Logging on Maya

Article excerpt

Beginning March 3, 1997, the veteran MayaQuest team led by brothers Dan and Steve Buettner will be back on the archaeological trail. Using laptop computers and the Internet, the explorers will once again take students, teachers, and armchair travelers through cyberspace as they investigate past Maya civilizations.

On two previous MayaQuest expeditions -- conducted in the spring of 1995 and 1996 -- the seven-person team journeyed to such sites as Yaxuna, Dzibichaltun, and Palenque in Mexico; Caracol and Xunantunich in Belize; and El Mirador, Nakbe, and Tikal in Guatemala.

Anyone with Internet access can follow or participate in the expedition. Every Monday morning, the MayaQuest team posts a multiple-choice ballot, asking the online audience to determine where to go next. On Wednesdays, the explorers post another question related to the logistics of the trip: Where do we stay if there are no hotels? Should we use Western or Maya medicine to treat malaria? At the end of the week, Maya archaeologists ask the online audience for their theories on some questions Maya scholars have been unable to answer.

Buettner emphasizes that the team has no idea where this year's trek will begin, because even the starting point is student directed. "We'll be working with a number of archaeologists who are looking for sites that have yet to be documented," he says. "Any number of these sites will be options for our team to explore, if the online audience chooses." An accomplished cyclist, Buettner was first introduced to the Maya ten years ago when he traveled through Central America as part of a racing team that set a world record for biking across the Americas.

The audience can be as active as they want, reading trip reports or viewing photographs and listening to the ambient sounds the team sends weekly -- from the howler monkeys' roar in El Mirador to the rhythm of marimbas at Palenque. …