February 1999 Meeting of the Pre-Columbian Society

Saturday February 13, 1999 at the University Museum.

Warren Church was unable to speak as planned.  On short notice, Elin Danien graceously offered to speak.

Elin Danien, "Leopold Stokowski, Ox Carts, and Stelae: the University Museum at Piedras
Negras."
     Elin  spoke about the history of excavation at the Guatemalan site of Piedras
Negras. The site was first pointed out to Teobert Maler by logger Emilio Palma, who had named it for the large black rocks found in the Usimacinta River near the ruins.  The Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C., was issued a short term permit for excavation at the site, in 1926.
The University Museum's director, George Gordon, advised by Sir Eric Thompson
and Sylvanus Morley, applied for a permit to excavate at Piedras Negras, which
was granted in May, 1929.  As had been the case with the Carnegie Institute's appropriation of Lintel 4, the Museum was anticipating the acquisition of  sculptural artifacts to enhance its collection.  Their contract with the Guatemalan government permitted them to keep one
half of the sculptures discovered and deliver one half to Guatemala City. The monuments would legally be on loan for 10 years, but it was anticipated that the loan would be indefinitely extended.
     During the first season, the work crew hacked out a 37 mile ungraded road, usable only in the dry season, to bypass the unnavigable rapids at the Mouth of the Mountains Gorge. Horace Jaynes led archaeologists such as Lynton Saitherwaithe, Eldridge Johnson and Tatiana Prouskourikoff in excavation, and epigraphic, historical and site plan analysis, and was also forced to constantly deal with financial shortfalls brought on by the Great Depression. In addition to wrestling with unwieldy monuments in mud and gravel, Jaynes had to deal with transport
out of the Peten.  Any artifacts travelling through Mexico were subject to seizure and the sculptures bound for Guatemala City had to be routed through New Orleans. Although the project was financially unable to publish  their findings until the 1940's and '50's, they did discover Lintel
3, Altar 1, Stelae 12 and 14, and a beautifully carved bench and back screen. In all, eight sculptures were brought to the University Museum; all but two of these have now been returned to Guatemala City.

And what about Leopold Stokowski?  The connection is really very tenuous.  Sylvanus Morley
suggested that Stokowski be invited to spend a month or so at Piedras Negras, to fill him with the romance of archaeology (Stokowski had visited Morley at Chichen Itza) and that then his (Stokowski's) connections could be targeted for financial support.  Probably the idea was that the conductor would introduce the archaeologists to his wealthy friends.  Needless to say, nothing ever came of it.  But they were desperate for money!

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