The Maya Research Program is an archaeological field school located in the town of Blue Creek in northwestern Belize, Central America. It consists of a few dozen volunteers and about ten staff members and interns. We also have local individuals from Blue Creek and the nearby town of San Felipe who help us excavate, as well as taking excellent care of us by keeping our base camp clean and preparing wonderful homemade meals every day. Many of the MRP volunteers are archaeology students, but this isn’t a requirement. Anyone who is interested in learning more about ancient Maya civilization and getting hands-on archaeological experience is welcome to join in.
During the Maya Research Program’s summer field season, participants live at a base camp in Blue Creek, where we eat, sleep, and hang out. Each volunteer is assigned a cabaña to sleep in, and depending on the capacity of the program during a given session, you may be assigned a roommate or have a cabaña to yourself. In the mornings, people tend to wake up early, around 5:30 or 6:00. A buffet-style breakfast is served at 6:30, and at 7:00 all of the excavation teams load into vans or pickup trucks and head into the field for the day’s work.
The work that you do on any given day depends on the team to which you are assigned and the site at which this team is working. You may be doing anything archaeological–from mapping, to uncovering monumental architecture, to excavating human burials, ceramics, stone tools, or other artifacts. Team leads are very conscientious about training volunteers in field methods and teaching you what to expect, so you don’t have to worry if you have little or no archaeological field experience. Learning is what field school is all about!
We work in the field all day, until about 3:00 pm. (There is a lunch break in the middle of the day, and many teams also take a mid-morning snack break.) Around 3:00 we head back to base camp, and there is a mad dash for the showers (archaeology gets you dirty). Then we usually have about an hour to relax before dinner, during which time volunteers may choose to read, take a nap, socialize, get some extra lab work done, or visit the Internet café across the street to communicate with friends and family back home.
After dinner, one of the staff members typically gives a lecture relating to his or her research, Maya archaeology, or some other theme related to the program. Afterwards, volunteers, interns, and staff members typically hang out under the palapa (kind of an open-sided hut with chairs and picnic tables underneath) to have a few beers and unwind. This is a great time to pick the staff members’ brains for archaeological advice and expertise.