Belize Field School
Page updated 24 April 2020
The Ka'Kabish Archaeological Research Project (KARP), directed by Dr. Helen R. Haines, provides students with the opportunity to excavate an ancient Maya ruin in the rain forest while living in a small Belizean village. Work at the site focuses on, among other things, excavations into the plazas to expose Formative period (ca. 600-800 BC deposits). The project is based in the local village of Indian Church, adjacent to the ruins of Lamanai, and is available for ANTH-3000Y credit. Additional information, photos, and copies of reports are available on the KARP site.
Due to COVID-19, the Belize field school is cancelled for summer 2020.
For information on Belize field school in Ka'Kabish please contact:
Dr. Helen R. Haines
Department of Anthropology
Trent University Durham
55 Thornton Road South
Oshawa, ON, L1J 5Y1 CANADA
Phone: (905) 435-5100 x5045
Ka'Kabish is a medium-size centre in north-central Belize located approximately 10 km from the larger, and more famous, site of Lamanai. The core area of Ka'Kabish was separated roughly in half by the construction of a modern road that connects the village Indian Church to San Filipe.
In contrast to the extensive research conducted at Lamanai (cf. Graham 2004), little was known about Ka'Kabish prior to the start of the Ka'Kabish Archaeological research project in 2007.
Contrary to initial expectations that envisioned Ka'Kabish as a secondary political centre, part of a multi-scalar administrative polity ruled by Lamanai, recent research has shown that Ka'Kabish was a dynamic and autonomous city for most of its history.
To date the project has mapped over 90 structures in eight groups. Excavations into the largest of these groups (Group D) has revealed that Ka'Kabish enjoyed a long history of occupation. Starting in the Middle Formative period (ca. 800-600 BC) the site lasted through to the end of the Late Classic period (ca. AD 600-900). Ongoing investigations into the surrounding settlement zone show that, while the core of the city may have declined, rural populations continued to thrive until the contact period (ca. 1500 AD).
The combination of monumental architecture and residences, both elite and commoner, show a thriving, multi-tiered community. Preliminary date gathered from the structures and plazas inside the site core show that the city functioned as the focus for local political and ritual activity for over 1,800 years. Information from the settlement zone suggests that the residential occupation lasted well past the "collapse"; thereby extending the history for the community over approximately 2,300 years.
The Field School
The project provides students with the opportunity to see a site before large-scale excavations and restoration have taken place. In 2012, a buried Middle Formative platform (ca. 800-600 BC) was discovered. As only a small portion of this building was discovered, work in 2017 concentrated on excavating two of the main buildings (D-10 a range building and D-14 the suspected royal palace).
Students will get experience in laying out units, stratigraphic excavation, and mapping. Students will also spend 1-2 days in the lab learning to process the artifacts found. Excavation and laboratory work is scheduled for Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday mornings are free time (see Optional Trips & Free Time for more information). There will be weekly Sunday afternoon lectures on Maya history and archaeology and a final test the Friday night before departure.
Students may obtain a ANTH-3000Y field school credit through Trent University. Those wishing to do so must arrange this at the time of application. Participation is limited to 16 students.
Room & Board
The project is based in the local village of Indian Church, adjacent to the ruins of Lamanai. Students stay at a local guest house and dine at a small restaurant run by local women. Indian Church village is a small community of roughly 200 people who are a mix of Belizeans and Guatemalan refugees who settled in the area in the 1980s and early 1990s. English is widely spoken and understood, however, it is not unusual to find many adults who speak only Spanish, including the woman (Dona Olivia Gonzalez) who runs the guest house where we stay.
The guest house is a multi-roomed concrete building with a wide porch and common room out front. Each shared room (with two or three beds) has a private bathroom with flush toilet and cold-water shower. All bedding, bed linens, and towels are provided.
Meals are prepared at the local restaurant run by a women’s co-operative. Breakfasts and dinners are eaten at the restaurant and served to us “restaurant style”. Box lunches are prepared for us and eaten on site Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday (if you are in the village) meals are eaten at the restaurant.
The restaurant can accommodate vegetarianism and some allergic restrictions (i.e., fish). If you have any other dietary restrictions please contact Dr. Haines before applying (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Optional Trips & Free Time
Students have evenings, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning as free time. During this time students are free to remain in the village where they can visit the ruin of Lamanai, swim in the lagoon, or just relax in a hammock.
Students may also go into Orange Walk Town (the nearest large town) on Saturdays as part of our regular supply runs. It is in Orange Walk Town that students may find internet services, ice cream parlour, local grocery stores, and a variety of restaurants. Students are responsible for all costs incurred while in Orange Walk Town.
Trips to local ruins will be arranged for Sundays, as weather permits.
There will be a three-day long-weekend break over the third weekend. Students have the option of remaining in Indian Church Village or may choose to journey out to the cayes. Those wishing to leave will be taken to the Water Taxi dock in Belize city Friday morning and will be picked up Sunday afternoon at 5 pm (depending on the water taxi schedule).
Students may also make arrangements to be taken to the local or international airports if they wish to fly to other destinations. However, they are cautioned to make sure that they are back in time for pick-up and return to the village.
It is suggested that students wishing to travel on the long-weekend acquire a good travel book to Belize (i.e, Lonely Plant, Moon Travels, or The Rough Guide to Belize).
Enrolment & Fees
Fees for the five week session (not including tuition and airfare) are $3400 USD. This covers hotel costs in the village and all meals while in Indian Church or on site for the full five weeks, all scheduled transfers to and from the village, and VISA extension fees.
Students are responsible for ensuring that they have sufficient medical travel insurance for the duration of their time away, and their personal incidental fees (i.e., sodas, beers, laundry, personal snacks, meals away from the village on Saturdays, and all expenses incurred over the long-weekend if students choose to leave the village).
Students are will be responsible for supplying some of their own equipment (see syllabus for details). Such items need to be packed in check-in luggage.