In this planning project researchers from the U.S. and Mexico will catalyze a collaboration between archaeologists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) and the Unversidad del Oriente (UNO) in Vallodolid, Yucatan, Mexico. The collaboration is focused on an archaeological investigation of the interaction of macro-political change with local landscape and residence. Due to the specific occupational history of the Yucatán, this area is a promising locale for this research. Importantly, the presence of local indigenous communities presents an opportunity to refine methods of community-based participatory research within archaeology. Two researchers from UNC-CH, Drs. Patricia A. McAnany & Shoshaunna Parks and two graduate students will collaborate with Dr.Adolfo Ivan Batún Alpuche of Universidad del Oriente (UNO) and his undergraduate students. The proposal that will result from this planning grant will examine how the series of seismic political changes in the Yucatán Peninsula from the Terminal Classic period (800-1000 CE) through the 19th century affected landscape use as well as the quotidian activities of non-elite Maya household members, particularly women and their tribute-related work of cotton cloth production.

Broader impacts of this project include the refinement of methods within Maya Archaeology that combine cutting-edge science with knowledge-sharing programs that engage indigenous communities and enhancement of Maya cultural survival and of the conservation of local heritage places. The long-term project to follow this planning grant will offer educational opportunities to children, youth, and adults through workshops, radio broadcasts, and performances via local NGOs and primary/secondary schools. U.S. students and a young female faculty member will also participate in these investigations. Involvement of junior researchers in international research is a major goal of OISE.

Project Report

Because this project was funded as a planning visit, some of its outcomes are still emerging and will be realized in full when later stages of this research are completed. The purpose of the archaeological research was to locate colonial-period (16th to 18th century) archaeological sites that are proximate to contemporary communities in the eastern part of Yucatán, México. The proximity of contemporary communities is important because the project is collaborative with community. This means that there exists give-and-take of knowledge and skills internationally and between academic and lay communities. The collaboration is extended academically with a partnership also formed between the local university in Valladolid, Yucatán (Universidad de Oriente) and a trained archaeologist from the university, Dr. Ivan Batun-Alpuche and the Research Labs of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Three U.S. graduate students and four Yucatec undergraduates participated in the research, which included site reconnaissance in Season One and survey, mapping, and surface collection in Season Two. Field research during Season Two focused on three locales: Chebalam, Tixhualactun, and Tahcabo. The central church complexes of each locale were mapped and scanned with a Topcon GR3 GPS unit and a Topcon GLS-1500 scanner. Drafts of the 3-D images from the scanning are attached to this report (Figures 1-3). The scans will be used as a foundation for future research and also for architectural conservation purposes. Although the colonial churches are important community features, this research is focused on the more difficult-to-detect but vitally important and understudied dwellings of the laborers who were part of the mission congregations. Surface collection in sampled units around the periphery of the church was implemented to detect areas in which such dwellings can be located and did succeed in identifying several locales that can next be tested through excavation. After excavation has taken place, this information on early colonial Maya dwellings will be a new kind of knowledge that has rarely been collected. In addition to training in new mapping instrumentation technologies for U.S. graduate students and Yucatec undergraduates, this project has a broader impact on the three communities that participated. As the communities of Chebalam, Tixhualactun, and Tahcabo learned about the science of archaeology and how it might be used to answer questions about the past, community engagement with the project accelerated. Through community meetings (see figures 4 and 5), townspeople asked questions and voiced the research interests of each community. Communities responded to our invitation to become a research partner in different ways. At Chebalam--which is suffering population loss--community leaders wanted (somewhat idealistically) to participate in archaeological research because they thought that it might energize their community and stem the flow of out-migration of young people. At Tixhualactun, the colonial church is rapidly deteriorating and the community wanted to see documentation of the church and its environs before total collapse. At Tahcabo there is a large colonial cemetery directly in front of the church and whenever a civic improvement project takes place on the central plaza, burials are disturbed. Townspeople want to know the spatial extent of the burials and we intend to establish that via remote sensing instrumentation (radar and EM) during the summer of 2014. This last request from Tahcabo takes the project in a new and previously unanticipated direction and is indicative of the manner in which community collaboration can lead to new kinds of ventures and ultimately to unanticipated knowledge. Although only a planning grant, significant groundwork was laid for community-collaborative research on an understudied topic—the impact of colonialism on those who were colonized.

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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill
United States
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