INSIDE Chico State
0 March 13, 2003
Volume 33 Number 12
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Anthropologist Gets Inside Look at Ancient Maya Tomb

The Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque (Chiapas, Mexico)

The Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque (Chiapas, Mexico), holds the spectacular underground tomb of Lord Pacal the Great (ruled a.d. 615–683), one of the most important discoveries in the Maya World. Palenque was the ceremonial center of a large fifth-century city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mike Findlay, Anthropology, never expected to participate in the opening of a Maya tomb, complete with a decomposed skeleton, wall paintings, and murals. When he received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the six-week summer 2002 institute, Maya World: Cultural Traditions in Continuity and Change, he knew he would visit the important Maya sites of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, but he was unaware of the exciting bonus awaiting him at Palenque, in the southeast Mexican state of Chiapas.

The Temple of the Cross, Palenque, has the grandest staircase of the three temples in the Cross group.

The Temple of the Cross, Palenque, has the grandest staircase of the three temples in the Cross group.

The Palenque ruins are the ceremonial center of a once-large fifth-century city of 800 structures, in the foothills of the Sierra de Palenque. Findlay’s group of 24 university and college professors from all over the United States, led by Michael Coe of Yale University, the “dean of Maya studies,” was invited to an “insider’s tour” of current archeological work at Palenque. “We had special passes to go places tourists aren’t allowed,” said Findlay.

The Palace, Palenque, built around a.d. 602 to 783, is decorated with mural paintings and carved stone slabs.

The Palace, Palenque, built around a.d. 602 to 783, is decorated with mural paintings and carved stone slabs. The square three-story tower may have been an astronomical observatory.

At Temple XXII, a newly opened tomb near the Temple of the Cross area (see photo), their guides from the National Institute of Anthropology and History dropped in a digital camera, then took the group to a lab where they were able to reconstruct the interior of the tomb on computers. They identified a skeleton, jade beads, wall paintings, and murals. “We were able to zoom in and out, and just play around, checking out the tomb,” Findlay exclaimed. “We even recognized chocolate in bowls, set out to accompany the deceased.”

The find is still under study, and the archeologists don’t know yet whose tomb it is, but results are expected to appear in a Mesoamerican journal in 2004, Findlay said.

Other field studies included visits to ruins at Copán in Honduras, Guatemala City, the Yucatán Maya culture areas in Mexico, and other Maya villages and colonial churches. Distinguished visiting scholars, writers, and artists gave workshops on Maya storytelling, theatre, and textile traditions; colonial and contemporary history in Chiapas and Guatemala; indigenous rights and self-determination; and repression and resistance in Guatemala.

The recent violent history of the Maya in Guatemala captured Findlay’s interest. In reading the institute’s background packet, he noticed that events in Guatemala from 1978–1996 paralleled experiences of the Hmong people, including the role of the United States, whom he claimed stimulated instability. “You could take out Maya,” he said, “and put in Hmong and it would still ring true.” He has long worked with the Hmong student community at Butte College, where he is coordinator of the anthropology program.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Findlay is a Chico State alum, obtaining his M.A. in anthropology in 1984. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Oregon. A lecturer at Chico State since 1986, he now teaches Language and Culture, an upper-division core class for majors, which explores the emergence of writing systems in the ancient world, including the Maya writing system. He found the summer institute’s intensive collaborative study helpful in developing both that course and the Mesoamerican class he teaches at Butte College. His book, Language and Communication: A Cross-Cultural Encyclopedia, was published in 1998.

The 2002 summer institute was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and sponsored by the Community College Humanities Association. Participants came from a variety of disciplines, including humanities, history, anthropology, English, creative arts, languages, sociology, philosophy, and religious studies.

Francine Gair

 

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