Field Research

Summers 2017-2019: The Yaxhom Valley Survey Project

These past three summers I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Bill Ringle and students from USC, Davidson, and the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan on the Yaxhom Valley Survey Project. The National Science Foundation sponsored a LiDAR flyover of 200 sq km of the Eastern Puuc region in April 2017 and we used LiDAR-derived digital elevation models to help us map a number of sites in the eastern section of the Yaxhom Valley and the adjoining Bolonchen Hill district.

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Our investigation addressed several research questions, including the timelines of settlements in the Valley and why certain sites grew where they did. A few of the overarching goals of the project are: 1) to understand the main factors influencing settlement patterns in the region; 2) to investigate discrepancies in environmental resource use between sites; and 3) to test the efficiency of LiDAR-derived digital elevation models in identifying archaeological features in this region.

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Summers 2013-2016: Burnt Lime Pit-Kilns

I began my large-scale investigation of ancient Maya burnt lime plaster production in the summer of 2013 with preliminary survey work. I excavated a series of annular lime pit-kilns over the 2014 and 2015 summer field seasons as part of my dissertation research. As a result of my investigations, I found that the Maya of the Puuc region developed a more fuel-efficient form of lime production than was used later during the Colonial Era. This technological innovation may have been related to an effort to conserve resources at a time of population and climatic stress during the Terminal Classic Period.

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A partially-excavated annular lime pit-kiln from the outskirts of Kiuic.

Since summer 2017, I have been working with colleagues on an NSF-funded project that uses LiDAR remote sensing data as a baseline for addressing the nature of resource management in relation to regional settlement organizations in the northern Yucatán peninsula. For my part of this project, I am investigating socio-economic variation in site abandonment processes as they relate to changes in resource extraction, particularly limestone quarrying. My quarry investigations include a large photogrammetry component to understand the mechanisms by which the ancient Maya extracted and processed different types of limestone.

 

Summers 2010-2012: Escalera al Cielo and Reconnaissance

Over the past ten years I have had the good fortune of being able to conduct my field investigations as a member of the Bolonchen Regional Archaeological Project (BRAP) out of the Millsaps Puuc Archaeological Research Center (MPARC ) in the lovely Yucatecan town of Oxkutzcab and the Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve Kaxil Kiuic in the Puuc jungle. Both facilities are owned and operated by Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.

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A casita at MPARC.

During my first years in the Yucatan, I helped to excavate a hilltop elite complex named Escalera al Cielo (EAC, or Stairway to Heaven in English) to the west of the ancient Maya site of Kiuic. The first inhabitants of Kiuic arrived at least as far back as the Middle Preclassic Period (ca. 800 BC) and the site maintained a continuous occupation through to the 10th century AD. The population of the site began to grow rapidly during the seventh and eighth centuries AD, with numerous construction projects providing evidence for this era of expansion. It was likely during this time period that the large, vaulted structures of EAC were built. Our excavations were designed to investigate a number of research questions regarding how the residential group functioned, who its inhabitants were, and how the group was connected with the Kiuic site core.

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The dominant feature of the Yaxche Group in the site core of Kiuic, this pyramid was excavated by BRAP archaeologists from 2001-2016.

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Excavations at EAC, June 2011.

After a couple of seasons excavating on EAC, I began working with colleagues Dr. Tomas Gallareta Negron and Rossana May Ciau to complete a nine square kilometer intensive archaeological reconnaissance of the hinterlands between Kiuic and the larger site of Labna to the northwest. They had begun the reconnaissance project several years prior, starting at Labna, and were now approaching the Kiuic polity area. Walking through the dense jungle of the Biocultural Reserve with a group of local workers from the nearby town of Yaxachen, I mapped and took notes on a wide range of archaeological features that had been swallowed by the jungle over the previous 1100 years.

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A misty morning in the Biocultural Reserve.