Tom’s Notes 2016

The focus of this trip was the historical transition of the Kaan dynasty from Dzibanche to Calakmul; the interregional rivalries between Calakmul and Tikal,  and the alliances that were in play during the Late Classic Period in the Southern Lowlands. This was an exciting trip due to the unfolding epigraphic research documenting these historical dynamics. We were able to observe these events across the region of where they occurred, including major players like Caracol and Xunantunich.

We had Dr. Julia Miller leading this experience. Her academic brilliance and knowledge of the region made this a truly significant learning experience. Julia’s intellect, her professional/archaeological knowledge, organizational skills, personality and friendship are deeply appreciated by me personally and the Maya Society’s travel participants.

The region from Chetumal to Balamku is an extremely rich and important agricultural area. There are large portions of the region that have not been researched, especially the jungle areas along the borders of the three adjoining countries. This area was a part of the ancient northern trade route that Calakmul controlled and used to undermine Tikal’s influence in the Southern Lowlands. The rivalries of these two powers extended from Caribbean Coast of Belize to Palenque in the west and to the Transveral in the south, and lasted over a period of three centuries at its peak (at least from 537-838 CE).

We spent our off- the-grid day visiting the site of Rio Bec. This innocuous adventure turned out to be a series of misadventures, including multiple breakdowns of all three vehicles at various times along the way. This does not include multiple times getting the vehicles out of the mud. We only had to abandon one of them enroute. Our major concern from the drivers was the real possibility of spending the night in the cars (or walking out during the dark) with the significant population of poisonous snakes in this region. Fortunately we were able to keep at least one vehicle running at all times and eventually made our way out by late afternoon.
I forgot to mention the visit to the bat cave. The vast population of resident bats has been estimated to be from 1.5 to over 5 million bats that leave late every afternoon for a night of insect foraging throughout the surrounding jungle area. The sounds of the rush of exiting bats, the screeching of the nearby bat hawks waiting for a meal, and the tactile experience of these mammal flying by your ears (and occasionally bouncing off your legs and clothing) are not to be easily forgotten.
Belize’s Caracol and Xunantunich were incredibly impressive in their importance and the archaeological work that has occurred. Drs. Diane and Arlen Chases career-long research long efforts are a wonderful legacy to them. Visiting the site after our collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s exhibit made this an emotional day in a very special place. Listening to Dr. Julia Miller’s tour of Xunantunich provided not only insight into her research, but gave  her a backdrop for sharing her knowledge and passion for Maya Archaeology.
While in Belize we also had a tour of Cahal Pech. During the visit we had some interaction with Dr. John Douglas, University of Montana, about his work there. We had an evening lecture from Dr. Jaime Awe as well. We also visited the Actun Tunichil Muknal (the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), with several areas with skeletal remains in the main chamber. The best known is “The Crystal Maiden”, actually the skeleton of an adolescent, 17-year-old male), possibly a sacrifice victim, whose bones have been calcified to a sparkling, crystallized appearance. The remains are significant for its age and the intact ceremonial materials.
Lots of other significant details were left out, but this was another wonderful experience. Sadly, we had to leave the tropics and return to the cold north country.