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Stephen and Chris Houston

Renowned anthropologist and archeologist Stephen Houston, right, a Brown University professor and 1976 graduate of Carlisle Area High School, was awarded the Order of the Quetzal in the rank of Grand Cross by the president of Guatemala July 21.

His brother, Chris Houston, left, executive director of the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, traveled to Guatemala to witness the ceremony.

For many, dreams change with the years. And for some, even the seasons.

A childhood ambition may change by the time college, or even high school, rolls around. A student, thought to have his mind set on a career goal, may change his major. And, a post-graduate may wind up in a field completely different than the one he envisioned himself in.

Stephen Houston is not one of those people.

"Ever since he was a young child, he's always been interested in archeology. First, it was Egyptian archeology," Chris Houston, executive director of the Cumberland County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, recalled of his younger brother. "(Growing up), we went to Sweden every year and there are lots of Viking-type artifacts and runestones scattered throughout the country."

It was there in Sweden that Stephen Houston's passion for the past would be cemented.

"It has a powerful effect on a young person. Or, it should, anyway," he said over the phone Monday. "But, it was really when I got to college that I became interested in European archeology, and then the Maya."

As the years went on, Stephen Houston's interest in anthropology, archeology and epigraphy would continue to grow - so much so that the Carlisle Area High School graduate would devote his career to the study of the Maya culture.

Significant honor

"Since the early 1980s, he's spent his entire professional life working on the Maya and spending a lot of time in (Guatemala) on the various archeological digs," Chris Houston said. "He's one of the few people in the world that can read Mayan hieroglyphics. Last year, he uncovered a royal tomb."

The tomb Houston refers to is that of an ancient Maya king, discovered in May of 2010 below the El Diablo pyramid in the Guatemalan city of El Zotz by a team of archeologists led by Stephen Houston.

"(The Maya) are one of the few civilizations in the ancient Americas that has a very elaborate writing system. And, that's what my research has been about," Stephen Houston said. "What the Maya had to say and the archeology that they left behind."

In recognition of his vast contributions to the study of the Maya culture, Stephen Houston was awarded on July 21 with the prestigious Order of the Quetzal in Guatemala in the rank of Grand Cross by the president of Guatemala.

"It's a very rare honor," he said. "It's seldom accorded and seldom given. And, it's like other decorations around the world in that it has certain ranks."

Houston was awarded the highest rank of all - the Grand Cross.

"It's given by the president of Guatemala and it has to be approved by the full cabinet of ministers, Stephen he said. "It's humbling to receive it. It's something that deepens my sense of commitment to the country, and it also recognizes that I've already put some 30 years of research into Guatemalan archeology. So, I couldn't be more pleased."

Many years to come

According to Chris Houston, who traveled down to Guatemala for the ceremony at the National Palace, "This order is really equivalent to our Presidential Medal of Freedom. It's the highest award that can be given to a civilian in Guatemala."

"For me, it's a great thing to see that he's recognized for his expertise. It's great to see the Guatemalan government recognize his achievements. It's very significant," Chris Houston added. "It's great for him to be recognized for really, an interest that he's had since he was a child."

A graduate of Penn State, Stephen Houston currently holds an endowed chair as the Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and serves as a professor of anthropology at Brown University in Providence, R. I.

Of the honor, he said "It's nice to get, but hopefully I have many decades left of research in front of me. I have an ongoing excavation in Guatemala. And, I plan on working on a number of books this year, and many more beyond, I hope."

"These awards shouldn't be valedictory," he added. "It's a welcome acknowledgement of the work that I've done so far. But, I hope that it's not signifying the end."

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