Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Pursuasive Powers of Rosa Covarrubias

Rosa Covarrubias, (the wife of Miguel Covarrubias, a famous Mexican cartoonist and Mesoamerican art historian during the 1950's), had substantial power over Nelson Rockefeller. Because she had evidence that the Mexican government was not keeping its 50% matching commitment for the funds that Rockefeller had been putting into the Palenque excavations (field seasons 1949, 1950 and 1951), she urged Rockefeller to stop funding the project(letter dated October 9, 1951). For the two following seasons, the project, supervised by the hard-working Alberto Ruz, received no funds from Nelson Rockefeller.

However, after the historic finds that Ruz made in the Temple of the Inscriptions and after hearing one of his lectures and his plea for more funding, she wrote to Rockefeller again in March 31, 1954, where she asked Nelson to once again begin funding the Ruz excavations. On April 21, 1954, approximately 2 weeks after he received Rosa's letter, Rockefeller once again began funding the project. In addition, Rosa was part of the excavation crew for that season -- at her wish. Her description of the site is pungent and endearing, especially considering the fact that she was by profession, a dancer and actress, not at all accustomed to the hard physical labor needed at an archaeological excavation.

Dear Nelson:
Will you believe it, this is the first time I’ve seen Palenque? I can’t tell you how wonderful it is. It is probably the most impressive of all the ruins, as the jungle closes in on all sides. Tall mountains form a backdrop and the monuments face a sea of jungle as far as the eye can reach. Monkeys howl all day long and in the morning toucans and myriads of other birds play in the trees in front of the camp.

First I must thank you in the name of all the people working on this project. With the arrival of your contribution twenty people were working and the number is now 70 workers and four technicians. It is not easy to work here. The humidity is terrific, but the small Maya men seem never to tire. A beautiful river flows in front of the ruins and when work stops, they make for the river like children at play.

If you think it is easy to climb seventy steps with a sack of cement or lime, try it sometime. The ruins are in fine condition. Everything can be seen rather easily….No one knows how many there are exactly. Everybody works with caution of the dreaded Fer de lance and rattlesnake. Wasps are in every crevice.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

K'inich Janaab' Pakal’s False Pearls

As I have written previously, the great Mexican archaeologist, Alberto Ruz discovered one of the most important tombs in all of the Maya area when he excavated the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque and found the remains of greatest Palenque ruler, K’inich Pakal.

Many jewels and precious objects were found in that tomb, but the objects that I want to talk about for this blog-post are what Ruz called “false pearls”, as seen in the above scan. He writes, “These pearls were magnificent falsifications. Each pearl is composed of two hollow pieces of mother-of-pearl shell, exactly cut and polished, which were fitted in one case lengthwise and in the other transversely, held in place as one by a limestone paste which filled the supposed pearl.” (Ruz 300:1953) The false pearls were 32 mm (1.26 inches) long. Ruz goes on to state that these manufactured pearls were evidence of a theocracy in which “a great all-powerful king demanded pearls of a size larger than could be found in nature” and thus demonstrated the inventiveness of the Palenque jeweler who made them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hombre Verdadero - Halach Huinic

The great Mexican archaeologist, Cesar Saenz excavated at Palenque during the early 50's, under the direction of Alberto Ruz. Here you see a picture of Saenz at the site of Xochicalco where he is displaying one of its unusual stela.

At Palenque, one of Saenz' many projects was to explore the twin temples, XVIII and XVIIIa. Within those buildings, he found 7 burials, 6 of which contained artifacts indicating that the persons buried there were royal. As you can see, the buildings are in ruin.

Here is one of the jade pieces that was found in Tomb 2. It is displayed in the site museum. When Saenz described it, he wrote that this was an image of "halach huinic" in a seated position and Ruz describes it simply as a figure between two snakes (note the creatures on either side of the man's head). This iconographic image is the same one found throughout the Classic Maya region, so it has been studied by Mayanists again and again. More recently, many scholars have interpreted this figure as that of the maize god. I had not seen this image as labeled "halach huinic" previously, so I went to the Google Books website to try to find books where this word is used and in what context. I found several books that interpret it as meaning as in Spanish as "hombre verdadero" or "true man" (JES Thompson 1975; Ferrero 2002; Gonzalez 1998). Somehow I think that the word has lost something in the translation.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Bones of K'inich Janaab' Pakal

As part of my research, I am investigating the personalities of those who have worked in the Palenque Cross Group and sometimes while doing this research, I come across some very interesting tidbits about these people, their actions and reactions. Recently, while going through some of Linda Schele's letters, I came across letters from Bob Robertson, the late husband of Merle Green Robertson, (photo is from Merle's book "Never in Fear") to Linda that related a very humorous and endearing event regarding the bones of K'inich Janaab' Pakal who was ancient Palenque's most influential ruler, ruling from March 23, 603 to August 28, 683.

Pakal's bones were found in 1952 by Alberto Ruz in an elaborate tomb inside the Temple of the Inscriptions. The letters are dated October and November of 1977 and they were about how the archaeologists from Mexico City were headed to Palenque to take the bones to Mexico City, do restoration work on them, and then return them to Palenque. Here is what one of the letters said:

Last Thursday 5 individuals from INAH descended upon the Runias for the express purpose to prepare Pacal's bones so they could be taken to Mexico City.....Telegrams and phone calls to the Governor and the Pres. and no doubt INAH; meetings of the Mayor, Carlos, David, Moises and others. The school children were alerted for a strike and a peaceful march to the runias to protest. The Indians were notified and the townspeople were notified by use of a sound truck.

Ramon (who was one of the INAH anthropologists) met with the mayor and told him they were preparing the bones to stay here at Palenque and promised the skull will be brought back. Just by chance Alberto Ruz was in Villahermosa when all this was taken place. At the moment all is quite. Some of INAH folks have gone back-- the photographers. There is a committee set up and two watchers are constantly at the tomb for they are still working to see that the bones remain here. Yesterday's Sunday paper from Villahermosa had headlines—

“INAH STEALS BONES OF PRINCE” In the article, they said some "snobs and *~a* traitors call the Prince Pacal" and international stupids say he is an astronaut.

In the next letter, Bob and Merle tell Linda that none of the bones were taken out and instead the tomb had been sealed to make sure that they were secure. Even the governor of Chiapas called to make sure that the bones were not moved. To my knowledge, the bones are still in the tomb where, no doubt, they are deteriorating into dust.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Alberto Ruz, Palenque and Nelson Rockefeller

In at least two of the INAH Anales reports regarding Palenque, Alberto Ruz thanked Nelson Rockefeller for the funding he contributed to the excavation projects at the site. When I read this statement, it sparked my curiosity, so I contacted the Rockefeller Foundation archives to see what I could discover about it. They sent me copies of several pieces of correspondence (1947- 1958) between Ruz, Rockefeller and the members of the Institute of Andean Research. This institute was the organization through which Rockefeller funneled the money - apparently for political reasons. Above is a picture of Rockefeller on the cover of Life magazine when Life did a story on the Museum of Primitive Art.

Above is a picture of Alberto Ruz. One of the stipulations regarding the receipt of the Rockefeller funds was that they were to go hand-in-hand with the money that the Mexican government was putting into the project. In 1955, Rockefeller requested a summary of all the funds contributed by INAH as compared to his. According to Ruz' accounting, between 1947 and 1955, Rockefeller had contributed 40% of the entire budget for the project, with INAH putting in 60%. From the tone of the correspondence between these two great men, it is possible to see that they were very warm friends. Time and time again, Ruz invited the Rockefellers to Palenque and finally they did make one visit. Ruz wrote in 1956 "My wife and I have the fondest remembrances of yours and Mrs. Rockefeller's brief stay among us." He was referencing Rockefeller's first wife, Mary Todhunter Clark, who also would eventually contribute money to the project.

Nelson Rockefeller and Mary Todhunter Clark Rockefeller