Development of the Reserve
 Community Development
 Environmental Planning
 Conclusion and Acknowledgments

Title: BRASS/El Pilar 1994 Field Season : a Collaborative Experiment
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00083144/00001
 Material Information
Title: BRASS/El Pilar 1994 Field Season : a Collaborative Experiment
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: ISBER/MesoAmerican Research Center
Publisher: University of California, Santa Barbara
Publication Date: 1994
Subject: El Pilar
Spatial Coverage: North America -- Belize -- El Pilar
North America -- Guatemala -- El Pilar
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00083144
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


This item has the following downloads:

UF00083144 ( PDF )

Table of Contents
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
    Development of the Reserve
        Page 4
    Community Development
        Page 5
    Environmental Planning
        Page 6
    Conclusion and Acknowledgments
        Page 7
        Page 8
Full Text

The BRASS / d ilar Program

The BRASS/EI Pilar 1994 Field Season: A
Collaborative Experiment

By D. Clark Wernecke
For the BRASS/El Pilar Project

Directed by Anabel Ford
CORI/MesoAmerican Research Center
University of California
Santa Barbara


The Belize River Archaeological Settlement Survey (BRASS) has been
operating, under the direction of Dr. Anabel Ford of the University of California -
Santa Barbara, in the upper Belize River area since 1983. Earlier phases of the
project involved investigating relationships between sites and the natural
environment as well as spatial patterning among sites in the Belize River valley
area. In 1993 the BRASS project undertook the investigation of an ancient Maya
center, El Pilar, located on the escarpment just to the north of San Ignacio,

El Pilar has proven to have a very large site core more than 100 acres with a
range of monumental architecture and preliminary indications of a long
occupation history. It is divided into two major sections, the eastern section in
Belize and the western section, Pilar Poniente, situated in the Republic of
Guatemala. The BRASS/El Pilar project, under the field direction of D. Clark
Wernecke, began a two year site core mapping program in 1993. The 1994
season has seen the completion of the master map which will enable the project
to more accurately plan future excavations and park reserve development
projects. The long-term goal of the BRASS/El Pilar project is the institution of the
El Pilar Archaeological Reserve, a park that encompasses in its natural setting
more than just consolidated archaeological monuments but also environmental
trails and historical educational facilities.


The 1994 season of the BRASS/El Pilar project was guided by five major goals.
These were:

1. The completion of the site core mapping project
2. Continued limited excavation examining structure placement, preservation
and lines of communication between plazas
3. Assisting in the development, with the Government of Belize (GOB), of
site core of El Pilar
4. Assisting the local community based organization, Amigos de El Pilar, in a
program of archaeological/environmental education and the development
of local ecotourist infrastructure
5. Continued development of a long-term environmental plan for the El Pilar

In pursuing these goals BRASS/El Pilar would like to act as a model for
interdisciplinary research projects encompassing a broad spectrum of support,
both local and international.

Strategy and Results


Site core mapping, directed by Robin Taylor, was primarily aimed at filling in
perceived gaps in the substantial mapping data from the 1993 season as well as
to map in new structures and plazas revealed in 1994. In the process of
mapping this year 15 more structures, two additional causeways and six plazas
were added to the core map. The GPS was used at key points in the site center
as well as along the proposed boundaries of the reserve, over a 9 sq. km area.
In addition, the acquisition of appropriate permits from the Instituto de
Anthropologia e Historia of the Republic of Guatemala made it possible to begin
mapping the substantial segment of the center which lies across the border. The
mapping of this section, Pilar Poniente, was ably taken up by Lic. Miguel Orrego
Corzo of the Instituto de Anthropologia e Historia de Guatemala and Lic. Jose
Sanchez, Assessor de Patrimonio Cultural for Consejo Nacional de Areas
Protegidos (CONAP). A map was created in less than two weeks and a proposal
for an archaeological reserve was forwarded to the appropriate authorities in

The mapping crews laid out 5 traverses tied to the end benchmark of the ten
kilometer BRASS survey transect (BM/BL) as well as a government
Interamerican Geodetic Survey benchmark, E10, located in nearby Pilar camp.
Elevations and locations were shot on the summits and bases of all structures
and at all evident architectural details exposed in collapse removal examinations
(corners, rooms, jambs, steps etc.). In addition, points were shot all along
defined plaza edges. This detailed surveying, involving more than 300 transit
shots this year, has enabled us to fill in previous data gaps and produce a more
complete map of the site core.

The addition in 1994 of two Magellan Nav 5000 Pro GPS units enabled the
survey team to gather detailed information about important benchmarks, reach
inaccessible areas and begin to survey the 9 kilometer reserve boundary through
dense secondary growth. GPS points were taken using field averaged positions
of up to 500 fixes in 3D mode (using 4 satellites).


The 1994 season concentrated on finishing the work begun in 1993 and in
excavating units that would aid in understanding the lines of communication
between the closely spaced plazas in the northern half of the site. Sixteen
excavation units were completed in the 1994 season which, added to the 23
completed during the 1993 season, provides us a good idea of the types and
preservation of structures at El Pilar. The attempt was made, not always
successfully, to excavate at least two corners of each major structure and, if
possible, part of the stairway to assess the structures axis and condition. This
technique allowed us to closely examine 14 major structures. With the
completion of this program our project architect, John Yust, was able to make
preliminary architectural drawings of the eastern half of El Pilar.

Three units probed the suspected aguada area to the east and the large aguada
to the west of the site in order to evaluate the feasibility of rehabilitating one or
more of them to provide water for future project seasons. The two units to the
east established that the area was a bajo and confirmed a suspicion that the area
seasonally inundated was smaller than previously assumed. The western
aguada unit reached the bottom of the aguada and found it to be a solid lime
cement that is probably suitable for rehabilitation. This proposal will be further
explored in conjunction with the Hydrology Department of the Ministry of Natural

Expanding our knowledge of communications, an excavation was placed across
the northern balustrade of the western Bryan & Murphy causeway. The
balustrade was found to be two meters wide and roughly made. It has been
suggested that balustrades, such as these, were quickly built and heavily

plastered. The causeway itself was not definitively probed but has at least two
plaster surfaces.

Three discretionary units in problematic structural components were also opened
during the 1994 season. One unit explored the structure EP31 which proved not
to be a structure at all but a pile of construction stone and debris resting on the
unbroken Plaza Copal floor. Another unit was opened where the broken remains
of an apparent stelae were found in front of the stairway of EP7. It was hoped
that a socket would be found in the plaza floor but, despite a 2 X 4 meter unit
encompassing the area around the fragments, none was found. The stelae was
fragmentary and may have fallen from a location on the structure EP7. This unit
did produce, however, intriguing low foundation walls where none were expected
that will be explored in future seasons. The last discretionary unit was situated
on the edge of the site acropolis, the H'menNa. The top of a corbeled arch
doorway had been uncovered by looters and a salvage operation was
undertaken. The arch proved to be the entrance to a long underground corridor
apparently connected the Plaza Imix stairs to Plaza S and used, as one wall, a
lower battered platform wall of structure EP19. This unit proved to be filled with
fragments of obsidian, ceramics, and lithics most dating to the Late and
Terminal Classic periods.

Falling under the aegis of excavation was the examination and backfilling of
looters trenches on site. This program involved the mapping and profiling of 14
looters trenches that threatened the stability of structures and their backfilling.
Although the presence of a site guardian, Teo Williams, has reduced the current
threat posed by looters, the project is still dealing with the remains of more than
50 minor looters trenches in the eastern half of the site core alone. Only a few
structures, particularly EP8 and PP1, have been damaged beyond salvage.

Development of the Reserve

The foundation of the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve has been undertaken with
the cooperation of many collaborators; particularly the Government of Belize
Departments of Archaeology, Ministry of Tourism and Environment, Forestry, and
Lands, Ministry of Natural Resources, the Belize Tourist Industry Association and
the Amigos de El Pilar. The boundaries of the Reserve, a 9 sq. km area, have
been delineated utilizing the Magellan GPS units and, as the western boundary,
the international border. A legal description of the land was drawn up and, along
with a map of the Reserve, filed with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the
Department of Archaeology. In cooperation with the Lands and Survey
Department, official GOB survey markers were placed along the boundaries.

The Reserve rules and a long-term management plan are currently being
developed. Of particular interest are the presence of a number of legal

leaseholders within the boundaries as well as several long-standing usufruct
agriculturalists. The BRASS/El Pilar project is continuing to work with these
neighbors to improve communications vis-a-vis the development of the park
reserve and to find alternative income sources and/or alternative lands for the
usufruct milperos. Overall these efforts have met with halting success.

The site caretaker, Teo Williams, has been a direct employee of the BRASS
project since 1983. In 1994 he became the official El Pilar guardian under the
auspices of the Ministry of Tourism and the Environment. A second caretaker
will also be added to enable them to alternate shifts at El Pilar.

Architectural plans have been drawn up and the preliminary survey work
accomplished for the construction of park reserve support facilities in 1995.
Funds permitting, the first structures to be built at the park entrance will be a
house for the caretaker, a storage facility, and public restrooms. A solar power
and water system have been purchased by the BRASS/El Pilar project and will
be installed along with these first structures.

Community Development

During the 1993 season, BRASS assisted in the formation of a community
development organization, Amigos de El Pilar, in the local village of Bullet Tree
Falls. Amigos de El Pilar is a broad-based community organization made up of
men and women (including students) formed around the issues of alternative
income-generation and community development. Their wish is to actively
participate in the formation of the El Pilar Reserve to capitalize on the
opportunities that the management of the Reserve and the subsequent increase
in ecotourism will engender.

This field season, with the assistance of project environmental law consultant
David Brennan Esq., the Amigos de El Pilar moved forward to become an
officially registered NGO, a set of bylaws was drafted and the financial and
secretarial record keeping was regularized. The organization has applied for
several grants that will enable it to continue the process of community education
and infrastructure development they have initiated. Amigos de El Pilar also
wholeheartedly participated in the official El Pilar opening festivities held on May
14th. They provided historical background for the area as well as their village's
justly famous folk dancing group.

A cooperative effort between the Amigos de El Pilar and the Belize Tourist
Industry Association (BTIA) was also initiated. The BTIA and BRASS/El Pilar
project staff have undertaken to begin the process of training professional tour
guides from Bullet Tree Falls with the goal being the official government
registration of the graduates.

A plan was also developed for a vocational training program offered by Amigos
de El Pilar and BRASS/El Pilar involving modular concrete housing construction,
with the final training to be done on the construction of the park reserve support
facilities. A training program in archaeological consolidation is another option.
The latter, in particular, is a skill that will be in increasing demand in Belize in the
future as the Department of Archaeology grows.

Environmental Planning

It is the hope of the BRASS/El Pilar project that the El Pilar Archaeological
Reserve will be more than just an archaeological destination. Its situation on the
high escarpment, in a deciduous rainforest and a still-fairly uninhabited area
make it an ideal location for an environmental reserve incorporating the
protection of and education about the diverse flora and fauna of Belize. To this
end the project has gone to great lengths to minimize impacts and included
environmental planning into the research design at this early date.

The vegetation at the site is fascinating an interesting mix of secondary growth,
large cohune forests and high jungle vegetation. The '94 field season saw the
continuation of a project by Dr. Michael Balick of the New York Botanical
Gardens, started at the close of the '93 season. Dr. Balick has cordoned off an
area in the north part of the site and is collecting detailed information on the
growth and species in the test area. Plans were drawn up this year for another
project, to begin in 1996, for a more comprehensive project cataloging species in
the Reserve.

With the assistance of the Ix Chel Botanical Research Centre, BRASS project
staff members have been identifying and labeling medicinal and economically
important species in the site core. The process of identification and detailed
information regarding each plant has been extensively videoed for use in further
environmental education. Several Belizean and U.S. field staff have been trained
in this identification process.

A network of trails incorporating the site core ruins, a selection of smaller outlying
ruins, and a range of environmental zones was built. With the help of an Amigos
de El Pilar member, Fred Prost of the resort Parrots Nest, these trails now boast
beautifully executed signs. In the process of creating these trails many project
members were trained in a very selective method of clearing leaving the
important species while only removing common secondary growth.

The project also hosted site visits and discussed schedules for future work by a
number of wildlife researchers. Specialists in birds, primates, land mammals,
bats, and insects are all interested in research within the Reserve. The BRASS
project design calls for a comprehensive survey of faunal life similar to those

underway on flora and it is hoped that several of these projects will begin in


The 1994 BRASS/El Pilar field season was successful beyond hopes and
expectations. The site core mapping and preliminary excavations were
completed and a great deal of site core maintenance was accomplished. The El
Pilar Archaeological Reserve is a reality and awaits only the final legal
paperwork. In addition the community development projects initiated by BRASS
in Bullet Tree Falls are beginning to take on a life of their own. The successful
integration of many disciplines and project facets has not been without its ups
and downs but we believe the final product to be well worth the effort. Future
interdisciplinary efforts will continue to focus on the environment of the Reserve
as well as efforts regarding the consolidation of site structures. Through careful
recording (video as well as written) of the mistakes and triumphs of the project, a
future monograph will spell out in detail a new interdisciplinary model for this type
of research.


The 1994 research at El Pilar was sponsored by the MesoAmerican Research
Center of the University of California Santa Barbara, the Government of Belize,
and private donors. A special thank you to all the visiting researchers who added
so much to our efforts Rudi Larios, Miguel Orrego, "Chepe" Sanchez, David
Brennan, Dr. Rosita Arvigo, Paul Bailey and John Yust. Scott Fedick of the
University of California Riverside is thanked for his hospitality to a wild road trip
crew and for the loan of the Magellan GPS units. The monks of the Santa
Familia Monastery must be praised and thanked for their patience, tolerance,
good humor and making us always feel at home. Our eternal gratitude to Maria
Sierra and Rosa Castillo who have always kept the entire crew fat and happy.
Godsman Ellis and our friends at the BTIA are thanked for their tireless efforts on
behalf of BRASS and their continued friendship. So many members of the
Government of Belize and particularly members of the Ministry of Tourism and
Environment, Department of Archaeology and Ministry of Natural Resources
deserve our gratitude that the list is almost endless. A very special thanks must
go out to all who helped make the opening celebration for El Pilar a smashing
success. Our friends of the BVAR and XAP projects kept us sane on the
weekends. Last but most importantly are the thanks due to all the American and
Belizean members of the BRASS staff: Dr. Anabel Ford for putting up with us all,
Robin Taylor and French Samper without whom administration of the project

would have been chaos, Scott Wennergren's masterful "pirate video", Cameron
Griffith and the Belikin hats and slide whistles, Alison Davies masterful work with
the Teo stories, Thomas Carver for his vehicular expertise, Joe "Polio Loco"
Sakaduski for his good humor, Rebecca Cremeen should be commended for her
field tunes and for surviving the Zotz Na, Nick Rab was part of the glue that held
us together, John Zak worked tirelessly on the mapping crew, Dina Rachal was
the ultimate tour guide and we won't forget the part-time contributions of Ed
Hanna, Russ Helms, Bob Vitolo and Jean Griswold-White. The Belizean staff
must be singled out for our gratitude starting with the redoubtable Abel
Manzanero and our unflagging guardian, Teo Williams. Sincere thanks are due
the field crew that really did all the work; Narciso Manzanero, Lucas Mendez,
Arcelito Manzanero, Sebastian Cardenas, Carmen and Carmen Cruz Jr., Miguel
Tzib, Gonzalo Williams, Norberto Manzanero, Gustavo Manzanero and Juan

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs