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Belize Valley Archaeological
Reconnaissance Project

Fieldwork Opportunities:

In 2017 BVAR will be hosting its 30th summer field school. As in 2016, our fieldwork will continue with investigations at the ancient Maya sites of Cahal Pech, Baking Pot, Lower Dover, and Xunantunich. These major Belize Valley sites are located on the outskirts of the modern town of San Ignacio, capital of the Cayo District of Belize, Central America

(click here for a location map and general info on Belize).

Cahal Pech, Baking Pot Lower Dover, and Xunantunich are among the largest prehistoric Maya sites in the upper Belize River Valley and served as the capitals to small kingdoms in the Classic period (c. AD 250-900). BVAR excavations at Cahal Pech have revealed that this site is the location of some of the earliest Maya settlements in the Maya lowlands. First settled around 1200 B.C., the site was continuously occupied until the 10th century A.D. Despite many years of investigations at Baking Pot, large portions of the monumental site core remain unexcavated and sections of the settlement area remain unexplored. Lower Dover, in contrast, is a recently discovered site and investigations here are only just beginning. At Xunantunich, investigations of the large palaces and temples at this site continue to examine the late rise of this major Maya city.

During the 2017 season, BVAR will continue work at Baking Pot with the purpose of developing a high-resolution radiocarbon chronology to understand the role of drought in the political and demographic collapse of the site and broader region at the end of the Classic period (AD 750-900). Research will focus on the monumental center, clearing sections of the plazas and courtyards in order to understand the timing of the end of monumental construction and political activity. Smaller excavations in the western settlement of Baking Pot will focus on understanding the extent and construction of a complex water management and agricultural system of ditched fields. Extra emphasis on radiocarbon dating and methodologies for chronology building will be emphasized throughout the Baking Pot research.

Archaeological research at Lower Dover focuses on understanding the growth and decline of the site during the Late and Terminal Classic periods, and its role in the sociopolitical developments in the upper and middle Belize River Valley. The 2017 research will concentrate on Plaza D, a possible throne room, as well as other courtyards and patio groups in the site core in order to develop a chronology for construction episodes and abandonment of the center.  

The investigations at Cahal Pech will focus on two objectives: continued investigations of the monumental architecture of the site core, and on settlement pattern studies in the sustaining area of the site. The investigations in the site core aim to further elucidate the status and complexity of this important center, from its establishment at the end of the Early Preclassic period (1200-900 B.C.) to its subsequent abandonment in the Terminal Classic period (~ AD 800-900). These investigations will involve excavation of several large pyramidal and palace-type buildings, as well as smaller platforms beneath plaza levels in the site core. Our settlement research will involve mapping of unrecorded mounds in the northern and eastern periphery of the site, and test excavations of these settlements.

At Xunantunich, work will continue to expose and conserve the large prehistoric buildings in the main plaza.

During the 2017 season, BVAR will continue complementing its research in the monumental centers of Cahal Pech, Baking Pot, Lower Dover, and Xunantunich with continuing settlement survey in the Belize Valley. The investigations will include extensive stratigraphic excavations, testing of architecture by means of test-pitting, trenching and horizontal exploration, as well as mapping of the archaeological features and architectural remains uncovered. Students will be involved in all aspects of the archaeological investigations, from the setting of excavation units to the production of site maps. The project also incorporates daily laboratory work where students participate in the processing and inventorying of the artifacts recovered from the site (including a range of ceramic and lithic artifacts as well as human and animal remains). Weekly lectures will present an overview of Maya civilization and will provide introductions to other specific topics such as ceramic typology, archaeological survey methods, human osteology, and Maya ritual and ideology.


The BVAR excavations and field program operates under the auspices of the Belize Institute of Archaeology (IOA). The IOA is a branch of Belize’s National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), and the institution responsible for the management, preservation and sustainable development of Belize's rich and diverse archaeological heritage. It has been active since its founding in 1955 (in its former guise as the Department of Archaeology). The institute also has academic affiliation with Northern Arizona University, the University of Montana, Galen University, and the University of Indianapolis.


The cost of the field school covers weekly room and board. Accommodation during the work week is provided by hotel/lodge facilities in the town of San Ignacio. Rooms will also be provided for students choosing not to travel during the weekends. Daily meals consist primarily of local fare.


Travel to and from the archaeological site is provided on a daily basis. At the start of each session attendees will also be greeted at the International airport in Belize City and shuttled to our headquarters in San Ignacio, the capital of the Cayo District (see map here). Those wishing to make alternate travel plans to San Ignacio may do so, providing they arrive in time for the start of the session.

Travel to and from Belize forms part of the incidental expenses of the participant. In addition, we help to organize optional weekend tours with local travel agents and tour guides to the important sites of Caracol in western Belize and Tikal in neighboring Guatemala. Over the long weekend in the third week of each session, students traditionally also take a trip to the island Cayes (pronounced "Keys") along Belize's Caribbean coast. This optional trip, however, is not covered by the fees and students who to take this opportunity to explore other parts of Belize, or neighboring Mexico and Guatemala must do so at their own expense. Transportation will also be provided to the airport on designated departure days after each two and four-week session.


Several lectures are given as part of the field school curriculum and students will be assessed by the content of their field notebooks as well as written exams. Informal on-site lectures will include an introduction to site reconnaissance, survey, excavation unit set-up, and the mapping of archaeological features in section and in plan view. Formal lectures given during the work week will include an overview and introduction to Maya prehistory, spanning from the Paleoindian phase to the Late Postclassic / early Colonial period. Specific thematic lectures will focus on architecture, ceramic remains, osteology, and hieroglyphic writing. Lab sessions will cover basic finds processing and inventory as well as preliminary artifact analyses. Based on interest we can accommodate lectures on artifact illustration. Based on interest we can accommodate lectures on artifact illustration. Students are advised that they will be expected to keep up with required reading and will have to bring the course notebook to the field with them to read at the end of the workday.

In addition, this year the 14th Annual Belize Archaeology and Anthropology Symposium will be held from June 28th through the 1st of July (the week between sessions). Students have the option of attending this event at their own expense. This is an ideal way to gain a good perspective on the archaeology that has taken place in Belize during the course of the previous year. These presentations allow you to be one of the first to find out about the newest interpretations and discoveries made in Belizean archaeology. Participation costs are incidental and details will be posted once these become available.


Please read carefully before you consider filling out our application. Thank you for your interest in our project.

All applicants must be at least 18 years old and in sufficient good health to deal with the rigors of this project.
Field archaeology is physically, emotionally and mentally challenging. It is imperative that applicants be prepared to meet these challenges.
Registration fees cover weekly lodgings, weekday meals, as well as transportation to and from the site.
Travel to and from Belize as well as other incidental expenses are the responsibility of the participant.
Academic credit may be obtained for the course through Northern Arizona University.
The minimum length of stay is two weeks (for pedagogical and logistical reasons).

Further details are provided in the application form (click here).

Available Programs

Participation on the BVAR project can take a number of forms. Which one suits your needs and time constraints?

Option One - 4 Weeks

This option is designed for extensive exposure to archaeological methods and techniques. This option spans over a four week duration and includes extensive training in archaeological field techniques: reconnaissance, survey, excavation, and artifact processing. This option forms a complete curriculum including all lectures, site tours and written exams. This option is suitable for enthusiasts seeking in-depth exposure to archaeological field experience.

  • Session 1: 28 May to 24 June, 2017 (Arrive on the 28th of May. Instruction from 29 May to 23 June. Depart on the 24th of June).

    Session 2: 2 to 29 July, 2017 (Arrive on the 2nd of July. Instruction from 3 July to 28 July. Depart on the 29th of July).

  • Cost: $2,200.00 USD

Option Two - 2 Weeks

This option forms a basic introduction to field research techniques and spans the first two weeks of either session. All the introductory lectures to archaeological methods and most site tours are provided during the first two weeks of each session. For those wishing to get a good "feel" for how archaeology works in a short period of time, this option is ideal. Academic credit is available for the two-week program.

  • Session 1: 28 May to 10 June, 2017 (Arrive on the 28th of May. Instruction from 29 May to 9 June. Depart on the 10th of June)

  • Session 2: 2 to 15 July, 2017 (Arrive on the 2nd of July. Instruction from 3 July to 14 July. Depart on the 15th of July).

  • Cost: $1,150.00 USD

Option Three - Customized

If you are interested in a customized stay with the project, submit your proposed dates of stay with your application. All stays must be for a minimum of two weeks in order to include a solid introduction to archaeological methods before proceeding to the field component. In addition, all customized stays are by week-long increments over the course of the field season. Please note that the 28th of June through the 5th of July is our week off between sessions, and therefore is not available as part of the 'Customized' Option.

  • Session(s):
    A combination of week-long increments between May 28 and July 29, 2017. (The week of 24 June through 4 July is not available). Please note that extensive orientation takes place the first two weeks of each session, so students cannot attend only the middle or final two weeks of a month only.

  • Cost: Variable (at a cost of $550.00 USD per week)


For more information on BVAR please contact us:

General Information:

Myka Schwanke

Academic credit information:

Myka Schwanke


Nicole Wood

Website design:

Christophe Helmke

Website Editor:

Julie Hoggarth

Late Classic figurine fragment
from Xunantunich.
Drawing by G. Valenzuela.