Dr. Lisa Dunbar Solas
Archaeologists are explorers of the past. They play an important role in unlocking mysteries of human history and they achieve this through studying the physical remains left behind by people of the past.
When asked about why I chose to study archaeology, my response often draws on a number of key childhood experiences. As a child, I enjoyed watching the Indiana Jones films, observing nature and digging for trinkets in my backyard. But perhaps most importantly, from the time I was able to read, I possessed a deep passion for ancient storytelling and in particular, Native Amerindian mythology. By the time I was eight, I set the life goal to travel the world and write about my adventures.
Throughout my teenage years, my curiosity in Amerindian cultures grew steadily. Whenever I could, I read books and watched documentaries on the Maya and the Aztecs and in grades 11 and 12, I studied and excelled in Ancient History and Society and Culture. Unfortunately, the prehistory of the Americas was not a main topic of the Ancient History curriculum, and as a result, I studied the Inkas of Peru for only two weeks. Yet, this brief introduction was enough to ignite a spark of curiosity and left me pondering a number of questions: how did the Inka build majestic cities like Machu Picchu? Why did they go to such great lengths to mummify their kings and queens? How did they record their history since they did not develop a written language?
My first big opportunity to study the ancient Americas manifested in my early 20s when I enrolled in a Bachelors degree, majoring in Archaeology and Spanish, at the Australian National University, in Canberra. Over the next three years, I learned the essential skills and knowledge an archaeologist needs in order to investigate ancient places. These include: using maps and vertical imagery to locate sites; how to record and excavate them; how to analyse artefacts, such as pottery and textiles; and, write archaeological reports and papers. Many of these skills are transferable to other fields of enquiry.
In 2007, my dream of traveling to Peru was finally realised. For six weeks I lived in Cusco city, the ancient capital of the Inkan Empire, to conduct field research for my honours project. Each day, I walked the streets of the historic centre recording the architectural remains of Inka houses, terraces as well as important shrines, such as Qorikancha, the Sun temple. I returned to Peru just two years later to undertake fieldwork for my PhD thesis, which examines Inka sacrifice and the sacred landscape.
Now, after conducting research in the Central Andes for over 10 years, I am passionate about sharing my knowledge and educating the next generation of ancient explorers. Learning about other cultures adds great value to our lives. This kind of study fosters understanding, while it also helps us to see our world and ourselves from different perspectives and highlights the many commonalities we share as human beings. But in the end, I am most eager to spread passion, an energy that is infectious and motivates us to act and turn dreams into realities.
This blog was originally published in ‘The Announcer’, Winter 2017.