Q & A via satellite?

Many thanks to Mrs. Carmany Thorp’s sixth graders at Laredo Middle School in Denver, Colorado.

Q: Where do you get your supplies?
A: The Chases: We get our supplies from San Ignacio. San Ignacio is 56 miles away from us on dirt road. When the road is good we can make the trip in 2 hours. We try not to drive on the road after a lot of rain, because you can get stuck or slide off the edge.

Q: How do you know where to start?
A: We dig in different places depending on what we are trying to find out. If we are trying to find out about farming, we did in the agricultural terraces. If we want to find what a building was used for, we excavate the rooms and look for artifacts left on the floors. We can tell where the Maya built things because the area looks like it been changed in some way. Usually, there are stones in a line to show where there was a wall or a mound of earth that doesn’t look like a natural hill.

Q: Are there dangerous animals in the area?
A: Neil: Yes, there are a lot of dangerous animals in the area. First and foremost however, are the many kinds of poisonous snakes in and around Caracol. Snakes such as Tree Vipers, Tommygoffs, Coral snakes, and the Fer DeLance are all extremely poisonous, and can kill someone in a very short period of time. Scorpions and tarantulas, on the other hand, probably won’t kill you, but their bites are extremely painful.

Q: When you find stuff, what do you do with it?
A: Amy: We put our artifacts in plastic bags with labels on the inside and on the outside. Then they come into the lab. We wash the pottery sherds and other artifacts carefully with water and soft tooth brushes. We dry the artifacts on screens. Then, we number each of the pieces with their lot (location) number so that we know where they came from. What happens next depends on what kind of artifact we have found. For example, if there are broken pieces from the same plate, jar, or bowl, we glue them together and then draw and photograph them.

Q: What is the weather like?
A: Neil: The weather here varies depending on the season. We usually go to Caracol during the dry season when it is mostly sunny and dry however, even though it is the dry season, it can get pretty cold at night – 40 degrees sometimes. On the other hand, we don’t go to Caracol during the rainy season because it is so wet that we would never get any thing done.

Q: Do you miss civilization?
A: Amy, Sandra, and Lana: No, we don’t miss traffic, T.V. (particularly the commercials), or telephones. It is hard to describe what it is like to live in the jungle. It is harder than home, but home is chaotic and stressful, here things are simpler. But, each of us misses something. Sandra misses her dog. Lana misses sushi and ice cream. Amy misses her friends. Almost everyone misses the running water and indoor plumbing!

Q: What tools do you use to start digging?
A: We use lots of different kinds of tools. For most digging we use pointing trowels, whisk brooms, dust pans, buckets, shovels, picks, wheel barrels. We use mesh screens to look for small artifacts. We use dental tools and paint brushes for small or delicate things. Sometimes we use spoons, wooden ceramic shaping tools, or popsicle sticks.

Q: What do you do when you run out (of food)?
A: The Chases: We usually only get supplies and mail one time each week, so, we have to plan ahead. We also buy things in very big quantities – 100lb sacks of flour, rice, beans, sugar, potatoes, and onions or cases of peanut butter and jelly.

Q: How do you read glyphs?
A: Neil: There are special Archaeologists called “Epigraphers,” whose main goal in life is to figure out what Maya glyphs mean. This is an extremely difficult and time consuming task which can take many years just to figure out a single glyph! Thanks to these very determined and single minded individuals, we now know the meaning of many Maya glyphs. To get back to your question, glyphs are read in a zig-zag fashon. It’s like following the lines of the letter “Z” from the top left point to the bottom right point. For example (follow the numbers please):

(1) I (2) like (7) she (8) is
(3) Ms. (4) Rita’s (9)an (10) exellent
(5) cooking (6) because (11) cook.


Q: How do you forecast the weather?
A: Neil: Well – we don’t get TV or radio, so, our weather reports are usually based on what we can see up in the sky.

Q: Can you send us pictures of your artifacts?
A: Diane Chase: I will be sending several pictures with a separate e-mail to follow. We will have more photos once the rest of our crew gets back to Florida to help “process” them. You can use them on your website if you wish, but please write that you are using them: “courtesy of the Caracol Archaeological Project.” Thanks.

Q: How much progress have you accomplished at Caracol?
A: The Chases: We have worked at Caracol every year for 15 years (and actually began planning for the work two years earlier in 1983). Each season adds something new to what we had previously known or uncovered in terms of ideas as well as in terms of physical things like buildings or artifacts. This season we excavated in the A Group and uncovered stairs and other earlier building remains that we had not seen previously. We also discovered that all of the A Group area was rebuilt many more times than we might have guessed. The earliest buildings date to the Preclassic Period (before A.D. 250); many of the buildings that we can see now date to the Late Classic Period (after A.D. 550). This season’s excavations also included work north of the site epicenter in a residential group where we found occupation dating to the Early Classic Period (AD 250-550) and recovered several caches (special ritual offerings) and a burial. We also continued to survey the site in an area 6 kilometers due north of the site epicenter – an area in which the agricultural terraces are under investigation by a graduate student from Pennsylvania State University. All of this research is helping us add new pieces to our interpretations about ancient Caracol, especially concerning its earlier history.

Q: Is sleeping in a hammock difficult?
A: Adrian and Aubrey Chase: Sleeping in a hammock isn’t at all difficult. At home we prefer beds, but it is much better to sleep in a hammock in the jungle. It feels safer! The mosquito net covers you completely and the hammock keeps you off the ground.

Q: How do you cook food?
A: The Chases: We have two kitchens. In one, we cook food on a traditional raised Maya stove that uses a wood fire. In the other, we have a stove, refrigerator, and freezer that use butane gas tanks (like the kind used for outdoor grills – but bigger). We can’t use any appliances that need electricity.

Q: What kind of animals come out at night?
A: Adrian: There are tarantulas, scorpions, snakes, spiders, margays, jaguars, mountain cows (tapir). You name it and its here.

Q: What kinds of bugs are there?
A: Adrian and Aubrey: There are butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, gnats, mosquitos, ticks, flies…. The thing is that some of them are MUCH bigger than at home.

Q: When you sleep in a hammock, are you afraid of falling out? Will anything eat you if you do?
A: Adrian and Aubrey: No we are not afraid of falling out of a hammock, but some of the students have fallen out. The trick is to have a big enough hammock and to have the sides curve up and over you. The mosquito net keeps most bugs out and helps you feel safe. We put the net over a rope above the hammock. It is only scary if there are no lights or flashlights when you go to sleep. We don=t get up out of our hammocks at night because we might step on a scorpion, snake, or tarantula.

Q: Do you have showers? Flush toilets?
A: Aubrey: Those are funny questions. We have shower bags that heat up in the sun. You take a shower by hanging the bag on a stick. We don=t have flush toilets. There are outhouses for the grown-ups. We have a camp potty.

Q: Who does the cooking? and what kinds of food do you eat?
A: Adrian Ms. Rita does the cooking. The food is not the same as at home. We drink powdered milk. We eat mostly tortillas rather than bread. We don’t have things like Poptarts. Ms. Rita does make us treats like popsicles. All of the food is homemade.

Q: What are your favorite foods?
A: Adrian: Fry jacks with sugar, flour tortillas (plain and with peanut butter), rice and beans, carrot pieces, and cake.

Aubrey: Fry jacks with sugar, flour tortillas (plain or with peanut butter and jelly), ramen noodles from the store, pizza, and cake.

Elyse: Fry jacks with sugar, flour tortillas (plain), powder buns, carrot pieces, and cake.

Adults: Fry jacks, tortillas, homemade bread, chirmole (a black colored soup with chicken and boiled eggs), escabeche (a clear soup with chicken, onions, and vinegar), fried chicken, bread pudding, powder buns…………. Ms. Rita is a great cook.

Q: What kinds of clothes do you wear?
A: Elyse: We have to wear long clothes [pants and shirts] because there are bugs.