Maya Research Program

What is the Maya Research Program?
The Maya Research Program is a U.S.-based non-profit organization (501C3) that sponsors archaeological and  ethnographic research in Middle America. Each summer since 1992, we have sponsored archaeological fieldwork in northwestern Belize and ethnographic research in the village of Yaxunah, Mexico. The Maya Research Program is affiliated with the University of Texas at Tyler.

Our goal is, first and foremost, to conduct research that helps us better understand the complex ancient societies of the Americas. MRP is proud to have a diverse staff of talented scientists contributing to this goal and many of our affiliated scholars are recognized as leaders in their fields. Recent support has come from the
Archaeological Institute of America, National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, the Heinz Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, the Blue Creek field school has been certified by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and the project was recognized as the winner of the Archaeological Institute of America's Excavation Outreach contest.

Another key MRP goal is to encourage the participation of students and volunteers -- anyone who wants to experience the real world of archaeological or anthropological research and understand how we learn about other cultures may join us. We see this as a critical educational component of MRP's work and it helps us accomplish our research goals as well. The ages of our participants range from 18 to over 80. So many of our participants return year after year that MRP has become an extended family. About half of our participants are university students under 30 years old and the other half are professionals and retirees. While the majority of participants come from the United States and Canada, we have students from Australian,  European, Latin American, and Japanese institutions as well. For students, academic credit can usually be arranged. While many students go on to careers in other fields, numerous students go on to become successful graduate students in archaeology or a related field and return to focus on MRP projects for their theses and dissertations.

Contact Information
  Address:  Maya Research Program: 1910 East Southeast Loop 323 #296; Tyler, Texas 75701
  Phone: 817-831-9011

History of the Maya Research Program

The idea of the Maya Research Program as an organization providing opportunities for people to volunteer in archaeological field research began back in 1985, when Tom Guderjan and the late Herman Smith were approached by the Earthwatch organization. Earthwatch, interested in their work on Ambergris Caye, had approached Guderjan and Smith about providing support. As things turned out, although no support was realized, it was a turning point for both Guderjan and Smith who decided that there was nothing that Earthwatch did that they could not. Dr. Jim Garber at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) was recruited to bring his field school to Ambergris along with a cost-sharing volunteer program based at the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures and the Corpus Christi Museum. The Ambergris project operated for three years (1986-1988) on this basis. That final season was also supported by a grant by the Texas Higher Education coordinating Board to Drs. Garber and David Glassman, also of SWT, and a Heinz Foundation grant to Guderjan.

In 1990, Guderjan accepted a Fulbright Research Fellowship to go ahead with survey work in northwestern Belize. During that time, he decided to undertake an excavation project at the Blue Creek site…an idea originally suggested by Barry Bowen, Belize's Coca-Cola and beer czar.The Blue Creek project really got underway in 1992, under the umbrella of Coastal Archaeological Research, a non-profit organization directed by Bob Ricklis. As the project became successful, it was clear that we needed our own organization and independence and in January 1993, MRP was incorporated as a 501C3 non-profit organization.

In 1994, we moved our field operations from our original location to what has now become the Blue Creek Research Station, with 1500 square feet of lab space, studios for our illustrator and photographer, 35 residential cabanas, a restroom and shower building, a modern kitchen and dining hall, a large "beach" palapa and, of course, the original main building. A far cry from the days when were waited desperately for the truck to arrive with the tents…for 5 weeks!

Before the start of the 2000 season, Guderjan realized that the growth and success of MRP required that additional archaeological leadership be invited to the Blue Creek project. Over the course of the 2001 and 2002 seasons, Dr. Jon Lohse transitioned into the role of Field Project Director while Guderjan became less involved in the Blue Creek fieldwork and increasingly focused on supporting MRP from an organizational viewpoint and also on diversifying its research objectives. In 2003, the Maya Research Program provided support not only for the Blue Creek project, but also archaeological investigations at the site of Ixpaatun in Mexico and an ethnographic field experience at Yaxunah, also in Mexico.

Beginning in 2002 and fully underway in 2003, the Blue Creek project, under the directorship of Lohse, expanded its objectives and research scope beyond the Blue Creek site center and its immediately surrounding settlements. Dr. Lohse's research, named the Blue Creek Regional Political Ecology Project, was focused on multiple sites in upper northwestern Belize - some of which are equal to the size and complexity of Blue Creek - and examines closely changes in the ancient environment and how the Maya altered their landscape. MRP remained the major support arm for the Blue Creek activites, supplemented by help from additional agencies, foundations, and organizations including the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (2001), the Ahau Foundation (2002), and the National Geographic Society (2004).

2004 saw further diversification with the addition of excavation opportunities for volunteers and students in Peru working on the physical remains of the Moche civilization. MRP also began to offer study tours to its members. The first tour took 17 'tourists' to major Maya sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and, of course, Belize. The tour was so successful that it has become an annual event.

Dr. Guderjan returned to his historical research leadership role in 2006. The preceding decade and a half of fieldwork at Blue Creek has given MRP a basis to address some of the most interesting and important questions about the Maya past. The research initiative for the next few years will be focused on a better understanding of the dramatic and rapid collapse of Maya civilization.

With MRP’s support, members of the Blue Creek project have completed numerous dissertations and theses. In addition, numerous papers have been published in archaeological journals and presented at professional meetings and conferences around the world. Today, Blue Creek is among the longest-running research projects in the Maya area. This has been made possible principally through the participation of Maya Research Program’s students and volunteers.