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Dumbarton Oaks to Copublish Upcoming Volume of Stelae at Yaxchilan

Posted On November 18, 2021 | 10:09 am | by mayw | Permalink
Volume inaugurates collaboration with Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions

By May Wang 

We are delighted to announce a new collaboration between Dumbarton Oaks Publications and the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography. The CMHI’s upcoming fascicle on stelae at Yaxchilan is copublished with Dumbarton Oaks, marking the start of a collaboration to bring the wealth of data and documentation on Maya monuments and sites from CMHI to the public through elegant and detailed folios. 

The Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions is the leading program for recording ancient Maya hieroglyphs, begun in 1968 by Mayanist and longtime Peabody associate Ian Graham and directed by Barbara Fash since 2005. To date, the project has published nineteen fascicles with the Peabody Museum Press, offering meticulous illustrations and photographs of monuments and features across twenty sites in the Maya region. The newest addition to the series documents over thirty stelae at Yaxchilan, expanding upon three existing fascicles documenting lintels and steps at the same site.

Kathleen Sparkes, director of publications, and Sara Taylor, managing editor for art and archaeology, described the collaboration as a “natural fit,” given our institutional focus and expertise in publishing texts in Pre-Columbian studies. “We’ve developed a roster of designers, copyeditors, and proofreaders who really understand archaeology and the conventions of the field,” said Taylor, so Publications can readily support the unique needs of the volume. 

The new fascicle, Volume 3.4, has been many decades in the making, ever since Graham first began documenting monuments at Yaxchilan in the 1970s. Publishing the book is no small feat: it has taken Fash and her teams several expeditions over the years to track down and document the monuments in the field, as well many hours back at the desk to make precise and accurate final drawings of the monuments. Technology for documenting the monuments has also evolved over the years; among digital drawings, the fascicle also presents 3D-scans of the stelae, first piloted in 2007 at Yaxchilan in collaboration with coauthor Alexandre Tokovinine. Taken ten centimeters at a time in the dark and processed into models, 3D scans non-invasively create detailed records of the monuments. By changing raking light settings, they bring out details of the glyphs that might be otherwise invisible to the naked eye.

Though the Corpus and Dumbarton Oaks have not formally teamed up before, it’s a collaboration that has been a long time coming in some ways: many of the project researchers, including Fash, have personally presented at or published with Dumbarton Oaks in the past. Fash has even found an early annual report of the CMHI mentioning an initial manuscript was sent to Dumbarton Oaks. Ultimately, the early volumes were published with the Peabody Museum, but the joint publication of upcoming volumes now promises “a great hybrid collaboration,” says Fash, “where we can share resources in a way that benefits both institutions.” Diana Loren, senior curator at the Peabody, explained that “we really see DO as an important partner in sustaining a research arm at the Peabody and publishing different projects—to be able to partner together on the Corpus is a wonderful opportunity for us.”

Early on in the Corpus project, researchers prioritized fieldwork, documenting hieroglyphic monuments before they were looted or eroded. Now, says Fash, “my mission is to get as many publications out as we can,” to make the largest archive of Maya monuments available to as many people as possible. This is partly the motivation behind continuing to publish the folio-size hard copies rather than wholly digitizing the corpus: local communities are increasingly becoming caretakers of Maya sites, and there is growing interest in being able to study the monuments closely. “People who work with these large and detailed monuments, such as epigraphers or descendant community caretakers, cannot view the details on a small computer screen—they really benefit from a larger paper copy,” explains Fash. The volume is also the first in the series to offer metadata and descriptions of the monuments in both English and Spanish, to make the information available to local communities and academics across the Americas.


May Wang is postgraduate writing and writing fellow. Photo by May Wang.