Proyecto Arqueologico Busilja-Chocolja 2015: Behind the Scenes – Whit Schroder

August 11, 2015

Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.

Archaeology is fun, but here in Chiapas, Mexico, I think we have the best time on Carnitas Day. (Even I have fun, and I’m a vegetarian!) On this day, we celebrate our season’s hard work with traditional Mexican fare, including tacos, guacamole, sodas made with real sugar (and lots of it), tequila, and, for the vegetarian, spaghetti.

The 2015 team celebrating Carnitas Day
The 2015 team celebrating Carnitas Day. Photo by author.

And we deserve it. We have had a long, productive season working at a number of archaeological sites along the Busilja River in the Selva Lacandona of Chiapas. The Proyecto Arqueologico Busilja-Chocolja, co-directed by Charles Golden and Andrew Scherer, examines the political landscape of an important sub-region of the Maya area, the Middle Usumacinta River Basin, located at the nexus of travel routes in the western lowlands. During the Late Classic period (AD 600–900), our current project area was a contested border zone between the major kingdoms of Palenque, Tonina, Piedras Negras, Yaxchilan, and Sak Tzi and minor centers including La Mar, El Cayo, and Chinikiha.

The Busilja River, a tributary of the Usumacinta River, flows through the middle of this landscape, which the PABC has surveyed since 2011, building off of Teobert Maler’s explorations at the turn of the twentieth century. Project objectives include understanding the relationship between the region’s settlement patterns and the larger political centers through analyzing ceramics and creating a Geographic Information System to reconstruct spatial and temporal changes over time.

The study region showing the Busilja River within the boxed area.
The study region showing the Busilja River within the boxed area.

During the 2015 season, we have focused on a set of sites near the Busilja River to begin to determine how these changes are manifested in the archaeological record. Similarities in the material record among different sites may reveal some degree of centralization in relation to the Piedras Negras kingdom, while major differences raise questions regarding the relative integration or autonomy of these sites.

To pursue such questions, we have continued to work with the community of Nueva Esperanza Progresista, located near the archaeological site of Budsilha. Expanding our survey region both upstream and downstream, we have also established a relationship with the La Selva ejido, building off of initial survey in the region last year. Members of the ejido have been excited to work with us, and a number of landowners have allowed us to excavate on their ranches. We only had time this summer to begin excavations at two sites, though we started mapping others. After initial analysis of the materials, we are finding major chronological differences between these two sites, though they are located within a few kilometers of each other.

Along with members of the Nueva Esperanza and La Selva communities, we are grateful that Cindy Medina and Yessenia Cabrera, students from the Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas, have joined us again as volunteers. They are currently hard at work completing their bachelors theses and are set to graduate in August.

In the next post, I will report further on our interesting findings. But for now, we’re going to enjoy our carnitas (and pasta).

I still sit at the kids’ table.
I still sit at the kids’ table.