Local archeologist revives Mayan history

YUCATAN, MEXICO – Sublette County archaeologist Dave Vlcek recently spent three weeks in Yucatan, Mexico, conducting archaeological investigations among the ancient Maya in the Puuc Region of Yucatan, Mexico.

Vlcek was assisting Dr. Bill Ringle, of Davidson College in North Carolina, and Dr. George Bey, of Milsaps College in Mississippi, in their multi-year program of mapping and excavations of Maya sites in “the Puuc.” Puuc is a Yucatec Maya word meaning “hill,” as the Puuc is the hilly region of Yucatan, contrasting to the flat plain characteristic of most of this part of Yucatan.

Ringle and Bey obtained LiDAR – or “light detection and ranging” – coverage of a large area of archaeological settlements known as the Yaxon Region, containing sites like Yaxon, Nohoch Kep and others.

LiDAR coverage is a combination of pulsed laser radar, infrared and other high-elevation aerial photography that penetrates through the jungle canopy and maps the actual surface of the land. Since most of Yucatan contains very thin soils, the archaeological materials consist of limestone constructions of temples, plazas, residences, multi-room buildings, simple houses and the excavation pits for quarrying limestone in the construction of these ruins.

The LiDAR “maps” the buildings extremely well; the archaeologist then enters the “monte” – or scrub jungle – aided by Maya-speaking workers to clear away vegetation and confirm the LiDAR data.

LiDAR confirmation involves looking for the corners of buildings, internal features (such as room walls), locating metates (corn-grinding slabs), “chultunes” (subterranean water storage cisterns) and other subtle remains, like ceramics, altars, monuments and even ancient Maya avenues called sacbes –sac meaning “white” and be meaning “road” in Maya.

Ground-truthing the LiDAR data thus doesn’t involve clearing the entire vegetation amongst the ruins – just the corners, exposed walls, standing architecture when preserved, and paths amongst the ruin complexes, which saves a lot of time and energy!

Vlcek’s knowledge of the Yucatan allows for the easy identification of the proximal dates of construction of many of the formal vaulted buildings. Based upon characteristics and style in the limestone blocks used for construction, many date to between 800 and 1100 A.D. The earliest date to around 1500 B.C.; some date between 300 and 450 A.D., again based on building styles, but also ceramic study.

Vlcek ran a crew of 10 Maya from a local village. All spoke Yucatec Maya and most spoke Spanish. Vlcek “worked on” both his Spanish and Maya, to the entertainment of the crew!

Examples: Ko’onesh Me Ya – Let’s get to work. ¿Tush Cabin? – Where you going? Ko’osh Ha na – Let’s eat!

Work consisted of starting at about 6:30 a.m. and the heat makes work stop between 1 and 2 p.m. Temperatures exceed 100 degrees come mid day.

These Maya and the archaeology in Yucatan are nothing less than spectacular! The people are very friendly and dirt poor – with the workers paid $45 a week, a tad over normal wages – but with a positive spirit and sense of humor that is irresistible.

They continued to teach Vlcek Maya, ethnobotany (if you cut yourself, find a Pomoche tree, pull off a few leaves, put the sap on the cut and you’re good. It works!) and how to sharpen a machete.

Vlcek hopes to go back after Thanksgiving to continue the work, and when the Yucatecan sun doesn’t beat down so hot, as it is only 80 to 90 degrees!


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