Daniel Torres Etayo is an archaeologist and a 2012 Emerging Explorer. He travels throughout his homeland, Cuba, to discover ancient artifacts left by pre-Columbian cultures that were mostly diminished by the arrival of European explorers hundreds of years ago.

EARLY WORK

Daniel’s father is a philosopher and historian. He began telling Daniel stories of Cuba’s native people when Daniel was just six years old. Daniel grew up with tales of Spanish and other European colonialism in Latin America.

“The role of my father is important for me in becoming an archaeologist because those talks marked my life,” he says.

Ten years later, Daniel was already exploring the mysterious depths of Cuba’s largest cave system, mapping out hollow paths with a designated team.

“Every population that lived there before the Europeans used the caves for everything: to live, to make a grave, to build sacred places, and to paint the walls with art.”

Today, Daniel travels across Cuba, diving into even more caves, discovering shipwrecks and ancient burial sites, all to uncover missing links to native populations.

“In my experience, the most interesting thing to kids is telling the history of the ancient people and to show how you get that history from the soil,” he says.

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“You have a fun time in this position. Despite all the work you have to do and all the hard times you pass with the noisy animals, you have fun. I really enjoy not just the scientific part, but traveling across my country and interacting with the local population. It’s a very valued experience and I enjoy it.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“In Cuba there is a lack of the resources to support the archaeology investigation. This is the most difficult part. I work with very passionate people and sometimes I have all the support of the institutions, but the budgetary issues are very cutting,” he says. 

Daniel also adds that although most of the time his archaeology team has to use their own money towards exploration, they do it without hesitation because it’s what they love. 

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“Geography is not just the study of landscape, but the idea behind it needs to be the people of the world. Not just the beautiful mountains and rivers, because without people, the concept doesn’t have meaning.”

GEO-CONNECTION

Imagine discovering a shipwreck that is more than a hundred years old. How about an ancient burial site that no one has touched for almost 500 years?

One of Daniel’s most memorable quests was traveling to the Central Andes in Peru. During his time, Daniel unearthed a small city and discovered an entirely new site, complete with both features (large, unmovable material) and artifacts.

“I found a wall with an arrangement of stones that looked very suspicious,” Daniel says. “When I took a stone off and shined a flashlight through, I found all the mummies of the people who lived in that city during that time. It was an amazing feeling because nobody before me had seen it before me.”

“For an archaeologist, that’s the best feeling,” he says.

While he continues to use remote sensing technology, geographic information systems (GIS) and other sophisticated devices to hunt for the past, Daniel says that the artifacts he discovers are the voices of the people who no longer live there.

SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . ARCHAEOLOGIST

Daniel says that the first thing to possess if interested in becoming an archaeologist is passion—passion for not just science, but also the ancient world.

 “The wonderful thing about archaeology is you can reach it in different ways. You go there by biology, geography, or chemistry. Archaeology is a very rare career because it’s social on one side and technical on the other side. You can go there by different ways,” Daniel says.

GET INVOLVED

“Supporting National Geographic is the most important thing because the resources for National Geographic and other projects can help support all of these great things.”

Archaeologist: Dr. Daniel Torres Etayo
Daniel Torres Etayo is an archaeologist who has uncovered Latin America's rich history from the mountains of Peru to the underwater caves of Cuba.
ancient
Adjective

very old.

archaeologist
Noun

person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.

Noun

material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.

biology
Noun

study of living things.

budget
Noun

money, goods, and services set aside for a specific purpose.

cave
Noun

underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.

chemistry
Noun

study of the atoms and molecules that make up different substances.

colonialism
Noun

type of government where a geographic area is ruled by a foreign power.

concept
Noun

idea.

culture
Noun

learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

diminish
Verb

to become smaller or less important.

Emerging Explorer
Noun

an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

feature
Noun

non-portable archaeological remains, such as pyramids or post-holes.

Noun

any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

grave
Noun

specific place where a body is buried.

hesitation
Noun

pause or delay.

historian
Noun

person who studies events and ideas of the past.

institution
Noun

established organization or set of organizing principles.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

Latin America
Noun

South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

mapping
Noun

making and using maps.

mummy
Noun

corpse of a person or animal that has been preserved by natural environmental conditions or human techniques.

philosopher
Noun

person who studies knowledge and the way people use it.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

pre-Columbian
Adjective

having to do with the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

quest
noun, verb

adventure or search for a goal.

remote sensing
Noun

methods of information-gathering about the Earth's surface from a distance.

sacred
Adjective

greatly respected aspect or material of a religion.

shipwreck
Noun

remains of a sunken marine vessel.

soil
Noun

top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

sophisticated
Adjective

knowledgeable or complex.