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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 9:48 am | Fair 56º


Laguna Blanca School’s Planned Trip to Belize to Include Archaeological, Cultural Enrichment

Anabel Ford, director of UC Santa Barbara’s MesoAmerican Research Center, guides visitors around El Pilar.
Anabel Ford, director of UC Santa Barbara’s MesoAmerican Research Center, guides visitors around El Pilar. (Blake Dorfman photo / Laguna Blanca School)

[Noozhawk’s note: Second in a series. Click here for a related story.]

They are not ruins, they are monuments.

The mysteries of the great Maya (not Mayan — that’s only when describing the language) civilization present themselves with full force in Belize, especially when visitors have the opportunity to explore monuments with the archaeologist who discovered them.

Laguna Blanca School teachers Arturo Flores and Blake Dorfman were in Belize to meet with Anabel Ford Ph.D., director of UC Santa Barbara’s MesoAmerican Research Center, learning far more about the Maya than one would by simply walking the monuments. It’s all part of the planning process for a school trip to the area proposed for next year.

Ford and her team are located at BRASS (Belize River Archaeological Settlement Survey) Base in Santa Elena, a muddy 30-minute drive in the rainy season from the ancient site of El Pilar. Last week, Ford led a group of diplomats on a tour of the site, which she rediscovered some 30 years ago, and gave a first-hand look at “​archaeology under the canopy,” which will preserve the monuments indefinitely while more exposed treasures wear away.

In what is a tense relationship between Belize and Guatemala, El Pilar stands as a binational treasure. Indeed, visitors cross the border on foot without even knowing.

Just as intriguing as the monuments themselves are the agricultural practices of the Maya. The group traveled with Narciso Torres, a local forest gardener who works in the ways that the ancients did. He expertly swings his machete through the jungle, identifying plants that provide various medicinal and nutritional value.

The fact that the Maya farming methods fed an entire civilization while preserving the rainforest provides a sharp contrast to the destructive anchor-chain farming practiced down the road in the Mennonite settlement of Spanish Lookout. Indeed, there are future lessons to be learned from an ancient past.

Modern Belize is an anthropological wonderland in itself, as the population of roughly 400,000 people includes a wide array of ethnicities, the dominant being Creole and Mestizo while one also sees Chinese, Mennonite and Garifuno. The latter is deeply rooted in African and Caribbean heritage.

While the country’s official language is English, an open ear also hears Spanish, Creole, Garifuno and more. A few hours in the bustling Saturday market of San Ignacio is a fine way to experience this diversity.

With a smorgasbord of experiential learning opportunities and local connections made, Ford and the Laguna Blanca contingent will travel to Guatemala next to explore the famed monuments of Tikal. Students are in for a multidisciplinary journey that will include elements of archaeology, anthropology, language and even art.

More anon.

Click here for more information about El Pilar. Click here for more information about Laguna Blanca School.

— Blake Dorfman is a teacher at Laguna Blanca School.

A boy fishes from a car ferry on the Belize River near Spanish Lookout in Belize. (Blake Dorfman photo / Laguna Blanca School)
A boy fishes from a car ferry on the Belize River near Spanish Lookout in Belize. (Blake Dorfman photo / Laguna Blanca School)

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