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Mysteries of the Maya

Part two: A day at the dig

Part two of a three-part series on BU’s Belize Archaeological Field School

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.

Click here for "Part One: Learning in the dirt." Check back on Friday, April 13, for part three of “Mysteries of the Maya.”

Read more about the field school in the spring 2007 Bostonia.

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