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Ted Kmiec IV, 35, who uncovered his passion for archaeology searching for arrowheads as a child on a farm in Paddock Lake, spent the month of July digging around Belize as part of a research team.

Kmiec, son of Salem Lakes trustee Ted Kmiec III, attended Salem Grade School and Westosha Central High School before pursuing a bachelor of science degree in anthropology at Texas State University, also earning a minor in geography and a certificate in achaeologicial curation.

He is in his second year of a master’s program at Texas State University with a goal of becoming an archaeology professor and continuing research in the field.

Q: When did you discover your passion for archaeology?

A: My father was always a fan of history, which rubbed off on me. I have been fascinated by North American archaeology and Native American cultures since I was a child, which came from reading a lot of National Geographic magazines.

About six years ago I became interested in Olmec, Epi-Olmec and early Mayan cultures. My focus is the iconography of monumental art from these cultures. Iconography can be defined as “the visual images and symbols used in a work of art or the study or interpretation of these.” My goal from an archaeological standpoint is to interpret these cultures’ works of art and try to decipher the fundamental/ideological meaning of the symbols and images before these cultures converted to written languages.

Q: Was there a specific person who was influential in introducing you to archaeology at a young age?

A: The Bryzek family was a huge influence on me when it comes to archaeology, especially Evelyn Bryzek. Mrs. Bryzek took me under her wing when I was a child. Her vast collection of artifacts was amazing. All her artifacts were found on the Bryzeks’ farm.

Q: Did you have any experiences in Kenosha County when you were young that helped develop your passion for archaeology?

A: My parents and I would come up from Illinois and stay at my family’s lake house in Kenosha County on the weekends when I was young. This is when I started exploring out on the Bryzek farm. I would go out looking for artifacts with my cousin Mikey and my friends, the Curran brothers. The times when the farmers deep plowed and after a hard rain is when you would find some artifacts, mostly projectile points. After I found some artifacts, I would drive my four-wheeler over to the Bryzek’s house and show Mrs. Bryzek what I found. She was very knowledgeable about artifacts. Eventually, we moved up to Kenosha County from Illinois and I spent more time out on the Bryzek’s farm until I hit my early-teens.

Q: Is there a professor or professors who you consider mentors?

A: During my undergraduate internship, I studied under the curator of CAS, Amy Reid, from whom I learned a great deal about curation and Central Texas lithics. The director of CAS, Dr. Todd Ahlman, has also been a great help to me by getting me on projects when I am available, from surveying to working on archaeological paperwork. My mentor and chair of my Thesis committee is Dr. F. Kent Reilly. Dr. Reilly is the head of the Center for the Study of Arts and Symbolism of Ancient America at Texas State University and he is also a Vietnam veteran. Dr. Reilly’s knowledge and expertise on the Olmec culture’s iconography is the reason I came back to graduate school at Texas State University. He’s the one who sparked my interest in the Olmec and Mayan cultures during my undergraduate career’ he’s my favorite professor I’ve ever had and a great person.

Q: Where have you taken part in archaeology digs?

A: My first actual excavation experience was this year in Belize, where I spent a month working. My mentor put me in touch with Dr. Kat Brown and Dr. Jaeger from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), who run an archaeological project and an archaeological field school in Belize, who let me jump aboard to learn more about excavation techniques at select Mayan sites as part of the Mopan Valley Archaeology Project/Mopan Valley Pre-classic Project.

Q: How many areas did you visit?

A: We traveled and stayed in the Cayo District of Belize, which is rich in Mayan cultural history and archaeological sites.

Q: What was the goal?

A: The goal of the trip from my standpoint was to learn archaeological excavation techniques. The goal of the project is to gather archaeological data about the Mayan sites through the pre-Classic and Classic periods in Belize, which many of the PhD candidates and master’s students working for the project use for their theses and dissertations.

Q: What were the challenges?

A: It’s hot and humid every day, so you have to stay hydrated. I was bit by three insect species I have never had the pleasure of being bit by before.

Q: What was the most rewarding part?

A: The people I met from the field school, the Institute of Archaeology Belize, and the people I worked with from the local excavators to the other archaeologists on the project. The most “hands on” rewarding part was learning the overall excavation techniques at Las Ruinas de Arenal. I loved that site.

Q: What was the most enjoyable part?

A: The whole trip was amazing, but the trip to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave was incredible. It was (is) a sacred cave to the Maya and to the Maya it was the entrance to Xibalba, the Maya underworld. There are sacrificial victims and pottery offerings spread throughout the cave, it’s a very powerful place. There are a few tight spaces and the water gets to about your waist, but most of the cave opens up to larger areas, it’s a must see if you’re traveling in Belize.

Volunteering for the San Jose Succotz Maya Archaeology and Cultural fair was a great experience. The local families were great to connect with and the local children were having fun. The community seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves, lots of smiles and laughs that day. The Maya dancers from Guatemala were fantastic, it was great to see the Maya culture through the art form of dancing.

Q: Did you also do some sightseeing?

A: We toured the sites we worked at and some additional Mayan archaeological sites that were open to public. We visited Xunantunich, Beunavista, Las Ruinas de Arenal (which were the main sites the project worked on), Cahal Pech, Caracol, and Actuncan. All the sites offered different experiences since some sites are still grown over by the rain forest and some sites are restored.

The trip to the Maya archaeological site Actuncan, which is on the Guatemala/Belize border, was an adventurous rugged trip by horseback. You must cross the Mopan river and trek through the rain forest for a few hours. When we arrived at the site, we were greeted by a family of howler monkeys. We explored the looters trenches (not for people who are claustrophobic) in the main pyramid at Actuncan, which were full of bats and some whip scorpions. The trip to Actuncan felt like being a part of an old school archaeological expedition you read about in an adventure book, a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

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