Mat Saunders

Mat Saunders, AFAR and Davidson Day School

Mat Saunders, AFAR and Davidson Day School

At an early age, Mat was exposed to the world of discovery and archaeology by his Uncle Russ. His uncle’s home was filled with archaeology and anthropology books as well as National Geographic and Archaeology Magazines. His uncle nurtured Mat’s interest – creating backyard dig sites and taking Mat to lecturers. When it came time to choose his own path, Mat opted to attend the University of Kentucky where he focused his studies on New World Archaeology. At the urging of his best friend in the archaeology department, Doug Weinberg, Mat applied for and was awarded a fieldwork position with the Belize Valley Archaeological Research Project (BVAR). Over the next four years, Mat fell in love with Central America and archaeology. During this time period, he worked alongside Dr. Jaime Awe, a friend and mentor, who profoundly influenced Mat in both his approach and passion for archaeology.

During a return visit to family in Florida, Mat met his wife, Priscilla. She persuaded him to join her in St. Augustine. With limited archaeology opportunities in Flagler Country, Mat accepted a position with the public school system teaching everything from algebra to biology. In order to mitigate any potential issues maintaining his teaching certification, he attended Daytona State University where he earned a degree in Education.

A year later, Mat convinced the principal of the local high school to allow him to offer a course in Anthropology. The course was an instant success. Invariably, Mat’s experiences in Belize worked their way into his classroom. Not long thereafter, AFAR was born when Mat’s mentor, Dr. Jaime Awe, allowed him to bring four students to Belize to participate in the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance. The students performed admirably and the stage was set for future students to work on excavations. In order to begin developing financial backing for students, AFAR incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2007.

It was during one of these projects that Mat was asked to escort several students and administrators from Davidson Day School in Davidson, NC. As fate would have it, Mat bonded with the administrators and students to such an extent that he was offered a job. Mat packed up his family and moved to Davidson, NC to offer courses in Anthropology and Archaeology. Mat’s work at Davidson Day expands beyond the classroom. AFAR not only operates field schools every summer, but hosts two major conferences, provides a summer program for elementary students, and is building new programs to provide pre-collegiate students an opportunity to discover and learn about archaeology.