Dan Sandweiss and the Collins Center for the Arts presented “Incidents of Travel in Latin America” on Wednesday to give a first person perspective on where Sandweiss has traveled and carried out various archaeological projects since 1977.
Sandweiss has been a member of the University of Maine faculty since 1993. He is currently serving as Dean and Associate Provost for Graduate Studies.
The presentation gave a more detailed outline of an exhibit currently in the Minsky Culture Lab, featuring photographs of unique encounters Sandweiss experienced while traveling.
“As you can imagine, I have thousands and thousands of pictures from everyone of those trips, [but] couldn’t fit them into the 28 they allowed me to put downstairs,” Sandweiss said.
Sandweiss shared stories of photographs as they were projected for the audience to see. The first was a photo of Sandweiss and a Norwegian explorer who were drinking coffee with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Interestingly, the Norwegian explorer was Thor Heyerdahl. Heyerdahl wrote the nonfiction book, “Kon-Tiki” about his voyage across the Pacific in 1947 in a raft built in the pre-historic Inca style. Heyerdahl even directed an Oscar-winning documentary film about the voyage. A new, fictionalized version of the documentary “Kon-Tiki” was nominated for best foreign language film for the 2013 Academy Awards.
Sandweiss says traveling for him began 36 years ago, after he finished his sophomore year in college. His first destination was Mexico. From there, he rode down to Guatemala for field work.
The focus was not just set on photography, but memorable interactions with locals quickly became part of the presentation. Sandweiss shared memories of being in Guatemala during a state of militarized government and witnessing soldiers marching in the streets with submachine guns as ‘protest against the evil Brits’ during a time when there was dispute over the country of Belize.
“Government propaganda, just interesting times,” Sandweiss said.
As Sandweiss continued, he briefly shared his experience on the coast of Honduras. Much of the presentation featured Sandweiss and his time in Peru, which has been the most frequent destination Sandweiss traveled to and took part in several archaeological excavations.
Some interesting discoveries came out of these excavations including a well-preserved 500-year-old guinea pig that Sandweiss displayed an image of.
“What we learned from this … they were used in curing rituals, they rub them up and down the patient and then they’d cut open the stomach and they’d look at the entrails to see whatever is not right among the guinea pig indicates what’s wrong with the patient,” Sandweiss said.
Historically, people knew this was practiced. The discovery of the guinea pig gave evidence that the practice was done in pre-Columbian times according to Sandweiss.
Sandweiss talked of studying the prehistory of the El Niño climatic phenomenon and how it behaved in the past in Peru.
“Peru is the heartland of El Niño and that is where it was first defined because you get changes in the water temperatures, you get rainfall where it’s normally a desert, you get drought in the highlands where it’s normally wet. All the fish and shellfish species, they die or they migrate. They get replaced by less amounts of others. It’s really dramatic, so people notice it there first and it’s still the place that’s the main indicator for what’s actually happening,” Sandweiss said.
The presentation ended with photographs of Sandweiss in 2010 and other people from the University of Maine studying the site of Los Morteros in Peru.