Excavating the future with archaeologist Matthew Go (’10)

by Martin Gomez ('99), XS Next Lab Moderator
Courtesy of Simon Fraser University

[F]inding things in the strangest of places requires unique skills and more importantly, determination. Earlier this month, Matthew C. Go from the Xavier School Class of 2010, and currently a 4th-year archaeology student at Simon Fraser University, made headlines worldwide when he and his team discovered the tomb of a high priestess of the ancient Moche civilization in Peru.

One that can possibly change the worldview on how civilizations were governed, the following interview with Global News Canada sheds light on the importance of this discovery.

Watch the interview of Matthew Go by Amy Judd of Global News Canada

[S]tudying archaeology “never crossed [Matthew’s] mind until [he] arrived at SFU.” After finishing high school at Xavier, he moved to Canada to pursue studies in neurosciences. However, “after two consecutive terms of being unfulfilled, [Matthew] took some elective classes to do some soul searching. That’s when [he] discovered archaeology.” He writes,

The idea of having the ability and responsibility of telling the stories of people who can no longer speak for themselves is probably the most important aspect of archaeology for me.

Courtesy of Simon Fraser University

The dig site. Courtesy of Simon Fraser University

On his junior year, Matthew applied to the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP)’s Field School Program to do advanced-level training in bioarchaeology.

After the course, I was eager to come back [the following] year to conduct research for my Honour’s thesis. When I proposed the idea to the people in charge of the project, they also suggested I assist them in teaching as well. So I came back in 2013 for the research and teaching positions. It was only towards the end of the season that we discovered the tomb, so nine of us were assembled to stay on and work on it while the rest of the staff, students, and other instructors left.

sjmapThe San José de Moro (SJM) Archaeological Program (SJMAP) is a joint program of the PUCP and Harvard University. PUCP’s archaeology professor Luis Jaime Castillo (profile on National Geographic) leads the 23-year-old dig.

The media has widely reported on how this discovery has implications on the leadership roles of women in the ancient times. Matthew observes,

It is evident females ruled at San Jose de Moro, but other Moche sites have yielded male rulers as well (such as the Lords of Sipan). Peru takes great pride in its archaeology, and this discovery will surely add to that. The modern world is slowly but surely progressing towards gender equality. It is refreshing to know that humanity had reached this once upon a time in prehistory. Perhaps it will inform us of our capacity to live equally.

Matthew and his excavation team.

Matthew and his excavation team.

Apart from sociological and political impact, the discovery also has direct effects to how we study and how we should act in relation to our environment and the ecological cycle. Based on a survey of the area, there’s strong evidence that the civilization disappeared due to the climatic phenomenon known as El Niño. Matthew writes,

There are many sources of evidence for El Niño events on the coast of Peru. In fact, the term was first used by Peruvian fishermen who noticed the phenomenon. A strong line of evidence includes the characteristics of depositional sediments in areas on the coast. We also experience El Niño today, and know that it is sporadic and unpredictable in terms of frequency and severity. The likelihood of anthropogenic climate change contributing to the demise of our civilization now is certainly a high possibility. It is likely the Moche were not equipped to handle the effects of a mega El Niño, but several social problems are attributed to their collapse as well. With the growing problems of development today, it is uncertain if even we are equipped to handle these changes.

Late Moche period artifact. Courtesy of the San Jose de Moro Project. Image enhancements by Xavier School.

Late Moche period artifact. Courtesy of the San Jose de Moro Archaeological Program. Image enhancements by Xavier School.

To help the team understand the dig site better, they employed the latest technological tools to create a virtual representation of the site. Perhaps in the near future, XS Next Lab will be able to host a virtual forum on archeology and technologies around it. For now, Matthew explains,

The project currently employs 3D modeling technology at the sites we work at. This includes taking hundreds of photographs from both hand-held cameras and aerial photography from remote-controlled hovercrafts, and combining these into a 3D model (using a software program called Agisoft). We are constantly updating the technology we use to record the discoveries we make. There is also the possibilty for reconstructions through facial anthropological techniques and artist conceptions.

It would definitely be most exciting to be transported back to ancient times, albeit virtually.

Speaking of the past, having taught Matthew when he was in Grade 7, I asked if his Xavier education influenced him in choosing his vocation. He provided me with the following heartening response –

Courtesy of Simon Fraser University

Courtesy of Simon Fraser University

The Philippines is certainly rich with archaeological material, and sadly most of it is ignored or underfunded. In turn, the discipline is not popular among the masses, certainly not to the level that it is in Peru. I would say Xavier was instrumental in the formation of my moral center, and my moral obligation to protect the past and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves stems from what I want to contribute to humanity. My particular concentration has been in forensic archaeology and anthropology, particularly in repatriating the remains of lost loved ones from mass disasters and conflict. After an episode of unrest, a nation cannot move on when its people do not know where their families are or if they are even still alive. Being able to give them that closure is very important to me, and that moral obligation to help others stems from Xavier’s formation.

To this note, he adds this insightful message to the Xavier community, especially the current students –

Much like most of us who were raised with Asian family values, our parents want the best for us, and this best is often misunderstood as certain financial stability. Thus, parents push and encourage us to pursue careers in law, medicine and business. However, the pursuit of passion is by far the most instrumental decision I have ever made. Success is certain to follow when you do what you love. When deciding on what careers to take, do not let yourself be funneled into what is most safe or most sure. Explore your interests and find ways to follow them full-time.

Matthew (2nd from right) with his high school barkada during the after-program of the 2010 Xavier High School Graduation Ceremonies.

Matthew (2nd from right) with his high school barkada during the after-program of the 2010 Xavier High School Graduation Ceremonies.

Matthew is the son of Xavier School Class of 1974 alumnus Wendy Go.

Exclusive XS Web Bonus: We asked Matt’s high school classmates to provide some quotes on him, for him. Here are some!

“Knowing how dedicated he is in his endeavors, I am not surprised that he was able to achieve this great a feat. I’m sure that this is just one of many ways on how Matt can make his mark in history.”
— Sherwin Co, seatmate to the right of Matt

“Matt Go strongly stood by his beliefs while getting the highest grades in class. I really saw a huge potential in him to be great in whatever he wanted to do. He’s a perfectionist and it got infectious.”
— Aaron Yu, seatmate behind Matt

“I got to know Matt more when I was in third year, and I can definitely say that he is very smart, talented and had a passion to dive into the unknown. I will always remember the time when he would come up with his own processes using chicken bones. That used to make me laugh but I can now see where that little fantasy led up to.”
— Anderson Ongsyping, classmate from the opposite side of the classroom

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