Archaeologist Presents on El Mirador, Takes Students “a Step Back in Time.”

Dr. Richard Hansen presents on the Mirador Basin in northern Guatemala.
Dr. Richard Hansen presents on the Mirador Basin in northern Guatemala to Southwestern College students and employees on Feb. 20. Photo by Rachel Perez.

Dr. Richard Hansen usually spends his days excavating and decoding ancient Mayan sites such as the monuments of Tikal, ritual pyramids and mysterious glyphs in Guatemala.

On Feb. 20, however, he entered a new Mayan-infuenced site by stepping onto the Southwestern College Chula Vista campus. More than 100 students and employees packed lecture hall 83-105 to hear the world-renowned archaeologist’s presentation on his research in the Mayan Mirador Basin in northern Guatemala. 

Described as “a step back in time,” Hansen emphasized that there is “something truly amazing” about being in the presence of the Central American archaeological sites. The early-Maya specialist carved a vivid picture of his travels through photos of ancient Mayan monuments, intricate glyphs and rural rainforest scenery that made many students feel like they were on the set of an “Indiana Jones” movie.

“Civilization is fragile,” Hansen said. “We need to learn and understand why some civilizations ended and what we can do to protect what remains of them.”

For more than 30 years, Hansen has directed the Mirador Basin Project in Petén, northern Guatemala. The project is one of the largest Mayan archaeological research programs that focuses on excavating the area and conserving the history, archaeology and wildlife of the rainforest basin lowlands.

Just a few of the sites that Hansen has excavated and researched include the ancient cities of El Mirador, Nakbé and Tintal. These civilizations contributed many achievements to the ancient Mesoamerican world, including the Teotihuacán Pyramid of the Sun.  

Hansen, who is also an adjunct anthropology professor at the University of Utah, hopes that students will take away the importance of conservation from his presentation.

“I saw that there is a huge connection between the past and today’s culture,” said Dorothy, a Southwestern College psychology major. “It helped me realize that we have a big influence on the cultures around us.”

This was Hansen’s first time speaking at Southwestern College, thanks to Southwestern College Art History Professor Mark Van Stone, who suggested Hansen make a stop in South Bay during his current lecture speaking tour. 

Hansen explained that the basin region and the local communities are facing a number of threats, including deforestation, drug trafficking and large-scale burning. 

After his presentation, Hansen offered two points of personal advice for any students hoping to enter the archaeological research field.

“Having strong foreign language skills is number one,” Hansen said. “Number two is to attend a good research school. Once you get out into the field, you’ll realize pretty quickly whether or not this is a path you want to pursue.”