Anthropology speaker uncovers relics

Xunantunich Mayan civilization unearthed in Belize

Dr. Leah McCurdy uses her degrees in art history, archaeology, architecture and anthropology to unravel the stories and memories carved into ruins of ancient civilizations. The Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Texas in Arlington discussed her academic background and studies into the Mayan civilizations in the Central American country of Belize with the Richland Anthropology Club on April 4.

McCurdy conducted research into Xunantunich Maya ruins, located in the Cayo District of Belize near the border with Guatemala.

“We have a research group that lives and works in the area and we excavate various portions of the site, depending on what we are interested [in] at the time,” McCurdy said.

In her presentation, she described the process of recording and measuring every inch of the jungle-covered structures to generate a near identical three-dimensional digital model using an AutoCAD software to be used for research and reference material for Mesoamerican studies. The structures included the second-tallest ancient temple in Belize, El Castillo.

McCurdy discussed how she funneled her way into an anthropology degree. She explained how she began with architecture by learning the diverse and distinguishable architectural styles around the globe. That eventually lead her to undertake a degree in art history and later study archeology and anthropology, culminating in an internship to study in South America.

While her academic background and interest took her to South America to study long-forgotten civilizations, McCurdy has also undertaken several initiatives to provide humanitarian aid to the local community. She has organized and participated in charity events, including fundraisers to purchase projectors and donated books written in English and Spanish to be used at the local schools. She also wanted to include books written in Mayan since “the people over there have deep roots to Xunantunich,” but unfortunately, they are “hard to find because there are not a lot of people that write in Mayan.”

McCurdy also devotes her time to writing books. One of them is the children’s short story, “To the Mountain!” The illustrated book follows the story of two siblings who journey to Xunantunich in search of their father. The story also explores local folklore and history of the area. It has been translated into Spanish, English and Mayan and donated to local elementary schools.

McCurdy said she is interested in teaching at the university level. She has published a textbook about active learning and how archeology can engage students in the classroom.

McCurdy was the second guest speaker to be invited to address the Anthropology Club this semester. Sarah Snyder made a presentation about the importance of preserving the Auschwitz concentration camp in February. For more information about the Anthropology Club, contact Professor Tim Sullivan at