Meet AFAR Staff Member and Archaeologist, Stan Guenter

Stan Guenther at Cahal Pech with his, ahem, friend

Stan Guenther at Cahal Pech with his, ahem, friend

Originally from the province of Manitoba, in central Canada, Stan’s family lived in Belize for a couple of years. Raking stones for a new driveway for their home down there in the early 1980s, he uncovered pieces of pottery that sparked his interest in ancient civilizations. While focusing on the Maya, he also studied many other cultures and conducted archaeology in North and Central America, Europe and Southeast Asia. He traveled for his studies as well, getting degrees in Canada and Australia before getting his PhD in Texas at Southern Methodist University. With a busy summer schedule of fieldwork ahead, he currently calls Exeter, England home — where we had a chance to catch up with him and learn more about the life of an archaeologist on the move.

 Q:  Tell us how you started your involvement with AFAR?  I met Mat Saunders at a Hieroglyph conference in Belize in 2001.  My specialty is reading hieroglyphs and I often present at conferences. In 2009 I saw Mat again and learned that he needed someone to fill in for Christophe Helmke, presenting work on Hieroglyphs.  The rest, as they say, is history.

 Q:  Tell us when and where you’ve worked with AFAR?  I’ve work on all four sites but focus mainly on Cahal Pech.  I’ve been working in archaeology for over twenty years now and visited my friends working at Cahal Pech for almost ten years but I began regular fieldwork for AFAR about four years ago.

 Q: What other sites have you worked at? I’ve worked with three projects in Guatemala, at the sites of El Peru-Waka, La Corona, and a number in the Mirador Basin, as well as Lake Minnewanka, in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, and at Phnom Kulen in Cambodia.

 Q: What is your favorite memory from AFAR?  Jamaal Crawford and I were commissioned by Mat to organize a trip for the Board of AFAR to Guatemala.  Barbara Nelson, one of the Board members, came with sister and her mom, Mary Lib Trent, who was 89 years old.  She had traveled in Belize in the 1970s and wanted to make this journey.  Although many of the sites seemed inaccessible for Mary Lib, Jamal and I managed to get her in and out the sites – either on horseback, motorcycle, cattle truck -- you name it. I’ll never forget it.

 Q:  What has been the most rewarding thing you taken from your experience? Seeing our students in the next phase of their lives – moving on to college and making career choices. 

 Q:  What was the toughest thing about working on an AFAR project?  Scheduling!  There are lots of field project going on in the summer and making it all work in a challenge.

 Q:  Who is the hardest working student you’ve worked with on an AFAR Project? I’d have to say McCarthy Strahan. The last few years he’s been to every project each summer.  A lot of college students studying in this field won’t even do archaelogy for that amount of time.

 Q:  As an archaeologist, how do you think working on a project like AFAR as a teen would have impacted your path?  It would have been a kick-start for me.  In high school I read a book that changed my life called 
A Forest of Kings, by Linda Schele and David Freidel. I was 17 at the time.  It wasn’t until I was 22 that I began doing actual archeology.  AFAR takes people at an impressionable age and allows you to figure out if this is your future path.  It provides exposure to different cultures and they get to see how cultures have changed through time. AFAR makes better world citizens of these kids who get to travel and learn about other societies, both in terms of space and time.

 Q: If you had to pick one non-essential item to pack for a project, what would it be? Definitely a handkerchief.  I use them as protection from bugs… to swat flies… tie to pants if belt breaks.

Stan Guenther

Speed Round with Mat Saunders…

Do you have a hobby?  Music

 Favorite movie? Caribe, a movie about gun running filmed in Belize in 1987.

 Favorite musician? The War on Drugs

 Something Very Few People Know About You? That I used to live in Belize as a child.

 What did you want to be when you were a kid? Until high school, I wanted to be the curator of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, a local museum of antique agricultural equipment and pioneer memorabilia. My dad had worked at the museum and used to bring me there. A few years ago, that job actually opened up but I had to give my old dream job a pass as my life in archaeology just won’t let me live two lives at once.

 What would you do now if you weren’t an Archaeologist? I find ants and bees and social insects in general absolutely fascinating, being creatures with such tiny brains and yet impressive social systems and even practicing agriculture. So, if I wasn’t in archaeology, entomology would certainly be an interest of mine.

 Three people that you would like to work with onsite?  When I was a kid growing up in Belize, David Pendergast was the one archaeologist everyone knew about as he was the one who had excavated at Altun Ha and found the famous jade head that is now a symbol of Belize. He and and his wife, Elizabeth Graham, have been working at one of my favorite sites, and one of the most intriguing ancient Maya ruins, Lamanai, one that we regularly take our students to see during our Belize field sessions. I’ve met David and Liz a number of times and they are just the greatest people and so, of all the archaeologists I’ve never worked with, they would definitely be my top choice.

 What site would like to work at that you haven’t? As noted above, Lamanai would be one I’d love to investigate. It is one of the only Classic period Maya ruins to have still had occupation in the later Postclassic period and, as I have focused a lot of my own research on the Maya Collapse, and this is one of the only sites to have survived (at least in part) that collapse, Lamanai would be fascinating.