Dr. Tomás Gallareta Negrón is an internationally known archaeologist, who has conducted research for Mexico’s INAH in the Northern Maya Lowlands, for over 35 years (he is a research associate of INAH in Yucatán since 1981).
He has worked at such important Maya sites as Cobá, Uxmal, Chichen Itzá and Isla Cerritos. A former Chairman of the Archaeology Section of INAH in Yucatán, and member of the National Council of Archaeology in Mexico, he is currently the Director of the Xocnaceh archaeological project and co-Director, with William Ringle and George Bey, of the Bolonchen Region Archaeological Project. As an expert in ancient Maya architecture and settlement patterns studies, particularly on the Puuc Region, the idea to create Kaxil Kiuic grew out his desire to undertake a new way of doing archaeology in Mexico that considers the biological and cultural resources as well as the archaeological remains.
Born in Yucatán, Mexico, Tomás was recognized since 2006 as the Millsaps Scholar of Maya Studies. He is the coordinator of the new Millsaps Puuc Archaeological Research Center facilities in Oxkutzcab, Yucatán, México, and the main representative of Kaxil Kiuic in México. [www.kiuic.org]
The Houston Society of the Archaeological Institute of America proudly presents Maya Ritual Secrets Revealed: Sacrifice, Divination, and Astronomy.
This is a Mexican Consulate lecture with support from Annette Bracey and Institute of Hispanic Culture of Houston. Co-sponsored by Houston Museum of Natural Science
This past week we spoke with Dr. Negrón about all things archaeology and what motivates him.
ARCHAEOLOGY HOUSTON: How did you become interested in archaeology? Did you know from a young age that you wanted to become an archaeologist, or was this interest a later development?
Dr. Negrón: I became interested in Archaeology at the age of 17, after finishing high school, when I went to College in Mexico City. After a semester studying Architecture, thanks to a friend I discovered that Archeology was an academic profession. After a week of introductory talks at the School of Anthropology, then located inside the National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Chapultepec, I immediately realized that what I always wanted to be was to become an archeologist, more precisely a Mayanist.
For some time, on weekends, when I was 7-12 years old my father would drive us to archaeological sites. That is how I went the first time to Chichen Itza and climbed the Pyramid named El Castillo, to Uxmal, Dzibilchaltun and many other archaeological sites located in Yucatan, Mexico. Also I was a Boy Scout; then I liked to read about exploration and adventure, camping and learning to survive in the jungle. The seed was in me waiting until I became conscious that I wanted to be a professional archaeologists.
HOUSTON ARCHAEOLOGY: What other projects have you undertaken that have been meaningful for you? What projects have influenced you the most?
Dr. Negrón: My first archaeological experience was in 1975 at the age of 21 as an undergraduate student at the great site of Cobá, in the state of Quintana Roo. I learned to make archaeological maps there, as well as to live in a small town, totally out of the grid. I had the opportunity to conduct a study of the settlement surrounding the urban core where the most important architectural complexes are located. This experience was of great importance when in 1980 I was invited to participate in the study of the Early site of Komchen, directed for Dr. E. Wyllys Andrews V, then Director of the Middle American Research Institute of Tulane University who invite me to course graduate studies in New Orleans, where I obtained my degree.
In more recent times, starting in the XXI century, together with two friends and colleagues also from Tulane (George Bey, Millsaps College and William Ringle, Davidson college), started a project in a site named Kiuic where, with the support of Millsaps College and INAH Mexico, among several other institutions, we are developing a Biocultural Reserve that includes research and teaching activities related with the preservation of 1800 hectares of a very old low, deciduous jungle in Yucatán Mexico. This is a life commitment. We were granted by AAI some few years ago.
HOUSTON ARCHAEOLOGY: What are some things you enjoy outside the field of archaeology?
Dr. Negrón: Music, I’m a fan of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Yes, as well as, New Orleans music. I named an outlying architectural group in Kiuic “Stairway to Heaven” after my favorite rock song. The week after the lecture at the Houston Museum of Natural Science I’m planning to assist, together with my daughter Estefanía, a graduate student in Genetics, to a concert of Roger Waters in Mexico City. I don’t play any instrument, but my son Guillermo is a fine guitar player. Now he is interested in percussions and teaching my 3 ½ years old granddaughter Sofía to play the drums; he plays Classic as well as Trash metal rock!
HOUSTON ARCHAEOLOGY: What about your research has led you to greater understanding of the past of the Maya?
Dr. Negrón: After living in the country for many months a year, I have learned to understand the traditional Maya activities and its relationship with their environment. This has being critical for discovering and mapping the remains of the ancient Maya and make educated guesses about the meaning and function of such archaeological features. Surveying the areas between the cores of the ancient Maya cities has helped me to avoid some biases on my interpretations. Learning about the commoners’ way of life and their daily activities increases your perception of the ancient Maya society. This makes sense when you realize that most Maya lived in small communities than in the big urban cities, and represented the majority of the population.
Continuity of many beliefs and prehispanic practices certainly related to their agricultural activities and religious beliefs, as I will mention on my presentation, give support to this point of view.
From this perspective I think that the knowledge generated from approaches that include learning the way that the ancient Maya settlements managed and were influenced by the environment can be useful for them and for us in our search for a sustainable way of life. Maya civilization lasted two thousand years before the abandonment of their main sites, and reached population densities similar or higher than those existing today in the same territory. Learning about the strengths and weaknesses of ancient civilizations like the Maya, can generate knowledge of high importance for facing difficult times in our future.