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.
I know most people find it hard to believe that anyone really lives the way I do. Believe it or not, this is my normal lifestyle and has been for over 30 years, but I do realize how strange this must seem for some viewers. I thank you for taking interest in my world and the discoveries that keep me going! In my final set of videos of our Cancuen tour, we’ll navigate through the jungle as we explore the hieroglyphic staircase, the throne room restoration, the buried palace rooms, two large fallen stelae, and the royal ballcourt.
Due to its strategic economic position as the transfer point between the ancient highland world and the lowland cities, Cancuen became incredibly rich with the largest workshops of the Maya in both jade and obsidian, and one of the largest Classic Maya royal palaces. Follow along while I continue our tour through Cancuen!
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.
Cancuen sits in a narrow peninsula where the Pasión river sharply bends and first slows down to be navigable by canoe. It’s a huge rich city built at “the head of navigation of the Pasión river,” the beginning of the great river trade route of the Classic Maya world. Due to its strategic economic position as the transfer point between the ancient highland world and the lowland cities, Cancuen became incredibly rich with the largest workshops of the Maya in both jade and obsidian, and one of the largest Classic Maya royal palaces.
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!