Digging For Dollars

Put “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on pause and head to LSU to uncover your inner Indiana Jones at the 10th annual South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica. CREDIT: Getty Images


Who doesn’t want to be Indiana Jones, roaming the world with a cool leather jacket, a whip and a divinely inspired mission to excavate priceless antiquities hidden in situ around the globe.
Whether you’re in it for the adventure, the artifacts, the glory or the dollars, archeology encompasses the stuff dreams are made of.

And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of anthropologists and archeologists is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations…. Archeologists will be needed to monitor construction projects, ensuring that builders comply with federal regulations pertaining to the preservation and handling of archeological and historical artifacts.”

I was probably the youngest person on the Archaeological Institute of America’s mailing list. In grade school, I received semi-annual Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunity Bulletins about archeological digs happening around the nation. I begged, begged, begged my parents to let me take off for the summer to join an active dig, but I never allowed.

The closest I came to becoming an archeologist was when I attended Tulane University and focused my studies around Art History and Classics courses. I spent hours in dark classrooms looking at and learning about ancient treasures via projected slides during survey lectures with rapt attention.

Tulane’s Associate Professor Emerita Jane Carter was an imposing yet approachable archetypal hero. An Harvard University Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology, Professor Carter often dressed in long khaki skirts and looked like she was about to hop a jeep and brave the dunes of a foreign desert. She taught Egyptian art and archeology and I became entranced by her stories about the Ptolemaic dynasty, the sun god Ra and The Egyptian Book of the Dead. I could name every Egyptian pharaoh in chronological order.

One of my proudest academic achievements was scoring a 108 on one of Professor Carter’s tests. When she scaled the auditorium steps to hand-deliver the exam to me in class and declared “good job,” I felt as proud as if I discovered King Tut’s tomb.

For those like me, who aspire to climb a ruin and descend into a cavern in search of fame and fortune, there’s an adventure within reach to celebrate Archaeology Month.

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology is partnering with the Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Geography and Anthropology and the Louisiana Archaeological Society to present the free and open to the public 10th annual South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica (SCCM) Friday, Oct. 18, through Sunday, Oct. 20, at the Howe-Russell-Kniffen Geoscience Complex at LSU.

”The public is fascinated by archaeology,” said SCCM co-organizer Dr. Rachel Watson with the Louisiana Division of Archaeology. “We are excited to provide an opportunity for scholars to present their work in an approachable manner and for the public to interact directly with the researchers.”

During the three-day regional conference, archaeologists, art historians, ethnographers, graduate and undergraduate students, university faculty and the general public, will get to share information and interpretations on current research focused on the cultures of the Mesoamerican region.

“This is the first time the South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica has been held at LSU, and we are excited to host speakers from the region and invite the public,” said Dr. Heather McKillop, a LSU professor with the Department of Geography and Anthropology. “Partnering with the Louisiana Archaeological Society whose members are enthusiastic about the archaeological past – both in Louisiana and elsewhere – provides an opportunity to strengthen ties with the community through our joint interest in ancient and historic cultures.”

Friday’s keynote speaker, University of Alabama professor Dr. Lisa LeCount, will talk about “The Role of Collective Action in Land Tenure Systems at the Ancient Maya Site of Actuncan, Belize,” and Saturday’s keynote address will feature Ithaca College assistant professor Dr. Thomas Garrison who will talk about “Re-Imagining the Ancient Maya Landscape: Lidar’s Lessons and Limits in 21st Century Settlement Archaeology.”

Short 15 minute talks on all three days will include “Some Like it Chaud, Some Like it Caliente: Connecting Louisiana and Mesoamerica Through Tabasco!,” by South Louisiana Community College’s Corey David Hotard; “Archaeological Looting in Belize: Exploring Solutions, Challenges, and Amendments,” by LSU’s Irene Martí Gil; “Analyzing Vertebral Osteoarthritis in Maya Sacrificial Victims,” by California State University, Los Angeles’ Amy Chan; “What the Magnetic Susceptibility and Stratigraphy of the Witz Naab and Killer Bee Mounds Reveal About Ancient Maya Salt Production,” by Louisiana State Division of Archaeology’s Rachel Watson and LSU’s Heather McKillop; “A Late Preclassic Ballcourt at the Maya Site of Las Ruinas de Arenal, Belize,” by University of Texas at San Antonio’s David Burns; “The Underestimated Power of Ancient Maya Women” by LSU’s Brandy Nicole Kerr; among many more.

And on Sunday afternoon, conference attendees will get the chance to tour and explore the LSU Indian Mounds, two large Native American earthen mounds that were excavated in 2012 and are remnants from an ancient civilization that inhabited the area about 6,100 years ago. That makes them older than the Egyptian pyramids.

There will also be a silent auction as well as a souvenir sale to raise funds for student travel awards for the 2020 SCCM.



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