Prospective Projects: Archaeological and Cultural
The following is a list of research topics that could be pursued by undergraduates during the 2012 Kenyon-Honduras program. Participants are not limited to this selection. Rather, these suggestions are designed to convey a general idea of the kinds of issues that might be addressed.
Prospective Archaeological Projects
Student research in 2012 will focus on the major political center of El Coyote in the lower Cacaulapa valley, northwestern Honduras. El Coyote was occupied from 200 BC-AD 1000. Its residents participated in two major political upheavals structure during this long history: the first, in ca. AD 600 when El Coyote emerged as the capital of a realm that dominated the lower Cacaulapa valley and immediately surrounding areas; and, the second, in ca. AD 850 when a new group of elites abandoned El Coyote's earlier monumental site-core and re-established their center of authority in the northeastern part of the site. This resurgence of elite power is unusual because it coincides with a period when political units throughout neighboring portions of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala were disintegrating. Work at El Coyote in 2012 will address, in part, the factors underlying these transformations from the 7th through 11th centuries. Some ways that student research might contribute to these investigations are briefly described below.
Specialized Manufacture and Political Power at El Coyote
Three seasons of field research at El Coyote have yielded only slight evidence of craft production that clearly dates to the 7th-11th centuries. It appears, therefore, that El Coyote's residents throughout the center's heyday were consumers of such essentials as stone tools and pottery vessels that were made elsewhere. This situation contrasts starkly with the findings of student research on earlier seasons of the Kenyon-Honduras Program in the neighboring Naco valley. Here, the power of elites ruling from their capital of La Sierra during AD 600-800 was based in part on their centralized control over the production and distribution of a wide array of items, including ceramic containers and stone tools. Such monopolies would have made the majority of the Naco valley's population dependent for crucial goods on their rulers, willing to surrender labor and loyalty in return for commodities made at the capital. As the power of these leaders waned from AD 800-1000 craft production dispersed from La Sierra throughout the Naco valley. Is it really the case that the political transformations seen at El Coyote in AD 600 and 850 were not related to changing patterns of elite control over craft production? Before answering 'yes' to that question we must intensify the search for craft workshops at El Coyote. Preliminary excavations along the center's southwest margin have revealed large quantities of sizable fragments of pottery vessels. This concentration of ceramics suggests that a pottery workshop was located nearby. Test excavations designed to locate the workshop will be combined with extensive clearing of features associated with it (e.g., staging areas, firing facilities, and waste dumps). The planned work will contribute to reconstructing El Coyote's ceramic industry, especially the identification of what may have been made here, when the workshop was in use, at what volumes vessels were produced, and who might have controlled the artisans' output.
Household Adaptations to Power
Shifting political relations are usually examined from the top-down, focusing on how rulers maneuver to create hierarchies and centralize power. This view tends to treat those outside the charmed circle of leadership as passive reactors to elite initiatives, powerless to resist policy initiatives issuing from on-high. Research conducted by students and staff of the Kenyon-Honduras Program over the years at other sites has challenged this view. Rather, their work suggests that people of diverse ranks living in varied locations played active roles in shaping the political structures in which they lived by resisting the policies of their 'social betters,' cooperating with those schemes, or, more often, some combination of both. Consequently, it is important to understand how El Coyote's residents dealt with the power plays of their leaders at any moment and how they contributed to changes in the political system over time. Research dealing with these issues would involve the excavation of a household at the capital. Households were composed of people who resided together, usually in structures surrounding a patio, and cooperated in essential daily tasks such as food production and raising the young. It was within these basic residential units that people marshaled labor and resources to confront, or accommodate to, power. By extensively clearing the tightly clustered buildings in which members of a household lived and worked we can gain some sense of how that particular domestic group negotiated the demands of shifting power relations. By comparing these results with those obtained by Kenyon-Honduras researchers working in other household compounds at El Coyote, the student-investigator will be able to appreciate the political strategies employed by distinct households at different points in El Coyote's history and their variable rates of success.
Prospective Ethnographic Projects
Special attention will focus in 2012 on questions of food security. Natural disasters, rising fuel costs, and the global economic downturn, among other factors, have contributed to a world-wide rise in food prices and food shortages. Especially hard hit are the working poor in countries like Honduras. Their food budgets were already stretched to near maximum prior to the crisis and many now face severe problems in feeding their families. Research that might shed light on how people in the towns where we live and work, Pueblo Nuevo and Petoa, are coping with these problems include the following.
Specific potential research projects include, but are not limited to:
Small-Scale Farming as a Survival Strategy
Producing at least some food to meet a family's needs was relatively common in Honduras four decades ago but has declined precipitously since then. Nonetheless, some people in Pueblo Nuevo and Petoa continue to pursue this strategy on ever dwindling and over-used plots of land. As food prices rise, some in these communities have suggested that direct production of grains, fruits, and vegetables for consumption and sale may be a viable survival strategy. Investigation of this topic might address the following questions: Who is engaged in small-scale farming (e.g., older men, people of low socio-economic standing?); What do they grow: What factors, such as land availability and productivity, affect the decision to pursue farming?; How successful is this strategy and does its success depend on outside inputs (such as remittances sent from relatives working abroad)? Such research would probably involve a mix of participant-observation (working with farmers in their fields, helping with the processing of their crops) coupled with both structured and informal interviews.
Changing Food Preferences
At the same time that the food crisis is proceeding many Hondurans are redefining what qualifies as a 'good meal.' Due to a wide array of factors, including opinions expressed by relatives living outside Honduras and aggressive advertising by foreign restaurant chains in the country, tastes in food are changing. This is especially the case among the young. Whereas 30 years ago relatively few people in rural Honduras had ever eaten a hamburger, let alone considered it a desirable menu option, now many in Petoa and Pueblo Nuevo regularly travel by bus to San Pedro Sula and patronize restaurants such as Wendy's, Burger King, and McDonalds. Mobile venders in these towns are also selling hamburgers to those who do not make the trip. These dietary shifts have engendered much discussion in Pueblo Nuevo and Petoa over the relative merits of different dining choices, debates that highlight changing cultural values that go well beyond the realm of food (e.g., into questions of identity and its enactment through eating and food sharing). Research into this issue might involve structured, semi-structured, and informal interviews with people of different genders, ages, and economic backgrounds to assess their perceptions of different foods, why they think diets are changing, and what they make of these shifts. Ultimately, the investigator might seek to identify patterns in these choices and the reasons underlying dietary decisions.
Telephone and Email
There were few functioning land-line phones in Pueblo Nuevo and Petoa when we were living there in 1999-2008. Cell phone coverage, however, has improved considerably in recent years and was quite good in 2008. It is generally easier and cheaper to call the U.S. from Pueblo Nuevo than vice versa. The program will have at least one cell phone for official calls within and outside the country and you will have the chance to buy a cheap phone while you are there. The best way to pay for national and international calls at present is by using phone cards with pre-paid minutes.
Internet service is also now available in Pueblo Nuevo. It is slow and crashes periodically, especially when the owner of the internet café is downloading pictures. Nonetheless, checking email is possible using this service (if you are patient) even if sending or opening large attachments is not advisable.
Despite these very real achievements, Honduras suffers from severe economic and social problems related to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch which devastated the country in 1998, and human-caused problems the most prominent of which are those related to the illicit drug trade. Honduras is not alone in facing these difficulties. The experiences of its residents, in fact, typify much of what people throughout the world must confront on a daily basis. One of our reasons for working in Honduras is to appreciate these difficulties and the resilience its population consistently shows in the face of them.