I am an archaeologist that specializes in Ancient Mesoamerica and the Archaeology of Religion. My specific interest is in how ideology influences human decision making and on external influences that create and maintain ideologies. My recently published work focuses on the relationship between drought and the downfall of ancient Maya kingship in the Classic Period.
Most of my field work is conducted in Belize, Central America, a small country bordered by the Caribbean ocean to the east, Guatemala to the west, and Mexico to the north. My project is located in the Chiquibul Rainforest Reserve, at the Las Cuevas Research Station. The station is overseen by the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and is dedicated to rainforest research and in the past has supported projects focused on jaguar behavior, bee preservation, forest diversity and rainforest management. Currently, the reserve is one of the last breeding grounds for the Scarlet Macaw, a magnificent bird that can be observed in its natural habitat from the porch of the station. The archaeology surrounding the station is largely unknown and I am the first archaeologist since 1957 to conduct research in the area. I am keenly interested not only in my own research agenda, but in aiding in the development of the cultural heritage of Belize and in assisting in the preservation of the archaeological sites within the preserve.
Additionally, I am interested in both the ancient and modern Maya peoples and in helping them to preserve their rich heritage. I want to share the stories of the Maya peoples with our students and to that end the University of California Merced student affairs office has designated the 2011/2012 school year as “The Year of the Maya.” There will be numerous Maya-themed events on campus both curricular and co-curricular including classwork, films, art projects, and festivities. Each year there is a book chosen to be the “common read” that is given to every incoming freshman. This year it is The Popol Vuh, which is the ancient Maya creation myth. The book will be used in freshman classes as well as in Anthropology, Literature, and Art to direct conversations, promote learning about the Maya peoples, and inspire works of art. To deepen the student experience, The Center for Research in the Humanities is sponsoring a multidisciplinary symposium on the Popol Vuh that will bring together international scholars who study the history and meaning of the ancient story from many perspectives.