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Digging Belize: My Field School Experience

August 9, 2019

The Ka’Kabish Archeological Research Project provided first-hand experience in archeological techniques and a better understanding of career interests

Olivia Molica Lazzaro on site in Belize

For five weeks, I woke up to the crowing of roosters and fell asleep to the sounds of Howler monkeys in Indian Church, Belize. It’s a place people visit most often for its scenic beaches, abundant rainforest, and spectacular caving adventures. My off-the-beaten-path adventure to Belize with Trent University uncovered a whole other side of this amazing country.

In Indian Church, a rural village surrounded by lush jungle and accessible only via dirt roads, I worked alongside Dr. Helen Haines, director of the Ka’Kabish Archeological Research Project and professor at Trent University Durham GTA. Participating in this field work was complementary to my joint-major in anthropology and psychology. I had studied archeological theory in the classroom, but do you really know archeology if you’ve never set, troweled, screened, and mapped local ruins?

For eight hours a day, five days a week, with the accompaniment of Belizean music, I put all of the classroom archeological theory into practice. The dig was focused on gaining knowledge about the residential lives, status, and chronology of the ancient Maya people of Ka’Kabish. Much of this knowledge is gained through examining the artifacts recovered during the field season, including ceramics, lithics (stone tools), faunal remains, and obsidian (volcanic glass),

While we will learn more about each artifact after more analysis by specialists, field school helped me gain useful skills and knowledge that will guide me to future career opportunities. I learned a lot about stratigraphy—exposing, visually identifying and then separating different soil strata. This is especially important in archeology because it marks exactly where artifacts were pulled from in order to maximize and preserve the information each finding yields. I also learned, in my opinion, that the work—physical, dirty, sweaty—definitely trumps any desk job.

In all, this experience was transformational in a way that complements, but is completely different from, learning in lectures and libraries. My advice to all students—new, returning, mature—is to expand the boundaries of your learning environment. You really won’t know what you can unearth until you try something new.

Olivia Molica Lazzaro is a Psychology and Anthropology joint major at Trent University Durham GTA