Stone Center Inaugurates Annual Maya Symposium

November 1, 2002

Arthur Nead

This month, academic research specialists and archaeology amateurs will dig into the secrets of the ancient Maya without ever leaving the Tulane campus. The first annual Maya symposium and workshop of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies takes place Nov. 13.

Entitled "Archaeology, Astronomy and Texts from the Northern Maya Lowlands," the event features Tulane faculty and graduate students as well as distinguished guest speakers who will present new findings and updated research in a way that will be of interest both to scholars and the general public.

"We've modeled the symposium on other 'Maya weekends' across the country," says symposium coordinator Gabrielle Vail. Vail, who earned her doctorate in anthropology from Tulane, is a researcher in the field of Mayan epigraphy and hieroglyphics. She currently teaches at New College of Florida in Sarasota. She credits Thomas Reese, executive director of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, with the idea to bring the symposium to Tulane.

"We're trying to appeal both to people working in the area, and to the public, by focusing on new research that's taking place in the northern Maya lowlands in the Yucatan Peninsula," says Vail. "This is research that perhaps I or other colleagues haven't heard about. So, although it will be presented in a general and basic way, it will give specialists a chance to hear about new research that's taking place. And there will be times--such as receptions and dinners for the speakers--when researchers can speak among themselves in a little more detail."

The symposium organizers expect a good attendance because of a widespread and ever-increasing interest in Maya culture, due in large part to a handful of dynamic researchers who have been able to communicate their findings in an engaging way. One such person is the symposium's keynote speaker, Merle Green Robertson, a noted archeologist and Mayan art expert.

Since the 1960s, Robertson has made thousands of rubbings of Mayan relief carvings at more than 100 archaeological sites throughout Central America, many times in conditions of considerable hazard to herself. A large number of these rubbings are housed in the Latin American Library in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library.

The rubbing process transfers the image directly from stone to paper, so the rubbings often provide a better record of the details and nuances of carvings than can photographs. Many of the stone carvings have weathered badly or have been damaged or stolen since Green recorded them. Green's talk on Friday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. in the Freeman Auditorium, Woldenberg Art Center of Newcomb College, is free and open to the public.

Among the topics to be discussed on Saturday are a re-examination of the chronology of northern Maya history, a survey of Maya sites on the northwest coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, a study of some unusual Maya sculptures, the role of astronomy in Maya culture, and new interpretations of Maya and central Mexican codices. The Sunday workshops include introductions to Maya hieroglyphics, Maya monuments, and the Maya calendar system.

Advanced workshops are offered on astronomical tables in the codices, year dates and ceremonies in the codices and interpreting other Maya texts. An important component of the symposium is the Friday workshop on the Maya for kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers.

"The subject of the workshop is integrating Maya culture into the classroom," says Brian Knighten, outreach and program coordinator for the Latin American Resource Center of the Stone Center.

According to Knighten, one workshop will focus on interpreting and creating Mayan art in the classroom and another will examine Mayan archaeology. Such community outreach is a mainstay of programming for the Stone Center, says Valerie McGinley Marshall, the center's director of development and external programs.

"One thing we try to do with our teacher workshops is to integrate them with an academic conference," she says. The aim is to encourage teachers and education administrators attending the teachers' workshop to stay on and attend the full symposium. "The goal of the Maya symposium workshop is to facilitate the exchange between the academy and the general public," says Marshall. Most events will be held in Jones Hall. See Calendar for more details.

Arthur Nead may be reached at

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