Field Methods
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Handling of sherds in the field

            At Muyil, we collected sherds by stratigraphically controlled excavation, by systematic surface collection, and by opportunistic surface collection. In the course of three field seasons, we employed these techniques as follows:

            In 1987, when we first arrived and knew little of the site except a part of its central ceremonial architecture, we opportunistically collected sherds from the surface simply to get a sense of what lay ahead. We found sherds during surveying, and we collected sherds along the edges of existing pathways. We frequently collected sherds from the back dirt of tusa (small mammal) burrows, called tuceros locally. We noted that such non-human excavation and redeposition of sherds onto the surface must have continued at least since the abandonment of the site over 400 years ago, and with unfavorable consequences for our own efforts to seriate sherds. Toward the close of the season, we excavated two stratigraphically controlled test pits to attempt to understand better the chronology of the site and its ceramics. The conclusions of those excavations and surface collections were reported in Witschey and Trejo (1988). The same material, with corrections and more extensive analysis, is incorporated here.

            In 1988, we returned for additional surveying and test excavations. During the course of the season, we continued additional opportunistic surface collections, excavated eight additional test pits, collected ceramics from sacbe clearing operations, and conducted a program of systematic surface collections (actually shallow shovel pits) at the nodes of the 100-m site survey grid to help ascertain the size of the site. The latter excavations were of limited use, not only because architecture was a better indicator of site size, but also because the number of sherds from most of the shovel pits was very small.

            In 1990, the third field season, we excavated 60 1-x-1-m (occasionally up to 1-x-2-m) test pits. Some of these were in platform fill (as were all of the test pits during 1987 and 1988). However, many of the 1990 test pits were excavated adjacent to platforms in the hope of encountering midden material — refuse from the adjacent platform.

            All sherds, by whatever means acquired, were placed into an individual lot bag, and the lot bag was assigned a number. Each lot was identified as to location — the X-Y coordinates of the site map — and the test pit number and level number. In the case of opportunistic surface collections, the location may be an area of the site up to about 50 m in diameter. In the case of stratigraphically controlled test excavations, a lot usually contains material from only one level of a test pit. (Lots resulting from cleaning the pit walls, and containing sherds from more than one level, received the special level number 99.) A given excavation level containing many sherds may have more than one sherd lot associated with it. We seldom attempted to record the absolute height (Z-coordinate) of material from the test pits; we did, however, attempt to control our stratigraphic levels to a thickness of 10 cm in most test pits. Thus, the coordinates given in the appendixes for material from test pits are the coordinates of the southwest corner of the test pit and the depth of the top and the bottom of the level.

            Appendix 1 contains a register of the lots of material recovered in lot number order. While lots may also contain other material, most contain potsherds predominantly or exclusively. These lots are stored in the warehouse of the Centro Regional de Quintana Roo, INAH, in Chetumal. The whole vessels are stored in the offices of the CRQR.  All material is available for inspection in Chetumal by prior arrangement with the Consejo de Arqueología, INAH, Mexico, D.F., and the Director, CRQR, INAH.

            We handled each lot of sherds individually. We washed the material by first soaking in cool water for 30 minutes to several hours and brushing the soil from the surface with reasonable care to avoid removing slip or paint. We rinsed, then air-dried the sherds on plastic window-screen material.

            After drying we marked the sherds for identification as follows: each sherd was painted with a small (5 x 20 mm) stripe of lacquer. After the lacquer dried, we painted the lot number onto the sherd in black or white ink. After the ink of the lot number was dry, we painted a second layer of lacquer over the number. The numbers are in the form "MUyy-nnnn", where the first part of the number represents the site and year (such as MU88 for Muyil-1988), and the second part of the number represents the lot number. Lots 1-95 are from the 1987 field season, lots 101-575 are from 1988, and lots 600-1275 are from the 1990 season.


© Copyright 2000-2005 Walter R. T. Witschey   Page last updated Wednesday, April 02, 2008