By Alexis R. Milan, Staff Reporter
Northern Arizona University students are credited with helping to preserve archaeological sites in Belize and as a result, supporting the country’s tourism economy, as part of a field study program with former Archaeology Director Jaime Awe.
Fifteen undergraduates and four graduate students spent the summer months in Belize doing excavations, which included a structure at Xunantuknich.
“This work not only conserves cultural heritage, but it also creates jobs, contributes to national identity and is educational”, said Awe, who currently serves as an assistant professor of archaeology at the university.
In addition to the archaeological tenets of excavation, the students learned about preservation. The Maya built with lime plaster, a combination of water and lime, which deteriorates when exposed to rain and algae.
“When we discover fragile monuments, we make a fiberglass replica that covers the original, thereby preserving and protecting it”, Awe said. “When you go to the sites, you cannot tell that you are looking at a replica.”
Another important aspect of the students’ applied archaeological experience was interacting and training Belizeans, who lead tour groups at the ancient Maya sites and share information with visitors about their ancestors’ lifestyles and activities.
The Maya treated caves as sacred spaces and left offerings, especially during the drought period between A.D. 700 and 900, which eventually led to the collapse of the Maya civilization and abandonment of many of their cities.
Awe plans to offer the field study experience each summer.