I am an anthropological archaeologist that specializes in the archaeology of religion and in ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. My interests are in how ideologies are created, maintained, and changed over time and how they affect social processes and human decision-making. I see ideologies as important social catalysts because beliefs can lead to choices that have far-reaching, long-term, and sometimes catastrophic effects. We witness events underpinned by strong ideologies and religious convictions being played out on the world stage today, and are all too familiar with their consequences, both destructive and beneficent. When studying the past archaeologists have the opportunity to view history from a long temporal perspective that bears witness to extended social and political processes and their ultimate outcomes. My own work on the ancient Maya illustrates the power of worldview in the light of history.
Three themes run through my work-- geographically situated field research in ancient Maya ritual caves sites, a broader interdisciplinary approach to understanding ritual and religion though comparative analyses and cognitive science, and how sacred space is conceptualized, created, used, maintained and changed over time. Most of my field research is conducted in ancient Maya ritual cave sites in Belize. I often employ quantitative and scientific methods and am interested in new methodology and theory involving data recovery and interpretation of the archaeological record. I have developed field methods that have allowed me to generate new interpretations in Mesoamerican cave archaeology. These in turn have enabled me to address broad questions in Maya studies such how ancient Maya communities and political hierarchies are established and have allowed me to investigate the social processes that led to the classic Maya 9th century collapse.
I partner with cognitive scientists and environmental psychologists in research on caves as special, sacred, or liminal spaces. We examine the qualities of the cave environment such as darkness and enclosed conditions that set them apart from other geographic entities. We are interested in human perceptions of cave morphologies in how people navigate and perceive of these spaces.