Exploring Mayan Caves in her Senior Year: Bethany Slon

Bethany Slon in Belize, via Slon

Bethany Slon in Belize, via Slon

For senior undergraduate Bethany Slon, anthropology, and more specifically archaeology, has always been a passion.  For as long as she can remember, she was fascinated by ancient populations and what we can learn from archaeology. But it wasn’t until she began her freshman year at Michigan State University that she realized she could take that interest farther, turn it into a major and a career.

Bethany has taken advantage of opportunities to expand her knowledge of archaeology and help narrow down her interests.  During her junior year, she was an intern for the Campus Archaeology Program under the direction of Dr. Lynne Goldstein.  Bethany spent the fall semester in the archives, looking through old scrapbooks from the 1900s made by the female students of MSU, researching the history of Morrill Hall, and learning about the archaeological significance the building had on the campus.  She then presented her findings at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum in the spring.  Additionally, she volunteered at archaeology events around campus, and helped to survey construction on campus to make sure nothing of significance was destroyed.

During Summer 2013, Bethany was a member of the Campus Archaeology Program summer archaeology crew. The team surveyed campus construction, excavated an old road outside of the MSU Museum, and conducted labwork to clean and catalog artifacts.

During June, she participated in a five week field school in Belize, during which she excavated within an ancient Maya burial cave and portions of a small Maya city. Under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Wrobel, she learned how to map caves, uncover delicate skeletons, identify pottery sherds, and properly set up an archaeological site. She spent her days hiking through the dense rainforest with  other Spartan peers and learning what it takes to become an archaeologist.

When Bethany got back to East Lansing, she began her funded undergraduate research project studying the teeth of the ancient Maya. In this study she is examining dental health in a Mayan population, in order to determine what kind of diet they ate, and how the population differs from others. In November she will present her findings at the Chacmool Conference for undergraduate and masters research in Calgary.

Bethany plans on attending graduate school next fall.  She wants to specialize in bioarchaeology, and hopes to continue her research on the ancient Maya.

[This article is featured in the Winter 2014 Department of Anthropology Newsletter]