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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.
material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.
study of living things.
money, goods, and services set aside for a specific purpose.
underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.
study of the atoms and molecules that make up different substances.
type of government where a geographic area is ruled by a foreign power.
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
to become smaller or less important.
an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.
non-portable archaeological remains, such as pyramids or post-holes.
any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.
study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.
specific place where a body is buried.
pause or delay.
person who studies events and ideas of the past.
established organization or set of organizing principles.
the geographic features of a region.
South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.
making and using maps.
corpse of a person or animal that has been preserved by natural environmental conditions or human techniques.
person who studies knowledge and the way people use it.
total number of people or organisms in a particular area.
having to do with the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
adventure or search for a goal.
methods of information-gathering about the Earth's surface from a distance.
greatly respected aspect or material of a religion.
remains of a sunken marine vessel.
top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.
knowledgeable or complex.