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Lamanai Archaeological Project (LAP), Field School

 Background and History

In 1997 Elizabeth Graham and Laura Howard designed the first field school in the Lamanai area, Norbert Stanchly also assisted in this endeavor.  The program was designed to maximize a students learning experience in Maya archaeological field and laboratory techniques as well as foster environmental and cultural immersion.  Curriculum development included some archaeological activities and lesson plans designed to offer students an ideal survey, excavation, or laboratory situation.  This allows students to not feel pressured or apprehensive while doing fieldwork and thus maximizes learning.  For instance, students were provided with survey training and basic survey equipment (tape and compass) and produce for themselves a map of cleared easily identifiable structures, this includes a field portion to record points and a laboratory session to create a professional scaled archaeological map.  The program was also designed to ensure that all processing of finds was completed at the same time fieldwork was conducted.  This allows a much better understanding of what is being recovered and provides students with immediate initial results and interpretations of their work. 

The Lamanai Archaeological Reserve is rich in species diversity and although archaeology was the focus the curriculum also included a Plant Identification Excursion (field & lab portion), birding, and other New River Lagoon educational field excursions that included observation of Morelets' Crocodiles, bats, and Black Howler Monkeys.

It was during the inception of the Lamanai field school that standardized project field and laboratory forms for the Lamanai Archaeological Project were created.  This includes forms for Operation, Lot, and Small Find Records, as well as master lists for each of these.  This work built upon the original excavations done by David Pendergast to ensure that the material and information generated during his project from 1974 – 1986 was linked with our current research project.  The LAP houses many of its forms, documents, and collections on-site, which allows access by professional researchers with permission granted by the Institute of Archaeology (National Institute of Culture and History).

Work detailed below would not have been possible with out the support and help from Mark and Monique Howells former directors of the Lamanai Field Research Center; Jaime Awe, John Morris, George Thompson, and Brian Woodeye staff of Belize's Institute of Archaeology; the numerous archaeological field school students who enrolled in our program to assist us with our work; and residents of Indian Church Village who often were employed by our project.

Brief Field School Excavation History:

1997Lamanai South, Mound II - Work directed by Howard, assisted by Graham and Stanchly – The survey and excavation results of work done on Mound II at Lamanai South, are included in Report of Excavations at Lamanai South:  Results of the 1997 Field Season, by L. Howard and E. Graham, report available for a small fee upon request.  The 1997 season spent a considerable amount of time mapping the main site center of Lamanai South, especially focusing on Mound II.   All construction on Mound II was dated to a limited time range: the Protoclassic to Early Classic Period. We use the term Protoclassic because we feel it serves as a bridging term, and indeed the construction associated with Mound II bridges the Preclassic to Classic Period. So far, nothing later than the middle of the Early Classic -- say A.D. 300 to 350 -- has been identified, and it would seem that occupation at Mound II did not continue beyond this period of time.  Mound I on the other hand was found to have an occupational history that mirrors that of the main site center of Lamanai.

1998 – Structures N12-12 (Rectory) and N10-27 (Stela Structure, Harold) - Work directed by Graham, Howard, and Stanchly – After 12 years of no archaeological investigation work was again carried out in the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve.  This field season focused primarily on the Postclassic to Spanish Colonial period area and included further investigation of Structure N12-12, also referred to as the Rectory. Although we've not been able to establish the function of the structure with certainty, we are sure that the structure was utilized during the Spanish period and the structures proximity to the second Spanish church would indicate this also. Results from work on Structure N12-12 can be found in Preliminary Report of the Archaeological Investigations of Structure N12-12 at Lamanai by L. Howard and is available for a small fee upon request.  Other areas investigated include Structure N10-27, Harold, in which trenching located a previously unidentified Preclassic phase of architecture, aptly named Big Red due to the recovery of red plaster that covered the exterior portion.  Further work on the front (west side) of Structure N10-27 found us beginning to clear midden material that ended up taking several field seasons to remove.  Rich midden deposits began to accumulate on the front stairs and sides of Structure N10-27 shortly after it was abandoned some time during the Middle to Late Classic period.  The 1998 season began to work through this important deposit.

1999 – Structures N10-27 (Stela Structure, Harold), N10-15, and N10-28 (Tulip, Elite Residential Area) Work directed by Graham, Pendergast, Belanger, Howard, and Stanchly – Aside from our regular field school sessions David Pendergast conducted a specialized Maya architectural field school.  During which time we further excavated midden material deposited on the front and sides of Structure N10-27, which included identification of a platform we named "Elderhouse" after a group of Elderhostel participants who helped to identify it.  It was difficult to delineate the boundaries of this platform, as is often the case with late Maya architecture and at first we did not even realize it was an organized architectural element, it appeared to be collapse debris from Structure N10-27.  We did confirm that there was an Early to Late Postclassic poorly constructed platform built in the plaza area in front of the main building.  It certainly was erected there after the building was abandoned, and is similar to several other late platforms identified in the plaza area of Structure N9-56 (Mask Temple, Fut). Field school excavations conducted in the residential also assisted with a FAMSI (Foundation for Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies Inc.) supported project carried out by Mark Shelby. Pendergast and Belanger added to Shelby's project by the removing of boulders (material purposely placed in the plaza area by the Maya to fill it in) in front of Structure N10-28 and in doing so resulted in the recovery of important fragments of stucco façades that once decorated the upper area of the building.

2000 – Structures N10-27 (Stela Structure, Harold) and N10-9 (Jaguar Temple, Lip) – Work directed by Graham, Howard, and Stanchly – Work continued on the Structure N10-27 midden deposits which thus far had been found to date from approximately AD 900 to 1300, Late TERCLEP (Terminal Classic, Early Postclassic) to BUK (Early Postclassic) to CIB (Late Postclassic).  Dates for this deposit were established through ceramic analysis of material we are fortunate to have recovered in a predominately sealed context.  Further work will be conducted on this material to provide us with more clues to this important time period at Lamanai.  The 'Giant Midden' as Pendergast referred to it as during his original work, between Structure N10-9 and N10-7 was further explored.  Similar to midden material located against Structure N10-27 this midden also provided sealed context of late material so important to our work at Lamanai.

2001, 2002 & 2004 to 2007 – Various structures located in the Late Postclassic-Colonial Period occupation zone - directed by Simmons, and assisted by Howard and in 2002 by Meredith Martinez (who also assisted other years as well) - The Maya Archaeometallurgy Project that archaeological students assist with at Lamanai is a research program focused on studying the specialized production of copper and bronze objects in the Maya Lowland area during Postclassic and Spanish Colonial times.  Since its inception in 1999 a central goal of this project has been to understand the relationships that existed between copper production and socioeconomic differentiation and interdependence among the Maya.  A larger goal for the research project is to provide insights into the relationships that existed between craft production, socioeconomic integration, and cultural evolution in state-level societies.  Although copper artifacts have been recovered from several other Lowland Maya sites, including a great number in the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itzá, no substantive research has been undertaken on the nature of Maya metallurgy as a specialized craft activity.  As a result, the Maya Archaeometallurgy Project at Lamanai is the first and thus far only one of its kind.

For Lamanai's current field school project see Dr. Simmons web page:

Or you can contact Laura Howard


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