Tech students study excavations at structure 27 in 2009. The buried building in La Milpa, Belize, dates back to 150 A.D.

Braving the jungles of Belize isn’t just for ancient Mayans anymore.

Texas Tech students are given a chance to explore the ancient ruins of La Milpa in Belize, Central America, in an archaeological field program.

Jake Nanney, a participant for the past two years, said the adventure is basically a camp in the middle of the jungle.

“The first time, I was in the back of the pickup truck and just driving through the jungle, and it was just so surreal,” said the junior anthropology major from Frisco. “It felt like something out of an ‘Indiana Jones’ film. It was absolutely fantastic.”

Nanney will be involved again this summer as junior staff.

The program director of the field school, Brett A. Houk, is an associate professor in the anthropology department.

“The site is called La Milpa. It’s a site that was discovered back in the ’30s by a British archaeologist, and then it wasn’t worked on until the 1990s when Boston University started working there,” Houk said. “It’s the third-largest Maya ruin in the country of Belize.”

Shannon Smith, a 2010 Tech graduate from Houston, was involved in the program her freshman and sophomore years and served on the staff.

“We just go out there and dig and find buildings and artifacts and just learn the basics of archaeology and excavating, and Dr. Houk taught us how to do all the messy stuff while explaining,” Smith said. “I think it’s better to learn that way than in the class because when I took it, I had no idea what they were talking about.”

After graduating, Smith obtained a job as an archaeologist and still treasures her time spent in Belize.

“I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just so cool and refreshing just to see everything like that,” she said. “The air is cleaner, and everything is green. I felt like I did something. It was really rewarding.”

Catherine Joseph, a senior history and anthropology major from Lampasas, spent two summers with the program. For her, the experience didn’t end at archaeology. She said she liked the experience of living a camp life and finding out what it means to be an archaeologist, Joseph said.

“We are able to go to Tikal and Guatemala, and it is really neat to see the different interactions of cultures while learning about the Maya,” she said.

Those who partake in the program are given a chance for active participation in archaeology research, Houk said. Students learn archaeological excavation techniques and how to draw maps and profiles.

The program is about a month long, and the group spends 24 days in the jungle and excavates a Mayan ruin at most every day, Houk said.

“Most of the stuff we work with is around A.D. 850 or so, a little over 1,000 years old,” he said.

For Nanney, being in the middle of the jungle wasn’t a safety problem, but something that added to the adventure.

“It’s really very safe,” she said. “It’s a little dangerous because everyday you encounter scorpions and walk up to snakes. I know people have seen jaguars, and you see monkeys in the trees. You are completely surrounded by wildlife.”

Houk also gave his testament to the safety in Belize. He said the main concerns during the trip are students overheating and snakes.

“There are a lot of issues and concerns about Mexico and other parts of Central America,” he said. “But Belize is very safe in terms of political stability. The area we are working in is isolated. It’s close to medical facilities, and we take great care that everyone is safe during the project.”

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