In May 2012, six undergraduates will depart for Southern Belize as part of USC Dornsife’s Problems Without Passports. The course is dedicated toward field-based investigations of the complex causes behind the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization.
The students will study with Professor Keith Prufer, an archeologist from the University of New Mexico, and his team of scientists and graduate students who have been studying the polity at Uxbenka for almost 10 years. The clues found at the site reveal that climate change may have played a role in the mysterious collapse of the Maya society; suffering from overpopulation and plagued by conflict, the Maya would have lacked resilience to severe, extended drought. The Mayan elites, empowered by a religion which revered them as gods, suddenly found their authority eroded. Their complex society built around city centers rapidly lost legitimacy and their subjects abandoned and in some cases attacked them en masse.
The course will begin at USC’s campus with a week of intensive learning about Mayan cultural practices, climate dynamics of the Central American region, and prevalent theories explaining the collapse, drawing especially from Jared Diamond’s Collapse.
Following the classroom portion, the group will 12 days touring Mayan ruins including famous sites such as Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit, and and others such as Uxbenka that are still in the early stages of excavation. They will learn several techniques that scientists use to discern paleoclimate, and discuss how archeologists excavate sites. The students will spend 3 days in service learning, tutoring rural Mayan students in math, science, and English; preparing the students for upcoming exams.
During the final part of the trip, the students will travel to the coastal town of Placencia, exploring the rich coastal ecosystems of Belize, including the Belize Barrier Reef.
The course is being supervised by three USC Dornsife staff:
Dr. Juliana Wang (Ph.D. Environmental and Natural Resource Economics), Assistant Professor of Practice at the Environmental Studies Program and supervisor for the field portion of the course.
Dr. Lisa Collins (Ph.D. Earth Sciences), Lecturer in Environmental Studies, will be supervising the campus element of the course and has been the course instructor of record for the past two years.
Daniel Killam (B.S. Environmental Studies) will assist with the course as TA. Dan attended the course as a student last year and is excited to join the team as staff for this summer.