Reports by FLAAR Mesoamerica
on Flora & Fauna of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo
Peten, Guatemala, Central America



FLAAR Mesoamerica has the honor
to invite you to…

Plantas Comestibles Nutritivas para Mejorar Significativamente la Dieta y Salud de los Niños en las Zonas Rurales de Guatemala

This conference is made to present the importance of nutrition among Guatemalan children, especially in rural areas, and the health benefits that this can have in the Mayan society.


You can download the formal invitation in the link above.

The Search: Rabbit, Hare or Flower?

How to Identify Quatrefoil motifs in Classic Maya art

Full-color, high-resolution presentation
24 July 2014
6:30 pm

La búsqueda: ¿Cómo identificar flores en el arte maya del período Clásico?

Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquín,
6 Calle final, zona 10

Many Late Classic (Tepeu 2) Maya polychrome vases, bowls, and even some El Peten area plates have clear geometric representations of a four-lobed design concept.  In 1955 the most experienced Maya ceramic specialist of the Carnegie Institution of Washington called it a “Rabbit Ear” Quatrefoil.

I knew the key Carnegie archaeologists in-person, both Ledyard Smith and Robert Smith, while I was a student at Harvard. They were courteous to a fledgling student. It was kind of academic paradise at Harvard in these years, since Maya architectural historian Tatiana Proskouriakoff was here also. I can still remember her welcoming me into her office in the basement floor area whenever I wandered there.

Dr William Bullard and Dr Gordon Willey were there also (at least one was my Tikal thesis advisor). And there were an equal number of world class Maya ethnographers such as Dr Evon Vogt. I can still remember the comment on my term paper for his class (that I did not yet understand the difference between the Yucatec Lacandon and the earlier Chol(ti) Lacandon). I rewrote the term paper and all the extra reading I did ended up as two of my first publications of my career:

  • a bibliography of the Lacandon in KATUNOB
  • and an article circa 1977 on Cholti Lacandon agriculture in a book in honor of J. Eric S. Thompson.

This is my style: if I do not at first understand a theme, I do what it takes to correct my initial lack of knowledge.

In effect all my research on the Lacandon was the result of some graduate student assistant to the professor marking my term paper as needing more work.  So I gave it more work:

  • I went to the main Lacandon research center of Trudy Blom in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. What resulted was the  most complete bibliography on the Lacandon Maya up to that date. No Internet in the 1960’s!
  • I went deep into the Peabody Museum Tozzer Library microfilm files at Harvard. Day after day, week after week, to learn more about what in the world was the difference between the Yucatec-speaking Lacandon and the earlier Cholti-speaking Lacandon (they lived in effectively the identical part of Chiapas, around Bonampak, and Rio Usumacinta.
  • I then flew to Sevilla, Spain, and worked in the archives read through 17th century handwritten diaries and officla reports on Chiapas and El  Peten to discover even more information.
  • I did in-depth research in the Archivo General de Central America in Guatemala City to likewise learn more about the Lacandon: both the Yucatec and the Cholti-speaking groups.

So literally half-way around the world, and research for years. This is my work habit: today I am doing the same with flora and fauna: year after year, going out to the rain forests and swamps. Going into the cages in zoos in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. And building up a sizeable research library on the plants and animals of Mesoamerica.

Actually at age 17 I was already in a Lacandon village and at the same age was already at Bonampak, as a volunteer assistant for a week to the INAH archaeology project of that summer (about 1963). I helped carry things from the airfield through the rain forest to their camp.

My research on flowers of the Maya today is comparable in that I have jumped into flowers 100%. The difference is that I am no longer writing term papers for school work. And no professor (or graduate student assistant) is providing tips and hints of what direction to go to improve my work). Actually I would be hard put to find a Mayanist who is a specialist in flowers other than botanist Charles Zidar (for many years at MOBOT, Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis; now he is in Florida establishing a new museum of natural history).

The only paper or lecture I have found so far is by Maddie Brown, 2010. This is excellent, especially if by a student. She covers many different flowers: here in my lecture I will discuss only four-petaled flowers since “all flowers” is the length for a PhD dissertation! Actually water-lily flowers alone could be a complete PhD (this plant was a significant part of my own PhD and I have worked on water-lily flowers since then over five years).

I would consider Dr Karl Taube the most adept at identifying iconographic symbols in general; his strength benefits from the fact that he knows the Aztec, Olmec, and Teotihuacan in addition to the Maya in-depth. Symbolism is “Mesoamerican wide.” Rarely is a symbol or a concept limited only to the Maya.

Thus it is worth noting that when I sent Charles Zidar my notes on 4-petaled flowers he replied that it was specifically 4-petaled flowers that he had not been able to identify at all. In his over decade of botanical research: no discovery of a 4-petaled flower.

In my own research: the same: over a decade and I never noticed any scholarly discussion of 4-petaled flowers. Ironically some of the Peten representations looked like an arrangement of four conical shells (sort of Oliva-like). Surely there must be a student paper or an article by an epigrapher or iconographer somewhere, but I have not yet found one (keep in mind that most of my time is deep in swamps near Monterrico, in swamps off the Rio de la Pasion, or in fields, deep in forests, or high in mountains. We hike for miles with tons of photography equipment to record these flowers (since they are being bulldozed, burned, and otherwise totally destroyed in the rush to make money out of the land).


Are these designs a set of rabbit ears?

Although the Tikal project archaeologist T. Patrick Culbert gives no iconographic commentary whatsoever on the four-segmented designs on the bowls and vases of Late Classic Tikal, already by 1955 this design was called the “Rabbit Ear” Quatrefoil by the Carnegie Institution of Washington and simultaneously Harvard ceramic expert Robert Smith.

Robert Smith was a graduate of Harvard plus he did lots of field work at Uaxactun, Mayapan and other Maya sites in Mesoamerica. He and his brother Ledyard Smith were always hospitable to me when I wandered into their offices (I was an undergraduate student at Harvard, circa 1962-1967 (I was at Harvard over a 5-year period, having taken 12 months off before my junior year to live and work at Tikal for the University of Pennsyvalnia; taking “a year off” was traditional during the 1960’s).

So, if a known Maya specialist suggests RABBIT EARS, then let’s look at the ears of rabbits.

The authoritative Wildlife of Mexico, by A. Starker Leopold, Fig. 128 shows

  • four species of cottontail rabbits
  • Two other rabbits
  • Two jackrabbits (“hares”, liebres in Spanish).

Of these species, it is the jackrabbits (hares) which have ears closest to the design on the Uaxactun vases and bowls.

Yet only one single rabbit is mentioned in Animals and the Maya in Southeast Mexico (Anderson and Medina 2005:146).

Not one single solitary rabbit or hare is pictured in “Animals & Plants of the Ancient Maya,” rather a surprise considering this book is published by the University of Texas Press (and is used as a major textbook for endless courses on the Maya across the USA and Canada).

Wikipedia lists only two rabbits and zero hares for Guatemala:

  • Tapeti Sylvilagus brasiliensis
  • Eastern Cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus

In preparation for this lecture I Googled “Hare” “Guatemala” and so far have not found a single native species of hare for Guatemala.

In other words, there do not seem to be any hares native to Guatemala, and especially not to the Tikal area. And during the 12 months I have lived in Tikal and five seasons at Yaxha, I definitely did not notice many rabbits (though surely they exist; but are more common along the dry Rio Motagua area of Guatemala).

So I conclude that it is unlikely that the designs on the Uaxactun vases or bowls are rabbit years or the ears of hares either.

So what is the symbolism of these rounded shapes?


It is rather obvious that this geometric design represents some kind of flower. 

But what species?

I must admit in the over 40 years that I have been studying the designs on these Tikal tomb ceramics, I have never once even dreamt of them being rabbit ears. But since an experienced Mayanists suggested rabbit ears, I needed to devote the time and research to understand what chance of rabbits being the source for this design.

My conclusion: sorry, these are unlikely rabbit ears.

While discovering the Tomb of the Jade Jaguar at Tikal (while a student at Harvard, at age 19), I found many paintings of these 4-petaled designs in this royal crypt. Yet 49 years later, no iconographer, epigrapher, archaeologist, or ethnobotanist has identified this 4-petaled design (or if so, I apologize that I have not yet noticed their article). Indeed I asked a PhD candidate who is doing an excellent dissertation on sacred  Maya flowers, and he told me that he had not yet found the actual species with these specific flowers.

This Maya flower is quite different from 4-petaled flowers of Teotihuacan.

Whether this 4-petaled flower is related to the Kin (Sun) hieroglyph will require a major research project to sort out, since J. Eric S. Thompson and too many writers on Lacandon Maya ethnobotany have not fully understand the actual flowers of the Maya fields and forests.

Thompson, and most linguists, have (mis)identified the Kin glyph as being based on Plumeria (Flor de Mayo). This is a mis-identification even more serious than calling the impressive insects on Late Classic Tepeu Peten ceramics “cockroaches” when they are potentially lightning bugs (fireflies) as clearly mentioned in the Popol Vuh. Potential mis-identifications of centipedes join the list of unfortunate examples of how library research 5000 or 15,000 km from actual centipedes ends up with misunderstanding the actual structure of each flower or creature.

Finding an actual 4-peteled flower anywhere in the world is a challenge:  most flowers have five, or eight, or more petals. Even 3-petaled flowers are more common than 4-petaled flowers.

But finding 4-petaled flowers in botanical monographs is actually part of the problem: it is not just the flower which counts, it is the eco-system where the flower is pertinent. To understand the eco-system you have to experience it in-person; you can’t adequately do this in a library.

So this presentation at the Museo Popol Vuh, Universidad Francisco Marroquin, will cover the actual physical search (for years) out in fields and forests of Mesoamerica.

Has the 4-peteled flower been found? What if the Late Classic Maya design is really a leaf with four sections!

If 4-petaled species (flowers or leaves) have been found, how do we know which species is the actual prototype for the Maya polychrome paintings on ceramics?

This lecture is available to your university, your museum, botanical garden, club or alumni association (Nicholas is a graduate of Harvard, Brown, and had three research positions at Yale). Dr Hellmuth can lecture in Spanish, German, or English.

Contact to see what dates Dr Hellmuth is available to speak in your city.

He has lectured in Switzerland, UK, Korea, Dubai, Johannesburg, Teheran, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Panama City, Tokyo, and throughout USA and Canada.

Dr Hellmuth has been a Visiting Research professor in(Osaka)  Japan, Guatemala, Rollins College, Brevard Community College (Florida), Bowling Green State University. As an invited speaker he has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkeley and at many other universities.


Is this 4-lobed flower symbol a Maya development?  Or did the Maya evolve their designs from 4-petaled flowers introduced by the Teotihuacan merchants and missionaries during the 4th-6th centuries.

So we hope to see you at the MPV lecture room, on the hospitable campus of the impressive UFM to see high-resolution photographs.

If you love flowers (and leafy plants, since what if this is a leaf?), if you like the outdoors, if you are curious how we get such high-resolution photographs? You are also welcome.

Although this lecture is for students of iconography, epigraphy, botany, biology, archaeology, ethnography, and linguistics, it is also a good opportunity to  learn tips on sophisticated techniques of both studio photography and field photography of flowers.


Posted July 2014, the week of the lecture at the Museo Popol Vuh, Guatemala City.

  • Cacao (Cocoa), Chocolate & Vanilla: Maya & Mesoamerica

    FLAAR Professional consulting services
  • Incense & Sacred Resins of the Maya

  • The Mythical Water Lily in Maya Art, Ritual & Diet

  • Ceiba and Sacred Trees of the Maya; Iconography of Incense Burners & Urns

  • Maya Ethnobotany: Exotic Tropical Fruits & Unusual Vegetables of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico.

Available as individual lectures, or all-day seminars, or part of longer conferences.

Dr Hellmuth is also available as Visiting Professor or Guest Lecturer at museums, colleges, and universities.

Professor Hellmuth is also available to lecture on cruise ships as well as for tour groups visiting Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras.

Ceiba Pentandra

FLAAR does not use old photos from some miscellaneous pile of snapshots. Instead FLAAR sends out expeditions with a full camera crew to do fresh high-quality digital photography. A scanned 35mm slide, or worse, a scanned color negative, will never be close to the accurate color of a color-balanced digital original. We use Nikon, Canon and Hasselblad digital cameras to document Maya ethnobotanical specimens.

So when you bring archaeologist and ethno-botanist Dr Nicholas Hellmuth to your city, to your university, college, museum, botanical garden, or club or group to lecture, you can count on a dynamic presentation.

Here is Nicholas doing fresh photography of Ceiba pentandra, the sacred world tree of the Maya and most other pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. He is using a 22-megapixel Phase One P25+ digital system (August 2009, in the Costa Sur area of Guatemala).

Palo de Pito

It is rare that an archaeologist actually lives in an ethnobotanical garden. Dr Nicholas Hellmuth not only has worked for decades in the rain forests of Tikal and Lake Yaxha area but he has his own ethnobotanical garden so he can study pertinent species up close. Here is one of several ethnographically important Maya plants, the Palo de Pito. This tree is one of the sacred trees of the Quiche and other Highland Maya people.

Nicholas' years of research are dedicated to tropical plants and animals which are pictured in Maya murals, pottery, and stelae,

Palo de Pito is known locally as tzite; the scientific name is Erythrina corallodenron. Dr Hellmuth has one mature bush in his garden that is already bearing flowers and fruits after less than two years. This tree is easy to transplant (from cuttings) but so far has not been easy from seeds. Both the flower and seeds are photogenic. But it is the significant use of the seeds among the Highland Maya people that counts. It would also be useful for archaeologists to check in middens, caches, and burials to see if remains of these seeds can be found.

cacao fruit

Cacao was a sacred beverage, especially for the royal family. When Nicholas was 19 years old he discovered cacao in the Tomb of the Jade Jaguar at Tikal (while taking a year off from Harvard to work for the University of Pennsylvania project at Tikal). The cacao beans were inside one of the offering vessels next to the royal funeral bundle (which was wrapped in jaguar hide and had it's head encircled with quetzal feathers).

FLAAR has been doing quite a lot of research on both cacao and pataxte these last two years, with a staff of experienced Guatemalan botanists.

Here are sample photographs of flavoring for cacao. FLAAR currently has the largest high-res digital photo resource on Maya and Aztec flavoring for cacao and chocolate.

cacao flavor

piper flavor

marygold flavor

orejuela flavor

We are making lists of all the edible flowers of Guatemala and Mesoamerica, here are some examples.

flower izote

flower guisquil

Since much of our work is to help provide documentation about which native plants can help improve local diet, we have been studying edible fruits for several years. Here are sample photographs from our recent years of photography.

caimito fruit

vegetable guicoy

Photography exhibits on Maya ethnobotany (and archaeology) available for your museum or university or for your event

maya ethnobotany photos

High resolution photographs by Dr Nicholas Hellmuth are available for fine art photography exhibits at reasonable cost. It would be appropriate also to invite Dr Hellmuth to the opening event.


Most recent edited May 17, 2013.
First posted Feb 4, 2008.
Updated August 19, 2009. Updated May 25, 2010.

A popular question is, “how did the Maya actually engineer, design, and construct their impressive pyramids?”

This is precisely what Nicholas worked on, and now it’s all available in a PowerPoint presentation. Actually he draws most of it live, on a blackboard or whiteboard so you can see everything in detail.

Dr Hellmuth was studying architecture at Harvard when he began his investigations of Maya architecture. His first fieldwork was 12 months excavating pyramids, palaces, and temples at Tikal, Peten, Guatemala (working for the University of Pennsylvania project at Tikal).

Temples and Pyramid construction Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology
Temples and Pyramid construction Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology

Up show the proces of Maya Pyramid construction, this picture was taken out of book:
"Tikal Copan Travel Guide" by Nicholas M. Hellmuth.

Temples and Pyramid construction Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology

Tomb of the Jade Jaguar: Royal Burial of the Ruler of Tikal, Guatemala

This educational lecture presents Nicholas Hellmuth’s first excavations, when, at the age of 19, while a student at Harvard, he discovered the Tomb of the Jade Jaguar under Str. 5D-73, next to Temple II at Tikal.

This lecture shows how the tomb was constructed in the 8th-9th century, and how the pyramid was built above it.

Jade Jaguar Tomb Tikal Str. 5D-73 Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology

Tomb of the Jade Jaguar, Str. 5D-73 discovered by Nicholas Hellmuth,
Tikal Guatemala

Ballgames and Ballcourt Architecture of the Maya, Aztec, Mixtec, and Zapotec.

Dr Hellmuth has worked on ballgame (sports) and ballcourts (the enclosures where these unique games were played. This is the first lecture that reveals the actual designs of these ancient “stadiums” and documents that the main area of activity was not only the central “court” area itself but was actually the back, ends, and outsides of the ballcourt.

This popular lecture also covers the art and iconography of the sacred ballgame, and reveals the differences between yokes, ball deflectors, hachas, ballgame handstones, and other specialized gear.

Naturally this PowerPoint presentation discusses the question faced by all visitors to the ballcourt at Chichen Itza, Tikal, Copan, Palenque and other Maya sites: was the winner sacrificed because it was an honor to die in this manner? Or was the loser decapitated at the end of the game? Whose head was used as the ball in the next game? Plenty of documentary evidence is available from the 5th-9th centuries to answer this question clearly.

The ritual ballgames of the Maya and neighboring civilizations are something that every visitor to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize experiences. But there is a tremendous difference in popular misconceptions and archaeological facts. This presentation is by an archaeologist who has worked on the ballgames for decades. Indeed he has been on PBS documentary television programs about the ballgames of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Ballcourt, ballgame, ulama, Tikal Guatemala Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology
Ballcourt beside Temple I,Great Jaguar, Tikal, Guatemala.
Ballcourt, ballgame, ulama, Cancuen Guatemala Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology
Cancuen Ballcourt, Guatemala.

Regional differences in Mayan architecture: Puuc, Rio Bec, Chenes.

The FLAAR Photo Archive has one of the largest collection of photographs of Puuc, Rio Bec, and Chenes architecture in the US or Europe. With Hasselblad and Leica cameras as well as adequate lighting for interior shots it was possible during years of field work to build up a photographic archive that rivals that of the Carnegie Institution of Washington photographic archive on these subjects.

FLAAR dedicated many years to studying, and photographing, throughout the Puuc, Rio Bec, and Chenes areas during the 1970’s-1990’s. For example, Dr Hellmuth was in charge of the thorough photography of the entire ruined Maya city of Santa Rosa Xtampak, as but one example.

FLAAR is currently seeking funding to scan and make these photographs available since many of these buildings have deteriorated in recent years and in some cases the FLAAR photographs are the only record that exists.

Puuc style Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology
Puuc style, Labna Arch, Mexico
Chenes style Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology
Chenes style Lecture programs on Mayan architecture, pyramids, temples, palaces, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras Maya Archaeology
Chenes style, Mexico.

Banner lectures coming soon Nicholas Hellmuth Maya Archaeology


First posted February 2008.

Ballcourt Architecture of Chichen Itza, Tikal, Copan, and Palenque. Nicholas has issued more than 9 reports on the pre-Columbian ballgames of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

Most discussions of the ballgame courts speak about the main playing alley and the rings (the “goals”). There is not much mention of the rest of the court. This FLAAR lecture on the ballgame architecture of Mayan ballgame courts (“ball courts”) provides more information and documentation than you receive when you are visiting the site as a tourist. It’s a lot easier in a PowerPoint presentation to bring in evidence from multiple ballcourt structures; this is tough to receive while you are visiting a Maya site.

Iconography of Mayan ballgames  Architectural history of Maya ballcourts, Tikal ballgame, Maya-archaeology Iconography of Mayan ballgames  Architectural history of Maya ballcourts, Tikal ballgame, Maya-archaeology
Tikal Ballcourt, beside to Temple I, Great Jaguar, Tikal, Guatemala.
Model of Tikal indicate ballcourts.
Iconography of Mayan ballgames  Architectural history of Maya ballcourts, Copan ballgame, Maya-archaeology Iconography of Mayan ballgames  Architectural history of Maya ballcourts, Copan ballgame, Maya-archaeology
Copan Ballcourt, Honduras.
Copan Ballcourt Marker.
Iconography of Mayan ballgames  Architectural history of Maya ballcourts, Chichen Itza ballgame, Maya-archaeology Iconography of Mayan ballgames  Architectural history of Maya ballcourts, Copan Goal ballgame, Iconography of Mayan ballgames  Architectural history of Maya ballcourts, Chichen Itza ballgame, Maya-archaeology
Chichen Itza, ballcourt.
Ballcourt "Goals" of Chichen Itza.

Warfare and human sacrifice related to the Mayan ballgames.

Warfare could occupy many PhD dissertations and many tomes. One result of warfare was clearly to make victims available for human sacrifice. Whereas most captives were dispatched up in the temples, or on altars, or out in the plazas, a few of the captives were sacrificed associated with the ballgame. This leads to the disputed question of Was it the winner or loser who was sacrificed in the ballgame of Chichen Itza?

What were the Ballgames of the Maya, Toltec, and Aztec really Like? Who was sacrificed after the Ballgame? The Winner, or the Loser?

The popular myth is that because it was “an honor to be sacrificed to the gods” that the winner allowed himself to be sacrificed. Thousands of tourists are told this at Chichen Itza and many other Mayan sites that have ballcourts.

Anthropologists and archaeologists, however, use ethnohistorical documents to study this question. We read, and understand the Popol Vuh, for example (the 16 th century sacred history and religious history of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala). I have also worked on the predecessors of the Popol Vuh all the way back to the Early Classic (where Hunahpu is clearly pictured; Hunahpu is one of the Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh). This research is available in the ADEVA publication, Monster und Menschen in der Maya Kunst (circa 1987, so you can note that I have been working on iconography a long time, actually since 1965, the year I discovered the Tomb of the Jade Jaguar deep inside a pyramid near Temple II of Tikal).

So epigraphers, iconographers, archaeologists, ethnohistorians, and architectural historians have studied the ballgame of the Maya, the Aztec, etc. Sacrificing the ballplayer in the Popol Vuh is well documented. As we explain in the FLAAR lecture on the Maya ballgames, that it is very clear in the Popol Vuh who is sacrificed, the winner or the loser.

That’s why we have made the effort to prepare documentation for our lectures, to answer questions. If you have been to the archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, and wish to understand the difference between fact and fantasy, bring an archaeologist to your home town, to your museum, college, university, local association, club. Have a local business sponsor this.

Hunting iconography of Mayan ballgames.

In the abundant 8 th-9 th century paintings on funerary vases that show the ballgames of the Maya, a relationship between the iconography of deer hunting and the iconography of certain Maya ballgames is clear.

Remember: there were many different ballgames played during these centuries. Not every ball was the same size; not every game was played for the same reason. The rituals, and costumes, of ballplayers varied considerably, depending on the purpose of this particular game event. These questions (and answers) are key aspects of the FLAAR lecture on the Maya ballgames.

There is plenty of documentation on this aspect of the game, so it’s time to clear up some of the misinformation that is based on imaginary concepts. Plus Nicholas is one of the few Maya archaeologists to be filed for PBS-TV actually wearing a yoke and playing the game.

Not only will you learn about what actually happened at Tikal , Chichen Itza, Palenque, Copan, etc, but you will understand how scholars document their discoveries.

Did all ballplayers wear a yoke?

There is probably more confusion (a polite way of saying there is a huge amount of misinformation and mistaken nomenclature) on the gear used in the ballgames of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. This illustrated lecture documents the actual playing outfits from the 4 th through 9 th centuries, and how they varied depending on various factors.

Banner lectures coming soon Nicholas Hellmuth Maya Archaeology


First posted February 2008.

October 6 – 9, 2011

My wife Meme and I attended the Fifth annual four-day symposium “Maya At The Playa”. From October 6 – 9, 2011. Actual venue was the Government Bldg for Flagler County in the town of Bunnell, Florida. This is right at 100 miles from where we live (Cape Canaveral), so we were able to commute rather than needing to stay over. About 150 people attended the event.

Every portion of the event ran very smoothly even though a near continuous rainstorm forced all events, especially the lunches, into the shelter of the building.

25 archaeologists and scientists of other disciplines presented Lectures or Workshops. This meant that sometimes more than one were concurrent, so we had to pick the one we felt would be most interesting.

I saw no major theme in the presentations. There was a wide range of programs, from Codex Interpretation to a Pottery Workshop. As was the case last year, the majority of the presenters were young archaeologists who are working in Belize. Several are doing work somewhat different from the usual ceramics and temples. Heather McKillop is investigating how the Mayas extracted salt from seawater in SE Belize. Alan Cobb has explored a cave in Guatemala called Quen Santo, where the investigation had to be conducted in the midst of ritual use by locals and pilgrims. The Maya Gods are alive and well!

We had fun at the Pottery Workshop by David Lee. First he dropped several terra-cotta pots on the floor to show how they shatter & scatter. He then explained how the fragments are first separated into groups which have the same thickness, color & ingredients and of course any markings or striations on the exterior. We each had a sack of fragments & we quickly learned we did not have complete pots as we sorted and found where pieces fit together. Next the groups intermixed to find more matchups & in some cases reconstruct a complete bowl or pot.

My favorite, (partly because I went there in 1994 on one of Nicholas Hellmuth’s expeditions.) was a showing by Keith Merwin of a PBS Documentary from the 1970s of the finding of Rio Bec Temple B, which had been “lost” in Maya History for over 60 years. A relative of Keith’s, a cousin he said, Archaeologist Raymond E Merwin and fellow Archaeologist Clarence L. Hay, studied the site in 1912 & took photographs. The film crew in 1973 literally stumbled across the ruins while filming a general discussion of Maya Ruins.

Stepping away from strict ancient Maya research, Dr Virginia Miller showed slides of Maya Revival architecture she has found in both Mexico & USA. The Puuc style of cross-hatches seems to prevail.

Of special interest to me, as a Civil Engineer, was a program by Joaquin (Jack) Rodriguez III of why Maya buildings fall down. There were built with very large safety factors but were not earthquake resistant. His colleague, Architect Rick Slazyk, gave an analysis of the unusual building called “Temple of the Seven Dolls” at Dzibilchaltun.

Many of the other presentations deserve mention, but I will close with the highlight of the Conference.

George Stuart was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award and his Speech was “Getting It Right: The Proper (and improper) Recording of Maya Archaeological Data.”

Matt Saunders, who has been the director since the beginning of these conferences, has taken a position at the Davidson Day School in North Carolina. He organized a conference there last Spring, “Maya At The Lago”, which we were unable to attend due to conflicts. This will continue and we will make every effort to attend, as well as look forward to future “Maya At The Playas.” to meet two of the “giants” of the archaeological work of recent generations – Michael Coe and George Stewart. Michael was the featured speaker at the Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner Speaking on “Ankor and Maya: A Tale Of Two Civilizations.”

Report courtesy of Harry and Meme

Rio Bec B in 1012, as shown in a lecture in Maya at the Playa symposium 2011
Rio Bec B in 1912

Rio Bec B today, as shown in a lecture in Maya at the Playa symposium 2011
Rio Bec B today

Rio Bec B in 1012, as shown in a lecture in Maya at the Playa symposium 2011
David Lee Shows How Pottery Scatters When Broken

Rio Bec B in 1012, as shown in a lecture in Maya at the Playa symposium 2011
Select Pieces That Match

Rio Bec B in 1012, as shown in a lecture in Maya at the Playa symposium 2011
Keep Going and You Will Reconstruct a Complete Bowl


First posted April 20, 2012.

Maya At The Playa – September 30 – October 3, 2010

My wife Meme and I attended a 4 day (September 30- October 3) symposium called “Maya At The Playa”. Actual venue was the Government Bldg for Flagler County in the town of Bunnell, Florida This is right at 100 miles from where we live (Cape Canaveral), so we were able to commute rather than needing to stay over. About 160 people attended the event.

Every portion of the event ran very smoothly with the possible exception of the lunches. The “lunch package” of $60 for the four days seemed pricy to us so we packed food from home. Others may have felt the same way, as the Director made the Saturday lunch free to all and Sundy buffet a mere $5 if you did not have a ticket.

37 archaeologists and scientists of other disciplines presented Lectures or Workshops. This meant that sometimes more than one were concurrent, so we had to pick the one we felt would be most interesting or even split up and later compare notes.

The major theme of the presentations was the Collapse of the Maya Cites. The presenters analyze this as being more than a single cause. Likewise, we cannot surmise ALL the cities failed at the same time. New evidence is showing the dates to be spread out over several hundred years. One very important factor is the last known date when a stela was carved at each site.

We were enthralled by the paintings of Aurora Heuple on display in the Entrance Hall. These concentrated on the Maya Myths but also displayed everyday work and play, which would be typical of the Mayas of today as well as their prehistoric ancestors.

Of special interest to me, as a Civil Engineer, was a program by Rick Slazyk and Joaquin (Jack) Rodriguez III. Rick discussed several architectural styles, including Puuc, Rio Bec and Chenes, while Jack followed with construction techniques, particularly vaults and arches.

We were thrilled to meet two of the “giants” of the archaeological work of recent generations – Michael Coe and George Stewart. Michael was the featured speaker at the Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner Speaking on “Ankor and Maya: A Tale Of Two Civilizations.”

In conversation, we learned both these men have been on Usamacinta River Trips with none other than Nicholas Hellmuth. As we were talking about that a man standing near said he too has done that expedition. I began to think if I had asked for a show of hands in the auditorium there would have been more similar past travelers!!

As was the case last year, most all of the presenters were young archaeologists who are working in Belize. Several are doing work somewhat different from the usual ceramics and temples. Heather McKillop is investigating how the Mayas extracted salt from seawater in SE Belize. Alan Cobb explored a previously unknown (to the archaeologists) cave in the central region, containing jumbled together human bones at what seem to be random locations. The significance of this is not yet understood. Jim Garber’s recent work has been historical, including excavations in a Belize Cemetery.

This is not to leave out a group that have been working at Waka (El Peru) in recent years. One incredible find there was a horde of ceramic figurines. These are currently at the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. We plan to make a trip there very soon to see them.

At this time we do not know the situation with future Maya At The Playas. But we will be watching the schedules and plan to attend any that are scheduled.


mayan myths paintings  maya at the playa
Aurora Heuple explains the Maya Myths to Meme

mayan at the playa
Rick Slazyk, Joaquin (Jack) Rodriguez and Harry confer before their presentation

weaving at maya at the playa
Maya woman with back strap loom exactly like her ancestors

maya at the playa lunch
Lunch each day was an outdoor tasty buffet



First posted February, 2011.

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.

In October 28 thru 30 of this year, was celebrated the III Central American Congress of Archaeology in El Salvador, titled “Frontiers, regions and cultures in Pre-Columbian Central America”, taken place in the Museo Nacional de Antropología –MUNA-, “David J. Guzmán”, with the support of the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y Arte –CONCULTURA-, from El Salvador.

The themes of this congress were focused on the cultural changes that took place from the influences and socio-cultural processes in Mesoamerica and the Andean region during the Pre-Hispanic epoch.

Thanks to the archaeological investigations, it has become possible to know the similarity and cultural diversity that exists in Mesoamerica. And, as stated by the members of the organizer committee, of the third Congress of Archaeology, they contributed to the reflection about the theoretical and methodological development of the investigations that have been made in the region.

In the frame of the congress there were several presentations of the results and advances in the investigations about common issues related with archaeology, made during the last decade, in several countries that make part of the Mesoamerican region, contributing to make a wider perspective and to gain knowledge of all the assistants, investigators, students and general public.

The themes that were expose were divided in three aspects:

• Cultural zones

The presented papers gave the result of archaeological excavations, ceramic analysis, exchange relationships in Mesoamerica, diachronic changes, archaeo-astronomical elements, among others topics.

• Conservation and restoration

Identification of the vegetable covertures en the Pre-Hispanic architecture, architecture and conservation, registry and conservation of cave or rock painting, proposals of techniques and procedures of alternative restoration, archaeology in social sciences, oral traditions and social archaeology.

• The illicit traffic of cultural goods in Central America

The archaeological patrimony, illicit traffic, conservation and teachings inside the community, and reparation of Pre-Hispanic Mayan art.

FLAAR Mesoamerica also participated with the lecture “El Patolli: un juego prehispánico practicado en Mesoamerica. Breve reseña bibliográfica sobre las connotaciones del juego y las evidencias en el area maya” (In English: Patolli: a Pre-Hispanic game practiced in Mesoamerica. Brief bibliographical review about the connotations of the game practiced in Mesoamerica), presented by Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth and Antonieta Cajas.

The Patolli was a Pre-Hispanic game that lasted during many years and was registered through the archaeological evidence, in the Spanish chronicles and codex of the diverse cultural zones of Mesoamerica. Consists in a board with several squares, represented in several forms and variants, some drawn, painted or made by incision in patios, walls and floors of stucco of big Pre-Hispanic temples, even in petroglyphs, some in small sites dedicated to agriculture. Several authors have consider the patolli as an recreational activity and as a game associated with astronomical activities. Latter on, you can find the complete article on our site.

Conference at Congreso Centroamericano de Arqueologia en El Salvador
Round table about the Illicit Traffic of Cultural Heritage. Archaeologists and representatives from El Salvador, Interpol and U.S. State Representatative

There were several lectures on archaeology of Guatemala, obviously most were on El Salvador and there was at least one lecture on Nicaragua. One or two scheduled topics on Mexico were cancelled because the speakers did not show up. I definitely would have enjoyed more lecture topics on Honduras and Mexico.

Nicholas at the Congreso Centroamericano de Arqueologia en el Salvador
The lecture by FLAAR was about the evidence of the Maya area Patolli. Nicholas explains the relation of snakes and the shape of some boards.

I especially enjoyed the lecture on Site Q (Peten). I also found the Conferencia Magistral on the Historia de Chocolate by Dr Rosemary Joyce to be informative. She pointed out that cacao was being grown and used in Mesoamerica before the Olmecs. This is a polite way of saying that we can’t really credit the Olmecs with cacao use any more (though of course the Olmecs may have popularized some aspects of it in their own time period). Of course Dr Joyce’s dates cast doubt on the common thought that cacao is a Mixe-Xoque word and spread by the Olmec and their neighbors. Here is definite food for thought (pun intended).

Nicholas at the Congreso centroamericano de Arqueologia El Salvador
Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth and archaeology student Antonieta Cajas in a lecture about Patolli. Nicholas shows the similarity of "skyband" that appears in the Patolli Uaxactun area and the Copan sculptures.

Held in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia “David J. Guzman”

Museo Nacional de Antropologia LogoThe museum is attractive, is in a pleasant peaceful part of the city, has friendly people in all parts of the museum. We were well attended in the bookstore, in the library, and inside the museum.


The Congreso Centroamericano de Arqueologia en El Salvador sponsors


• Secretaría De Cultura De La Presidencia De La Repúbica
• Museo Nacional De Antropología "Dr. David J. Guzmán"-MUNA-.
• Ministerio De Turismo - MITUR
• Asociación Amigos Del Muna - AAMUNA
• Fundacion Nacional De Arqueología En El Salvador - FUNDAR
• Sistema De La Integración Centroamericana - SICA


• Embajada De Italia
• Embajada De Francia
• Secretaría De Relaciones Exteriores-Embajada De México En El Salvador
• Oficina De Asuntos Público, Embajada De Los Estados Unidos
• Coex, Café
• Grupo EJJE

... well as 33 other academic institutions in different countries of the world supported the organization of the Conference.

El Salvador is a friendly country

The taxi driver returned money to me saying I had paid too much. Please tell me in how many other countries would this happen !

We took the King Comfort bus from Guatemala City to San Salvador. It was pleasant, comfortable; they served better food than most airline snacks (and the seats even in the more economical section had more room than all airlines in economy glass).

Crossing the border was no longer a pain. Clearly El Salvador and Guatemala have learned that appearing backward and inefficient at the border is not good advertising.

Everyone at the hotel was pleasant. Same at the museum and in the restaurant. Great place to visit.

I should add, however, that this was the Zona Rosa, in the area of the Sheraton Hotel; other parts of the city might be a bit rough in comparison. But near the museum everything was safe, secure and friendly.

I highly recommend visiting El Salvador and the IV Congreso Centroamericano de Arqueologia en El Salvador in 2011, because it takes place every two years.


First posted November 10, 2009.

FLAAR is interested in providing material and assistance for students doing all levels of serious academic work. FLAAR is a source of top quality digital photography and other technology aid. FLAAR is not a valid source of money per se (you can get funding elsewhere if you have a good thesis topic).

In some instances, however, FLAAR would provide a position at the FLAAR Mesoamerica office during the time you do your thesis, but this is not a position to receive substantial funding. In most instances working as a volunteer would be more realistic. But what you get in access to intellectual and equipment assets far outweighs the lack of actual cash. Anyone can pay your bills, but where else will you have access to the best digital photography equipment in Central America?

Plus, in some instances FLAAR would provide a team of specialists to work with you: botanist, zoologist, photographer (fully equipped). A benefit of the botanists and zoologists at FLAAR Mesoamerica is that they are already familiar with field work: they won’t faint if they see spiders, scorpions, or snakes (in fact we study all of these creatures).

We are interested in studies in all parts of Mesoamerica but Guatemala and Honduras are the most realistic since these are closest. But we are also interested in projects in Mexico and Belize. We have interest in certain aspects of Maya and Teotihuacan-related influence on El Salvador and the relations of these cultures, and especially Early Classic Maya in Costa Rica. FLAAR has a general interest in Olmec studies as well, which would include Mexico down through Costa Rica.

Please realize, however, that we do not ourselves engage in any archaeological excavations ourselves, nor collection of artifacts. There are thousands of capable archaeologists to do all this; but there are almost no top level digital photographers who have archaeological, botanical, or zoological field experience. Plus FLAAR has some of the best digital imaging software in Mesoamerica (we do not limit ourselves to Adobe Photoshop).

We prefer to interact at a thesis of PhD level, but will consider all levels.

  • Undergraduate thesis (BA),

  • Master’s Thesis,

  • Licenciado (a degree found in Latin America, usually equivalent to MA or at least an advanced BA level)

  • PhD

  • Habil (typical for German-speaking and German-influenced areas of Europe; not common in US).

Topics of interest to FLAAR include:

We tend to use the word Maya, but we are also interested in pertinent topics related to the Olmec, Classic Veracruz, Teotihuacan, and Zapotec archaeology.

Maya ethnobotany

Waterlily at Monterrico, Guatemala. © FLAAR Photo Archive

Water lily
Flowers in Maya art
Mayan agriculture or any aspect of crops, or use of wild-foods.

Mayan zoology

Leptophis Mexicanus snake at Zoológico La Aurora, Guatemala. Picture by Jaime Leonardo, © FLAAR Photo Archive

Bats in Mesoamerican Art. Such a thesis or dissertation should also include bats featured in the art of other pre-Columbian cultures, such as in the sculptures of El Tajin and in the Post Classic codices of all cultures.

Bats in Maya Art. There are enough bats in Maya art, sculpture, and hieroglyphs for a MA or PhD level thesis. Would need to have an interest in zoology, as it is not realistic to study bats in Maya art without studying the actual bats. By the way, not all bats live in caves.

Crocodile at Zoologico La Aurora, Guatemala, © FLAAR Photo Archive

Frogs and toads

Beetles in Maya art.
They look like lightning bugs, but there are two other bettle-like insects that could be involved. Plus there are many insects that are crucial to the ecology of the Peten and adjacent areas.

Mayan iconography

Mucbilha cave, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. © FLAAR Photo Archive

Flowering vines
Water flows, both crocodile-flows, snake-flows, and cave flows.

Minerals used by the Maya and their neighbors
All forms of colorants
Any and all minerals used by the Classic Maya

Mayan linguistics
We are more interested in dictinaries than in grammar (sorry)

Mayan epigraphy
All aspects of epigraphy, including on pottery

Chama Vase Rollout
Chama vase rollout © FLAAR Photo Archive

Ethnohistory of the Maya area
FLAAR has prior experience working in the archives of Guatemala and in the Archivo de Indias, Sevilla, Spain.

Ethnographic studies
Please be sure that you have proper permissions where necessary.


ballcourt Mixco Viejo Guatemala
Ballcourt in Mixco Viejo, Guatemala. © FLAAR Photo Archive

Symbolism in domestic Maya houses (pole-and-thatch houses, today and in the past).

Ballcourt architecture
Pre-Columbian architecture that was not stone.
Temporary architecture for pagents, processions, and ceremonies.
Any and all aspects of 3d visualization of architecture

Butterflies in the art of Teotihuacan and Tiquisate

Tiquisate, Escuintla:

Tiquisate ceramic
Tiquisate mold-impressed cylindrical tripod. © FLAAR Photo Archive

Ceramic art, figurines, incensarios

Sculpture of Cotzumalhuapa culture

sculpture at museum cotzumalhuapa
Sculpture at Museo Cultura Cotzumalhuapa, Guatemala. Picture by Jaime Leonardo, © FLAAR Photo Archive

Classic Veracruz sculpture

3D scanning of Mesoamerican artifacts

Animation of Mesoamerican themes.

Technology projects are also of interest

Other projects that FLAAR is interested in are any aspect of museum displays, especially using inkjet printing, or contour cutting technology.

Contact: Please realize that it is much easier to discuss joint projects in-person.


First posted November, 2009.

The architects of 3 rd -6 th century Guatemala made full-scale 3-dimensional models in fired clay of some of their wooden temples. These models are about 15 to 25 cm high. They are complete with roof, sometimes even a roof-comb decoration. Most of these scale-model temples even have seats inside and seated personages, as well as attendants standing outside. I have seen perhaps five to seven such temples over the past 30 years in exhibits, but it was not until this year (2009) that I had the time to photograph one completely.

I thank the curator, Susana Campins for permission, as well as the curator of the museum (literally next door), Ana Claudia Monzon, for faciliting the several days of photography in the two museums. Both these museums are inside the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. Each of the museums is physically and administratively separate, but they are about 4 meters from each other (in adjacent rooms actually).

I had visited the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and Modern Glass about a week before and had noticed the architectural model, but I did not notice any of the fine details until I set up a complete photographic studio with full-scale studio lighting. Frankly I was bowed over by the detail that the lighting revealed. This is, in size, one of the smallest of the architectural temple models I have seen, but after the first 10 minutes of having it properly illuminated, I quickly noticed that iconographically, it is probably one of the five most important ones in the world. So it is very nice that such an excellent example of Early Classic Teotihuacan-related Tiquisate Escuintla art is available for study still in Guatemala and in a professional museum environment.

Here is Dr. Nicholas Hellmuth photographing an Early Classic Teotihuacan-style temple effigy from the Escuintla region. Here we are using special digital lighting which is cool (so not tungsten halogen), along with a 22-megapixel digital camera, Zeiss lenses for good quality. (Paseo de los Museos, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. Antigua, Guatemala 2009).

Three-quarter view of the back of a Teotihuacan-style temple effigy. Coleccion Museo VIGUA de Arte Precolombino y Vidrio Moderno, Paseo de los Museos, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. Antigua, Guatemala 2009. FLAAR is preparing an article on this genre, at which point the front and all sides will be shown, in full detail, in full color.

Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and Modern Glass, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Edgar Castillo Sinibaldi has devoted years of knowledge of pre-Columbian Guatemala to create a lovely collection. This collection is strong in material from the Costa Sur area of Guatemala. The Costa Sur in this case means the Departamento of Escuintla area plus east and west through neighboring departments. This is the extensive area of significant Teotihuacan impact as well as an area of several concentrations of earlier Olmec influence.

Although I have been aware of the collection of Edgar Castillo though his courteous invitations to view it in his house in past years, I never did systematic photography of more than a few samples. When I visited his Museo de Arte Precolombino y Vidrio Moderno in summer 2009, I noticed more pre-Columbian works of art than I had remembered (though all have been in his collection for many years).

Through the courtesy of the museum staff including curator Susana Campins, it was possible to spend a day and a half in August 2009 photographing selected items. I had intended to photograph about 12 artifacts, but found that the first six were so exceptional that I spent hour after hour after hour on them alone.

This web page is not intended to be a full divulgation of even one of these (since a web page is not large enough to give the full iconography, and resolution of the Internet does not do this piece justice). Plus I wish to undertake 3D scanning of the entire temple model so that we can prepare 3D architectural drawings, as well as elevations and renderings. Such drawings would be for a future article in an appropriate journal or magazine.


I am writing this web page en route to lecturing in Johannesburg, South Africa. I do not have a library with me, and in any event I doubt if most libraries in Central America have the key exhibit catalogs that have the other temple-themed incense burner lids from the rest of the Escuintla Hoards of the Costa Sur of Guatemala.

But I did find one architectural incense burner lid pictured nicely on the Internet, though of course the image was so small as not to be usable for detailed iconographic analysis.

Another pre-Columbian architectural model of a Tiquisate style temple as an incensario lid: Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The Landon Clay collection donated to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts includes a nice example of an architectural effigy. It has a complete roof, roof comb and lower platform. It was the custom for whoever was digging up these incensario lids to save up extra adornos and glue them on when they needed to add decoration, so it would require a detailed laboratory analysis of the clay of each adorno to ascertain if they all really belonged. For example, the adornos stuck onto the pillars and lintel are not very convincing (but I would need to see the original to know for sure). These adornments appear original in themselves (it is the position that I doubt is original), but I would need to check to be sure. The roof should also be checked to see what portions are original and what are restoration, but the style is correct either way. The presence of standing human figures is also correct, though their position should be checked. Normally they should be standing next to the front columns.

Following is the tag for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts comments on their attractive example of another temple model as an incensario lid from the greater Escuintla area.

Effigy Incense Burner Top

Maya, Early Classic Period, A.D. 400–550

Guatemala, Southern Highlands, Tiquisate Region?43.5 x 43.3 x 28 Cm (17 1/8 x 17 1/16 x 11 inches)?fired earthenware with traces of red and yellow post-fired paint?

Teotihuacán-Style Effigy Incense Burner With Figure Rendered Inside A Temple Surmounted By A Geometric Roof Comb. Butterflies, Stars, Floral Motifs, And Feathered Disks (Mirrors?) Decorate The Building. This Type Of Incense Burner Is Typical Of The Tiquisate Region In Southern Guatemala, Made In Imitation Of The Characteristic Incense Burners Of Teotihuacán In Highland Mexico.

I would suggest rewriting this:

First of all, there is nothing Maya about this incensario: neither the style, content, nor Department of Escuintla is “Maya” in any way shape or form. Otherwise, the Early Classic date is within reason.

Second, this is not the Highlands whatsoever (Teotihuacan itself was in the Highlands several thousand kilometers north in Mexico, but Escuintla is coastal to piedmont: Escuintla is not really part of the Guatemalan Highlands). At most it is the piedmont, but Costa Sur is a better description. Tiquisate region is acceptable, keeping in mind that Teotihuacan inspired but locally made objects occur all the way west to close to Retalhuleu

Finally, although incensarios in Escuintla are indeed made in memory of incense burners of Teotihuacan, there are rarely any architectural incense burner lids at eotihuacan or elsewhere in Mexico. This concept, of a temple as an incensaro lid, is featured primarily in Guatemala, not in Mexico. So this specific concept (a 3-dimensional temple) is not really an imitation of a common style of incensario lid in Highland Mexico.

The list of motifs is more or less acceptable in general terms. A full iconographic analysis would suggest more details, but the present Boston description is a good start.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts nicely provides relatively good-sized professional quality photographs of its ceramics for study on their museum web site.

Third example: private registered collection, Guatemala

A third example of a Tiquisate temple effigy as the main decoration on an incensario lid is in a registered private collection in Guatemala. Since I do not have photographs of this yet, I do not yet illustrate it.

The temple corners are clear; the tablero of the front terrace is cear and the same shape as that of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts example, but the stairway balustrades are not preserved fully on both sides. The interior appears to have one seated personage not two (but I would have to inspect the incensario in person). There is one personage standing in front of each column, but more dwarflike than natural sized, especially compared with the seated figure inside.

Although badly preserved and not restored the pieces and positions appear to be generally authentic. It is an asset that it is not restored. Most restorations introduce forged parts or at least forged positions for the adornos

Other examples of temple effigies in 3-dimensions as lids of Tiquisate-Escuintla incensarios

I estimate there are between three to five larger, more complex, and better preserved temple incensario lids in collections outside Guatemala and probably two to four smaller temple-style incensario lids still in Guatemala collections. It is hoped that Tiquisate lids can remain in Guatemala so they can more easily be studied.

Tablero-Talud incensarios from Lake Amatitlan

The purpose of this page is to introduce this newly recognized architectural model to archaeologists and architects. A full study of the genre will take a year or more, and should include comparative comments on incensarios from Lake Amatitlan. Unfortunately the article by Dr Mata does not include any illustrations.

MATA Amado, Guillermo and Rolando Roberto RUBIO

1994 Incensarios talud-tablero del lago de Amatitlán, Guatemala. En I Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala, 1987 (editado por J.P. Laporte, H. Escobedo y S. Villagrán), pp.27-37. Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala .

FLAAR is inherently interested in all architectural aspects of pre-Columbian civilizations

The background of FLAAR includes the Early Classic and Late Classic architecture of the Maya of all regions: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. I have been studying these temple, pyramid, palace, and ballcourt remains since I was 16 years old. My high school thesis on the ruins of Bonampak won first prize at my prep school (and helped get me accepted at Harvard). Indeed the following summer, at age 17, I was accepted by an INAH team to go to Bonampak as an observor for their project. I majored in architectural sciences for the first three years at Harvard, switching to anthropology/archaeology after I did archaeological studies of Mayan architecture at Tikal for the University of Pennsylvania Tikal Project in 1965.

In the 1970's through 1980's, FLAAR photographed extensively in the Puuc, Chenes, and Rio Bec areas of Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. The FLAAR Photo Archive of Mayan architecture is probably larger than that of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The images are crisper and taken with better lighting and more professional camera equipment than the extensive and important photographic archive of architect George Andrews and capable Mexican architectural historian Paul Gendrop.

FLAAR used primarily medium format Hasselblad camera equipment, and for 35mm, Leica and Nikon. For lighting in some years we brought an entire set of five of the largest German flash units that we could find: Metz. This is because many of the ruins are under dense tree cover. With five flash units we could illuminate a large section of façade (of course this was time consuming and we could not do it every day).

Eldon Leiter and Jack Sulak also have nice photographic archives of Puuc, Chenes, and Rio Bec architecture of the Classic Maya.

So we are instinctively interested in Mayan architecture, as well as the architecture of Teotihuacan, Tula, Aztecs, Zapotecs, and Mitla.

Copyright notice

Both FLAAR and the museum tend to be generous for scholarly use of these images, but dumping images on a web site that does not provide significant scholarly commentary or meaningful original discussion is not what most people envision as scholarly use. It is preferred that the images be used for scholarly articles in appropriate journals and magazines, or for a thesis, dissertation or monograph. We also encourage usage to assist visitors to Guatemala to learn about the pre-Columbian cultures of Guatemala, but in a professional manner (which means more than just dumped in a batch of continuous photographs with not much original discussion).

Stealing an image is not “fair use,” especially when the original photographer and original web site are not clearly, specifically, and appropriately cited. Fair use is quoting small portions of text; reproducing entire images is cheating. These images are more than copyright; permission to use them understandably requires permission of the Museum, and of the FLAAR Photo Archive.


First posted September 8, 2009.

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706082 D PES 2014 solvent eco solvent printers full exhibitor list Part I

If you wish to donate your library on pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and related topics, FLAAR will be glad to receive your library and find a good home for it. Contact:




Q’eqchi’-Spanish-English Dictionary Segments

2012 Prophecies of the end Mayan calendar

3D Scanning Equipment Reviews For Field Work

GigaPan Epic Pro System

Bibliography Mayan dye colorants

Municipio de Livingston Izabal: places to visit

TECHNOLOGY, BOOK REVIEWS on Digital Imaging, especially 3D

Private Museums of Mayan Archaeology



Agriculture, diet, food

Maya Vase Rollouts

Trees of Mesoamerica

Mayan languages of Guatemala

Museums of Mayan Archaeology

Carlos Pellicer, Tabasco

Lectures on Maya topics Now available

Travel / Hotels

Guatemala City


Baja Verapaz

Archaeology of Iran

Visit other FLAAR sites

Flora and fauna

Educational Books