One in Two Thousand: Gabriel Silva Collins ’19

Nicholas Goldrosen/Executive Editor

We know Gabriel from different places (Will through WUF, Nick from high school and the fact he and Gabriel share a birthday), but we were both excited to sit down with him to hear more about his interests in archaeology and animals.

Can you tell us about your history with animals, in high school in particular?

Okay, so my [first year] in college was the first time in my life I lived without a pet. My entire life, I’ve had a lot of pets, but it peaked in high school. At one point, it was 14 turtles, three snakes, between 50 and 100 fish, a lizard, a dog and originally six cats, but we gave two away. And then one of them died, so we had three cats. Luckily, we had a house in New York City, so we were able to fit them all, but it was a lot of work – about three to four hours a week to take care of them. Our big selling point that I tell my friends is that we had a special deal with PetCo, so that in the summer, when the reptiles are more active and they need more food, we would buy 100 goldfish a week, and the PetCo people were like, “You’re doing us so much, you can get a discount for it.”

How did you manage to accumulate so many pets?

So, we actually bought very few of them – most of them were caught. We would get turtles or snakes that were injured, animals and birds that were injured. We raised a pigeon that was injured in my backyard. Fish were caught for fun, and it kind of snowballed from there. I mean, when I was a baby, my parents had snakes and fish for me, so I just can’t imagine living without them. There were a few instances when they would get out, and we’d have to catch them. Originally, when there were fewer pets, we had names for all of them, but later on, the turtles, snakes and fish did not have names. But that doesn’t mean I love them any less. They were my best friends as an only child. But now, we only name the dogs, cats and mammals, basically.

I remember seeing you presenting archaeology work back in high school, which was really impressive. How did you get into archaeology?

In all honesty, my dad is a sociologist, and archaeology and sociology are pretty similar. I got interested in archaeology through him. And then I took a trip to Guatemala and visited Tikal, which is a Mayan ruin. There, I realized that this was something that I was interested in and wanted to check out. So, a few years later, I signed up to do a field research program in Peru, south of Lima. I actually got to excavate a city and work there, and it was really unbelievably amazing, and that’s where I fell in love with archaeology. I got to go back the next summer, and I was able to direct one of the smaller digs, so I realized that this is something I’d want to do as a career. I fell in love specifically with the pre-Columbian New World archaeology. Here at Williams, I’ve done a lot of work with Aztec and mainly Meso-American archaeology. But right now, I’m trying to switch back to the Andes for my senior thesis, hopefully by going back to Peru for seven weeks and studying the Inca.

Do you have any sense of what direction you’ll take on your thesis?

I have to figure that out. But in my proposal for getting money from Williams, the project that I’ve become really interested in is in Cusco. Cusco was the old Inca capital, and there’s an imperial palace about 17 kilometers away from it. There’s a road that stretches between the two, and along with this, there’s a lot of New World archaeology in Peru – unexcavated and unknown sites. I want to study this road because we know that roads were really sacred and important, both meaningfully and for utilitarian purposes for the Inca. My plan is to walk this road and look for not-yet discovered sites along it. There’s a chance that I will find something because I just went on Google Satellite, and you can see some abandoned structures that look that those from the Inca civilization, which is insane. I’m going to be looking at how this road connected the old Inca capital with the imperial palace meaningfully.

Can you talk about your study abroad experience in Cambodia?

The program I went to in Cambodia mostly involved biology and ecology. It was amazing to see all of the animals that weren’t my pets, like the elephants. At the same time, I was working on some archaeology projects for The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, and I was studying the temples of Angkor Wat, which was one of the largest, most powerful civilizations in the world in the 1200s. I was looking at statues on buildings and trying to figure out a preliminary way to see how statues correlated to kinds of buildings and who built those buildings. It was amazing. I got to go out into the field 10 minutes away from where I was staying. I could just go around and walk around these statues. I really shouldn’t have touched these buildings and statues, but I did.

I remember you telling me about your animal tracking Winter Study course. Could you talk about that experience?

Of course. It was my first Winter Study at Williams, as a freshman. It was taught by Dan Yacobellis. It might sound really miserable, just walking around in negative-15-degree weather with boots getting wet and stuff, but it was really amazing. I got to see the trails of bobcats and coyotes and all these amazing things happening in the forest. It was a way for me to go outdoors and explore much of the area that surrounds Williamstown, the nature of Williamstown, even despite there being three feet of snow on the ground during the cold winter. It was fascinating and awesome, and I recommend it for everybody.

Do you have a favorite animal that you tracked, a favorite animal in general or a favorite pet?

I do have a favorite track that we saw in the class. We went to Savoy Mountain State Forest, and it looked like someone had just rolled a tire down the path—it looked like a straight furrow. We were trying to figure out what it was, and turned out it was an otter. Otters love to slide down hills in the snow, and so this one otter just slid down the entire hill. And it liked sliding so much that it slid up the hill, and it just couldn’t make it up – it couldn’t slide forward. It was so cute. I loved that. My favorite animal is pretty unexpected: chipmunks. When I was little and lived in Michigan, there were a lot of chipmunks inside the wall of the apartment where we lived, and I would watch them. I think they’re incredibly cute and funny, and I love their stripes. But favorite pet? That’s so hard… I mean, I love my cats and dogs. They’re so sweet. I can’t pet my fish like I can pet a dog, and I can’t go out to the park with a fish. But once, I had big catfish that I caught from a brook, and I raised it since I was very little. It was really sweet, and it was the first time that I really cried after a pet of mine passed away. I really loved that catfish.

Did it have a name?

No, it didn’t, actually. It was just the catfish. But one time, I had a chicken. A pet of mine that I like to talk about the most was my chicken. There was a slaughterhouse near my soccer field, and this chicken escaped. My dad rescued it, and we brought it home together. So, we had a chicken that laid eggs in New York City.

But it wasn’t a rooster, so I guess you didn’t have as many problems with your neighbors…

Yeah, there wasn’t any daily “cock-a-doodle-doo” at 4:30 in the morning.

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