Student Profile

Pete Akers

Pete is in his first year of the Ph.D. program after completing a M.S. degree last summer. He is originally from Indiana, where he completed his undergraduate degree in biology at Purdue University. Pete traveled to Belize to perform the field work for his thesis examining the connections between the local climate changes and the demographic history of the Maya. The ancient Maya flourished in Middle America for over 1000 years, but their history is interspersed with multiple instances of population and monument decline. The most well-known decline occurred around 900 A.D., when the Classic Maya civilization, culture, and cities largely disappeared. This decline varied in timing and intensity across the Maya region, so finding local climate records is important to better understand human-environment links. Pete’s work with George Brook, Merle C. Prunty Jr. Professor of Geography, uses cave stalagmites as a climate record proxy. The abundance of caves in the Maya region of Belize offered a great field work opportunity.

Pete worked for a week in the interior of Belize with a team of six fellow cave and paleoclimate researchers. During this week, they explored five caves across the central Belize countryside. Pete looked for stalagmites that were the appropriate size and shape for later laboratory work, collected our samples, and prepared them for transport back to UGA. Along with rock and stalagmite samples, he took multiple water samples and temperature/humidity readings. One of the caves had a 10 meter vertical drop for its entrance, requiring some of the team members to rappel into the cave. At the main room of this cave, they found three large Maya pots (olla), which had likely been sitting in the cave for over 1,000 years. Although his focus was on stalagmites, they also collected cave sediment samples by hammering PVC pipes into the floor of the cave and a few sections of tufa found in the surface streams.

The latter half of the field trip involved visiting several Maya archaeological sites and cities, where they could better understand how the Classic Maya designed and located their cities with regards to their natural environment. Pete and colleagues were able to see in person the various drainage pathways and techniques the Maya used to drain and store rainwater.