- Posted April 3, 2011 by
La Milpa, Belize
This iReport is part of an assignment:
'Raiders' turns 30: Your archaeology adventures
Discovery of Tomb in La Milpa, Belize
In 2008,I was finishing up my degree in Anthropology (with a concentration in archaeology) from East Carolina University. I had decided to get more experience, I was going to fund my own field school trip down to Belize to work with the University of Texas at Austin. Several other schools had also joined in to the excavations that were going on at La Milpa and several other smaller sites in the area.I was very excited and had waited for a chance to excavate in a foreign location.
Since I was around 7 or 8 years old I had wanted to be an archaeologist. My mother helped me learn to spell archaeology in elementary school so I could tell my teachers that was what I wanted to be. It usually came as a shock went I said "an archaeologist" instead of an astronaut or a fireman. Of course, Indiana Jones had inspired me quite a bit.
Over the years I had changed professions several times and changed directions in college. Archaeology was always a passion, but I had never considered going to school for it. One night I was looking through my books, and realized I had hundreds of books about archaeology and couldn't understand WHY I had never looked into actually studying archaeology as a degree.
Fast forward, 3 years. I was in the sweltering hot jungle in Belize. A year before I got to the archaeology site I was working at, named La Milpa, a 14 foot deep pit was dug in the middle of a court yard of temples. They were looking for the earliest occupation level of this site. Usually that is pretty deep in the ground. In the process they dug through 7 plaster floors. When you are digging and hit a floor, that means that a ruler had everything plastered over and repainted. Usually signifies a capturing of the city or a new ruler being seated on the thrown.
While digging they also discovered a chamber underground. However, after photographing it and taking soil samples, nothing turned up. No organic matter. No paint. No artifacts. Nothing. So they covered it with a tarp and left it for the next season.
I came to the site and almost immediately asked about this pit. I wanted to know everything about it. I was told they were going to cover it up later in the season because nothing was inside and it was obviously a natural cavity in the earth. I worked at a different part of the site for most of the season, but when I heard they were about to cover the pit up, I asked if I could climb down and look inside.
So I went down there and brought along my camera. I've read a LOT about Mayan archaeology and archaeological sites. It was my concentration in archaeology. The people working at this site assumed that since this chamber contained nothing, that it was natural. I knew this was incorrect, and thought maybe I could prove it. I put my arm inside this hole leading into the chamber and video taped what was inside. I pointed the camera everywhere, including up towards the ceiling. (By the way, the hole I was looking inside was on the side of the chamber).
When I reviewed the video tape......during the portion of the video where I pointed the camera up, there was a completely round stone covering a hole. It was too round to be natural. I showed it to my site director and she lost it. She nearly pushed me backwards into the pit because she was so excited.
We then took the surface level down to where I found this opening. I was right. There was a round stone sitting on a perfect round opening. After moving the stone, we could see straight down into the chamber. It was about 10 feet in diameter. Nearly perfectly round. Since I was the one that found it, I was told that it was mine and I could work there. So I did.
For three days I was hunched over the edge of this hole filling up a bucket with dirt raising it up a latter and then sifting the dirt. I wasn't finding anything, which was getting disappointing. Finally I had cleared enough dirt to get inside the chamber. I will say.....this moment is one that I will never ever forget. I was the first person inside a very very old man made chamber. I climbed in, and just sat there and breathed the musty air and dust. It was an incredible feeling. Then I turned on my headlamp and saw 3 HUGE spiders. Bigger than my hand. They are called scorpion spiders. (Google it and you'll see). They have 8 legs and 2 nasty pinchers. Nasty looking, but harmless. I worked in there with them hanging over my heads most of the time. One fell on my chest one day and I nearly stabbed myself trying to get it off while screaming like a little
So next we took measurements and more soil samples. I took notes of the inside and what I saw. Most of the dirt that I had cleared out was all collapsed from the ceiling. This meant that I hadn't even gotten to the REAL top layer inside the chamber. Once I started digging, the soil changed to a VERY dark color and I started finding bones of animals. They were likely placed in there as an offering. Some probably climbed inside over the years.
After about 4 days of digging inside this chamber I finally found a sternum. I'm not sure if you know anatomy well but its the bone that protects the heart in the front of the rib cage. Next I found a sacrum (tail bone). Then ribs. Then vertebrae. It was exciting, but for all we knew if could have been a monkey. We immediately called the two most well known experts of Mayan osteology and flew them down from the US. When they got there, they took one look at the bones and said it was a male, mid 20s. Then they told me they were some of the best preserved bones they had every seen and told me I did an expert job
After we got all of the bones out, I wagered that there would be an identical chamber in the same area at the other end of the plaza. That was kind of snickered at, but while I was living in Germany I got an email from a Canadian friend of mine that worked with me saying I was dead right. I was given credit on the reports.....which are buried somewhere in the vast library of the University of Texas archaeology archives. But.....at least I have pictures documenting it all. That same season I also found and identified the only Mayan Hieroglyph at that particular site. Those three months were easily the biggest adventures of my entire life and I'll always remember it.