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
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