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Brent Woodfill

Visiting Professor    

Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, 2007


The Maya, cave archaeology, ritual and religion, economic archaeology, community-based archaeology


Dr. Woodfill fell in love with archaeology at the age of 10 and began doing volunteer work in the field and lab in the Upper Midwest at the age of 13. He discovered the Maya during a study abroad course through the Yucatan Peninsula in college and was immediately smitten, likely do to a combination of the size, scale, and beauty of the ancient Maya cities and the fact that he, being born and raised in Minnesota, went snorkeling in January.

His formal research in the Maya world began with two field seasons working in caves and sites in western Belize under the auspices of Dr. Jaime Awe. In 2000 he started to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt University and moved over the border into Guatemala to work with his dissertation adviser, Dr. Arthur Demarest. His research there focused on multiple cave systems, hilltop shrines, and associated cities and towns, using the archaeological remains to reconstruct the history of the major trade route that passed through the region. All of these places were still sacred to the contemporary Q’eqchi’ Maya who lived atop and around them today, and so he began to collaborate with local leaders and spiritual guides as well as government agencies and development specialists, using the archaeological research to help with local development initiatives. These collaborations resulted in the creation of one national park co-managed by the Guatemalan government and the leaders of two local villages as well as multiple local ecotourism projects and access to clean water through the construction of wells.

Since 2009, Dr. Woodfill has been working at the site of Salinas de los Nueve Cerros, a major city occupied for over 2,000 years that surrounds the only non-coastal salt source in the Maya lowlands. Nueve Cerros was a rich city with powerful merchants that was one of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica and was able to survive several centuries beyond the Classic collapse due to its residents’ control over this rare and essential resource. As with the rest of the region, the descendants of the ancient Maya have moved back into the ruins of this city where they live and farm in the shadow of the ancient pyramids and palaces. Because of the previous successes with community collaboration while conducting research at local sacred sites, Dr. Woodfill and his team were invited by the local leaders to conduct research at this largely unknown but important center. In addition to the scientific advances there, the project has been able to repair local infrastructure, provide access to clean water, and helped to found a development project, ADAWA, staffed entirely by local Maya who work with a liaison who has been helping to train staff and create and better ties between ADAWA and national and international development agencies.


2010 Ritual and Trade in the Pasión-Verapaz Region, Guatemala. Vanderbilt Institute of Mesoamerican Archaeology Monograph Series, vol. 6. Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, Tennessee. (Reviewed in the Society for Archaeological Science Bulletin)

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
In Press The Classic Period Pictographs of Juliq’ Cave, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Rock Art as Organizing Principle. Manuscript accepted for publication by Journal of Field Archaeology, January 27, 2015. (Brent K.S. Woodfill and Lucia R. Henderson)
2015 Salinas de los Nueve Cerros, Guatemala: A Major Economic Center in the Southern Maya Lowlands. Latin American Antiquity 26(2):162-79. (Brent K.S. Woodfill, Brian D. Dillon, Marc Wolf, Carlos Avendaño, and Ronald Canter)
2014 Interpreting an Early Classic Pecked Cross in the Candelaria Caves, Guatemala: Archaeological and Indigenous Perspectives. Ethnoarchaeology 6(2):103-20.
2014 Three Previously Unrecorded Cave Features in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Mexicon XXXVI(4):114-20.
2013 Community Development and Collaboration at Salinas de los Nueve Cerros Guatemala: Accomplishments, Failures, and Lessons Learned Conducting Publically-Engaged Archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice 1(2):105-20.
2012 Tikal’s Early Classic Domination of the Great Western Trade Route: Ceramic, Lithic, and Iconographic Evidence. Ancient Mesoamerica. 23(2):189-209. (Brent K.S. Woodfill and Chloé Andrieu)
2012 Changing Patterns in Ritual Activity in an Unlooted Cave in Central Guatemala. Latin American Antiquity 23(1):93-119. (Brent K.S. Woodfill, Stanley Guenter, and Mirza Monterroso)
2011 The Central Role of Cave Archaeology in the Reconstruction of Classic Maya Culture History and Highland-Lowland Interaction. Ancient Mesoamerica 22(2):213-27.

Contributions to Edited Volumes
2015 Caves, Hills, and Caches: The Importance of Karst Landscapes for the Pre-Hispanic and Contemporary Maya. In Caves and Karst across Time, edited by Josh Feinberg, Yongli Gao, and E. Calvin Alexander, Jr. Special Paper 516. Geological Society of America, Boulder. (Brent K.S. Woodfill, Jon Spenard, and Megan Parker)
2011 Sympathetic Ethnocentrism and the Autorepression of Q’eqchi’ Maya Culture. In The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian Research: Reporting on Environmental Degradation and Warfare, edited by Richard Chacon and Rubén Mendoza, pp. 117-46. Springer Press, Berlin. (Arthur A. Demarest and Brent K.S. Woodfill)