The Vilmita de Demarest Strategy

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!

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Ritual Dancing, Dinner, and Digs

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. 

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In The Field

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”

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The Discovery of an Ancient Cancuen Trade System

In the past six months the archaeology, discoveries, crazy field politics, and natural disasters – two earthquakes and two weeks of tropical storms – have all hit simultaneously, making the last couple of weeks more than exciting! The huge tropical storms have completely destroyed the big camp at Cancuen and damaged others, costing an astronomical amount in hut and structure rebuilding, tents, solar panel replacement, and so on. These repeated disasters in the Peten region and also all the tremors and landslides at my other dig in the highlands have made me feel like a target of biblical castigation! It hasn’t been easy, but life would be quite dull without the give and take of rainforest living. Que sera, sera!

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Raiders Of The Lost Altar, USA Today, Arthur Demarest

Arthur Demarest, VU

Mayan artifact wrested from nefarious looters [with the help of Arthur Demarest, Vanderbilt University ( VU )].

By Dan Vergano

USA TODAY

Move over, Indiana Jones. A real American archaeologist was instrumental in the recovery of a priceless Mayan altar that was looted from an excavation.

Now safe in Guatemala’s National Museum, the limestone altar, whose recovery was announced Wednesday, sheds light on the political life of the Mayan era. Carved in the year 796 to honor a treaty in the Mayan city of Cancuén, the altar depicts two kings playing a ritual ballgame.

The altar’s recent past sheds light on the extent of modern looting.

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What Doomed the Maya? Maybe Warfare Run Amok

Arthur excavating the famous tomb of the warrior king, Itzamanaaj K’awiil (aka Ruler 2). 1991. Deep within one of the temples of his capitol city, Dos Pilas.

 

Written By: JOHN NOBLE WILFORD

Source: The New York Times

NASHVILLE— After hacking through tropical jungles in Central America and turning up stones of magnificent temples and tombs, archeologists over the years built up in their minds an idealized image of the Maya people who once flourished where now only wilderness thrives.

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