Vail Symposium program on the Maya explores how researchers can work with and for marginalized groups |

Vail Symposium program on the Maya explores how researchers can work with and for marginalized groups

The Maya are known for their architecture, heiroglyphics, calendar and more.
Special to the Daily

For more than a hundred years, the Maya have captured the popular imagination and cultivated scholarly curiosity. However, rarely do we get to hear about Maya pasts from Maya people. On Thursday, Sept. 24, Dr. Sarah Kurnick will discuss how one community is remedying this fact.

“With the emergence of LiDar technology, a remote sensing method used to examine the surface of the Earth, new scholarship regarding the Maya is emerging,” said Vail Symposium program manager Claire Noble. “As a result, there has been a resurgence in popular interest in the Maya. It is an exciting time to ponder an ancient people whose history is still being written.”

Known for their imposing architecture, hieroglyphic writing and sophisticated calendar, the Maya were among only a handful of groups independently to develop agriculture, establish large sedentary centers and develop socially complex hierarchical societies.

Too often, however, contemporary Maya peoples have little or no say in how Maya history is studied, how it is described in magazines and textbooks, or how it is presented to tourists, including the millions who visit Cancun and the Maya Riviera each year. Nor do Maya peoples usually benefit financially from the lucrative tourism industry that is focused, in significant part, on Maya culture.

This presentation will consider how archaeologists can work with and for marginalized groups who want to tell their own stories and benefit from their own histories. Specifically, this presentation will take as its case study Punta Laguna: a contemporary community, Maya-led ecotourist attraction, spider monkey reserve and archaeological site located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

This Zoom Webinar is free, but attendees are encouraged to register in advance. Vail Symposium has produced more than 20 virtual programs since the public health order restricted events; the organization plans to continue offering virtual programs until it is safe to gather together again.

About the speaker

Dr. Sarah Kurnick is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is an anthropological archaeologist specializing in the ancient Maya and her research focuses on the creation, perpetuation and negation of institutionalized social inequality. Her primary interests include the role of the past in shaping the present and how archaeology can foster positive social change.

She received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and, since 2014, has co-directed a community archaeology project at the site of Punta Laguna in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. She has received grants from organizations including the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society; her work has been published in several scholarly journals including American Anthropologist and the Journal of Social Archaeology.

If you go …

What: Maya Peoples and Maya Pasts

When: Thursday, Sept. 24, 6-7 p.m.

Where: Zoom webinar

More information: Attending is free. Please register at for more information.

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