Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Uncovering ancient Mayan tomb all in a day's work

Chipping away at an ancient Mayan tomb and uncovering cherished artifacts that reveal a culture's past have become the norm for students at Davidson Day.

For the past few years, a handful of students in Mat Saunder's class have had the opportunity to travel to Belize and work alongside some of archaeology's most well-known, like Marc Zender, a lecturer in the department of anthropology at Harvard University.

This summer's June trip lead to an interesting discovery - a tomb that was home to three prominent Mayan figureheads.

Jason Chinuntdet, 16, a junior at Davidson Day, recalls seeing remains of a middle-aged woman and an elderly man found in the tomb, as well as the artifacts they were buried with.

"There were dog tags with hieroglyphs and nothing like that had been found, which was really cool," Jason said.

Jason said he had a preexisting interest in paleontology, so he thought exploring the archaeology field would be beneficial.

The majority of this year's group consisted of students traveling to the site for the first time, but they went because they are interested in becoming archaeologists.

"I want to pursue a career in anthropology or archaeology, so it was the perfect opportunity for me," said Sierra Thorson, 16, a junior.

While on site, the students worked on lower parts of the temple being excavated and helped to discover a shell pot containing dried paint. Researchers had an idea the Maya people would have used these shells for paint, but were able to confirm this with their findings, Saunders said.

"In my 11 or 12 years working in Belize, I've never seen anything like it," said Saunders.

During the day, students would come together for mini sessions to discuss their findings and also learn new material that would help them better understand artifacts, like learning to read common hieroglyphics.

"On site when we were digging, we would be able to find outer facing walls and you could really start to see the structure come together," said Samira Zoobi, a sophomore on her second trip to the excavation site.

And when they weren't brushing away soil or moving heavy capstones, the Davidson Day students visited with students at Succotz Primary School. There, they would exchange stories about daily life in the United States and in Belize.

Following their experience in Belize, the students presented their findings to about 180 professionals at Maya at the Playa, a conference in Florida geared to archaeologists. Saunders said it was the first time the tomb had been presented publicly.

The Davidson Day group plans to continue their work in Belize this summer, expanding their trip from two weeks to a full month. In April, they will also host the Maya at the Lago Conference, which is a four-day event that features lectures and workshops on topics centered around Maya.

"I'm looking forward to uncovering more things," Sierra said.

Continue to look for stories like these of inspirational youth, there's plenty to be found in the Young Achievers section!

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