In my career I have been constantly compared to Indiana Jones — most notably by PBS, The LA Times, and New Scientist. I’ve always chuckled at this comparison, but I do understand why and how this is an unending theme of my work. In colloquial terms: my job is to dig up lost cities in the thick of the jungle while negotiating with armed and dangerous drug lords. This is what I do for a living, plain and simple.
Follow along as I continue our tour through Cancuen! We start at the camp and then we move toward the jungle to show the only place that is really our home, our hut-tent complex in the jungle, 100-feet above the river. Then, join us as we walk through the jungle to the entrance of the palace and the scene of the great royal mass assassination. Next, we go up through the great entrance to the palace and audience rooms. We move on to visit each of the excavations in the palace (which covers an area larger than six football fields) where we make a new discovery in real time. These digs are made possible by Vanderbilt University and by our leading archaeologists on my team, including my co-director Paola Torres.
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.
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.
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.
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”