Name:  Brent Woodfill
Title:   Professor
Education:  Ph.D., Anthropology, Certificate in Latin American and Iberian Studies, Vanderbilt University
Teaching Certificate, K12 ESL, Macalester College
B.A., Anthropology and English, Macalester College
Office:  329 Kinard Hall   
Phone:  803/323-3914
Area(s):  Maya archaeology, public archaeology, community development, ritual and religion, sacred places, ancient economy, and human-environment relations


College of Arts and Sciences

Faculty & Staff Profiles

 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.

He has published over thirty articles and book chapters as well as two booksWar in the Land of True Peace:  The Fight for Maya Sacred Places (2019) and Ritual and Trade in the Pasión-Verapaz Region, Guatemala (2010).  He teaches courses in archaeology, ethnography, forensic anthropology, linguistic anthropology, cultural ecology, non-Western economics, and sacred places.