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Chuck Spencer

OLogy Series
ologist
card
220

Chuck Spencer

OLogy Series
ologist

Growing up in Panama, Chuck was interested in old ruins, Spanish forts, and archaeological sites. In college, he worked on a dig in Oaxaca, Mexico, and was inspired to study ancient American cultures. Archaeology has taken Chuck from the grasslands of Venezuela to the mountain valleys of Oaxaca. His research has focused on small village societies and the capitals of the first civilizations to form in Mesoamerica.

Most Exciting Discovery
Chuck has directed 10 years of research at a site in the Oaxaca Valley called San Martin Tilcajete. His team has uncovered the remains of houses, temples, and palaces. Recently, he finished excavating a palace that dates to about 300 BC, the oldest palace known from all of Mesoamerica. The palace was the home of a king and his family. It had private rooms and a courtyard, it had public spaces like a patio where the king could hold court. Tilcajete's royal family must have been very powerful in order to get large groups of people to build the palace. Chuck’s research has taught archaeologists a lot about the role of warfare in the emergence of the first states in Mesoamerica.

Which skills come in handy when Chuck excavates archaeological sites?

drawing

photography

both A and B

Are you right?

Correct!

Photography and drawing are two important skills that helps Chuck document the precise location of the artifacts he finds.

Chuck relies on many tools during an excavation. Paintbrushes and brooms are handy for:

brushing dirt off the excavation team

gently sweeping away dirt while searching for artifacts

painting buildings back to the way they once were

Are you right?

Correct!

Paintbrushes and brooms help expose fragile artifacts without harming them. Another common tool is a screen, which helps the team find tiny artifacts that might get lost in the dirt.

Chuck Spencer, archaeologist

Being an archaeologist takes imagination. You have to try to put yourself in the position of people who lived long ago.

Hometown: Balboa, Panama
Education: Ph.D., University of Michigan
Job: Chair of the Anthropology Division at the American Museum of Natural History
Known for: his studies of the ancient cultures of the Americas, especially the Zapotec of Oaxaca, Mexico
Most interesting artifact found: an ancient skull rack that held the heads of people who resisted an enemy invasion

Image credits: courtesy of AMNH; Chuck Spencer: courtesy of AMNH.