PREP team 2022 Field Season: week 1

Three years after the pandemic froze all travel, we were finally able to return to Palenque to continue our investigations of residential groups. But we returned to a very different Palenque. The site is swarming with construction workers sent to the site to upgrade some of its facilities ahead of the national Maya Train project. The site’s only public bathroom has already been demolished and will be cleared for the construction of a new bathroom. There are some archaeologists overseeing the work as it will impact the archaeology there, particularly the possible lithic workshop. The next major overhaul will take place in the camp. The research house and lab facilities are scheduled to be demolished as well, to be rebuilt and it’s infrastructure upgraded.

The bathroom gets a major upgrade before the arrival of the Maya Train (Photo: Johnson 2022)

There are some tourists but the level of visitation is very low compared to prior years. Due to the pandemic, no climbing of the structures is allowed. The team found this a bit funny as many of those same visitors arrived in packed collectivos and taxis with no masks on. But still, they are trying to discourage crowding in the rooms of the Palenque structures. The other major change underway is the construction of a large complex of buildings a bit further down the road meant to serve as the entrance to the park and the place where vendors will be as an effort to remove the large numbers of vendors from the park. This has been tried before with little luck. However, this time, they are also moving the ticket booth there so visitors will be required to stop there to purchase their tickets prior to continuing up the road to the ruins.

While this activity is going on in the central core of the site, our team has been working hard to initiate excavations in residential groups immediately surrounding this area. Rodrigo has a small team to continue working in Group IV, where they have already cleared away the east side of the mausoleum structure J6, revealing the inset corners that mirror the west side of the structure. There also appears to be a low platform that abuts the structure on the east side where there may be more burials as part of the cemetery in the plaza.

Eastern side of Group IV’s structure J6 with inset corners identical to the structures of nearby Group C (photo: Johnson 2022)

To the west of Group IV (and across the road), Arianna and Lisa have opened up excavations in two residential groups on the outer edges of our proposed “neighborhood.” The structures back up to the Motiepa and would have had convenient access to water. Consequently, for our team, it makes for a beautiful setting to work in! Already, it is clear that these residential groups are not the homes of Palenque commoners. In just one week, Lisa and her team have defined the perimeters of a large stone structure and a large concentration of figurines, decorated pottery, large obsidian blades, fragments of an alabaster box lid and what appears to be mirror back fragments.

While Lisa and her team clear the large, complex structure of JO33, Arianna and her team are working in the group immediately south of it and they are also finding figurines, the most recent, including an elegant bat figurine and a god head.

Mo and Jordan discuss structure JO33 as the humus is removed, revealing hints of intact walls (Photo: Johnson 2022)
Waterfalls located immediately west of the excavations (Photo: Johnson 2022)
A figurine found outside of Structure JO33 (photo: Johnson 2022)

Already, we are seeing whole obsidian blades with very little use, and hachas, of chert and limestone. We will continue to look for the suite of materials suggesting the kinds of activities that were occurring in this household group.

Esteban (Pelon) examines a figurine found outside of Structure JO33 (Photo: Johnson 2022)

Next week, we will continue to define the architecture of structure JO33, and look for occupational surfaces to sample for micromorphology, paleoethnobotany and soil chemistry. Let’s just hope the weather holds out.

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