Slater Reveals the History of Mayan Caves

Whether travelling the world or explaining ancient Mayan beliefs to Andover Spanish classes, Donald Slater constantly seeks opportunities to pursue and share his interest in ancient cultures.

On Tuesday, Slater, Educator at the Robert S. Peabody Museum and National Geographic- Sponsored archaeologist, gave a presentation about the Central Yucatán Archaeological Cave Project (CYAC) trip he led to the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, in 2011.

“[Archaeology] has been a passion all my life. I really can’t remember a time when I was not interested in things that are old,” said Slater.

Slater’s presentation focused on his dissertation about Mayan caves and their use as ritual spaces. While leading the CYAC, Slater ventured into caves to which outsiders had never before had access.

“[My favorite part about archeological research] is probably the thrill that I get from visiting a new place, especially if it’s a site that I’ve had the privilege of being the first outsider to investigate. So, being the first person to explore some of the caves that I’ve documented has been a real treat.”

While in Mexico, Slater analyzed the various beliefs of Mesoamerican civilizations surrounding caves. These were at varying times believed to be the wellsprings of k’ul, the souls of the world, or even the locus of human genesis. The existence of this folklore indicated that the caves had been used for rituals since the rise of Mayan civilization.

By highlighting the various Mesoamerican interpretations of these caves, Slater said he hopes to help people see them as more than a collection of ruined settlements and bring the Mayan caves to the forefront of archaeological inquiry.

“I think a lot of times [Mayan caves] get overlooked,” said Slater. “There’s been enough scholarship conducted to demonstrate caves’ importance that they should be given consideration during any regional project in the Maya area.”

Slater will be earning his doctorate in ­­anthropology with a focus in archaeology.

Aside from focusing on the Mayan caves for his doctorate and teaching at the Peabody Museum, Slater is a National Geographic-sponsored archaeologist. He works with Andover’s HUACA project, accompanying Phillips Academy students to Peru to study pre-Colombian and pre-Peruvian cultures. “I like to be able to branch out in the classroom,” said Slater.