Past Projects: Archaeology
Most student-directed archaeological research has concentrated on reconstructing the size and organization of Late Classic (AD 600-800) and Terminal Classic (AD 800-1000) social units living in houses surrounding a central open space, or patio. These "plaza groups" are the physical remains of households composed, most likely, of extended families whose members cooperated in most daily chores. Such entities were the basic building blocks of Late Classic political units.
Student investigation of plaza groups typically involves direction of six to eight trained local excavators in the clearing of two to four buildings chosen to represent the full range of structure sizes and forms seen on a site. Participants, under Urban and Schortman's supervision, take charge of overseeing the digging and carrying out basic recording procedures.
Past archaeological projects in the adjoining Naco, Chamelecon, and lower Cacaulapa valleys have included:
An examination of how Late Classic administrators subordinate to local rulers maintained power within rural areas and to what extent they benefitted materially from their exalted political positions. Research involved excavation of two monumental elite residences (stone-faced platforms that rise more than 1.5m high [4.5 feet]) at a secondary administrative center.
Synthesis of Central Place Theory (from geography) and I. Wallerstein's World Systems Theory (from sociology) in an attempt to understand how rural farmers were exploited by local rulers during the Late Classic. In this case, the student directed the exposure of two buildings within a plaza group and she analyzed the results of excavations conducted by another staff member on two additional edifices within the same cluster.
Tracing changes in household form and structure through the excavation of a tightly nucleated cluster of buildings at a Late Classic political capital. This architectural agglomeration had grown by accretion, new elements being added on gradually over a long period of time. The result was a complex array of walls, floors, and artifact deposits that were difficult to disentangle. The work was so successful, however, that the student expanded on this initial effort for his MA thesis.
Investigating evidence for large-scale ceramic production at Late Classic La Sierra. Pottery manufacturing facilities, such as kilns, are virtually unknown in southern Mesoamerica. Fortunately, we had happened on evidence for such constructions during an early season of the project. Using information gathered in that year, a student tested a previously uninvestigated portion of La Sierra to see if the fashioning of fired clay vessels occurred in this area as well. Four buildings, including a large stone-lined kiln, were uncovered during the course of this study. A sizable pit, most likely dug to obtain clay for pottery manufacture, was also excavated to help date the period of ceramic production.
Survey along the Chamelecon river northeast of the Naco valley located a previously unknown large late prehistoric center occupied during the last prehispanic centuries (AD 1300-1532). Excavations, conducted here by the student who found it, cast new, much needed light on one of the most poorly known periods in Central American prehistory.
Analysis of stone implements recovered from Late Classic deposits, designed to reconstruct manufacturing techniques, implement functions, and patterns of distribution within the Naco valley. This initial study served as the basis for later investigations into the economic and political significance of stone tool manufacture and use within the Late Classic Naco political unit ruled from La Sierra.
Charting slight variations in the ways in which certain motifs commonly painted on locally made Late Classic pottery vessels were rendered in different parts of the Naco valley. In addition to enhancing greatly our appreciation of Naco's design corpus and the ways in which decorative elements were combined, this study examines the manner in which painted decorations might have been used to demarcate social units occupying different portions of the valley. Such an approach, which explores the communication potential of pottery motifs, may be one of the few ways by which social groups intermediate in size between households and the polity can be recognized. The student who initiated this project is currently pursuing an expanded version of it for her PhD thesis.
Reconstructing the role of copper processing in the El Coyote political economy. Research pursued by a student in 2004 at the regional center of El Coyote in the lower Cacaulapa valley revealed the only known copper workshop in SE Mesoamerica. These investigations have clarified how copper core was transformed into finished goods and raised important questions concerning how this industry fit within trade networks that spanned Mexico to Ecuador.
Past Projects: Cultural Anthropology
The cultural component of the Kenyon-Honduras program was initiated formally during the 1995 season. A wide range of cultural topics have been pursued over the past several years, a sample of which follows:
Exploration of household remedies for common ailments. During this project, information was elicited on how medicines were prepared from local herbs by both healing specialists and other members of the local population. Special attention was directed to understanding: the criteria people used in deciding when to employ home-made pharmaceuticals in treating an illness as opposed to, say, visiting a curer or consulting a medical doctor; and what combination of educational, socioeconomic, and familial variables affected a person's knowledge of herbal medicines.
Religious practices in rural Honduras. In this study, a student took on the task of understanding the wide range of factors that people took into account when joining a religion. Despite our image of Central Americans as universally Catholic, Protestant faiths have made increasing inroads in the area over the last four decades or so. Such successful proselytization has elicited a growing militancy on the part of the Catholic Church, creating a volatile situation in which competition for adherents is keen. This student-directed project specifically investigated how well economic, social, and educational variables explained individual decisions to join the Mormon, Evangelical Christian, and Catholic Churches.
Working Conditions in Foreign-Owned Factories. Inspired, in part, by the furor surrounding revelations of "sweat-shop" working conditions in factories producing goods for multinational corporations, a student addressed the question of how local people were treated in these concerns and what they thought of their jobs.
Perceptions of Child-Birth. In this study, a student elicited impressions of the birth experience from 100 Honduran women of varying socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, attempting to discern patterns in how this shared experience was viewed. The work was expanded on the individual's return to the United States, the sample enlarged to include women living in the rural Midwest.
The Effectiveness of Ecological Education Programs. Environmental degradation is a major problem throughout the world, but is especially salient in Third World nations, like Honduras. Here ballooning populations and the search for exportable raw materials exert immense pressures on the land. Efforts to avert this crisis through educational programs initiated by the national government and private concerns were evaluated in the course of this project.
Celebration of Innocence. A Honduran girl's 15th birthday is an important occasion that celebrates both her youthful innocence and transformation into a woman. This occasion is a nexus for a complex set of emotions expressed in the symbolism of the party. This student-initiated project examined both the feelings associated with, and the ways they are expressed at, the birthday celebrations of girls turning 15.
Rural Health Care. Several students have examined the ways in which medical services are provided through government-sponsored and missionary-funded rural clinics. The personnel working in these facilities are often the only contact rural populations have with western medical practices and medicines. How effective are these clinics in reaching the population? Who comes to them and why? What are local perceptions of the doctors and their remedies? At least one previous student volunteered for the entire semester in a clinic, learning its operation while contributing to the care it provided. Others have look at HIV-AIDS education and treatment programs.
All cultural projects involved a combination of participant-observation, formal and informal interviews, as well as questionnaires and surveys. Every effort was made to ensure that informants realized the nature of the study, its purposes, methods, and their part in it, so that they could make informed decisions about whether to participate. These and other ethical concerns are intensively reviewed at all points before, during, and after pursuing ethnographic research. All students on the program, regardless of subdisciplinary interest, are certified by their home institution's Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to arriving in Honduras.