viernes, 4 de enero de 2013

Treasure Seekers: Code of the Maya Kings


[This is a chapter from the National Geographic  Society TV series titled  "Treasure Seekers".  The full names of those making the comments can be seen in the previous entry.  The original versions of two other NGS documentaries --"The Silk Road" and "The Mountain and the Mosquito" (this one about the building of the Panama Canal)-- were also found on the Net and are also included in this archive.]



They would tantalize explorers for hundreds of years:  ruined cities lost in the jungles of Central America and Mexico, inscrutable faces etched in stone, mysterious writing.   Who had left these messages from the past?   It would take more than a century to unlock the secrets of the ancient Maya.   Two extraordinary people would lead the way. Separated by 100 years, they would unveil one of the greatest mysteries of archeology.   

Chichén Itzá, Mexico, 1842.   An American lawyer named John Lloyd Stephens wanders the empty ruins looking for clues.   He knows what he wants to find.   It has kept him going through two harrowing journeys, exploring the desolate jungles of Central America,kept him pushing on through mud and malaria, poisonous snakes, and insect-plagued nights under the stars.   Stephens, the lawyer, was looking for proof, undeniable evidence that these ruins were not built by the Egyptians or the Phoenicians or the Lost Tribes of Israel, and here at Chichén Itzá he thinks that he's found it at last: writing unlike that of any other civilization he knows, the same writing he'd seen at other ruined cities hundreds of miles away, proof of an ancient empire of Native Americans more sophisticated than anyone believed possible.

Stephens himself was a product of the New World.   He was born in 1805, the son of a wealthy New York merchant. The city wasn't much more than a Dutch village, but it was the hub of a new nation.   Stephens grew up along the Hudson River watching the ships come in from around the world.   After reading law, he opened a practice on Wall Street. Soon he got into politics, campaigning vigorously for Andrew Jackson for President, but months of shouting to the crowds gave him a serious throat infection.

His doctor prescribed a common remedy for wealthy young men: a grand tour of Europe.   The ancient ruins of Italy and Greece only piqued his curiosity.   Stephens went on to Egypt, and spent three months floating up the Nile, visiting the temples and monuments along the way.   Only a decade before a Frenchman had deciphered the hieroglyphs, revealing the rich history of Egypt's kings and queens.   Stephens was fascinated, and he still wasn't ready to go home.   He'd seen pictures of a fantastic ancient city in Arabia, lost for centuries to all but the Bedouins. Everyone told him the journey was too perilous for an unaccompanied American, so Stephens disguised himself as a Turkish merchant and took the name Abdul Hassis. In 1836, John Lloyd Stephens was the first American to set eyes on the ruins of Petra. In Roman times it had been one of the greatest cities of the East.   Stephens still found it dazzling:  "A temple delicate and limpid, carved like a cameo from a solid mountain wall.    The first view of that superb facade must produce an effect which will never pass away."

Stephens' letters home were so vivid and imaginative, they were published in a monthly magazine. Soon, he was writing books recounting his exotic adventures around the world.   The lawyer had become a literary sensation. 

 [G.S.:]  "He was a seasoned observer, he was an incredible observer.   In fact, Herman Melville of Moby Dick fame, recalled one time when he was in church.    Herman Melville was, he was a kid.   He heard that Stephens was in the front row, and when Stephens left, Melville writes, 'I thought this man must have great huge eyes that bulged through his head, he was such a good observer,' because Melville had read his stuff."

Back in New York the life of a sedentary lawyer no longer held any charm for Stephens.   Instead, his mind was filled with thoughts of another journey, not so far away, but even more remote and daring.   On his way home through London, he met an artist named Federick Catherwood who'd spent ten years in the Near East.   They shared their interest in exotic travel.    Sensing a kindred spirit, Catherwood had showed him a curious book about a lost city in Central America hidden in the jungle.   The book's authors thought the fabulous ruins of Palenque had been built by Egyptians, Carthaginians, maybe even the Lost Tribes of Israel: anyone but the Native Americans. 

 [G.S.:]  "There was sort of a racism in here that said that everything great had come through the Greeks, the Egyptians, through the European tradition, and anything different appeared relatively to be a bunch of naked savages wandering through the woods."

 In 1839, no one believed the native Americans capable of building a sophisticated civilization.   Stephens' own government had little use for them.   Only a year earlier they had uprooted thousands of Indians, sending them westward along the infamous Trail of Tears.   The thought of a great ancient civilization in Central America seemed even more preposterous.   A few travelers had reported sighting ruined cities like Palenque, but Stephens could find none of them on the map.   It was a travel writer's dream, but only this time he would have to bring back evidence of whatever he found. but who better to accompany him than the artist Frederick Catherwood, now practicing architecture in New York?   Only one small problem remained:  the newly formed Central American Federation was fighting a bitter civil war.   Using his political connections, Stephens secured a post as a Confidential Agent.   He figured his diplomatic coat would protect him in dangerous territory, so in October 1839, Catherwood bid farewell to his wife and two young boys, and now they were here, deep in the jungles of Central America.

The ruins of Copán was their first goals, but when they found the little village of the same name, no one there had ever head of nearby ruins.   Finally, a knowledgeable Indian offered to guide them, but that was hours ago.   Now they were beginning to think that the ruins were nothing but a legend, when suddenly, there they were, grander than their wildest dreams:  the ruins of Copán.   Pyramids rose majestically out of the jungle.   Great stone faces peered at them from intricately carved monuments, twice the size of a man.   Stephens noticed hieroglyphs and judged them to be as fine as any he'd seen in Egypt, yet his experience told him that these carvings were unique.   The silence of the once majestic city overwhelmed him:  "Copán lay before us like a shattered bark in the midst of the ocean, her masts gone, her crew perished, and none to tell whence she came."

[M.M.:]  "I think the description of Copán is the single most poetic description of a place he visits, for it is though he is walking around inside the Titanic, and he's looking at the shipwreck of a civilization.   He walks from monument to monument.   It is as though he's looking into the faces of those who have recently been ruling this place."

[?:]  "America, say historians, was peopled by savages, but savages never reared these structures, savages never carved these stones.   Architecture, sculpture and painting, all the arts which embellish life, had flourished in this overgrown forest, and yet none knew that such things had been, or could tell of their past existence."

[M.M.:]   "He's the first who is really able to say, 'Look at these stone figures... these must be portraits of their kings and queens', and he uses the word 'queen', which is really quite astonishing, in seeing men and women in the monuments, for 100 years later, all the men and women that Stephens saw will have been reduced by 20th century archeologists to a group of anonymous calendar priests.   Stephens has this kind of Yankee can-do observation.   The best part of many of Stephens' insights is that they prove to be absolutely true."

 Yet Stephens was deeply puzzled by the mystery at the heart of Copán.   Who could have built this extraordinary city? The local Indians didn't seem to know.   Stephens needed their help to explore the ruins, but the owner of the land interfered.   Finally, it seemed that the only solution was to buy Copán, so the lawyer put on his diplomatic coat and went to the village to negotiate:  "You are perhaps curious to know how old ruins sell in Central America.   I paid $50 for Copán.   There was never any difficulty about price.   I offered that sum, for which Don Jose María thought me only a fool.   If I had offered more, he would probably have considered me something worse."    Ownership settled, the team set about surveying the ruined city, measuring and mapping its buildings.

[M.M.:]  "Catherwood is a remarkable character as well.   I wish we knew more about him.   One gains some sense of the Stephens personality, just from the written word.   The Catherwood personality doesn't emerge much.   Stephens treats him very formally, and he appears as 'Mr. Catherwood'."   

At first "Mr. Catherwood"  found it almost impossible to draw the monuments.   Their tropical luxuriance defied his restrained British hand.    [G.S.:]  "Stephens mentions coming upon him in the woods one day.   Catherwood is standing in front of a big upright monument.   It is a statute of one of the Copán rulers, and all intricately carved.  Catherwood's standing there almost obscured by a pile of crumpled paper, which represents the output so far that day of unsuccessful attempts to draw this thing."   Fortunately, Catherwood had brought along a camera lucida, a box with a prism inside which allowed him to trace a reflected image. To please the perfectionist "Mr. Catherwood", every detail had to be correct.

 With the coming of Spring, they were ready to begin the search for the next great goal: Palenque.   The territory to the north, through the Sierra Madre Mountains, was wild and uncharted.   As one local said, the road to Palenque was only for birds.   Snakes and clouds of mosquitoes dogged their steps.   To Stephens the worst part was the local custom of carrying a visitor up the steepest trail on a chair, strapped to the back of an Indian:  " I rose and fell with every breath, felt his body trembling under me, and his knees seemed giving way.   The slightest irregular movement on my part may bring us both down together.   I would have given him a release for the rest of the journey to be off his back."

 On and on they traveled.    It took more than a month to reach the fabled ruins that had first inspired their journey. Palenque seemed to hang on the edge of the mountains, its graceful buildings dominating the plain below.    "Wherever we moved, we saw the evidence of their tastes, their skills in arts, their wealth and power.   In the midst of desolation and ruin, we looked back to the past, cleared away the gloomy forest and fancied every building perfect, lofty and imposing."   

Palenque's architecture was different from Copán's, but Stephens noticed many similarities, particularly the mysterious writings.   Examining it carefully, he reached a remarkable conclusion:  "There is room for the belief that the whole of this country was once occupied by the same race, speaking the same language, or at least having the same written characters."   The Indians Stephens met spoke many languages and were as mystified by the ruins as he was, yet, intuitively, Stephens seemed to sense a link between them. 

[M.M.:]  "Stephens, I think, is the first person who can make the connection between the Indians that he sees and meets and the ancient ruins.  Whereas other people want to say, 'Oh, these pathetic peasants, these miserable Indians, they could never have built this.   We must look for some alternative solution to where these things would have come from.'   He believes that here is complete continuity, and that, I think, is one of the most radical ideas to come out of his book."

 At night, Stephens and Catherwood slept in the imposing ruin they called "The Palace".   The rainy season had begun, and the mosquitoes, venomous during the day, were even worse at night.   Catherwood was already racked with malaria, but somehow they kept on working, for 22 days and sleepless nights, bewitched by the beauty of Palenque. Exhausted, they pushed on, further north and east to the Yucatán, but Catherwood was too ill to continue.   Vowing to return, they headed home to New York.   In 10 months the two explorers had accomplished the impossible:  they had rediscovered an ancient American civilization grander than anyone had ever dreamed.   Now they were ready to astound the world with its story.

[G.S.:]  "Stephens's book was incredibly popular when it appeared in the summer of 1841: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán.   Harper and Brothers had printed up a goodly print run, and it sold out pretty quickly."

 [M.M.:]  "Stephens writes a real page-turner.   It is such a personal view, and it becomes one of the great bestsellers of the entire 19th century.   It goes through dozens of editions and there is an enormous American desire to know more about this part of the world."

[G.S.:]   "They were lionized after the publication.   They were quite the thing in New York.   It was reviewed everywhere, just an amazing publication epic, so the trip was a success and they planned to go again."   Seventeen month after they'd left Mexico, Stephens and Catherwood were back in the Yucatán, exploring the city of Uxmal.   On this second journey, they concentrated their efforts on this one region of Mexico.   Inching their way through the jungle, they discovered many ruined cities entirely unknown, with names like Coba, Labna, and Sayil.   Stephens felt they were racing against time: everywhere they went, they found ruins collapsing into piles of rubble.   Catherwood even learned how to sketch from his mule to save time.   At Uxmal, the artist drew the face of a god on the side of a pyramid.   Years later, it was destroyed.   Catherwood's illustration is our only record of it.

[?:]  "They performed the greatest service, perhaps, in freezing in time a set of observations and images of a land that no longer exists."

[M.M.:]  " They're romantic pictures, yet at the same time they're remarkably accurate.   Many of Catherwood's renderings, for examples, of the Maya at Uxmal and Magna and other sites are the first depictions that we have of what Mayan people looked like.   We had no earlier record."

 In the town of Balancanché, the explorers visited an ancient well deep underground.    Catherwood was so inspired, he began his memorable sketch at the foot of the ladder.   [?:]  "It was the wildest setting that could be conceived, men struggling up a huge ladder with earthen jars of water strapped to back and head, their sweating bodies glistening under the light of the pine torches." 

 One of the last places they explored was Chichén Itzá.   Its architecture moved them more than any other city on this second journey.   Most exciting of all was the revelation that this city had been linked to Copán and Palenque hundred of miles away:  "It was the first time in Yucatán that we had found hieroglyphics sculptured on stone which beyond all question bore the same type with those at Copán and Palenque. If one but could read it!"   Finally, Stephens felt he had the proof he'd been looking for.   The mysterious writing was unique, unlike any he'd ever seen.   Now he could convince the skeptics that the ruined cities had been built by Native Americans:  "These ruins are different than the works of any other known people.   Of a new order, they stand alone."

 In the nine months of their second journey, Stephens and Catherwood managed to visit 44 ruined cities and gather some treasures for an exhibit on their return, but they paid a heavy price for their adventures.   Malaria would haunt both men for the rest of their lives.   John Lloyd Stephens would fight the dread disease for ten years before succumbing to it in 1852.   Frederick Catherwood would die tragically a few years later in a shipwreck.  

This is the only image we have of him, for there was another sad chapter to their story: the fate of the great exhibition they held on their return to New York.   [G.S.:]   "This fire started one night in July of 1842, and literally overnight it wiped out the physical originals: the drawings, some of the archeological stuff, the limestone carvings they had brought back at great labor.   Thank goodness for the books, and I thank the Fates every day that somebody at Harper and Brothers Publishers in New York had the foresight to heavily illustrate the book, because what a shame if the drawings had been lost." 

 Fortunately, before he died, Catherwood issued exquisite folios of some of the drawings.   They inspired generations of explorers to follow the intrepid pair to the land of the Maya, but Stephens' insights would have a different fate.   His greatest intuition --that the Maya had written the real stories of their lives on the monuments-- would be ignored.   The legions of archeologists who came after him were able to decipher some of the glyphs, but only those that spoke of numbers, dates and the stars.   Carried away by the discovery that the ancient Maya were great astronomers, archeologists fashioned a picture of them as peaceful stargazers, obsessed with calendars and time.   When John Lloyd Stephens had looked at the monuments, he had seen real kings and queens.   One hundred years later, archeologists saw only the calculations of anonymous timekeepers.   It would take a fresh set of eyes to finally unravel the secrets of Maya carvings and prove that Stephens was right.

 The story of Tatiana Proskouriakoff is not well known outside the realm of Maya studies, yet in that field she is a giant, a woman in a man's world who saw further and deeper than her more famous contemporaries.   What we know of the ancient Maya today --the exciting revelations emerging from dozens of excavations-- is built on her work. Speaking of Copán, she was the first to describe its ruins as a puzzle.   She was the one who supplied the missing piece.   

Tatiana, or Tanya, as her friends called her, was born in Tomsk, Siberia in 1909.   Her mother, the daughter of a prominent general, was a physician, her father, a chemist.   World War I shattered their peaceful existence.   In 1915, Tanya's father was sent to the United States to supervise arms manufacturing for the czar.   With the coming of the Russian Revolution, the family was trapped and began a new life in suburban Philadelphia.   At work on the first biography of Proskouriakoff, Char Solomon has been uncovering these early details of her life.

[Ch.S.:]  "Tanya's story is compelling to me because she was born in Russia at such a tumultuous time.   She came to the United States. She acquired English as a second language, and mastered it in such a way that it became the equivalent of her first language.   She chose a profession that was dominated by men at a time when many women did not choose to go that route."

 Tanya majored in architecture at Pennsylvania State University, one of the only women to do so in her graduating class.   It was 1930, the height of the Great Depression.   Tanya spent several dispiriting years looking for work, then settled for a job making drawings for a needlepoint shop.   The search for good subjects led her to the Archeological Museum at the University of Pennsylvania.   Tanya's skillful drawings attracted the attention of Linton Satterwaite, an archeologist looking for an artist to work at his dig, deep in the jungles of Guatemala.

 The ruined City of Piedras Negras was a big jump from her close-knit Russian family, but Tanya was ready for an adventure.   The small party set off for Guatemala in the winter of 1936.   On their way, they stopped at Palenque, the graceful ruined city that had captivated the explorers Stephens and Catherwood almost 100 years before.   Tanya was equally entranced.

[Ch.S.:]  "She, in older years, said that when she first saw the elegant little Temple of the Sun, she knew she had found her vocation, that there would never be anything else that would get her as much as that." 

 Tanya's pencil responded easily to the intricacies of Maya art. The young Russian American had felt the pulse of an ancient mystery, but settling in the Piedras Negras wasn't easy.   Tanya had to learn how to survey and draw the dilapidated ruins.   [M.M.:]  "As an outsider, as a woman who had learned a profession and was trying to find a way into it, I'm sure she was clearly little Tanya, allowed to sit there with her drafting pen and make observations about Piedras Negras.   I think she had to pay for every step she took, but she really, I think, was someone who was able to compete effectively with the boys."

 In Mayan archeology in the 1932s, 'the boys' were a pretty formidable bunch.   [G.S.:]  "This was a group of people that came together, people from mostly Ivy League: Harvard and Penn and other places.   They were all great friends. They were all, as most archeologists were at the time, people of independent means.   They could do what they darn well pleased."   

Even in the bush these silver-spoon archeologists managed to live well.   At Piedras Negras, dinner was a formal occasion, beginning with cocktails.   [Ch.S.:]  "Somewhere around 5 o'clock they would dress, and they would dress elegantly.   Tanya had a white dress, full-length dress, that she packed along with her.   She would slough through the mud to get to the dining hut, and then sort of tuck the muddy bottom of her dress down behind her feet, so that no one would notice.   There was a little bit of challenging banter also between Tanya and Linton.   He had suggested that one of the structures did not have a staircase going up one side, and she felt strongly that there would have been and challenged him on that point, so he said, 'Well, if you really believe that there was a staircase there, then you have to dig and find me the proof,' which she did, and to her delight, she found the staircase."

Tanya began to sketch reconstructions of the ruins based on the archeological data. Her drawings were so impressive, they earned her a sketching tour of other Maya cities.   Her first stop was Copán.   Noted Mayanist Ian Graham shared an office with Tanya in her later years at Harvard's Peabody Museum. He remembers her tales of Copán in the Thirties.  "Anyway, she landed, the sole female in this isolated camp.   There were some fairly spirited characters there.   One was an amazing man called Gus Stromsvik."

 [Ch.S.:]  "Gustav Stromsvik, the Norwegian archeologist who worked for the Carnegie Institution, fell deeply in love with her, and Tanya had a period in which she tried to decide what this relationship was going to mean in her life. Stromsvik was a very dynamic personality.   He was very outgoing.   He was a raconteur, and she loved people who could tell good stories, she loved to laugh, so she was drawn to him, but on the other hand, Stromsvik had a very serious drinking problem."

 [I.G.:]  "Particularly on Saturday nights, the life there was spent pretty wild.   Tanya seemed to handle it perfectly well.   It's amazing.   She led such a protective life in her Russian family and in her suburban life in Philadelphia, but she had grit."

 Tanya's next stop was Chichén Itzá, center of the Mayan world in this golden age of archeology.   The ancient city was undergoing a renaissance as archeologists from the Carnegie Institution pieced it back together.   [?:]  "Half of rebuilding has gone hand in hand with the work of (...)."   Welcoming the throngs of visitors was the man who would serve as the spokesman for the Maya for more than 20 years, Carnegie's Sylvanus Morley, known for his oversized straw hats and ebullient personality.

At Chichén Itzá, he lived in grand style in a Spanish colonial manor house.   Every evening a Chinese cook would prepare dinner for Morley and his band of archeologists.   Envious colleagues referred to them as "the Club".   On special evenings Morley would lead his guests to the ruins of the Maya ball court for a concert, amplified by the court's amazing acoustics.   Tanya would join the others in the moonlight in this fitting place to conjure the spirits of the departed Maya.   For to the Carnegie Club, the Maya were a band of priestly stargazers, unlike any other people who had ever lived.   These ancient wise men had never fought wars.   Instead, they had spent their time inventing an elaborate calendar and a system of writing used for nothing but recording time.   The author of this view of the Maya was Sir Eric Thompson, an acerbic Englishman whose intellect dominated Maya studies for nearly 50 years.   No one, not even Morley, questioned his authority.

[M.M.:]  "As Thompson began to formulate his ideas, no one had the strength of character to resist.   Morley was the one who tried.   In Morley's early works he offers a rather different picture.   He is overwhelmed by Thompson's point of view and adopts it.   This makes it very difficult for a new voice to find a path, and particularly when one can imagine that the name of Tanya is probably generally preceded by 'little'."   Thompson may have been able to cow the other members of the Carnegie Club, but he hadn't bargained on Tanya Proskouriakoff.  [M.M.:]  "My general sense of her is absolutely contrary in a kind of way that if you said, 'Well, it looks like rain', she would say, 'Ah, there's not a drop of rain in that cloud'.   She was the kind of person if you said, 'Oh, it's too warm in here', she would immediately go turn up the thermostat and make it a little warmer.   She just had a kind of contrary personality.   I think that helped her also then say, 'Well, if you say the Maya are peaceful, let's look at them from another point of view'."

 Bit by bit, Tanya began to ask different questions than her colleagues.   She also started to study the living Maya, convinced that they had something to teach her as well.   [M.M.:]  "When she was in highlands Chiapas she took some lessons learning how to weave on the hand loom that the Maya work with.   At the same time, the same young woman was helping her to learn Maya.   This is something a lot of people don't know about Tanya, is that she did study Yucatex Maya."

Tanya's intuition that the living Maya could provide the valuable link to the past was borne out by a fabulous discovery in 1946.   An American filmmaker named Giles Healey persuaded a Maya Indian to show him one of their secret places.   The Indian led Healy to Bonampak, a lost city buried in the jungle.   Peering into a building, Healy was astounded to find faces looking back at him from the walls.   Armies were locked in a furious battle.   Other scenes showed prisoners of war and victims of human sacrifice.   

[M.M.:]  "Try as Thompson might, it was impossible to convince anyone, I think, that these depicted a peaceful Maya, for in the Bonampak murals we see one of the greatest battle paintings ever created in the history of humankind.   Proskouriakoff had not been allowed to write a single interpretive word on the Bonampak paintings, but I've always wondered if it did not play some role in shaping how she looked at the Maya world."

Sir Eric Thompson effectively barred the door at Bonampak, preventing other Mayanists from pursuing the bloody implications of its murals.   Nevertheless, the flaws were beginning to show in his vision of the peaceful Maya.   A few years later, another piece of the puzzle would slide into place.   In a bookstore in Mexico, Tanya found a revolutionary new book by a Russian named Yuri Knorozov.   Always interested in things Russian, she avidly read his new theory of  Maya writing.   Eventually, it would prove the key to deciphering the glyphs, but for years Sir Eric Thompson would condemn the new theory as Communist propaganda. 

 In the late 1950s, Carnegie closed down its Meso-America program, a victim of new priorities, but Tanya was kept on as a research associate with an office at Harvard's Peabody Museum.   Her days in the field were over, but her greatest work had just begun.   In her little apartment in Cambridge, Tanya was on to something.   [Ch.S.:]  "When reading through Tanya's diaries I can see that in the 1950s she made a very conscious decision to become more private in her life.   She began working much more intensively with the hieroglyphics."   In her mind Tanya had returned to Piedras Negras, the site of her first experience with the Maya.   Puzzling over the monuments, she noticed a peculiar pattern with the glyphs.   Over and over, the same glyphs were linked to dates and on each of the monuments none of the dates exceeded a human lifespan.   Suddenly to Tanya the evidence was clear: the monuments were marking the stages of an individual's life.   Where others had seen only cold calculations, Tanya Proskouriakoff saw the lives of human beings.   It was a conclusion that cut to the heart of everything Sir Eric Thompson believed.

Tanya marshaled her facts, then showed Thompson her article before sending it to the publisher.   [Ch.S.:]   "...and when she talked with him before he had read it, he disagreed strongly with what her ideas of the Maya were.   When he took the article home and he read it, he came back the next day and said, 'Well, actually, I believe you're right,' which were very big words from someone who was considered a giant in the field at the time."

[G.S.:]  "...and from that time on, when you saw a Maya monument you knew that it didn't deal with gods and priests, it deal with human beings, and that was the importance.   In one sense, everything that we've done since then in hieroglyphy and in the interpretation of the hieroglyphs has been a footnote to what Tanya did.   She did the general breakthrough.   When she and Yuri Knorozov in Russia came up with thorough hieroglyphic keys, that was it. We went on a roll."

 Once the code breakers went to work, a more human image of the Maya began to emerge.   Written in the monuments were the stories of their lives, their ancestors, their battles and conquests. Across the centuries the Maya came alive:  kings and queens, rulers of fabulous cities full of the voices of the people echoing out of the past.

[D.S.:]  "Things were changing at such a dramatic rate. We can read about, I would guess, 75 or 80 percent of the inscriptions that the Maya wrote.  Given that in 1960 we could barely read any of it, that's extraordinary."   David Stuart began deciphering Maya glyphs when he was just a boy.   Tanya Proskouriakoff is one of his heroes.   He met her shortly before she died, when she was continuing her careful scholarship at the Peabody.   In 1998, Stewart took her ashes to Piedras Negras for burial at a sight high above the ancient city she had loved.

[D.S.:]  "We didn't realize how poignant the ceremony was going to be.   Most of us were students or young people in the field, in our 30s at the oldest, and it sort of dawned on everyone that here was the remains of this great lioness, this legendary figure.   The Guatemalans who were there were very emotional about this because this was the woman who had brought the Maya back to history."

 At the end of his pioneering journey to Central America in 1840, the explorer, John Lloyd Stephens had been the first to state with conviction: "One thing I believe: that its history is graven on its monuments."   More than 100 years later, we finally knew that Stephens was right.   At Palenque, Copán, Chichén Itzá, and dozens of ruins in between, the ancient Maya now speak for themselves.


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