Thirty years ago FLAAR organized one of the first international Maya symposiums held in Guatemala. Two decades after that FLAAR organized four years of Maya symposiums at Brevard Community College in Florida. These were popular and attended literally by people all around the world.

Presently there are so many capable Maya archaeology symposiums by other institutions that FLAAR does not intend to initiate one on our own: we are more effective these days by studying how advanced digital technology can assist archaeologists, botanists, zoologists, geologists, and museum curators.

The following notes on a recent year 2009 Maya event in Florida are courtesy of Harry Pearson. He attended all the FLAAR symposiums in the 1990's and has visited scores of Maya sites.

Notes on a well-organized and educational Maya symposium by Harry Pearson

My wife Meme and I attended a four day (Oct 1 – 4, 2009) symposium called “Maya At The Playa”. Actual venue was the Government Bldg for Flagler County at the town of Bunnell, Florida. This is right at 100 miles from where we live so we were able to commute rather than needing to stay over.

37 archaeologists and scientists of other disciplines presented Workshops, PowerPoints, papers, etc. This meant that sometimes as many as three were scheduled at the same time so we had to pick the one we felt would be most interesting. These lectures were organized by the American Foreign Academic Research and the Archaeological Institute of America.

The major theme of the presentations was the Creation Myth. The most notable of these was Bill Saturno who put on a superb workshop. Several years ago, Bill uncovered 2 walls of painted murals at the site of San Bartolo, which lies to the northeast of Tikal. These depict the Creation of the World and humans by the Corn God. Spectacular enough but even more interesting are some glyphs within the paintings. These can be only partially read, but their existence has changed the beginning of hieroglyphic writing by the Mayas back several hundred years earlier than previously known.

We had a good laugh with Bill reminiscing about our visit to San Bartolo in 2004, including the adventures on the way out to Uaxactun after dark on a jungle road which included a flat tire, stuck in the mud & incredible sighting of a jaguar.

Most all of the presenters were young archaeologists who are working in Belize. I wondered why that concentration & then learned the fellow who organized the event has done archaeology work there. Different from that were several archaeologists who are working at El Peru, where we have also visited, so we had memories to share there as well.

Three of the slide shows were about Maya Art & Glyphs in caves. There you have the Creation Myth again. Two of these were in Belize and Stanley Guenter had a presentation on Naj Tunich. He worked from photos taken before the vandalism in 1989 & can read the glyphs. They all merely state that so & so Kings & attendants came to the caves on such & such dates. Some from quite far away – Altun Ha & Calakmul. Entry to Naj Tunich is still forbidden but they have duplicated the inscriptions, etc in another nearby cave so tourists can see them.

The Chases (Arlen & Dianne) who headquarter at nearby Central Florida U in Orlando, put on a very professional show of what they did this past season at Caracol. The site was flown by a plane using a technique called LIDAR. What this does is literally “see” under the vegetation & quite accurately map the ground elevations – within something like 2 inches. What showed up is vast areas that were terraced at the occupation in Classic times.

Up to now I have argued (mostly to myself) that the population estimates some archaeologists calculate for their sites are too high & I have some other data that suggests these need to be adjusted downward. Notably some work Anabel Ford has done where she took soil samples over a large area in Western Belize & calculated the amount of food the nutrients would produce. Now it looks like I better swallow those words, at least as far as Caracol is concerned. The Chases have been saying 112,000 – but when someone analyzes how much corn & other food would have been grown on these terraces this could be even higher.

A very special occasion was to meet & talk with Merle Greene Robinson. She is 96 years old & still very sharp in her mind. Gets around OK albeit with a walker. As you know, her life work was to make rubbings of stela & monuments all over Meso-America. Many of these are now priceless due to continued erosion by the atmosphere and even volcanic ash. A large collection of these rubbings are on display at Tulane University, where Meme graduated, so that was a starting point to talk to her. Indeed, we will have to drive to New Orleans & see them!!

Apart from the information we gained from these presentations it was special for me to talk to these young archaeologists (only a few of them over 40) & reminisce about some of the Maya sites I have been.

Other than the Creation Myths, two Power Points that caught my attention were a discussion of the Maya Ball Game by Ramzy Barrois and an analysis of wooden lintel beams by Joaquin Rodriguez. Meme and I agree that a Workshop by Dr Gabriel Wrobel on Bioarchaeology (call that the study of bones) gave an insight into the way of life and health of the Mayas.

It is not surprising there was considerable discussion of the Winter Solstice date of December 21, 2012 in the Maya Calendar. We learned that this date only shows up on one document (or stela) at one remote site and is of no significance. For whatever reason this has been exaggerated by those who see the end of world being indicated.

This is the third year “Maya At The Playa” has been presented in NE Florida. After our exciting and educational experience we will be watching for the schedule so we can attend again next year.

Harry and Meme


First posted November 11, 2009.

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