Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Marco Gonzalez Maya Site Visit (The Entrance)

Waiting for Jan at Mata Rocks after the rain stopped

     I had called Jan Brown to set up a tour of the Maya Trading Village about 5 miles south of my hotel, and after putting it off a day or two due to some rain showers, we finally travelled down that bumpy and muddy road in her golf cart, just above the mangroves with their feet in the brackish water. I held on tight as we entered the last stretch of the road, where the town of San Pedro had just dumped some fresh (almost) crushed (almost) limestone in anticipation of a possible visit from Dr. Awe, the Director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology that might happen the next day or the day after  -or next week or next month, which is sort of the way everything seems to happen on Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize, just south of the southern Mexican Border on the Atlantic Coast in Central America where the Carribean Sea meets the second largest coral reef in the world (I think that about sums the location all up).
       Now, I've got to tell you that I've never been on the top of a Maya Temple - or a Hopewellian Mound or anything like that - never even seen one in the distance. The closest I've ever been to anything like that is a pile of stones maybe ten or twelve feet high and thirty feet around, a mile or two from my house. And the heap o'stones is built on a hillside, so maybe it only seems that tall, and is that tall, if you stand in a certain spot and the wind is right (or something like that).
        My first view of the Marco Gonzolez Archaeological Reserve, a Belize National Park, reminded me of my own backyard where I've placed some old scrap boards around some stone mounds behind my chicken coop so that in case anyone ever does show up to look at them, they will know where to step. The building at Marco Gonzalez is however in much better shape than my old chicken coop...
   Now please understand, I am not poking fun at this Maya Site. My visits there were just about the most incredible experiences in my life. I'd trade a dozen visits to all the other places, where I'd walk a roped-in designated path to a designated photo opportunity spot to end up looking at labelled exhibits behind museum glass, for just one more visit to MGAR. I paid my entrance fee to Jacob, the 22 year old caretaker, and to the best of my knowledge, the only employee of the national Park, looking down at these artifacts on display on a piece of card stock I suspect was labelled by Jan - perhaps an earlier version on the other side: 
An Incredible Display of Stuff
There was other stuff on that painted plywood shelf below the window screens. I started to reach for something and then remembered my manners.
  "May I?" Iasked.
Jan said, "Go right ahead!"
And I picked up what looked like a slate birdstone:
Swiss-Army Birdstone
Now that's just me, calling this a slate birdstone. Jan said something about it being an axe, possibly hafted on a shaft of wood, and I could see that beat up axe edge (and I remember thinking "hand axe") by my pinky finger but I couldn't help but notice the notch above my thumb in the above photo, and say like I say about stones I find at home, "This part could be used like a shaft abrader."
And then turn the stone and find another hand hold and another size abrader.
And then suggest that it might be sort of a Swiss-Army Bird.
And then get that "How many Grateful Dead shows has this guy been to?" sort of look from the person I'm suggesting such a suggestion to...
This one below, I am happy to say, I have no clue about. Is it bone or stone or fossilized wood, a tool of some sort or just a chunck of something used as landfill to create the site, the village?
I'm proud to say, "I don't know."

      Jan directed me to a shady spot where I guess she gives more graceful people an opportunity to sit and see some more amazing artifacts from the site, sort of a preview of what's to come, but I actually stepped where I shouldn't and knocked apart a bench or table or something that wasn't nailed down and was quickly directed toward another spot where the budget (that I suspect might come out of Jan's pocket or the occasional donation) had allowed the use of nails...
"Miss Jan" Brown

      Jan began unwrapping some items and placing them on some bubble wrap. Notice I said, "Some items." This called an 'Understatement,' I believe; she is actually displaying a random selection of incredible artifacts that may be anywhere from 500 years old to 2,000 years old, found on this human-made mound of Anthrosol (humanly created soil), layer after layer of which had been placed there by hand, probably basketful  by basketful (potful by potful).

There were pottery shards and stone tools...
Fossilized bone needles and fish teeth...

and Shell Jewelry.
And Obsidian!
Jan said some was green and some was almost clear,
depending on which volcano on the mainland that it was found near...
And I said "What? Green? I've never heard of Green Obsidian"
And she said hold it up to the light.
So I did:
And I tried another piece from a different place:

Ah, I could have spent alot more time looking at all and holding all these things that somewhere else (anywhere else) might've been behind glass (that might have a sign that warned you not to even touch the glass) but the trail began to call to us, the quarter mile hike across the mangroves, on a boardwalk just above sea level (mostly), so with a glance backward:
And a quick look at a sign post:
We started the walk to the Reserve:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Preface to "Marco Gonzalez Archaeological Reserve"

    Down on Ambergris Caye in Belize recently, my wife and I were faced with so many choices of just which Maya Ruins to visit. Actually it seemed as if there were too many choices and there it was on our "Things To Do in Belize" list. 
    We could go to Altun Ha, for instance, "the site where famous Jade Head of Kinich Ahau the Sun God was found. It consists of thirteen temples and two plazas. The most famous temple is the logo of Belikin Beer and is featured on the bottle. Flourishing during the Classic Period of Maya civilization, Altun Ha is located 30 miles north of Belize City and six miles from the Caribbean Sea."    
(Above photo stolen from ~ http://www.corozalbay.biz/altun.JPG 
Below is an original of mine.)
    We eventually decided that the Lamanai ("submerged crocodile") Tour sounded like a good deal. All we'd have to do is call up one of the many places that would set up a flight or boat trip to the mainland around sunrise, transfer us "to New River departure point in an air-conditioned vehicle.... board a boat for a 26 mile river ride to the site of the Lamanai Mayan Ruins," inticing further us with the prospect that we "might be able to spot crocodiles, Iguanas, exotic birds, manatees, bats and other wildlife during this boat ride." And then have a Free Lunch, "Belizean Rice & Beans, Stewed Chicken and Cole Slaw along with a refreshment," after which a "Licensed Tour Guide will take you (us) to explore the Lamanai Mayan Ruins, explain how the Maya lived here, climb the Maya Ruins, take a photo next to the huge stone mask, view the howler monkeys and explore the on site museum," and then eventually pack us back off to where we started, after sunset. 
(Stolen Lamanai images from the same source above)
    Since it was "the wrong season," as one or more of the locals let slip in conversation, we had been playing everything by ear, as they say, which meant keeping our weather eyes peeled, as they say. Often it looked like this from our room: 

    Young Greg from Ohio and I were up to witness just about every sunrise at the Resort, as if it would help us get our money's worth out of our vacations. He did the trip to Lamanai one day and, although the rain never let up for a single minute, he really enjoyed the experience. Young Greg is a single man and I have been married for 30 years. It did not take long for me to imagine how my wife would feel about having the same experience in the rain (for double the price Young Greg had shelled out). I began to think that the visit to the ruins on the mainland might not be a good idea. It was incredibly fortunate that my wife was very understanding about this (I suspected that this wasn't at the top of her list anyway) and that just 5 miles south of our hotel was an "undeveloped" Maya Site, a "gem in the rough" I'd read, which was really more "up my alley" than some typical tourist type of a tour. I couldn't think of any better way to see if there were some "Maya Connections" between this site and the sites that I've stumbled around here at home for the last twenty years - and the sites I have experienced vicariously with an ever widening circle of friends via the "Worldwide Internet."
     My mind was made up when a woman who appeared to be an "ex-patriot" having a morning coffee at the "palapa" (literally "shelter") barely visible through the rain in the photo above said a person "would have to be crazy to go there this time of year." 
    I do have a reputation to maintain, I thought...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Back from Belize

after going here:
 on a tour with Jan Brown:

A seemingly familiar shape in a platform mound...

Monday, October 08, 2012

Rethinking Columbus:

 Towards a True People's History

"For years, I opened my 11th-grade U.S. history classes by asking students, “What’s the name of that guy they say discovered America?” A few students might object to the word “discover,” but they all knew the fellow I was talking about. “Christopher Columbus!” several called out in unison.
“Right. So who did he find when he came here?” I asked. Usually, a few students would say, “Indians,” but I asked them to be specific: “Which nationality? What are their names?”
In more than 30 years of teaching U.S. history and guest-teaching in others’ classes, I’ve never had a single student say, “TaĆ­nos.” So I ask them to think about that fact. “How do we explain that? We all know the name of the man who came here from Europe, but none of us knows the name of the people who were here first—and there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them. Why haven’t you heard of them?”