The lower Cacaulapa valley is approximately 7 km west of Naco (where Ed and Pat worked until 1996), the two areas connected by a narrow valley cut by the Chamelecon River on its southwest-to-northeast route to the Caribbean.
Like Naco slightly more than two decades earlier, the lower Cacaulapa is archaeologically unknown. What attracts us to the area is the discovery we made with a team of Honduran archaeologists in 1996 of a very large center in the lower Cacaulapa. Called El Coyote, this huge site is built into the valley's western hills, its many buildings crowded onto natural and artificial terraces. El Coyote was covered with dense vegetation during our initial visit so we could only guess at its full size-now known to be well over 300 structures.
What is clear at this time is that some group of people were busily amassing their power at some point(s) in lower Cacaulapa prehistory, collecting the supporters they would need to proclaim control over the valley and make that claim stick. They had extensive trade networks, reaching as far away as Teohautican in central Mexico, as well as the closer Mayan cities. Why El Coyote's ascendency occurred at the same time that other southern Meso-American sites were in decline, how these political developments relate to those going on in the adjacent Naco valley, and what life was like at various times in the lower Cacaulapa are questions that only archaeological research can answer. Hopefully, you can be a part of writing responses to those queries.
Ethnographic work in Pueblo Nuevo-Petoa has occurred as the same time as archaeological work during all of our field seasons at El Coyote. Cultural anthropology is traditionally linked to the study of "native" cultures, coherent groups of people whose shared languages and customs distinguish them from other members of the nation-state in which they reside. Though some contemporary residents of the area today are probably descendants of the original Indians encountered by Cortes and Diaz 500 years ago, they acknowledge no such connection. Today's occupants of the Naco and lower Cacaulapa valleys are participants in a localized version of Honduran culture, partaking to varying degrees in the national political and economic system and speaking Spanish. These are just the sorts of folks who anthropologists used to assiduously ignore because they had lost their "nativeness." That shortsightedness is currently changing as we come to realize that all citizens have their stories to tell about life within a nation. Student projects conducted as part on the Kenyon-Honduras program are the first systematic ethnographic studies pursued in Naco and are contributing significantly to expanding our understanding of late 20th century Honduran life. The area is home to some unique (in this day and age) events such as the week long Semana Santa celebrations, which make fantastic opportunities for research.
Students generally supervise the excavation of a small residence, and then move on to other residences in El Coyote, or projects of their choosing. All students spend a few weeks doing archaeology at the beginning of the field season, and while not required all the students have extensive opportunity for ethnographic observation.