The AIA-MOS Archeology Fair, held at the Boston Museum of Science, had archeologists–with artifacts, presentations and activities–spread throughout sections of the museum.
I was honored to meet Caitlin Davis, an eloquent member of the Archaeological Institute of America, a writer and a woman of adventure (as one can easily see from her gorgeous blog), and one who describes herself as an ‘archaeologist-in-training.’
She was at the Mayan archeology table focused on activities for children. These activities centered around an ancient ballgame, including pictures of Mayan stelae to color. When asked, Caitlin explained that the letters were written in Ch’olan Maya. And it was then that she described her interest in Mayan epigraphy.
1. What interested you in Mayan archeology and more specifically Mayan epigraphy?
I have been interested in archaeology since childhood ever since reading a Nancy Drew book in which our fearless heroine travelled to Peru and visited Machu Picchu. Coming to college at BU I planned on studying the Inca and had even began learning Quechua, the indigenous language of the area I wanted to study, but no courses in South American archaeology were being offered. I decided to do what I considered the next best thing and took a class titled ‘Ancient Maya Civilizations’ which completely blew me away. I was completely amazed by the writing system of the Maya and the interaction between the textual history and the archaeological record. It was in the middle of that semester that I decided that Mesoamerican archaeology, specifically the Maya, was what I really wanted to study.
As for epigraphy, I have always been interested in languages. I attended a specialized language program in high school in which I took classes in two languages and took classes separate from the rest of the study body with focused on global languages and cultures in other subjects, like English and History. I think epigraphy exemplifies what archaeology is truly about – knowing the people behind the artifact. To be able to read about the Maya in their own words is incredible, and every time I translate something, even just a syllable, I am blown away at the fact that the thoughts of someone who lived thousands of years ago are now revived in front of me.
2. Were you in charge of creating the activities on the table at the Museum of Science? (If so, what prompted you to discuss the ball game?)
I was not in charge of creating the activities at the table. The AIA has had the ball game activity for at least the past 3 years, and it always does well with drawing in younger children who may not be interested in archaeology itself.
3. Do you have any fun stories of reactions from kids to the activities at your table? Or questions they asked?
A lot of kids were surprised that the ball game required players to bounce the ball on their hips and that a modern version of the ball game, ulama, was played today. Many parents were also shocked when I told them how long ago the ball game was first played (3500 years ago). And of course, mentioning the human sacrifice at the end of elite games always gets a reaction.
A few kids mentioned the scene in El Dorado, a children’s movie in which Spaniards discover a city of gold in Mesoamerica, when the two protagonists play the ball game using an armadillo as a ball. It’s very cute!
4. Can you tell me more about what you do at the AIA?
I worked at the AIA when I was an undergrad as a work-study and now I work there part time, mostly working on paperwork for the AIA’s national lectures circuit and academic fellowships. For the past few months, in preparation for International Archaeology Day, I have been working on emailing possible collaborating organizations, making blog posts about archaeology events, and generally just publicizing IAD.
5. What do you like most about being an archeologist?
I would still consider myself to be an archaeologist-in-training, as I do not currently have a Ph.D. (although I am in the process of applying to graduate programs). What I love most about archaeology is the aspect of discovery. Excavating a site and knowing that I am the first person to see something in thousands of years is an incredible feeling. It’s also amazing when research comes together and an artifact assemblage begins to tell a story. There are a lot of things to love about archaeology, and anyone who is even the slightest bit interested should look to get involved!
Warmest thanks to Caitlin Davis for her time, her insight and her enthusiastic responses!