ANTH4005: Advanced Mortuary Archaeology Laboratory Practicum
Dr. Jennifer Newton
Drawing directly from the Ka'Kabish Archaeological Research Project (KARP) in Belize, students in the Advanced Mortuary Archaeology Laboratory Practicum are shedding light on the ancient Maya society by studying its death practices. Through end-of-term in-person presentations to fellow students at Trent University Durham GTA, they are demonstrating how bioarchaeological study can reveal much about the organization and character of those who lived long ago.
“The students are presenting their findings by means of an osteobiography,” stated Dr. Jennifer Newton, assistant professor of Anthropology at Trent Durham. “They are compiling the data and creating a story for an individual buried at the site. In essence they are creating a story as to who this person may have been, based on the skeletal and mortuary evidence.”
Founded in 2007, by Dr. Helen Haines, associate professor of Anthropology at Trent Durham, the KARP project has mapped over 100 structures in the rain forest of Belize. The Belize field school has also given the opportunity for Trent students to engage in real-world archaeological excavation and analysis.
Understanding & impact
“The course offers an amazing opportunity for students to be hands-on with the materials and to broaden their understanding of the mortuary ritual,” explains Professor Newton of the offering that is available to Trent students who have taken the Human Osteology and Forensic Anthropology courses.
Students analyzed the materials in the lab as well as field notes from former students who previously worked on the excavation in Belize. They subsequently submitted a report of their findings that will be archived with the project records and Belize government.
Unearthing the skill-set
By studying skeletal remains, students learned many archaeological skills and applications, including ethical considerations and analysis processes. They also learned how mortuary archaeology enables researchers to investigate topics including: health and disease, social and political organization and mortuary practices.
In terms of broad professional skills, they sharpened oral and written communication skills; critical thinking and reading; and data collection, interpretation and management.
Bringing knowledge to campus
Adhering to COVID-19 protocols, the students are presenting their work to invited members of the Trent community, as well as fellow students who are participating in the Ontario Archaeological Field School at Trent Durham. They in turn, are working on an excavation to search for historic or prehistoric remains on the campus property which was the former location of a 19th century homestead.
“This course was meant to take place at Ka'Kabish this summer,” reflects Prof. Newton. “Even though we couldn't study these people in Belize, we were able to do a very similar course at Trent Durham. The course has allowed myself and the students to get back into the lab and study the material hands-on.”