Many of the significant processes and events that affected the course of Central American development have had their impacts on the Lower Cacaulapa valley: this valley's ancient residents maintained ties with Maya lords ruling at nearby Copan and Quirigua, Hernan Cortes traveled from the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) to the town of Naco ca. 9km to the NE of the Cacalupa valley, in part attracted by the settlement's reputation as a major precolumbian commercial center; multinational companies, who have recently attracted so much attention because of their employment practices that employ many residents of the Lower Cacaulapa Valley. Nevertheless, getting a good sense of the diversity of Central American cultures as well as political and economic processes requires leaving the research zone. Fieldtrips are scheduled throughout the semester, first to points of interest in Honduras and, at the program's conclusion, to Guatemala. Destinations are chosen in each case for their significance in understanding local (pre)history (the precolumbian centers of Gualjoquito and Copan, the colonial fort at Omoa ), environment, Pulhapanzak waterfall, Honduras' largest lake, Yojoa), and modern conditions (commercial banana plantations on the north coast, the old port of Tela built by the United Fruit Company). The one-week trip to Guatemala includes visits to the archaeological and ethnographic museums of Guatemala City, the major lowland Maya center of Tikal located in the Peten jungle, the indigenous Maya marketing center of Chichicastenango high in the mountains, and Antigua, Guatemala's colonial capital. The Honduran and Guatemalan trips take you across a wide range of Central American environments, from high cloud forests to tropical jungles, and cultures, highlighting the variety and richness of an area often misjudged as uniformly impoverished. Urban and Schortman will lead all excursions. Fieldtrip expenses of all undergraduate participants are paid from tuition.
Students are also free on weekends to travel on their own using the extensive, inexpensive, and colorful public transportation system. San Pedro Sula, a scant 50 minutes away by bus ($2 one-way, as of 2008), is an especially attractive weekend destination where students can enjoy air-conditioned movies for $2.00, a wide variety of restaurants, and the incomparable pleasures of a reasonably priced private hotel room with cable TV. Extensive, largely empty beaches are also within easy reach of Pueblo Nuevo and Petoa.
Banana plantations and Tela
- Archaeological Site of Los Naranjos and the Waterfall at Puhlapanzak
- Omoa & Rio Coto
- Banana plantations and Tela
This fieldtrip takes you through some of Honduras' most rugged mountains. We travel toward the central portion of the country to visit the Preclasic period (900BC-200AD) center of Los Naranjos, located on the picturesque shores of Lake Yojoa, the largest inland body of water in Honduras. Most of the large buildings at Los Naranjos were built of earth rather than stone. Los Naranjos served as an important early center of trade in the region.
From Los Naranjos we'll visit the Pulhapanzak waterfall. There are numerous cascades along this steep descent from the mountains to the northern coastal plain, and Pulhapanzak is the most breathtaking. There will be opportunities to swim in the pools carved out by the waters and to visit the small archaeological site that overlooks the descent.
In addition to touring the fort and the small museum that houses artifacts recovered in excavations there, we will also visit one of the many beaches in the area. Lunch will be taken at a seaside restaurant that serves a wide variety of fresh seafood, as well as other dishes.
Honduras is famous for its bananas, sometimes being referred to as the quintessential "banana republic." Like most stereotypes, this attribution conceals a far more complex reality. Nevertheless, there is no denying the economic importance of banana cultivation, primarily conducted by multinational corporations such as United Fruit, to Honduras' economy. The nation's post-independence place within trade networks extending beyond Central America was originally defined by banana production and the crop continues to make up a large proportion of Honduras' exports. We will have a lot to say about bananas, therefore, and it behooves us to see how they are cultivated and processed today. Time is set aside, therefore, to tour some of the country's oldest, still-functioning plantations, located just outside the town of La Lima on the north coast, and to visit Tela, the port built by United Fruit to export the crop. We will certainly take advantage of Tela's beautiful beaches while eating lunch there, but the point of the trip is to get a sense of how the business of growing and exporting this fruit is part of Honduran history and integrated into its modern economy.
Nestled in a small highland valley 12km from the Guatemalan border, Copan is one of the most beautiful of lowland Maya centers. Prehistoric occupation in the valley spans roughly two-and-a-half millennia, ca. 1300BC-AD1200. The interval from AD400-800 is marked by a dramatic transformation of political and artistic forms, suggesting an intrusion of foreign notables with ties to the Guatemalan lowlands and highlands. These lords were apparently instrumental in establishing a dynasty that spans 16 rulers and fashioned a powerful state capable of exerting control over places as distant as Quirigua, roughly 50km to the north across the mountains in Guatemala. We spend three days here, exploring the main center, its intricately carved monuments, the local museum, and ancient residential zones that are connected to Copan via a raised road, or sacbe.
During the week spent traveling in Guatemala at the end of the field season, we will visit areas important in the nation's prehistory, colonial history, and to modern indigenous communities. An excursion to Guatemala City's archaeological, ethnographic, and textile museums provide an important opportunity to appreciate the country's diverse cultural heritage and modern lifestyles. The archaeology collections capture the panorama of Guatemalan prehistory, exhibiting items that played important roles both in past cultures and their interpretation. Ethnographic exhibits display the variety of current cultural patterns while the textile museum demonstrates how the elaborately decorated garments of Guatemala's indigenous population are woven into patterns of everyday life. Antigua, our base during the visit, is truly one of the gems of Central America. Sitting in a highland valley circumscribed by imposing mountains, Guatemala's colonial capital is an International Heritage site whose ancient buildings convey a sense of life in the far reaches of the Spanish Empire. From Antigua we will travel to Chichicastenango, a Quiche Maya marketing center. This excursion brings home the vitality of contemporary indigenous cultures, putting to rest the mistaken notion that the Maya are a people only of the past. We will spend the night at Panajachel, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, a highland lake surrounded by volcanoes. The following day we boat across the lake to Santiago Atitlan, a Tz'utujil Mayan town and pilgrimage center. Three days will be spent visiting the massive lowland Maya center of Tikal. Capital of a state that was among the largest in the Central American tropical lowlands from AD300-800, Tikal provides us with the chance to explore the temples, palaces, and residences of this ancient population. We stay in the Tikal Park, within easy walking distance of the site center, and have ample opportunity to explore the site and jungle (on marked trails).