Saturday, May 31, 2014

We Can't Do It Without Them

Much of our effort over the last week was put toward removing the large stones from inside the pool. Most of the stones are from the collapsed terraces that surround the pool on its south, west, and north sides. Many of these stones are manageable in size, ranging from 25-120 lb.. Then there are the stones that would make most people (i.e. tenderfoot academics) either 1) build a road through the jungle in order to drive in an industrial hydraulic crane, or 2) just give up all together. But seriously, these stones have to be removed if proper consolidation of the feature is to take place. This requires lifting these monoliths from underwater, up about 4 meters, and then placed safely on the plaza floor…a total distance of about 10 meters.  So who ya gonna call? The Tzeltal Maya from Naranjo of course!

Hey, if you are in the mood for a dose of emasculation just spend a few hours watching these guys work. It’s the complete opposite of, let’s say, a trip to Walmart, which tends to provide a little self-image boost. After about 15 minutes you walk out of there thinking, “Hell, I’m not doing so bad after all.” This is not how you feel after watching the Maya move mountains for a day. You walk back to your field truck mumbling, “Am I a man, am I a boy, am I even human?”

Jesus getting loaded up with a large cut stone from the pool's floor.

From left to right - Jesus, Nicolas, Andreas, and Eduardo moving stones from the pool's interior.

Some of the workmen only weigh about 140 lb.. but can easily carry a 200 lb. stone on their back while walking out of the water and up a broken staircase in rubber boots that are filled with water! A few of the stones in the pool were upwards of 500 pounds. They asked for a pulley, some rope, and two more workers (four in all). It took all of us, the four workers and us four gringos (which by the way is the equivalent of five Maya workers), but we did it (see photo)!

All eight (or five) of us pulling a 350 pound stone from the pool using a rope and pulley.

Now I know for some readers, this is nothing new. You may have spent time in another country and witnessed something similar. I too have seen this before.  But I’ll tell you what, it will never cease to blow my mind.

Our first attempt to take the pump to the Picota Group.

Here’s another example. The water pump only weighs about 90 lb.. but it’s a bit awkward. Before I hired any workmen we tried using a small cart to carry the pump to the site (see photo). That proved too difficult, plus everyone was looking at us like we were crazy. I wonder why (see photo again)? The next time the pump went out with us Kirk Straight grabbed one side and Reed grabbed the other. This was much more practical, but the 1 km hike on a narrow trail did take it’s toll on them. This past Thursday I decided to take the pump to the site one more time. Although I knew it would not dewater the pool, I wanted to see how it would help with removing light sediment. It didn’t by the way. At 7:30am Andreas and Eduardo met us in the parking lot, like they do everyday, to help us carry equipment (buckets, shovels, etc.). I explained to them that we have a new piece of equipment, so while they carry the pump, we will take all the other stuff. At that moment, Andreas grabs the pump with one hand and lifts it onto his shoulders, positions it on the back of his neck and just starts walking. Immediately I thought that many years ago I must have been the victim of some sort of alien abduction involving castration followed by reconstructive surgery. What is going on here? We all looked at each other in disbelief. Oh, and when we got to the pool, Andreas sat the pump down gently and didn’t show a single sign of distress. I on the other hand I was soaked with sweat from carrying a machete and two liters of water.

Archaeologists throughout much of the world could not carry out their research without the brawn and ingenuity of local workers. The Tzeltal Maya that live in the Palenque area have been the backbone (literally) of every archaeological project that has taken place here since Patrick Walker and John Herbert Caddy arrived in late January of 1840. We owe them so much more than the meager wages our projects provide. I raise a glass of pox (or whatever the local drink is) to the workers around the globe who make archaeology happen.  We couldn’t do it without you.

A shot of pox from Chamula, a Maya community on the outskirts of San Cristobal. I bought a three liter gas can of it across the street from the ceremonial pool in Chamula. Salud!

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