What started out as an exciting, but somewhat conventional summer field school, turned into a major discovery for Christopher Andres, assistant professor of anthropology at Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). In summer 2009, he and a colleague, Gabriel Wrobel, Ph.D., from the University of Mississippi, came across what might be the largest previously unreported Maya center documented in Belize in the past generation. Andres recently received a grant from the Indiana University 2010 New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities competition for $42,480 to fund further research on the site this summer.
In June 2009, Andres and Wrobel traveled to the Cayo District of Belize for their research project, the Caves Branch Archaeological Survey. They took 15 students as part of a summer archaeological field school, including IPFW students Leah Jaworskyj and Eric Johnson. They spent most of the class working side-by-side with the students, excavating at several sites, mapping caves, and doing lab work. Toward the end of the session, Andres and Wrobel ventured into the jungle with local tour guides and came across a large Maya site that was built on a hill and may be fortified. With permission from the Belize Institute of Archaeology, they later named it Tipan Chen Uitz (pronounced TEEPAN CHEN WEETZ), which means “Fortress Mountain Well” in the Yucatec Mayan language. “We were excited,” said Andres, “because this site has so many interesting implications.”
As they explored the site further, they discovered it was very large – a surprise because of the location of the site. They are still unsure of the actual extent of the city, as they only saw the downtown area with public spaces. In addition to many large buildings, they also found limestone monuments, a large masonry well in the center of the site, and caves in and around the city. They believe the city combined political, ritual, and residential functions and may have been founded late in Classic Maya history.
Because they discovered the site so late in the field season and did not know how safe it was, they were not able to take the summer 2009 students to the site. But Leah Jaworskyj, an IPFW student who attended the field school, said, “I was ecstatic for them. I have deep admiration for Christopher "Kip" Andres and Gabe Wrobel, and I couldn’t be happier for them. There are many things to still be understood about the Mayans. Hopefully this site will open some doors for a new understanding of their way of living and why their civilization came to an end.”
This summer, Andres and Wrobel will take more students, including Jaworskyj as a lab director, to Belize to participate in the field school– and this time students will get to work directly at the site. With a grant from the Indiana University 2010 New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities, they plan to gain a better understanding of the city’s extent, when it was constructed and occupied, and the features they believe to be fortifications. They will also study how members of Tipan Chen Uitz selected the community’s location and integrated the site’s monumental architecture into a rugged natural landscape.
“Our research area is interesting because it shows little evidence of occupation until just before the Maya ‘collapse,’” said Andres. “Due to this fact, we are evaluating the possibility that Tipan Chen Uitz represents a center that sprung up during a period of political balkanization or fragmentation. The possible presence of fortifications is significant because it suggests a volatile political climate may have existed at this time in this part of Belize. Our work is timely because political organization is a topic of much interest (and debate) in Maya archaeology. I am pleased and extremely grateful that our project has been selected for funding by the New Frontiers program. This support from Indiana University will be invaluable in allowing me and my colleagues to pursue our research goals in Belize.”