An Interview with Dr Diane Davies
Hi, I’m Diane Davies and I am an archaeologist, which is someone who studies ancient remains, such as buildings, artefacts and bones, to try and understand how people in the past lived. I am a special archaeologist as I am an expert on the Ancient Maya – a civilisation that people here in the UK know very little about.
Learn all about me from a wonderful video that Kasim from Year 6, Lomeshaye Junior School created.
Being an Archaeologist
Who inspired you to become an archaeologist?
I read a lot of adventure books when I was growing up, including the adventure series by Enid Blyton (Sea of Adventure etc.). I also loved watching Indiana Jones films, such as the Raiders of the Lost Ark. These books and films inspired me to become an archaeologist.
I enjoyed history and sciences at school and loved the idea of digging up the past, finding things that no one had touched for thousands of years. I also found it fascinating to work out how people from the past were able to build the most amazing buildings without any of our modern technology.
How long have you been an archaeologist?
About 16 years.
What is the best thing about your job and why?
I love finding things that no one else has seen before, artefacts that are over 2000 years old and I am the first person to touch them – it is really special – you feel like you are touching the past.
What is the most amazing thing you have found?
Working with a team discovering the earliest Maya paintings was pretty amazing, as well as finding burials, but for me I think it is my first find that I will always remember. This was a beautiful red bowl found next to a bed in a Maya house which was over 2000 years old.
Do you like your job? Would you recommend it?
I LOVE my job, though it is not a job for me as I want to do it forever – I never want to retire! It is hard work to be an archaeologist, but if it is something you are interested in and are prepared to work for then I would definitely recommend it.
Studying the Maya
Why did you want to study the Maya?
After studying archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology in London, I spent a year travelling around Central and South America, working on excavations and spending time with the locals and visiting archaeological sites.
None impressed me so much as the Maya site, Palenque in Mexico (where King Pakal was buried). I was fascinated with the pyramids, the art, the writing – all in the middle of the rainforest! I decided then that I must learn more about these amazing people.
Where did you study the Maya?
I couldn’t find any experts to teach me about the Maya in the UK, so I applied to several universities in America where they all know about the Maya. I was extremely fortunate to be offered a place on a PhD programme at Tulane University in New Orleans. I was there for 10 years, taking many classes and exams on every ancient civilisation in the world. I was examined very closely on everything to do with the ancient and modern Maya and I taught classes to the students there.
I was very lucky to receive money from the National Science Foundation to work at the Maya archaeological site of San Bartolo in Guatemala, famous for its beautiful paintings. I spent several years working in the jungle and then afterwards living with a Guatemalan family whilst analysing all the amazing finds.
What do you like about the Maya?
Pretty much everything! Living in the rainforest, building some of the largest pyramids in the world, having a ballgame like no other, creating a really interesting writing system and the zero so they also became great mathematicians and astronomers. I also think their art is beautiful and of course, I love chocolate, so I have the Maya to thank for that!
Have you climbed a Maya pyramid?
Yes, many and I have even worked in one. They are difficult to climb as the steps are quite high, but really narrow in width – you need to be very careful if you don’t want to fall to your death!
What made you want to visit schools and tell us about the Maya?
When I returned to England, I was very excited to hear that the Maya was now being studied in primary schools. However, there was no Maya expert who could help teachers and children learn about them. So I decided to support both teachers and children in creating resources and visiting schools to tell everyone about my life as a Maya archaeologist.
I have a great passion for this truly amazing culture and it is my goal for all children in the UK to be as fascinated by the Maya as I am.
Do you ever get stung or bitten in the rainforest?
Digging in the Maya Rainforest
Do you enjoy being in the rainforest? Isn’t it scary?
I LOVE working in the rainforest and I miss it when I am not there, it has become a second home for me. I love being in the middle of nowhere away from traffic and noise with only the sounds of birds and monkeys above my head.
The only time I was really scared was when I first heard the sound of a howler monkey outside my rent in the middle of the night. It sounded like King Kong was outside! I was very frightened but I managed to pluck up the courage to see what it was. When I saw that it was just a monkey I was very relieved and also found it quite amusing – a little monkey making all that noise!
What is it like living in the rainforest?
It is really fun! The bugs can be a nuisance and you have to be careful of snakes and spiders, but there is nothing like lying in your hammock at night looking at the starry night sky and hearing all the sounds of the rainforest. It is all worth it, to spread the word about how amazing the Maya are and to teach children such as yourself about them.
How many months do you stay in the rainforest?
I can only be in the rainforest during the dry season (February-May), as once it rains we can get stuck and it is almost impossible to leave!
What is the scariest thing you have seen whilst in the rainforest?
Definitely the Fer-de-lance, one of the most aggressive and venomous snakes in the world. I almost stepped on one once – luckily I lived to tell the tale!
Do you work alone?
No, I never work alone, it is too dangerous. Also, it is good to work in a team as each person can give ideas and advice on how to dig or how to overcome any problems we might be having.
What is a typical day like for you?
Where did you go to school and what are your qualifications?
I attended St Mary’s RC Primary School in Maidenhead, Berkshire and then moved on to secondary school at St Bernard’s School, Langley. I also took my A-levels at St Bernard’s, in history, classical civilisation and biology – perfect subjects for a career in archaeology!
I then went to Leeds University for my degree in History and Philosophy, then a Masters in Archaeology at University College London and finally a PhD from Tulane University in the United States.
At this point, I became an expert on the Maya and as a reward, I was given the title Doctor (Dr). You can read all about my qualifications, experience and publications here.
What languages do you speak?
I am fluent in Spanish, the main language of Guatemala where I work and also a little bit of two Mayan languages; Yucatec and Kakchikel.
Where else in the world have you excavated?
I have excavated in Wales, Puerto Rico and also several times in Peru, along the coast and in the highlands.
When you are not in Guatemala, where do you live?
I have recently moved to North Wales, right in the hills overlooking mountains and the sea. It is really beautiful, my neighbours are sheep and horses. It is the nearest I can get to the rainforest in the UK, but without the heat and venomous snakes!
What do you do in your spare time?
If I have any spare time I spend it with Rufus, my wonderful dog. Rufus is always by my side at home, whether I am writing or going for a run in the countryside. I speak to him in Spanish (the language of the country he came from) but he also understands English too, he is quite a clever dog!