This podcast series features past FairMormon Conference presentations. This presentation is from our 2019 conference held in August. If you would like to watch the presentations from our 2019 conference, you can still purchase the video streaming.

Richard Terry, The Dirt on the Ancient Inhabitants of Mesoamerica

Transcript available here.

Richard E. Terry is Professor Emeritus of Soil Science at Brigham Young University. He received his B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in Agronomy and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University in Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry. He was Assistant Professor of Soil Science at the University of Florida, Everglades Experiment Station, from 1977 through 1980. While in Florida he conducted research in the microbial decomposition and subsidence of the organic soils of the Everglades.

Richard joined the faculty of the Agronomy and Horticulture Department at Brigham Young University in 1980. He taught soil science and environmental remediation courses for 36 years. In 1997 he was invited to the archaeological site of Piedras Negras, Guatemala, to assist in the development of a field laboratory and protocols for field measurement of phosphorus in soils and floors that resulted from many years of food processing, consumption, and food waste disposal activities by the ancient Maya. The follow year he collaborated with Dr. Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan on the chemical analysis of palace floors at the rapidly abandoned site of Aguateca. For the past 22 years, Dr. Terry and his students have collected soil and floor samples for chemical analysis and data interpretation. During that time, they have collaborated with more than 44 archaeologists at 26 ancient Mesoamerican sites. The ancient sites have extended from Northern Yucatan, Mexico, to Southern El Salvador. The period of occupation of those cities and villages ranged from the Middle Preclassic (1000 to 600 B.C.) to the Postclassic (1000 to 1400 A.D.). Over the years, his geochemical analyses of Mesoamerican soils have expanded to the stable carbon isotope signatures of ancient corn crops that remain within the soil humus and to the biochemical markers of modern and ancient cacao orchards. Dr. Terry has gained insights to the lives of ancient Mesoamericans by collaborating with many of the professional Mayanists, who study a variety of archaeological sites that extend across the Maya region and include the full time-line of ancient occupation. The range of inorganic chemical, stable isotope, and biomarker data he has obtained from ancient floors, fields, and orchards allow him, his students and collaborators to interpret many aspects of ancient lives and activities.

Dr. Terry and his wife Vicki live in Orem, Utah. They are the parents of four children and the grandparents of ten grandchildren. Both have been active in various volunteer callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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