Students to study the Mayan culture during Yucatan trip

Kathryn McGonagle

The Mayan culture conjures images of ancient priests, elaborate gods and soaring temples. In the first Kent State-sponsored trip to the Yucatan, students have a chance to study that ancient civilization as well as the modern people and landscape of Mexico during spring break.

“We will be touring archaeological sites, modern Mayan communities, looking at ecotourism and unique features of that landscape,” said Mandy Munro-Stasiuk. Munro-Stasiuk is a geography professor working in conjunction with assistant professor Kam Manahan in the anthropology department.

Six undergraduate students and six graduate students will take part in this year’s trip.

“This is an opportunity to get them out of the classroom and give them a deeper understanding of a wholly foreign place,” Manahan said.

David Korte, geography graduate student, visited the region previously but wants to examine it from more than one perspective. He said viewing the people and landscape from an archaeological, anthropological and geographical standpoint is a unique opportunity. Korte said he also tries to get out of the classroom as much as possible to supplement his education.

“Books and labs are only a foundation on which to build,” he said.

Senior anthropology major Philip Parenti is also looking forward to getting out of the classroom to discover the inner workings of archaeology.

“I have spent semesters delving into articles and books about this one region of the world, and this trip will allow me to get my own firsthand account,” he said.

Manahan, who specializes in Mesoamerican archaeology, has been working in the area for the last six years and created strong bonds with the local residents.

“They continue to be impressed by the interest and dedication of the students I’ve brought down,” Manahan said about the community members.

Jennifer Burrell, a first year master’s student in geography, is also a part of the first group of students to attend the trip.

“In geology, you just look at the physical environment,” Burrell said. “In geography, you are not only looking at the physical environment, but also its impact on people, civilizations.”

Munro-Stasiuk and the students will install instrumentation that can provide information about ancient farming and modern landscape elements. Students will measure temperature, humidity and soil moisture and receive firsthand experience with ground-penetrating radar.

“We are looking at the landscape as well and unique aspects of the area and how that ties into archaeology,” she said.

Manahan said visiting famous and hidden archaeological sites and the archaeologists who study them will provide a glimpse into their world and how they uncover the mysteries of a complex culture.

“Some of the places we’re going to visit,” Munro-Stasiuk said, “we’ll get to talk to archaeologists and see sites that are off the beaten track.”

She said this is the first trip to the Yucatan, but definitely not the last.

“We plan on doing this every spring,” Manahan said. “This is pretty much the definition of experiential learning.”

Contact College of Arts and sciences reporter Kathryn McGonagle at [email protected].