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Architecture, Restoration, and Imaging
of the Maya Cities of
The Puuc Region, Yucatán, México


This web publication honors the remarkable achievements of the archaeologists of the Yucatan.


The main purpose of this web site is to make available enough large, high quality, color images that viewers may explore these world famous Maya cities on their own. Of course, photographs are a completely inadequate substitute for the experience of climbing the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal, observing the sun moving across the sculptured masks of the Codz Poop at Kabah, or watching archaeologists as they study and restore partially collapsed buildings. But not everyone has the opportunity to visit these archaeological sites, and even those who do will rarely have time to explore even the major buildings in depth or to view the hundreds of mosaic patterns and sculptures on the facades. Moreover, study of these cities benefits from comparing early drawings, prints, and photographs, which allow us to trace the ongoing changes over the years. This web site attempts to publish more in-depth visual documentation of this world heritage site than has previously been available on the web, CDs, or in print. I hope it may also persuade some viewers that this is one of the places on earth that they absolutely must see for themselves.

Audience and Contents

The primary audience I have in mind is college and university students, though I hope that this web site proves of interest to others as well. For those already familiar with these archaeological sites, I hope that previously unpublished early photographs, recent photographs of previously unpublished views and details, and the extensive annotated bibliography may be useful. For the scholars on whose research and publications this web site so heavily depends, I hope that this web site will support their work. Most especially, I hope that the comparative photographs and captions will exemplify the impressive, on-going work of Mexican archaeologists and demonstrate the importance of their on-site research and restorations.

This web site includes over 1000 photographs I have taken on site, with descriptive captions, including architectural and sculptural details, paint remains, and interior spaces, not previously published. In addition, there are over 250 19th century drawings, prints and photographs and another 300 by early 20th century scholars, many previously unpublished, showing the appearance of these four cities before the extensive restoration campaigns of the twentieth century.

I have tried to use common language rather than the sometimes specialized language and numbering of professional archaeology. For architectural terms and names of buildings, I have used the most common English forms, sometimes adding in parentheses the Spanish and/or Yucatec Mayan terms.

Visible Remains

In recent years the study of the ancient Maya has opened up new approaches that dramatically alter and enrich our understanding of the Maya world. This web site does not deal directly with many of these major topics, such as the reading of hieroglyphs or identification of agricultural systems and trade routes, much less with the larger society-wide interpretations that these are making possible.

Instead, the focus of this web site is on the visible, physical remains of these four cities; on their conservation, restoration, and reconstruction; and on the diverse ways in which they have been imaged. Of course, with few exceptions, we can only see and photograph those portions that have been cleared and in some cases restored. Thousands of domestic buildings at these cities were constructed largely of long gone perishable materials, and even the domestic stone platforms or foundations that remain are visible only on rare occasions when some are briefly cleared for archaeological study. Hundreds of mounds of stones in the Puuc region, covered with vegetation, have never been explored. Even the cleared buildings and plazas of the civic-religious-ceremonial centers, which were originally covered with plaster and stucco and colorfully painted, are now bare limestone, partially collapsed, weathered, some still overgrown.

Nonetheless, the visible remains are astonishingly beautiful and informative. They richly reward extended looking. As put best by David Drew: “Maya architecture is various in its local traditions, from the stark grandeur of Tikal or Chichén Itzá to the gentler refinement of Palenque or Copán. But Uxmal, with its spacious courts and quadrangles, varied elevations and vistas and sense of proportion and balance between architectural form and ornament, displays a sophisticated aesthetic all of its own, where one directly senses the intelligence of architects at work"  (Drew, 1999, p. 362).

Previous Publications

Some of the most important texts on the Maya and some of the highest quality drawings, prints, and photographs of Maya sites were published in 19th and early 20th century books dealing with the Yucatán. In recent decades, Maya scholarship has been served by an extraordinary surge in studies of very high quality. This web site is heavily dependent on these previous publications, especially the detailed studies of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Labná, and the Puuc Region. I think of this web publication partly as a photographic supplement to the major books and articles described in the annotated bibliography. Moreover, many 19th and early 20th century drawings, paintings, and photographs have never been published. As credited with each image, several outstanding research institutions have generously allowed some of these to be reproduced here. There remain, of course, significant bodies of unpublished photographs in scholars' personal research collections and in various institutional archives. The most important body of unpublished material, especially for the history of restoration, is the annual fieldwork reports submitted to the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, housed in the INAH archives, a few of which have been published.  

Advantages of Web Publication

Over the years, I have found that published images available for the study of works of art, most notably for sculpture and architecture, are inadequate even for informed class discussion. Too often, the questions that naturally arise cannot be answered from the images available. This is an even more serious problem for more in-depth study, such as student projects, reports and term papers. The web revolution is making it possible for the first time to provide the number and range of images needed for seriously exploring works of art and architecture. Large collections of images previously available only in research libraries and archives are gradually being made available on the web. I hope this web site will also support the web publication of scholars' personal research materials. This is especially important where in-depth study is dependent on extensive photo documentation, unlikely ever to find its way into print, whatever the subject.

Moreover, print publications only rarely include annotated bibliographies, even though authors are in an ideal position to provide them; and when provided they are usually very brief. The web now encourages more informative annotations, with separate organization and search by author, title, date, and subject.

Any recommendations for how this web site might be made more useful, especially for college and university teaching and research, will be much appreciated.

Charles S. Rhyne
Professor Emeritus, Art History
Reed College
Portland, Oregon, USA

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