We had the good fortune of connecting with Malachi Fenn and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Malachi, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I didn’t! Although I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, and attended one of Miami’s art magnet high schools (Design and Architecture Senior High), my plan was to study anthropology in college and apply to law schools afterward.

What ended up happening was that I went on a class trip to Parque La Venta in Tabasco, Mexico, in my first year of undergrad, and when my digital camera broke, I started drawing the artifacts we were looking at. My professor saw my drawings and later hired me to do illustrations of Prehispanic Maya glyphs for an exhibit catalog with the University of Miami’s Lowe Museum. The same year, a classmate told me I could work as an archaeologist just with a Bachelor’s degree and by attending an archaeological field school.

I kept combining science and art, and Plan B became Plan A. I’m now a public archaeologist, and use graphic design, filmmaking, and other skills to teach the public about South Florida’s cultural heritage!

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Archaeology is a field where workers are often required to travel, work in new environments with different artifacts and biomes than they’re accustomed to, and benefit from having an extremely wide base of knowledge. It’s the study of the human past, after all, so being interdisciplinary is key.

I’ve had so many unexpected twists and turns in my career, and the most important lessons I’ve learned have been to be willing to adapt, pick up new and different skills whenever possible, always be on the lookout for an opportunity to apply those skills, and to build myself a niche or specialization within my field (without strictly limiting myself to it). Conventional wisdom states that it’s best to specialize more and more as your career progresses, but that hasn’t been my experience, and I’m sure that’s the case for other professionals as well!

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
That’s easy–all the incredible heritage sites we have in Miami! Although it’s often treated solely as a place to party, Miami has nearly 10,000 years of human history to explore.

I’d highly recommend Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours to explore the Everglades with members of the Miccosukee Tribe, the original caretakers of these lands. Miami was built on Tequesta, Miccosukee, and Seminole land, so it’s good to learn about history from the folks who know best!

The Deering Estate in South Dade is home to gorgeous nature preserves, a publicly accessible dock on Biscayne Bay, and historic houses dating to the 1920s, as well as Tequesta archaeological sites.

Biscayne National Park has a Maritime Heritage Trail of shipwrecks. Although some wrecks require scuba gear to visit, there are a few you can enjoy with just a snorkle!

The Nike Missile Site in Everglades National Park is home to abandoned nuclear missile silos dating to the Cold War. It’s very eerie, and their history is as scary as it is fascinating.

Finally, I’d have to recommend HistoryMiami Museum and the Miami Circle! Visiting the museum allows you to explore thousands of years of Miami’s history, including the Miami Circle, one of the most iconic archaeological sites in the city. After you’ve seen the exhibit, cross the Miami River via bridge or metro mover and enjoy the Miami Circle in real life!

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Absolutely. Dr. Gabrielle Vail, an epigrapher (translator and transliterator of historic texts) focusing on Prehispanic Maya glyphs, is the first professor I worked with closely.

She introduced me to anthropological archaeology (the study of the human past through material culture, informed by living communities) and community archaeology (working directly with descendant communities and focusing your research on the issues they are most interested in) firsthand.

She has developed so many free educational resources like http://mayacodices.org/ that are easy to access, and has been an innovator in our field for quite some time. I admire and emulate her teaching style to this day,

Website: https://www.fpan.us/regions/southeast/

Instagram: @fpansoutheast

Facebook: Florida Public Archaeology Network – Southeast

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvFgoxa57u4bxwoAyeUCIEQ

Image Credits
Sara Ayers-Rigsby, MA, RPA Regional Director, Florida Public Archaeology Network – South

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