How to Help

Archaeological Research


Research Goals

Continuation of Project

Background and Significance

The Project (PACH)

2003 Field Season

2004 Field Season

2005 Field Season


Community Development

Project Philosophy

Ancient Site, Modern Town

19th Century: The Finca


Economic and Cultural Challenges

The Cooperative and
the Town Today

Cautions for Western Visitors

Employment and Other Needs

Tourism and Crafts

Development Goals


The Chocolá Archaeological Project

The Chocolá Archaeological Project/Proyecto Arqueologico Chocolá (PACH) is committed to realizing two inextricably linked goals: 1) archaeological research at and rescue of an ancient Maya city threatened by modern development, and 2) sustainable community development in the modern town located within and on top of the ancient site.

Archaeological Research
The project’s research focuses on a major, hitherto overlooked, and very long-lived ancient Maya city located in the heart of the seminal Southern Maya Zone. At an elevation of from 500-1000 m HAE, Chocolá is located at the upper limits of the piedmont or Bocacosta of southwestern Guatemala. The remains – once more than 100 imposing pyramidal mounds and platforms in and around the ancient administrative core of the city – represent an ancient polity capital and associated communities extending conceivably through 6 by 4 kilometers or more than 10 square miles.

In general, our research has been motivated to investigate the origins of Maya civilization and, particularly, the material and social-historical processes we hypothesize underlay early developments at Chocolá and as this city participated in seminal events in the Southern Maya area, including the development of Maya hieroglyphic writing, sacred governance, urbanism, and core Maya ideology. Theoretical frames of analysis employed in generating hypotheses of the research include ethnic processes and the construction of a Maya identity, Maya or proto-Maya/Mixe-Zoque (“Olmec”) interaction, core-periphery economic systems, sophisticated hydraulics, and intensive cultivation and long-distance monopoly trade in cacao, a commodity of great importance throughout ancient Mesoamerica.

During field seasons, the project employs approximately 100 local persons, and has overseen the advanced study of graduate students from universities in the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, and Germany as well as many students from Guatemalan universities and online colleges. Through three seasons (2003-2005), the project has benefited from the invaluable assistance of 160 volunteers from the Earthwatch Institute (, who have helped with the essential tasks of reconnaissance, survey and mapping, and screening, washing and marking of artifacts. Dissemination of results for the benefit of scholarly colleagues has continued in the form of professional papers published and results presented at major venues for Maya and wider anthropological research, and of articles in the popular press.

A more detailed treatment of the Chocolá Archaeological Project's 2004 results is available in Spanish on the FAMSI (Fundacion para el Avance de los Estudios Mesoamericanos) web site. Click here.

View the 2005 Field Report Summary (in English) in pdf format by clicking here.

Click on the links to the left for more information on the Project's archaeological research.

Community Development
The project philosophy is that ethically, epistemologically, and practically, the archaeological research cannot be conducted in a purely scientific vacuum or separated from the life and continuance of the modern Maya community.

From an ethical standpoint, archaeology no longer can operate simply to extract objects and knowledge from Third World communities for export, as “conquest knowledge,” or documentation of the booty of conquest, to the First World. In many ways the life advantages of the First World have come about because of the exploitation of countless millions of Third World people who have suffered for generations in unconscionable conditions of duress and worse. Taking into account centuries of malign exploitations of peasant labor and extractive and cash-crop for export businesses, First World liberalist initiatives in the Third World can no longer function only to create an ecological and cultural park, reifying or fixing in place, as if dead, Maya and other cultures for the edification and enjoyment of First World scholars, students, and tourists.

Epistemologically, a “stakeholder” approach is necessary that appreciates and elevates, ideally to parallel status, if necessary, local indigenous knowledge, perspectives, history and autonomy to an accumulative, science-based knowledge enterprise, even if these cannot yet be integrated. The point is, much can be learned from every side and stakeholder.

Practically, the problems at Chocolá quintessentially exemplify the Local-Global dichotomy: seemingly one cannot have the benefits of global free-market integration simultaneous with respecting and encouraging the apparently completely contradictory local and heterogeneous non-Western alter. But for the sake of practical solutions to worldwide environmental problems, helping the impoverished, marginalized Chocolenses develop sustainable economic strategies that preserve local knowledge and cultural practices is essential. At stake are not only the welfare and prospects of Chocolá’s impoverished small-plot coffee farmers. Both local and international or global preferences for the healthy continuance of diversity and human dignity at large ultimately are weighing in the balance. We in the First World need the poor Maya farmer as steward of the local econiche. The planet’s biological diversity, so necessary for humanity’s future, depends on the maintenance of local environmental matrices. Currently, unplanned and disordered growth of the town in the form of shack housing cutting into ancient mounds and destruction of archaeological remains takes place because the sons of small-plot farmers lack even the funds sufficient to escape the legacy of generations of unemployment, lack of sanitation infrastructure and access to medical and health resources, broken family life – torn apart by mojado immigration to the United States – and the daily pressures of threats of extinction of language and ancient culture. At Chocolá, site of a great ancient Maya city, possibly crucial to our understanding of how and why Maya civilization developed, First World appreciation of extraordinary ancient and modern non-Western cultures benefits. With the sustainable development of Chocolá the local Maya community and, by example and in keeping with the sense of “macro” attention to the “micro,” world ecological heterogeneity benefits; one obvious component of sustainable development at Chocolá is continuation of the study and salvation of the ancient city for tourism, which benefits world cultural patrimony, as well. But there are other strategies for development (see How You Can Help).

Click on the links to the left for more information on the Project's community development.


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