Joining the Team
|Thank you for your interest in the BRASS/El Pilar Program. This unique program has been ongoing since 1993, as a focus of the BRASS program in operation in Belize since 1982. The following information will give you an overview of our program.
If you are interested in joining the BRASS/El Pilar team, we suggest that you contact us as soon as possible. Our living space in our rented facilities is limited and can fill up quickly. After reading the following, if you have any questions please feel free to call Dr. Ford at 1-805-893-8191 or e-mail to email@example.com.
The El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna is located just 12 miles (approximately 19 kilometers) north of the western Belizean town of San Ignacio, astride the Belize-Guatemala border. The ridge land escarpment where El Pilar is situated extends from Guatemala's Petén into Belize, north of the Belize River valley. San Ignacio is the largest town in Western Belize (population approx. 12,000) and lies in a lush river valley 72 miles from Belize City. It has mail, banking, communication, restaurants, grocery stores, travel agencies, shopping facilities, etc.
The Program is headquartered in the Santa Elena area, located about 1 km. south of the center of San Ignacio. We will be staying in a rented house with shared rooms and bathrooms.
The Program has long enjoyed the services of fantastic local cooks who prepare daily meals. Sunday meals are on your own and many enjoy sampling the many small restaurants in the area or prepare their own meals in the kitchen.
The Program takes volunteers and students. You should be at least 18 years of age and in good physical shape. Experience is preferred, but not required. Conversational knowledge of Spanish is helpful. We are particularly interested in graduate students looking for advanced projects in a number of areas: archaeology, ecology, plant and wildlife biology, history, geology, agriculture and community development. Participation can be arranged for as little as two weeks or as long as the entire field season with participants interested in the entire field season taking precedent.
The cost for the entire field season is US$2500. This covers room, board and activities related to our research agenda for the season. Participants are responsible for their own travel to and from Belize. The cost of the program may be made as a tax-deductible donation through the University or our non profit organization.
The cost for short term participants (up to three weeks) is US$2000 and covers room, board and site transportation. Longer stays are subject to a charge per week - contact our office for further information. The tax-deductible donation helps the program to pay some of the overhead costs associated with a large multidisciplinary program.
The Belize River Archaeological Settlement Survey (BRASS) was initiated in 1983 by Dr. Anabel Ford in the upper Belize River area surrounding San Ignacio, Belize. Pioneering work in settlement survey has shown that this region was occupied very early and continuously. Dr. Ford had previously finished a large-scale settlement survey in Guatemala between the sites of Tikal and Yaxha and was eager to recover more data regarding the development of Maya settlement. The BRASS project was designed to closely examine the relations between house sites and the natural environment and their spatial patterning In 1983-92 the project surveyed three transects, one ten-kilometer and two five-kilometer long. The ten km transect ended at the ancient Maya city of El Pilar
El Pilar was recorded by Belize's Department of Archaeology in the 1970's, but its full extent was then unknown. A preliminary map of the site was made by BRASS in 1984 and the first full-scale investigation of El Pilar was finally begun in 1993. In May 1998 a statutory instrument was signed designating the nine square kilometer reserve as Belize's newest national park. In December 1998 the Consejo Nacional de Areas Protegidas (CONAP) of Guatemala declared a 1000-hectare reserve around the Guatemalan portion of the city. The Mesa Redonda process brought the management format together from 1997-2002. In July 2004, the Plan Maestro El Pilar was declared in Guatemala by CONAP, formally endorsing the management plan for El Pilar as one resource in two nations. Then in 2006 the El Pilar Management Plan was signed in Belize. These instruments provide the foundation for building the Living Laboratory and Museum of the Maya forest that is El Pilar.
El Pilar has more than twenty-five identified plazas in an area of approximately 100 acres (38 hectares), ranking it equal with major centers of the lowland Maya region. It is the largest center in the Belize River area, more than three times the size of other well-known centers such as Baking Pot or Xunantunich. There are more than a dozen large pyramids and many range buildings. The site is divided into three primary sectors: Xaman (North) Pilar, Nohol (South) Pilar, and Pilar Poniente (West). The eastern and western sections are connected by an offset causeway system extending between two large public plazas. Survey and excavations have been concentrated in the eastern side of El Pilar within Belize. The western section, Pilar Poniente, is across the border in the Republic of Guatemala.
A preliminary chronology, based on ceramic analyses, has revealed that monumental constructions at El Pilar began in the Middle Preclassic (500 B.C.) and continued with the last major remodeling completed in the Terminal Classic (1000 A.D.). This long sequence spans more than 15 centuries and testifies to a continuous and methodical development in the area.
The area has long carried the name of El Pilar and while the origin of this name is obscure, the numerous natural sources of water speak to the old Spanish word for watering basin or pila, whose collective would be designated in Spanish as El Pilar. Two local streams have their origins at El Pilar, one to the east, which we call El Pilar Creek, and one on the west referred to generally as El Manantial (the Spring). About 1.2 miles (or 2.3 KM) east is Chorro, a lovely delicate waterfall. Not far from this waterfall is a minor center named Chorro, after the falls. The abundance of water in the vicinity of El Pilar is rare in the Maya area; the venerable ancient city of Tikal (just 50 KM west) had no natural water sources at all.
2009 Field Season
The 2009 El Pilar field season will focus on testing a predictive model of ancient Maya land use through the lens of contemporary Maya forest gardeners. Understanding how these farmers use their land will help paint the mosaic of land use in the past. Animals that survived the rise and fall of the Maya and are only threatened today by modern hunting practice must have formed a critical part of the Maya landscape past and present. This season's work integrates these diverse avenues into one exciting field exploration. The core of fieldwork will take place from May to June.
The Director of the BRASS/El Pilar Program is Dr. Anabel Ford of the MesoAmerican Research Center at the University of California Santa Barbara. Dr. Ford has written numerous articles regarding the ancient Maya. She has done fieldwork focused on the Maya forest of Guatemala and Belize, and has experience in the U.S. and Peru.
She will be joined by her local collaborators including Andres Romero, Orfalina, Norberta Pulido, and Israel Rivera who works with us at our local headquarters called BRASS Base.
For More Information
More information on the project is available on the El Pilar Website or by contacting Dr. Anabel Ford at:
ISBER/MesoAmerican Research Center
or click here to send us an e-mail.
If you have a serious interest in the program then your next correspondence with the program should include;
Your application will be considered by the Program staff and we will be in contact with you. When you are accepted by the Program a further information package will be sent to you. Completed applications should be sent to our California office at the address below.
Dr. Anabel Ford