Brandeis Professor unearths Mayan civilizations
Brandeis Prof. Charles Golden (ANTH) has been part of a team working to excavate an ancient Mayan ruin.
Professor Charles Golden (ANTH) can be found around campus teaching introductory anthropology courses and attending meetings with students and colleagues. Prof. Golden’s responsibilities also include searching to fill in the gaps of human history, and uncovering missing pieces to a historical puzzle.
A recent New York Times article documents how Prof. Golden uncovers a monumental discovery that confirms the location of the Mayan city Sak Tz’i’. Although there had been guesswork in the anthropological field before, it was the work of Dr. Golden’s team that prevailed and allowed the understanding of Mayan society and culture to move forward. The article recounts how Golden and his colleague Dr. Andrew Scherer, a bioarchaeologist at Brown University, had been awaiting an opportunity to excavate Mayan ruins—those discovered just before the pandemic.
On September 28th, the Justice engaged in an email exchange with Golden about the excavation and what it means for Brandeis students. He acknowledged that the excavations “are destructive,” but also how he “balance[s] that with efforts to conserve the architecture and other cultural patrimony.” The New York Times finds the most notable discovery to be a two-by-four wall panel with Mayan glyph inscriptions detailing battles, rituals, natural disasters, and descriptions of fantastical creatures in “poetic couplets.” Artifacts with such great detail create “a major advance in our understanding of Classic period Maya politics and culture.”
Jancinto Gomez Sanchez, a cattle farmer and resident of the excavation site, took much consideration before notifying anthropologists about the ruins, due to fears of a heritage being abused, according to the New York Times. But Golden emphasized that these fears are allayed by the active efforts of the researchers to conserve the terrain and history that the individuals who inhabit this region value so deeply.
In addition to the careful excavation practices, Golden shares that he works alongside both local and national authorities as well as Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historian. Golden also discussed who he brings along with him to the sites: both Brandeis students Van Kollias(Ph.D.) and undergraduate Alex Bazarsky ’23 are a part of a younger generation of anthropologists who will utilize these practices that respect and value the history and input of the communities they impact.
Professor Golden reflected on ancient Mayan societies and what we can learn from them. He shares that a culture of “conflict, warfare, and climate instability” was as prevalent then as it is in modern times. The artifacts discovered will remind the public of the Mayan people within our own generation who “speak one of the dozens of Mayan languages in Mexico and Central America” and by doing so continue to reinforce the permanence of Mayan culture within our society. Discussion with Golden quickly reveals how Mayan people’s way of life influences the decisions we make, this only reinforces how influential and significant his discoveries are.
Golden believes that if we seek insight into our lives today we must “look to the past for ways that people confronted challenges, thrived, persisted, and transformed.” He reflected that “every small fragment of broken pottery may be the missing piece” to a history that completes us all. Most significantly, his work is guided by the belief that artifacts teach lessons that become increasingly important “as we look to a world shaped by climate change, internal political discord, and international conflict.” It became clear that Profesor Golden finds it easy “to empathize with and appreciate” the human past and he believes in learning a great deal from the histories and artifacts that continue to be discovered.
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