejo project, in collaboration with, and under the direction of, my co-director Chloe Andrieu (CNRS) and assistant co-director, Julien Sion (Sorbonne).
In the next video, Don Amilcar takes us deep into the cave subproject to show off the grand, natural wonders as I discuss Mayan rituals practiced in this very location. As you can see, even with many flashlights, it’s difficult to find your way to the underground river below. Can you imagine the ancient Maya doing this journey in almost complete darkness?
This cave acted not only as a ritual space, but also as a gigantic tomb and cathedral. For more, follow along below.
This year at Vanderbilt University (VU), I’m teaching two courses – Intro to Archaeology and an advanced seminar on The Collapse of Civilizations. The educational gap between these two classes is causing me intellectual whiplash, but seeing the impact of my teaching, from intro to advanced, is something that I feel privileged to encounter.
A great excitement in my life is being part of a small but thriving community of devout Kaqchiquel Maya who make the most of unceasing rituals and holy days, such as The Semetabaj Rituals. This includes San Juan “Toritos” or “Negritos” bullfighting, which you can see above. Each member of our family loves to dance and participate in the Semetabaj celebrations.
In my latest blog post, I hinted at my new research design strategy and my fateful discovery of Mayan artifacts (including a beautifully carved and polished hardstone mortar in the shape of a turtle with an anthropomorphized head and face, perforated large banner stones, figurines, and grinding tools) in the backyards of friends and relatives in the San Andres Semetabaj town area. After talking to their other relatives it became clear that their houses were all sitting on a 2,600 year old Middle PreClassic cemetery!
It seems like at any moment another ritual might “breakout.” Just a couple of days ago, I found a rare moment of peace to write up some of our findings. Those plans were truncated by a sudden cacophony of drums, flutes, and marimba, punctuated by deafening explosions of plastic bottle bombs. My “San Andresana” wife, Vilmita, casually said that it was the “rito de San Juan y los toritos” (the ritual of San Juan and the little bulls” also called “Los Negritos”) and she ordered that we had to go to it immediately! We were then swept away into the Kaqchiquel universe.
Arthur Demarest, Colleagues from France, Guatemala, & U.S. Present Maya Civilization Findings at 31st Annual Symposium of Archaeological Research in Guatemala
I’m in the field at our new project high up in the volcanic highlands of Guatemala – a two day travel by foot, jeep, and boat from Cancuen and our other lowland Peten jungle digs. This project, at the site of San Andres Semetabaj, is a new and unique experience for me, which is really saying something after 30 field seasons as a project director in every type of region in every imaginable political and physical context Guatemala!
The San Andres Semetabaj site is more than one thousand years earlier than the ruins being investigated by our Vanderbilt lowland projects – it’s closer to the beginning than the end of Maya civilization. The field is not Classic PreColumbian Maya, but rather it is of the distinctive early highland Maya culture, typically known for its monochrome ceramics, artifacts and hardened adobe architecture. It’s a tremendously important site in terms of understanding the earliest periods of the ancient Maya and the rise of their first states. Continue reading “In The Field”