A Really Big Show: Since spring semester 2012, anthropology major Erica Gallis has been working with Mason professor Alexander V. Benitez on his Central American ceramics research project. Their work and the work of others are culminating in an exhibit this spring, Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Double Take: By the time Gallis joined the project, most of the exhibit ceramic pieces had already been chosen, but she was able to play a role by helping verify the identification of other items in the collection. “After reading about [these ceramics] in books, getting to see them was a dream come true.”
Best of Both Worlds: To complement her work at the Smithsonian, Gallis has done fieldwork at the ancient Mayan site of Kaxil Uinic, a ruin in the jungle of northwestern Belize, as part of a team led by Brett A. Houk from Texas Tech University. Gallis found lots of plate and jar shards at the excavation site. She plans to return to Belize this summer to continue her work. “Working in a museum and seeing these beautiful pieces and then working on a dig where they will find these pieces—it is pretty amazing.”
Fear Factor: Gallis has wanted to be an archaeologist since she was child, but she worried that one thing could keep her from realizing her dream: her fear of bugs. The Belize field experience presented a real challenge for her. “Despite the bugs, I made it through, and it was the best month of my life,” she says. “You just have to remember to dump out your shoes in the morning before you put them on in case there are scorpions in them.”
Riding the Wave: To reach things in Smithsonian’s Maryland warehouse where the more than 12,000 ceramic pieces are stored on 12-foot-high shelving, Gallis and the other workers must use a Wave, a lift truck that eliminates the need for a ladder or stairs. She reports that it can be pretty fun.
Poster Session: As a part of the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) program, Gallis has presented her own research, Translating Maya Hieroglyphs in the Collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, on campus. She will present her project at the Society of American Archaeology in April.
Giving Back: Gallis also is vice president of the Mason chapter of Students Helping Honduras, a group dedicated to raising awareness of and funds for people in Honduras. The money is used to help build schools, orphanages, and other buildings that can withstand hurricanes, which have devastated the country over the years. “We are a small chapter, only about 14 people, but we recently held a very successful school supply drive. We also have bake sales and sell Honduran coffee and recycled bags made by Honduran women. All the money goes back to the women there.”