Demarest, a Louisiana Cajun, studied Mesoamerican anthropology and archaeology at Tulane University, where he graduated. In 1981 Demarest was granted his doctorate by Harvard University and he was admitted to the prestigious Harvard Society of Fellows club. From 1984 on he taught at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, USA, where he holds the endowed chair of Ingram Professor of Anthropology and heads up the Institute of Mesoamerican Archaeology.
Demarest has worked in Mesoamerica for 25 years, leading archaeological excavations and expeditions. He is considered one of the world's leading experts on the Olmec and Maya cultures, but is also interested in Incas, Aztecs and anthropological theory.
As an authority in the field, Demarest was interviewed on the collapse of Maya civilisation by American journalist Alan Weisman for his book The World Without Us. Demarest himself is the author of several books and numerous articles.
Demarest's work with the Maya in Mesoamerica was featured in the "Last Days of the Maya", a 2005 documentary in the television series Explorer, aired on the National Geographic Channel.
In 2000 Demarest was presented with the Orden del Pop, an annual award bestowed by Guatemala's Museo Popol Vuh at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, in recognition of his services to Guatemalan archaeology, particularly his fieldwork at locations such as the Petexbatún Basin, Soconusco coast, and the site of Cancuén.
In 2004 Demarest became the first US citizen to be awarded the Orden Nacional del Patrimonio Cultural de Guatemala, an annual award presented by the office of the President of Guatemala in recognition of contributions to the country's cultural heritage. Demarest was presented with the award by the then Guatemalan president, Óscar Berger, in a ceremony on 10 November of that year, with a citation for his contributions to "the rescue, conservation and protection of tangible cultural patrimony".
- Weisman 2007: 225
- Weisman 2007:224–229
- Museo Popol Vuh n.d.
- Vanderbilt University 2004
- Didrichsen, Maria, ed. (2005). Maya II: kadonneen kaupungin arvoitus = den återfunna mayastaden. Harri Kettunen and Jyrki Talvitie (Finnish trans.); Ulf Lewin (Swedish trans.). Helsinki: Didrichsen Art Museum. ISBN 952-5567-04-4. OCLC 76859502. (Finnish) (Swedish)
- Museo Popol Vuh (n.d.). "Dr. Arthur A. Demarest: Orden del Pop 2000". Orden del Pop. Guatemala City: Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquín. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
- Vanderbilt University (11 November 2004). "Maya archaeologist receives national medal from Guatemalan president" (online publication). Vanderbilt University's News Network. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
- Weisman, Alan (2007). The World Without Us. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1-4272-0148-5. OCLC 122261590.
- Presentation on the Vanderbilt University website.
- Works by or about Arthur Demarest in libraries (WorldCat catalog)