Dunning first explored the historic sites of the Yucatan Peninsula at age 14 when he and his older brother drove down to Mexico from Illinois.
“We took a train to the Yucatan and used public transportation to get around to the sites,” Dunning said.
He applied to the University of Chicago partly because it offered a Mayan language class. Dunning returned to Mexico while in college to conduct his first field research. He’s been back many times since.
“My interest in archaeology is in human-environment interactions, including agriculture,” Dunning said.
Dunning is learning more about how ancient Maya people shaped their world to overcome challenges and take advantage of natural opportunities. Dunning’s work also took him to a place called Acalan near the Gulf of Mexico.
“Roughly translated, Acalan means ‘place of canoes’ because it’s very watery,” Dunning said. “And getting around by water is far easier than any other means in that area.”
Then as now the region is covered in thick tropical rainforest. Researchers have to be wary of cheeky monkeys that will throw fruit or worse from the treetops. Carr said one encounter left him sore for days.
“There was this aggressive spider monkey. He’d seen me a couple days earlier. And he’s back shaking the trees,” Carr said. “And all of a sudden, I’m lying flat on the ground. A branch hit me in the shoulder and knocked me to the ground.”