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Anthropology Professor, Students Explore Belize's Unknown Caves

Nearly every summer since 1998, Dr. Jon Spenard, an anthropological archaeologist and Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department here at CSUSM, heads to Belize to investigate the ancient Maya and their ritual caves and ceremonial landmarks.

Dr. Spenard and research team in Belizean cave.
Dr. Jon Spenard and team exploring Rio Frio Cave A in Belize.
In 2018, he began directing research in the archaeologically unknown Rio Frio region in central western Belize. On this project, known as the Rio Frio Regional Archaeological Project, Dr. Spenard and his team use a mix of cutting-edge digital technologies (such as photogrammetry and virtual tours) as well as traditional archaeological methods (survey, test excavations, and surface collections) to understand the region and help preserve its cultural heritage for the future of Belize and the world.

This summer, two recent alum and a current student accompanied him to investigate the Rio Frio region. For three weeks in June, under the guidance and coaching of Dr. Spenard, these three burgeoning archaeologists – Andres Berdeja, Jessica Garcia, and Ariana Yanez – got to experience hands-on excavation and learn-by-doing fieldwork in some of Belize’s unknown caves. Javier Mai, a local Maya guide, also taught them many lessons about his culture today and how that knowledge can help them understand more about what they were finding in their field studies. 

They journalized their Belize exploration and shared some of their takeaways so that other students can see the benefits of pursuing fieldwork opportunities and collaborative research projects with their professors – and how these unique opportunities boost future employability by providing invaluable experience to a professional resume or CV.

Anthropology Belize Team Group PictureFrom left: Ariana Yanez, Mike Mirro, Andres Berdeja, Dr. Jon Spenard, and Jessica Garcia spent three weeks in June investigating the ancient Maya and their ritual caves and ceremonial landmarks. 


Photo of Andres Berdeja

Andres Berdeja is a 2019 CSUSM alumni with a BA in Indigenous Anthropology. At Palomar College, Andres earned a double AA in Archaeology and Anthropology; and an AS in GIS (Geographic Information System). He also holds proficiency certificates as an archaeological excavator and an archaeological surveyor/laboratory assistant. He has worked projects in Togo, West Africa as well as in San Diego’s Rancho De Los Peñasquitos area. Currently, Andres works for a cultural resource management company in San Diego.

Andres' Field Blog 1 | June 19, 2019

Andres' Field Blog 2 | June 24, 2019

Andres' Field Blog 3 | July 1, 2019

Photo of Jessica Garcia

Jessica Garcia is a fourth-year student studying Indigenous Anthropology at CSUSM. She holds an AA in Anthropology and two proficiency certificates as an archaeological excavator and archaeological surveyor/laboratory assistant from Palomar College. She currently works in cultural resource management in San Diego.

Jessica's Field Blog 1 | June 19, 2019

Jessica's Field Blog 2 | June 24, 2019

Jessica's Field Blog 3 | July 1, 2019

Photo of Arian Yanez

Ariana Yanez is a 2018 CSUSM alumna with a BA in Indigenous Anthropology and a minor in Spanish. Through MiraCosta College, she earned an AA in Arts with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences. Her primary research interest is in archaeological lithics (stone tools). She’s participated in archaeological excavation at the Los Rancho Peñasquitos Ranch House as well as the Corral Redondo Project in Iquipi, Peru. She currently works for Helix Environmental Planning, Inc. and for California State Parks, San Diego Coast District. This fall, she begins a graduate program in Applied Archaeology at Cal State San Bernardino.

Ariana's Field Blog 1 | June 19, 2019

Ariana's Field Blog 2 | June 24, 2019

Ariana's Field Blog 3 | July 1, 2019