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BU, Far Afield: Unearthing the Ingenuity of Maya Culture

A four-part series about studying abroad

More than 1,500 Boston University students study abroad each year, heading to places like Sydney, Australia, where they work as journalists, Israel, to study engineering, or Ecuador, to research tropical ecology. And the opportunities don’t end with the academic year — as soon as Commencement is over in May, summer internships, intensive language programs, and research trips begin in 11 countries around the world.

This week, BU Today looks at four of the University’s study-abroad programs. Check back tomorrow for “Capturing Tuscany: Learning to Paint, with Help from the World’s Most Beautiful Landscape.”

Unearthing the Ingenuity of Maya Culture

In the tropical predawn, the Belizean air is already balmy. Crickets and roosters compete for attention while iguanas scurry beneath the craboo and mango trees. It’s breakfast time at Boston University’s Belize Archaeological Field School, where a dozen undergraduates are spending the spring semester learning the basics of archaeology: excavation, recording artifact details, lab analysis, and mapping.

Within 45 minutes, the sun is high and temperatures are climbing. The students load the equipment — shovels, wood-framed screens, large yellow tripods and a global positioning system, water coolers, field collection bags, clippers for roots, and five-gallon buckets stuffed with brushes, trowels, and dustpans — into the field school’s van and trucks. By 7 a.m., students and staff are on the road, heading to the dig.

They spend their days digging up pieces of Maya pottery and other artifacts and meticulously documenting their findings. In the evenings, they learn about ancient Maya civilization through readings and lectures. Their goal: to help solve the mysteries of a Maya industrial site that thrived here more than a thousand years ago and then suddenly disappeared. The clues await, just beneath the surface.

“Unearthing the Ingenuity of Maya Culture” originally appeared on Boston University’s home page in April 2007.

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.