DAVIDSON – Davidson Day School students help dig up pieces of history that wind up in museums globally. Soon, experts will make the annual trek to Davidson to discuss other breakthroughs.
Teens participate in excavations each summer, where they have joined archeologists in unearthing Mayan ceramics, obsidian and jade as well as temple walls. To prepare for this summer’s trip to Belize for more Mayan digs, students will meet with international experts during the fourth annual Maya at the Lago conference, held April 10-13 at Davidson Day School.
“It’s a meeting of the minds for scholars collaborating and networking,” said Davidson Day School archeology department leader Mat Saunders. “Professors give fresh information about new discoveries, but I tell them it has to be to where a freshman in college can understand it.”
People who buy conference tickets include students, professionals in the field and other enthusiasts. This year’s conference includes lectures on reading glyphs, discussion on Pre-Colombian attire, ways Mayans interacted and recent archeological advancements.
“The conferences are cool because you can hear leading experts come and lecture,” said senior Sebastian Soria, of Huntersville. He especially enjoys learning about glyphs.
Attending the conference is a requirement before attending a dig, as is other coursework. Many also take Saunder’s anthropology courses at the private school.
Saunders, who was an archeologist prior to teaching, has had a longtime interest in Mayan culture, though this year, they are expanding work to Spain.
“It’s dynamic because it’s still new,” Saunders said. “Greeks and Romans have been done since the Greeks and Romans. But the Maya are still new and fresh. There are great new discoveries.”
His educational initiatives began in Florida before he was asked to bring the program to Davidson Day in 2008. His classes study people, culture and language and give students a foundation to think globally, Saunders said. The excavations are an additional resource.
“After two days doing work, they are making amazing discoveries,” Saunders said. “It blows the minds of professors.”
Afterward, the group writes up reports for the government. Davidson Day student Jack Strachan, of Mooresville, even presented at the Mayan Conference in Finland in 2012.
“They both contribute to the scientific record and history,” Saunders said. “They are not just going, enjoying. They are really contributing.”
Soria began going to excavations four years ago.
“It’s the feeling you get from digging and seeing something buried for a hundred years,” he said. “You are the first person to look at the things and connect them to people gone.”
A typical day includes working outside with others rain or shine. They follow a project plan and spend days mapping out artifacts or using trowels, picks, buckets and screen sifters.
“It’s not just a pile of dirt,” Soria said. “There is pottery, ceramic, flooring. There has to be something there even if it takes two weeks or four weeks to find it.”
Professionals they work with connect with them and make them feel involved.
“It’s interesting the different things you see from what you expect to see,” Strachan said. “Two years ago, we were excavating behind a ball court and found the side of a temple. We’d thought it was symmetrical, but it was asymmetrical with curved sides.”
While digging they are learning about the history of Central America and the Mayan culture, he added.
“It’s the behind-the-scenes. It’s total different,” he said. “You are seeing the stuff you read about.”