Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What We're Doing Here

This summer is a return to my dissertation field site, Buen Suceso. For those new to the blog (or who don't feel like reading the back posts), Buen Suceso is the site of an ancient village, belonging to the Valdivia culture. The site dates to around 2000 BC, which places it in the Late Valdivia period. Valdivia is the earliest agricultural, sedentary, and pottery producing culture in the region¹. It is also the period when social hierarchies first developed. Buen Suceso is unique in that the people who lived here seem to have rejected those hierarchical developments, and instead created a community that was more expressly egalitarian².

We have several specific, and hopefully attainable goals for this summer:

  1. Create a topographic map of the site. I did this as a grad student, but was relying on an old Brunton compass, a telescoping level that eventually had a stick taped to the top of it to get sufficient height, and my somewhat iffy trigonometry. This time we're using a Total Station with millimeter accuracy to more closely map the local terrain. 
    The family that surveys together stays together.
  2. Locate and excavate ancient houses. We want to know if the egalitarian ethos at the site was something that existed just in communal spaces, or if it was something expressed within and between households as well. To do that we need to identify multiple houses so that we can compare them. We're starting by digging test pits in three areas of the site, so that we can get a sense of what lies below the surface. Once we see what those turn up we'll select a few additional areas for expanded excavation. 
    Luis and Robert digging a test pit.
  3. Work with the local community. This field season is the first of two years funded by Fulbright. Next year will focus on heritage workshops and including the archaeology in the tourist resources that the local community, Dos Mangas, has to offer. To do that well, though, requires thought and planning, so I'm starting that conversation with the community this year. 
    At the monthly community meeting, presenting a UTRGV pennant in friendship.

We'll keep you posted on the progress of these goals as the summer goes along.

¹ For the more technical among my readers, I'm not ignoring the San Pedro tradition but I am simplifying for my audience.
² If you're curious to know more about why I say this, check out my dissertation or wait a bit longer for the forthcoming article.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Beginnings are hard

Our arrival back in Dos Mangas was more than I could have hoped for, in many ways. It was wonderful to walk down the street and greet old friends. I could not have had a warmer welcome. Despite that the arrival is still a bit of an adjustment, and difficult mentally at times. Hello culture shock. The village is quite different from our landing pads in Quito and Guayaquil, and adapting to the rhythm and paces of village life take some time. Throw in that I'm traveling with an infant, and it feels just a tad more difficult.

Also, it's really wet here, meaning everything is muddy and dreary. It's also causing me anxiety about the project. We're already getting a bit of a late start (losing about a week of field time because of a delayed permit and some other issues) and the heavy rains will put a further damper on things. And because of the rains we're also impacted by excessive vegetation.
The river valley in May 2006.
Same valley, June 2017. Yeah, it's wet here.

On Father's Day we took a hike out to look at the site. First, I have to give my husband major props for coming willingly on this adventure. And also for tromping through mud instead of doing whatever else you're "supposed" to be doing on Father's Day.
This photo just makes my heart melt.

The land where the site is located has been farmed in the past, but has been left untouched for about two years. There's lots of vegetation and it's hard to see much of anything. My plan of "here, look at the site" turned into a much shorter visit of "well, it's under there somewhere". So, first order of business will be getting some guys out with machetes to clear things enough to map and place some excavation units.

I'm hopeful to get the clearing started on Thursday or Friday, and then to be underway with excavations on Monday. That means the season will be six weeks long instead of seven, but hopefully we can still get a lot done.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I'm Baaaaack

On the ground, in Ecuador. Thanks to a Fulbright Scholar award I'm able to return to my dissertation site and carry out another season of field work. My university did a nice little write-up on the award:

So here I am, with my husband and infant son, hoping to identify ancient households and excited to revive my collaboration with the comuna of Dos Mangas. The blog will once again become half travelogue, half critical engagement with archaeological themes. As internet access can be hard to come by, this will also be my primary mechanism to let friends and family know what we're up to, and that we're still alive and well. I'll also add more details about the project goals once the initial craziness of settling in is over. More soon!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Changes Ahead

Hi All!

Sorry for the recent silence, but I'm working on migrating to a new format that condense the various bits of myself that have been scattered around the web. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Return to Dos Mangas Pt. 2: Archaeology

The third and final post about my trip to Ecuador.

A trip back to Dos Mangas would not have been complete without a tour of some of the key archaeological sites that I identified a few years back, with an eye to future research. We went back out to Buen Suceso, and while the field with the Valdivia site has been plowed twice in the intervening years it hasn't been planted, which has minimized some of the damage to the site. This time we were also able to do some informal survey in the fields on the other side of the dirt road that bisects the former boarding school lands. Much to my joy we found some pretty interesting evidence of a Manteño occupation, including several low platforms where houses were likely located. 
Ask and ye shall receive. Large chert flake, olla rim sherd, and Manteño mascarone found in the field. Quarter for scale.

The community is talking about turning this area into a protected archaeological zone. Considering that artifacts from the entire prehispanic cultural sequence are present in these few fields, that seems like a worthy goal. These fields also lie alongside one of the existing ecotourism paths that the community has developed. If the community moves ahead as planned then we will have the opportunity to integrate archaeological information alongside the existing tourism economy.
Before and after my little tour. The joys of working in a tropical environment.

Back in the village proper, the state of archaeology wasn't as positive. If you remember my last post, you'll recall that USAid has contributed extensively to Dos Mangas, including sponsoring a remodel of the casa comunal. The final project looks great, but there's one downside. The materials from my excavations were stored there, and when they did the remodel, they moved the bags and boxes. Into a disused house. That's missing half its roof. If you're having trouble imaging the condition of my excavated collection, well, I have a picture for you.

The community members who were the most involved in the project weren't aware that the collection had been moved, or its current state. I left behind some funds and detailed instructions about how prevent further damage to the site, and it will be moved to a better storage location within the community tourism interpretation center.
The collection will have a new home on this side of the village. There's also some available land to build a small museum....

The last big achievement that we managed during my visit was to sign a convenio between myself and the community. This document outlines our mutual benefits and obligations as we move forward with future archaeological work and the integration of these projects with community tourism and development goals. I can't wait to get back to work!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Return to Dos Mangas pt. 1: Community

Note: this post may be most interesting for friends and family who visited me during fieldwork, or for people who read the early posts on the blog.

What a homecoming!

Simply put, my arrival in Dos Mangas was more than I had hoped for. The garua was really heavy, so the road was wet and muddy and the night was colder than I had anticipated. After a long-ish bus ride from Portoviejo (with a change over in Xipixapa) I arrived in Manglaralto at the combi stand to Dos Mangas. I recognized some of the drivers but the feeling wasn’t necessarily mutual, but after answering some of their questions about what I was up to, and responding that I had lived there for a year, the light bulb went off.

I rode into town in the back of a covered pickup truck, the normal mode of transportation, seated with several comuneros and preoccupied with the feeling of being a stranger to people I had once felt a sense of belonging (though I’m not sure if I belonged with them or to them at the time). I paid my fifty cents for the ride (fifteen more than four years ago) and got off at the casa comunal. All the doors were closed, including to the second floor hostel, but someone came by pretty quickly and waved over the lady with the keys to let me in. The hostel had been fairly close to completion when I left four years ago, but it was clear that they had made some improvements in the mean time, with the help of USAid, whose sticker is emblazoned on everything. The hostel can host about 12-15 people at any time, and has a kitchen, dining room, and common space. It would be an awesome base for a field school if I’m ever in a position to lead one.
The casa comunal renovations, sponsored by USAid.
One of the renovated room, with a private bath!
After dropping my stuff and changing into long pants and my boots, I went off to say hello to some of my nearest and dearest from my time in Dos Mangas four years ago. My first stop was to see Luis, who has been my assistant from the time I began investigations in Dos Mangas in 2006, and who has been keeping an eye on things since I left. His face lit up when he saw me, and I was glad to see him looking so well. Then we made the circuit to visit various friends. I received so many enthusiastic embraces, and a few tears, and everyone wanted to feed me.
Ever-enthusiastic Efrain.
Fanny, Chico and their kids.

Luis and Vicente.

On Saturday, my only full day to visit, I was able to wander around the village and I was struck by how much had changed, and how much was still the same. The road into town actually has a bridge over the river now, meaning it doesn’t turn into an island during the rainy season. There’s also a new high school, so children don’t have to travel to continue with their education, an investment that can be a barrier for many. The church has been redone, the casa comunal has been remodeled, and it's clear that the community has benefitted from the support of USAid. But it's the same two roads, the same people, and the same excitement to get back to work!
The new colegio, located next to the primary schools.
Remodeled church, with room for parking out front!
This is where I used to live. Now a hostel.

A lot of our chatting during that visit was retelling stories about my daughter, known on the blog as Little Miss, who was two and a half when we left. One young woman who used to care for her recounted that she was always asking for “co-co”, comida in her own little language. Many people were sad that she didn’t join me on this trip. I started missing her from my arrival at the taxi stand into Dos Mangas – she was an ever-present part of my time here, and much of my day was organized around taking care of her, whether that was dropping off and picking her up from the village day care, or spending the good part of the day at the local clinic to treat one of her many sinus infections or other ailments. It’s not often that I go a week without seeing her, so this was the double whammy. I got a cute little video of some of her friends, and hopefully she can come back into the field with me soon!

Stay tuned for my next installment, a look at the archaeology after four years!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Presenting Archaeology and Communities in Ecuador

The main purpose of my trip to Ecuador was to present a four-day workshop titled "Archaeology as a Community Resource" to community representatives at the regional office of the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) in Portoviejo. Most of the participants have some sort of community-based tourism project in their town. Some traveled 6-8 hour roundtrip every day to participate in the six hours of seminar each day. If I hadn't already felt a responsibility to make the workshop as useful as possible, knowing that people traveled that long in order to hear me talk certainly did the trick! Representatives from the local INPC office and nearby archaeological site also joined us for portions of the seminar.

Museo Portoviejo, where the workshop was held.

The historic building of the INPC Region 4 offices.

The first day focused on archaeology as a field of study, as a scientific and interpretive endeavor. We talked about stratigraphy and, overall, the importance of context to archaeological interpretation. We did a series of activities related to stratigraphy, chronology, and context drawn from outreach activities on the AIA website and Intrigue of the Past, an online curriculum for school teachers developed by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The goal was not only for the participants to understand these concepts, but to have materials and activities that they could take back to their communities and use in their own educational efforts.

The second day we discussed the archaeological cultures of coastal Ecuador. I had two main goals for this module. The first is that participants become familiar with the archaeological cultures on the coast, spanning from the Archaic period until Spanish conquest, material that isn't covered in schools. This included being introduced to some of the characteristic pieces of material culture from each period to help them associate these cultures with what they find in their communities. The second goal was to move beyond "the cult of the object", away from an artifact as a museum piece or one that might be worth money on the black market (a fine distinction at times), and towards a greater appreciation of what an artifact can tell us about past societies, particularly when found within its original context. We used some objects from the INPC bodega to help with this discussion, and participants brought photos of some of the objects recovered in their communities. The need and desire for discussion of past societies within primary school curriculum was highlighted by participants. 

On Day Three we discussed community rights and responsibilities according to the national patrimony laws. This was the most interesting and difficult of the days for me. While the constitution states that everyone has an obligation to protect national patrimony, and laws outline the penalties involved for those who damage, deface, or loot (see resources here), there seems to be a gap between what is expected and the skills and resources of various governing bodies. The scenario presented by representatives from one community is not uncommon: archaeological remains are eroding out of a nearby river bank. The next time the river crests it will wash those objects away. If the community rescues them now, to put on dispay in their community center, they will be looting. If they wait until the river floods it will be too late, and they will lose this resource they are trying to develop. The INPC doesn't have the staff or funds to carry out a full rescue project. What can the community do?

We were fortunate to have the director of the INPC office join us on this day. The discussion wasn't easy, and no satisfying agreement was reached. A key point in the community's favor seemed to be the fact that they wanted to gather these objects to display them within their community. This fulfilled the public accessibility and dissemination mandates of the patrimony law. We spoke about ways in which they can document the current state of the materials (photographs with scale, showing the landscape context, etc) in order to document as much about the archaeological context as possible. Of course, no one was willing to say "yes, once you've documented it you can remove it" and not just because of the patrimony law but also because we know that once you remove one object you'll find another, and another, and another (the archaeology version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie).
Workshop participants on Day 2.

Over the course of these three days we also spoke about ways that communities can integrate archaeology into their community development projects. The culmination on the fourth day consisted of brief presentations by each community of their plans of action to this end. Some focused on education of children to build an interest in protecting the past, while others targeted adults as role models to begin this work. Some plans tied the presentation of archaeological remains to current artisan practices in communities. Others discussed the need for protection committees to mitigate damage to sites from land use practices and development.

To close the workshop we were very lucky to receive a tour of the site of Cerro Jaboncillo. This was a Manteño site, one that has been famous for awhile but that only recently been excavated, so from an archaeology nerd standpoint I was very excited for the visit. The Ciudad Civico Eloy Alfaro in nearby Monticristi has developed interpretive material for the site, and the visit was a good opportunity to for workshop participants to see excavations in progress and how this information was presented to a general public. The representatives from Ciudad Alfaro were extremely generous and helped provide a nice capstone to the workshop.
Workshop participants at Cerro Jaboncillo.

This workshop is just the first step in a changing relationship between archaeologists and communities in Ecuador, and if I get the chance to present it again I'm sure I'd do some things differently. I'd love to be able to visit each community and provide a more customized approach, but given the distance people traveled in order to come to Portoviejo that may not be feasible. Regardless, I hope that people stay in touch and I look forward to seeing how they implement things in their communities!

Press from the workshop:
Sept 22 Day 1
Sept 23 Day 2
Sept 25 Day 4
Sept 25 Visit to Cerro Jaboncillo
Sept 25 El Diario (short piece, mostly correct)