Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

LAL Maya Rubbings at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

November 8th, 2012

Tulane’s Latin American Library has contributed 28 rubbings and images of two Colonial period works to “Maya 2012: Prophecy becomes History” at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit is curated by Tulane alumnus Dr. Dirk van Tuerenhout with the intention of providing a “straightforward chronological overview of Maya culture, past and present.” Popular media attention focused upon the notion that ancient Maya prophecies could foretell the end of the world on December 21, 2012 has generated new interest in the Maya among the general populace. The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s exhibit is an engaging educational tool about Maya civilization, providing an accurate cultural context for understanding and interpreting the ancient Maya calendar and divination practices.

The 28 rubbings come from a collection of nearly 2,000 individual ink rubbings that comprise a portion of the Latin American Library’s Merle Green Robertson Collection, the only such collection in existence for Maya monuments. The selection of rubbings contributed to the Houston exhibit record carved monuments, buildings, and wood lintels from 14 archaeological sites from across the Maya area in southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. They feature elite historical personages who lived during the Classic period of Maya civilization. A few represent supernaturals or people dressed to impersonate mythological figures or gods. Almost all contain examples of Maya hieroglyphic script. Merle Green Robertson was an accomplished artist and teacher, and she is best remembered for her contributions to Mesoamerican art history and archaeology. She employed the technique of ink rubbing to accurately record the actual dimensions, shape, texture, and content of carved Maya monuments beginning in 1963 and continuing over the course of forty years. More information about the technique can be found here.

The two colonial works demonstrate the persistence of indigenous Maya language and culture after the arrival of Europeans. One is a map of the province of Maní which is a1596 copy of the 1557 original. It represents the earliest evidence for the use of alphabetic script to write in an indigenous Maya language. The second image is of the title page of an early Cakchiquel grammar book, the Arte de la lengua metropolitana de los reynos Kiche, Cakchiquel, y g, utuhil, que hoy integran el reyno de Guatemala (1753).

Christine Hernández, Curator of Special Collections at the Latin American Library, appreciates the opportunity to share the rubbings with a wider audience. She writes, “Merle made great efforts during her professional lifetime to record monuments, exhibit her rubbings, and educate people about the Maya in as many cities and through as many museums as she could. I think she would be extremely happy to see them continuing to be shared, displayed, and viewed in exhibitions like the one being mounted by the Houston Museum.”

“Maya 2012: Prophecy becomes History” will be on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science from October 26, 2012 until March 31, 2013. Click here for further information or to purchase tickets.

Images courtesy of the Latin American Library at Tulane.