Texas Tech University

Professor Houk Takes Students to Belize

Brett Houk with students

Associate professor Brett A. Houk led an archaeological field school this summer to the ancient Maya site of Chan Chich, a medium-sized ruin nestled in the jungle of northwestern Belize. The 2012 season of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project marked a return to the site where Houk conducted research from 1996 to 2001. The field school included three Texas Tech graduate students and 13 undergraduate students from Texas Tech and nine other colleges around the United States and Canada. The students spent 25 nights at Chan Chich Lodge, a top-ranked eco-lodge built in the main plaza of the ancient Maya city. As they learned about archaeological methods and techniques, the undergraduate students also participated in an active research project. Half of the group excavated in the Upper Plaza at Chan Chich where the research focused on the earliest days of the Maya. Excavations targeted a deeply buried midden, or trash deposit, previously radiocarbon dated to 770 BC. The other half of the group worked at Kaxil Uinic, a smaller ruin about 1.6 miles west of Chan Chich. The research there focused on much later periods of time, including deposits related to the abandonment of the area around AD 850 and subsequent visits to the site by pilgrims who placed incense burners at the base of a carved stela centuries after the site had fallen into ruin. The Kaxil Uinic work also included a search for a historic Maya village that was used as a chicle harvesting camp as recently as 1931. The camp was found by Houk's team but only cursorily examined; it awaits a dedicated graduate student interested in researching Colonial British archaeology. Although the 2012 season has just ended and analysis of the findings is underway, plans for 2013 are already being made. If agreements can be reached with the landowner and adequate funding can be secured, the project will complete the Upper Plaza work and conduct an intensive investigation of a large building in the Main Plaza at Chan Chich, using a variety of remote sensing techniques combined with extensive excavations. Another aspect of the work will be walking existing cut lines through the jungle (part of an unrelated seismic survey) to look for previously undiscovered Maya ruins.

Graduate students Matt Harris, Vince Sisneros and Dr. Brett Houk consulting a map of the Maya site of Kaxil Uinic as they prepare the site for excavations