My step-father is Indiana Jones.
Well, OK. His name is actually George Bey, but he’s like Indiana Jones.
He’s Dean of Sciences and Professor of Anthropology at Millsaps College in Jackson Mississippi and is currently on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia looking for gold and secret mystical skulls that will vanquish tyranny from the face of the earth and give the New Orleans Saints a Superbowl victory.
Well, OK. So maybe that’s impossible; the Saints will always stink. But he really is in Southeast Asia right now and he really is a Dean and a Professor and an archeologist, and he even owned a whip, and although he’s too young to have ever actually fought Nazis, if he did meet some Nazis, he would seriously kick their butts.
He’s a fantastic teacher and a wonderful father and he runs this totally freaking AWESOME biocultural reserve, Kaxil Kiuic: The Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve.
Located in the Bolonchen District of the Puuc region of Yucatan, Mexico, the Helen Moyers Biocultural Reserve is a privately owned entity managed by Kaxil Kiuic, A.C. It consists of 4,000 acres of dry tropical forest and contains within it the ancient Maya center of Kiuic as well as the remains of the historic community of San Sebastian. The abundant and diverse flora and fauna found within the reserve make it one of the best remaining zones of dry tropical forest in the Yucatan Peninsula. The ecological and cultural resources of the reserve are protected, and 50 hectares of the Maya center of Kiuic have been officially donated by Kaxil Kiuic to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Kiuic is one of the first archaeological sites that has been acquired officially by the INAH in Yucatan and will be preserved in its entirety within the protection of the biocultural reserve that surrounds it. This initiative represents a new model for development in Mexico to manage its ecological and cultural resources.
It’s a private organization, on privately owned land and supports a growing number of research projects, educational programs, and efforts to contribute to the development of long-term productivity and sustainability for nearby communities.
USA Today did an article on him and the site in Kaxil Liuic last June. (There’s a great photo gallery that accompanies the article too.)
I say he’s Indiana Jones, but the truth is, he’s cooler than Indiana Jones. He’s cooler because he’s real and because I know him and love him and grew up with him and because, well… because he’s a searching for meaning and truth. USA Today also interviewed him and they asked him about Indiana Jones. This was his answer,
Indiana Jones is a myth about archaeology and archaeologists. And like most great myths, it does at some level reflect a truth about what we do and our identity. Maya archaeology has a great history of adventure and most Maya archaeologists can tell you at least one hair raising tale that might find its way into an Indiana Jones film. And I don’t think we would be living and working in the jungle if we didn’t at some level enjoy the whole idea of exploration and adventure. Yesterday morning as I was leaving Stairway to Heaven, I put my hand on a tree only to find it occupied by a very long tree living snake looking me in the eye. Its skin perfectly mimicked the color and texture of tree it occupied. However, although the moment was Indiana Jones-esque, my reaction was not to yell or curse the beast and kill it, but pull out my dvd recorder and record the snake’s movement from tree to tree. I am a scientist and the moment was thrilling both because snakes are a little bit scary, but also because it was very cool to see this type of snake close up and have a chance to record what I was seeing.
I think this is one of the main things that distinguish the myth from the reality, the thrill is based on a combination of discovery and exploration from a scientific perspective. The moment of discovery, whether of an ancient tomb, or building or cache of pottery is one of the things that drive us to do what we do. It is a rush, no doubt about it. But the rush comes from unearthing a piece of the past that will aid us in understanding the questions of the past, not about cosmic powers or aliens, but about things like, how did the economic system operate, or what evidence is there for changing patterns of elite political organization. So, unlike Indy, we don’t grab things and run, we spend weeks and months and years, carefully unearthing things, most of which are very mundane. My team is out in the field excavating houses, and garbage dumps and plaza floors, systematically recording the data with cameras, and drawings. Carefully bagging and tagging each set of artifacts from a particular context. Others are collecting soil samples to try and extract information on plant and animal remains that might tell what an object was used for or what the Maya diet consisted of. These field archaeologists then send the work back to our field lab for analysis, so we can find out the dates for our buildings, or plazas and what they might have been used for. From there select material is sent to professional laboratories for chemical analysis or C14 dating. The end result are papers and presentations and books that interpret all the data in an effort to answer both the small and large questions that drive our discipline. It is from this data that our project is rewriting the history of Maya civilization in the Puuc region.
Photos from the Kaxil Kiuic website: