Principal investigator
Sarah Kurnick

National Geographic Society; American Philosophical Society; Gerda Henkel Foundation

Collaboration + support
The Punta Laguna community

Deep in the jungle of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, assistant professor of archaeology Sarah Kurnick is infusing traditional archaeological approaches with fresh ideas about sustainability and community engagement while studying an ancient Maya site. 

Punta Laguna, a Maya village of 125 people, resides within a large spider monkey reserve. The site includes more than 200 structures, some of which are 1,500 years old. The ruins are covered in jungle foliage and must be cleared with machetes while curious monkeys watch. 

The Punta Laguna people honor their ancient Maya roots while embracing modern life. To generate much-needed income, they give tours of the reserve and the Maya ruins. 

While Kurnick’s team studies the relationship between Punta Laguna’s Postclassic inhabitants and their Classic period predecessors, they also work closely with Maya residents to explore the site, preserve the cultural heritage contained within, and increase the community’s revenue through sustainable ecotourism.

Researchers and locals smiling around a table outside

Mayan ruin

Team walking through the jungle

Laguna with blue canoes