“Scritching” at a Mayan Site in Belize

Retirement in BelizeHave you ever wondered how it feels to dig up and then hold a piece of pottery in your hand that hasn’t been touched by another human in hundreds or thousands of years? I’ve had the privilege of doing just that! Taking a trowel in hand, plunking down in the hard hot dirt and carefully scritching away the layers to uncover the past. It’s a very strange and exhilarating feeling indeed! “Scritching” is the term we use to describe the sound and movement of a hand trowel as we slowly and carefully scrape away layers of hard sun-baked dirt to uncover history. The history of the Mayan people.

When you think about a Mayan ruin you generally picture it in the middle of a dripping green subtropical jungle with monkeys screeching and barely covered golden treasures gleaming on the ground. This is NOT Santa Rita. Much of the Santa Rita site has been destroyed by encroaching civilization as the city of Corozal grew larger. Retirement and volunteering in BelizeIn fact, you can perch on top of the one remaining building and peer directly across the road at the local Coca Cola Distribution Plant. But Santa Rita was once an important center of trade for the Mayan people ranging from Mexico to Guatemala. It was occupied as early as 2000 BC. That means that pottery fragments that we unearthed may have been over 4,000 years old!

To give a sense of perspective, the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States is considered to be St. Augustine, Florida which was founded in 1565. Santa Rita, probably known then as Chetumal, was founded about 3,500 years before St. Augustine! Amazing!

New Excavation at Santa Rita

Thursday, 14 Feb 2013 — $ 100,000 BZD Funding Santa Rita Excavation
With a grant provided by the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation, Dr. Jaime Awe is overseeing a major excavation and development of the Santa Rita Archaeological site.

This announcement was a wonderful surprise! The Santa Rita site had been left to slowly deteriorate. During the rainy season, mud and water would wash down the hillside and collect. Kids would play on and around the temple. There was litter and graffiti and a general sense of neglect. The funding for excavation allowed the possibility of changing a sadly abused site to one of order and respect.

I moved to Belize in February, 2013, two days before the announcement was made, to retire in the sun and warmth. I had to slow down after my heart attack! But it’s difficult for a Type A personality like myself to settle into relaxation mode. Retirement in BelizeThen I met Colleen S. She told me that she went to “work” every day at the Santa Rita Mayan site, assisting with excavation of the temple. I was intrigued! I went to the overgrown hill that was centuries old and met the crew who were working on the excavation and restoration. I asked if I could join the crew, and, when the men in charge, Jorge C and Jim S agreed, I bought a hand trowel and started taking a taxi each day to get to the site. It was about seven miles from my home in Corozal. And I was captivated!

There was a crew of about thirty laborers moving wheelbarrows loaded with dirt and rocks. There was a man from the Institute of Archeology, (Jorge), who was responsible for the excavation of the site. Another, (Jim) Manager of the Lamanai Mayan site, who was borrowed for the daily management of the project. A third, (Andreas), who was knowledgeable about Mayan archaeology as well as the plants and animals of the country. We called Andreas our teacher. There were groups of younger guys full of energy who went by nicknames like Gordo (Fatty) and Spoon, Gordo would look at Colleen and I as the two Gringas in the group, grin a little, and say little absurdities like, “America runs on Dunkin Donuts”. It was great fun!

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  1. Teri birtwhistle

    April 15, 2014 at 12:31 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this information about the Mayan ruin in Santa Rita. I have visited the site and felt the importance of history. Very well written article. Hope to see more.

  2. Wonderful article! What an honor to be able to “scritch” for ancient ruins! Thank you, Cathy.

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