Edgar Telón, being an archaeologist in Guatemala
In this edition of our #StaffSpotlight, we spoke with Edgar Telón, a forensic archaeologist with more than 10 years experience in searching and identifying Disappeared persons.
Hello! I am a forensic archeologist at FAFG
I like: Growing decorative, aromatic and medicinal plants; observing reptiles, and helping my friends and family.
Personal quote: “Life is full of challenges and opportunities so we can make the most of it” – Edgar Telón
How did your interest in archeology and its application in the forensic field start?
Since I was little I wanted to be a paleontologist. While researching, I discovered this degree was only taught in Chile.The other option was to be an archaeologist. So I investigated where I could study here in Guatemala. I took the exams to start at the University of San Carlos and that’s how I began to study archeology.
What I liked about archeology was having the opportunity to work in communities in the highlands. While I was in my degree, more or less like in the seventh semester, I had several colleagues who worked at FAFG and I was curious to know more about the Foundation. I saw some opportunities and a colleague convinced me to apply. In 2007, I was offered a position in the Forensic Archaeology department.
The first two trips I had in 2007 were to the Chajul, Quiché. I was a little nervous but my more experienced colleagues shared all the information with us, going over each step, so that we could do a good job. I spent two years as a Forensic Archeology Assistant and in 2009 I was promoted to Associate. In those two years that I was an assistant, I went to approximately 40 exhumations and learned a lot.
Do you have a memorable experience during your time working at FAFG?
I remember a man of about 80 years old, who was walking with us to an exhumation site. He told us that we were young, and we should not take so long. He had to wait for us several times so that we did not get lost on the way!
What has been the longest amount of time you had to be out in the field?
There have been three times. The first long tripI had was in Uspantán, where I was gone for 55 days.The second longest trip was when I was working in CREOMPAZ (Cobán, Alta Verapaz), I was there for a month and a half.And the third longest was in Izabal, where I stayed for three months. That was my last case last year.
Being away for so long is physically and emotionally exhausting. We miss some birthdays and other activities with family, friends or loved ones. The days are long but you find the strength in doing things you like.
What personal qualities do you think have helped you to perform your job well?
Emotionally, I am a fairly strong and stable person, I can be away for three or four months. I always try to stay focused on what I have to do. It helps that I like being outdoors and in nature.
It also helps that my father is Indigenous and since I was little he took me to work in the fields. I learned to walk in the mountains, to dig and to use tools. That has helped me a lot with my work, since it was not something new for me.
Everyone has their qualities and enjoys or adapts to the conditions in the workplace. In general, archaeologists know that field work is hard but rewarding.
Do you have any physical routine when you are not working in the field?
When I am not in the field, I do planting and reforestation work, in that sense I always keep myself active. I also used to play soccer. I remember that with Selket (an archaeologist from FAFG), when we started at FAFG we raced to see who could get to the car first (laughs), we really enjoyed that.
What has been your experience outside of Guatemala?
In Mexico I participated in two expert reports and workshops in Tamaulipas and Guadalajara. When our colleague Leonel Paiz passed away, I covered a workshop in his place in Colombia. This has been very important to me in learning about other countries and their contexts.
What is your vision for FAFG? What impact do you want to see?
For myself, I want to continue working as an expert in the field, so that I can continue learning from the investigations. As a Foundation, we can provide more information through academic publications and continue to share the experience that we have obtained here in Guatemala. We need to work, learn, and share a lot about the context in which we work.
The objective of all is to improve and strengthen the processes or strategies for the search and identification of the Disappeared. In our case, it is a challenge because the events have occurred more than three decades ago. Over time, it can become more complicated by the lack of witnesses or family groups to complete samples, and the total erosion of the bodies, making it difficult to obtain genetic profiles.
Any final message or final thought?
We must know the history of our country, learn from the past. In the educational system, the 80s time period is a topic that has not been fully expanded, but we as Guatemalans can contribute a lot.
This work has given me the opportunity to see beautiful places and to interact with people of different ethnic groups and learn and understand their way of life and situation.