BC anthropology professor digs for Mayan artifacts in El Salvador

1400 years ago (circa 620 A.D.), Joya de Cerén, an ancient Maya farming village in El Salvador, was buried under volcanic ash. Also known as the “Pompeii of the New World,”this site has become a well-known archaeological site that many anthropologists and archaeologists travel to in order to learn more about the ancient Maya culture before the volcano hit.  One of these many anthropologists include Bellevue College’s own Dr. Christine Dixon. She first traveled to the Cerén site in 2005 as part of  research for her thesis, she has since gone back to the site multiple times, continuously documenting new findings about the Maya area that would have otherwise not have been known. This summer, she has returned to El Salvador to continue her fieldwork at the historic site.

Dixon explained that their days begin at 6 a.m. and after preparing for the field, they head out to the  where “we work with 25 wonderful Salvadorian workers who help us to excavate much more than we would be able to on our own.” While the morning is spent digging, the afternoons and evening are generally spent in the lab, where they have transport anything they found and enter the data has been collected throughout the day. As far as the specific purpose of this trip, Dixon says that “our research this summer is focused on investigating the sacbe (road) that we discovered in 2011 …We have been able to locate multiple sections of the road to the south of the main site center and have excavated trenches through sections of the road to be able to view how this was constructed …Since this was all made from earthen construction it would have required regular maintenance … we have found 1400 year old footprints from people who had stepped along the side and pushed portions of the sacbe into the canal.” In addition to making progress on the road, there have been developments in the agricultural field as well.

As far as goals concerning the remainder of the trip, Dixon said that they hope the “remaining pits will be able to document where the road extends into the site center. We are also looking at if individual farmers were responsible for maintaining different sections of the road or if this was a group effort organized at the site.” Dixon has also worked with local farmers to better understand the agricultural side of her research. However, in addition to her own fieldwork, Dixon is also helping a Master student with her research in Joya de Cerén concerning past and present storage.

Dixon’s team consists of one other BC instructor, Dr. Nancy Gonlin. Although Gonlin only joined Dixon on site for a couple of weeks, Dixon insisted that “She is an extremely well-respected expert in Mesoamerican Archaeology and provided some great theoretical insights into our research here.” While no other faculty have assisted Dixon in her fieldwork, she said that they have collaborated in the past and she hopes that that relationship can help create a field school that would help foster the learning of BC anthropology students.

Dixon said that her work in the field has helped create a better learning environment for students in the classroom, saying that it provides stories that make the job seem more realistic and desirable. For students interested in participating in some fieldwork of their own, she said there are many field schools with opportunities for BC students.

She encouraged students to visit http://www.archaeological.org/fieldwork/afob, which often has listings for various digs students can join.