Professor Foias wins second NSF grant for research on Mayans

Department Chair and Associate Professor of Anthropology Antonia Foias recently won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $286,188 to support her current research in Guatemala. The grant will allow Foias to begin the second stage of her project studying political interactions between Mayan cities.

“This is the second major NSF grant I received in support of my archaeological project in Guatemala,” Foias said. “It makes me very proud that NSF found my research deserving of such a large grant.”

Foias began directing research at the Mayan city of Motul de San José in 1998. “The first phase of the project examined the chronology and structure of this site, bringing into focus how Mayan royal elites and non-royal elites utilized economic power to sustain their political positions,” Foias said. The discoveries led Foias to publish the book Motul de San Jose: Politics, History, and Economy in a Maya Polity.

With this second NSF grant, Foias is interested in shifting the focus of her research to examining political relationships between Motul and its neighboring cities. “We will excavate two small sites in the periphery of Motul to see how people, both commoners and elite, lived there and how they interacted with the political power emanating from Motul,” Foias said. “We want to see how Motul controlled and integrated these communities in the larger polity.”

Foias graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1987 and earned her Ph.D in Anthropology at Vanderbilt in 1996. Foias then came to the College, where she immediately began involving students in her research. “Williams students accompanied me on these archaeological projects from 1997 until 2005, some summers as many as four or five students, other summers only one or two,” Foias said.

Foias will now have the opportunity to bring four Williams students majoring in anthropology to Guatemala this summer to assist in the excavations. Students have often played an important role in Foias’s research in Guatemala. “In 1997, Becky Goldfine ’99 excavated a large hieroglyphic monument that was part of a monumental hieroglyphic stairway at the small site of La Amelia.” Foias reports that several students who have accompanied her on excavations are currently completing their doctorates in anthropology.

Foias hopes that her award will inspire other students to take a second look at her field of work. “Archaeology is one of the most extraordinary social sciences because it is completely multi-disciplinary: You need skills learned in chemistry, geology, anthropology, languages, history and so on,” Foias said. “It is also experiential as students dig along with local workers to uncover floors, walls, doors, broken pottery, chert tools, bones, burials, tombs and monuments.”