An Archaeologist’s Sketchbook

By: Alfred Bendiner

Originally Published in 1960

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When Fro Rainey and his staff asked my wife and me to go to Tikal and make an architectural survey of the Acropolis, they didn’t specify that we work solid from six A.M. to nine P.M. like regular archaeologists, ethnologists, anthropologists, grave diggers, and sherd polishers.

So I found some spare time on Saturday afternoons and Sundays to doodle.

Here are a few drawings of what goes on in and around and about the great archaeologists’ Paradise in the Peten.

You too can be an archaeologist or even an interested spectator, bird, flora, and fauna fancier, herpatologist, botanist, camera fiend, or just plain snooper.

The plane comes in from Guatemala City on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and you can stay over as long as you behave like a tourist. Take along some aralen, entero vioformo, bird-watching glasses, cameras and film, whiskey against the cold nights.

The whole rain forest is endlessly fascinating and you may acquire a sunburn, pick wild orchids, spot a quetzal or at least a toucan, watch the monkeys and try and figure out what the stelae are saying.

Don’t feed or annoy the archaeologists, who are deep, serious M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s developing a frown trying to figure out what made a bunch of midget Indians act civilized or maybe better. It’s all still a wide open problem lacking a words solution and if you can learn the Morse code you can date a monument as quickly as the “beards.” So come, oh come, to Tikal and take home a genuine old obsidian carving tool recently faked in Guatemala City. But keep your hands off the real museum objects. They search baggage at the border. Except maybe you can sneak out an old bone, if it doesn’t crumble.

man looking through telescope
Archaeologist sketch
sketch of archaeologists hiking
As we ascended and descended the forty feet of Temple I four times daily, loaded with a drafting room of gear, and perspiring in the burning sun, I could hear just everybody at home saying, “Lucky you. And wasn’t it all the greatest!”
sketch of man leaving family to work
Rudy, our personal stake pounder and rod man, takes his leave of home and family to go to his daily task.
sketch of men with tools
These are the surveyors going out to work in the jungle, each with four husky chicleros to carry the gear and do work.
sketch of archaeologist looking at sherds
Sherds are the backbone of archaeology, next of course to the real McCoy bones…For every skeleton there are ten thousand busted sherds (or is it shards?); they’re hell to match up but when they do join, a whole civilization unfolds…all add up to Gandmama Maya cooking goulash or patting frijoles way back in five-o-five A.D.
sketch of men in jeep going into jungle
Chicleros with machetes and a jeepload of archaeologists going to work at 7:00 a.m.
sketch of man using a transit.
The greatest invention of mankind to aid the field man is the transit. It is a seeing-eye which can look straight ahead for a mile and up and down three hundred and sixty degrees at “true north” – if you can master the delicate twists and turns.
sketch of men taking pictures of monuments
No true scholar archaeologist would dare name an old wreck of a monument “The shrine of Nedjma, the starry eyed virgin of November twelfth Long Count.” They just number them; so, here is 20 and 26 beyond. It’s not a very clear drawing but then neight are the ruins.
sketch of archaeologists coming home
Home, sweet home.
sketch of woman throwing water outside of house at roosters
Six-0-five and the morning routine
sketch of house in jungle
Adam and Eve never had it so good, and all screened too.
Sketch of chicleros working
“Chicleros” are men-of-all-work and originally lived in the forests cutting the bark of the trees to get chicle to make chewing gum and also, on the side, they located archaeological sites. Now the American scientists have discovered a plastic for making chewing gum, so the chicleros aren’t chchicleros any more. No. No. They are diggers at archaeological sites and work an eight hour day with time and a half for overtime and double on Saturdays and Sundays.
sketch of men working
For any other middle aged hopeful who thinks archaeology is just a-settin’ with gin and tonic and yelling at a workman to dig or measure, this is an accurate delineation of what to do until the doctor (of philosophy) comes.
sketch of staff headquarters
The reservoir which contains the crocodile and a lot of golden scum is really two reservoirs half of which are covered by thatched roofs to keep the water from evaporating too fast. If you cross the dike and look back, there are the quarters of the Expedition staff. I made this drawing on Easter morning. Everybody was wither away at Flores at a dance or sleeping late. And it was quiet. Rudy, our transit man, came out of his hut and yawned and looked at my drawing and said, “It is the headquarters of the staff.” Then I knew it was all right, so I quit and went back for tinned Easter eggs.
sketch of archeologists trying to work with men jumping around them
After a couple of months it gets you, like a good jungle should. The little people fog your scopes and the tapes stretch. And Betty says plaintively, “It’s only a joke, Al, a poor, tired, worn, little joke.”
sketch of tons of people with camera looking at stela
It used to be traditional that when you uncovered a tomb of some ancient, the gods would drop you dead in your tracks or curse you so hard that your arm would wither or something equally awful and serious would happen. But, nowadays, you couldn’t possibly collapse in a heap without falling over six tourists, a visiting scientist and his wife, two photographers from “Life” and all the members of your staff who are waiting for the “big moment.” This is a true picture of the discovery of Stela X.
sketch of tourists at stela
Bird watching tourists
archaeologists working
Artist at work on reconstruction drawing of sculpted stone while wife takes detailed measurements to satisfy the director’s demands.
sketch of man stick through hole in wall
Dom Pedro, the Indian pick man, has just hit nothing…and opened a big hole doing it, which turned out to be a richly stocked tomb of important personage – the highlight of the season!
sktech of tourists at Tikal site.
Temple I is the pin-up of Tikal and is being restored – gradually. It is high and wide and handsome and is the synosure of all eyes and cameras. On Saturday nights, the boys climb up and put an F.M. photograph in the upper temple and the place resounds to Bach, Beethoven. and Brahms.

Cite This Article

Bendiner, Alfred. "An Archaeologist’s Sketchbook." Expedition Magazine 3, no. 1 (September, 1960): -. Accessed July 18, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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