Stone temples rising above the rainforest canopy and elaborate hieroglyphs carved onto stone monuments give silent testimony to the high culture of the Maya ancestors of the indigenous peoples of Central America. They have inspired generations of archaeologists, professional and avocational, to take to the field in search of the past.
One such archaeologist is Heather McKillop, who in 1979 first visited the coast of Belize in search of a little-known aspect of ancient Maya life: the sea trade that helped move salt, obsidian, coral, and other goods around the interior of the empire. In 1982, she began bringing volunteers and students to the islands off the coast of Port Honduras, Belize. Since then she has returned many times to excavate sites that reveal the scope and diversity of the trade that passed by water throughout the Maya world.
In this book, McKillop tells the story of the search for the Maya sea traders, as well as the story of the traders themselves as it emerges from the excavations. In Search of Maya Sea Traders describes the trading port of Wild Cane Cay, where exotic obsidian, jade, gold, and other goods—including highly crafted pots—were traded from distant lands. McKillop also tells us about the more coastal-inland trade of salt, seafood, and other marine resources.
Through the story of her own work and that of her students and volunteers, McKillop models both the research design and the field work that are required to interpret the civilizations of the past. She includes the adventure of discovery, the challenges of working in wild environments (from snakes and rising sea levels to falling coconuts) and the tedium of daily measured digs in a near-tropical setting. Through her experiences, the reader also gets to know some of the local residents of Port Honduras and Wild Cane Cay, descendants of the ancient Maya.
In Search of Maya Sea Traders will appeal to that part of each of us that longs to explore distant places and cultures, in quest of a seldom-glimpsed past.
What Readers Are Saying:
“Dr. McKillop is an accomplished writer . . . [this] will be a welcome addition to the literature available for potential volunteers on archaeological projects. McKillop’s work didn’t involve the high excitement of Heyerdahl’s voyages, but does involve the romance of fieldwork in a remote and occasionally dangerous locale. Very few readers will attempt to follow in Heyerdahl’s steps, but this volume may inspire many to follow in McKillop’s.”--Thomas H. Guderjan, Texas Christian University
“Dr. McKillop is an accomplished writer . . . [this] will be a welcome addition to the literature available for potential volunteers on archaeological projects. McKillop’s work didn’t involve the high excitement of Heyerdahl’s voyages, but does involve the romance of fieldwork in a remote and occasionally dangerous locale. Very few readers will attempt to follow in Heyerdahl’s steps, but this volume may inspire many to follow in McKillop’s.” --Thomas H. Guderjan, Texas Christian University
“As general public interest in archaeology grows, it is wonderful to see that more and more professional archaeologists are writing books for this vast audience. In Search of Maya Sea Traders is certain to be of great interest to the large general readership that is fascinated by the civilization of the ancient Maya. Heather McKillop, a highly respected specialist on the ancient Maya, has provided an engrossing and informative account of her archaeological fieldwork on the coast of Belize in Central America. The book is a terrific read and is strongly recommended to aficionados of Precolumbian Maya civilization.” --Jeremy A. Sabloff, University of Pennsylvania, and author, The Cities of Anci
“McKillop’s book is an innovative endeavor to explain archaeology to a wider audience. Reflexive archaeology, to my knowledge, is a new topic in the Maya field. She introduces a number of field situations and methodologies that most archaeologists handle on a frequent basis. The book is so descriptive of the humans at the site. Delightful in fact!” --Shirley Mock
“This is a delightful book. McKillop has managed to capture the experience of being an archaeologist without exaggerating or being overly academic. Although her engaging style makes it painless, she still manages to teach readers a good deal about scholarship, social science, the Maya, and fieldwork. Specialists will identify with her experiences, tourists will develop a heightened awareness of what it means to do Maya archaeology, and armchair readers will feel transported to the nexus of adventure. McKillop is, herself, a lovely, intelligent, and charming person, whose values, positive attitude, and generous spirit ring through these pages. This is an intimate self portrait, and an intimate look at archaeological research that is fascinating in its own right, but especially so because it delivers a personal encounter with someone everyone would like to get to know.” --K. Anne Pyburn, Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University
“McKillop’s book is a rarity: a readable account of a scientific endeavor. No wonder she’s stirring up so much interest these days.” --2theadvocate.com
“For all of us who see archaeology as a great adventure, this is a fabulous story of green since snakes and falling coconuts and leaky boats and short supplies. Almost of all it is a story of the people who do this kind of work...” --American Archaeology
“A scholarly work that often reads like a travel novel, “In Search of Maya Sea Traders” beautifully interweaves science and humanism, enabling McKillop to reach out simultaneously to both academic and non-professional readers.” --Daily News