Cal State LA student discovers passion for Mesoamerican cave archaeology
A recipient of the CSU Sally Casanova pre-doctoral scholarship, she will pursue a Ph.D. in the fall.
By Madeline Tondi | Cal State LA News Service
Hundreds of bats rush out of a dark, cold cave in Michoacán, Mexico, just before Cinthia Campos walks inside. As she explores the humid interior taking measurements and lighting her way, she spots an unusual etching of a man who appears to be speaking to an eagle.
This cave is one of 26 Campos has discovered and surveyed during her research in the West Mexico region while studying at Cal State LA. The 27-year-old Inglewood resident graduated in May with a Master of Arts in Anthropology with an emphasis on Mesoamerican cave archaeology.
Cal State LA has been a place of growth for Campos, who has participated in many international excavations as a member of the Mesoamerican Cave Archaeology Research Program.
“Being able to guide your own path and to be given that liberty, I don’t see that happening at other universities.” Campos says. “People here have given me the space to grow and explore, and not only learn more about myself, but learn about my role in the community and what I can do.”
For her master’s thesis, “Tarascan Cave Reconnaissance,” Campos delves into five caves, including the one with the etching she discovered in the Lake Pátzcuaro Basin area of Michoacán, Mexico. Drawing on ethnohistoric and ethnographic information, Campos interpreted the site as a sacred landmark that may have been used for political accession rituals. Across Mesoamerica, the eagle was associated with the political elite, but is also associated with celestial gods.
Campos’ focus on Mesoamerica carries a special significance—her ancestors were part of the Tarascan people and her great-grandparents are from Michoacán. While researching in the region last year, Campos resided with her grandparents and other relatives.
She strives to give back to the communities she researches by publishing all her works in English and Spanish.
In recognition of her work, Campos was named a 2017 Extraordinary Woman Caver by Extraordinary Women Leaders in Speleology, an organization that celebrates women who contribute to cave exploration, education and conservation.
Campos received her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from California State University, Monterey Bay, where she researched California missions. She gravitated to the field of anthropology and archaeology because of the opportunity for interesting fieldwork and to work closely with indigenous communities.
“It’s almost like solving mysteries or playing detective through science,” Campos says.
During her time at Cal State LA, Campos has excelled. She was named a 2018 Outstanding Graduate Student by the College of Natural and Social Sciences and was one of six graduate students at Cal State LA to receive a 2017-18 Sally Casanova pre-doctoral scholar award. The $3,000 scholarships are granted each year to support the doctoral aspirations of students across the 23-campus California State University system.
After graduation from Cal State LA, Campos will pursue a Ph.D. at Binghamton University in New York, where she received a Clifford D. Clark Diversity Fellowship for Graduate Students.
She hopes to one day become a professor so she can train the next generation of students and continue her research in the field she loves.
“What I feel we do as archaeologists is recover some of this history and give it back to the people and show them that they were much more empowered than they ever thought or were told to be,” Campos says. “I am proud to be able to return a bit of their rich history.”