The five-day Maya Meetings returned to Austin after being held in Guatemala last year, attracting scholars and enthusiasts of Maya culture from around the world to present their latest research and discoveries regarding Mayan architecture, cosmology and culture.
Some of the temples shown by researchers had not been seen by an audience in centuries. The new research focused on art, architecture and new texts that depicted the lives of ordinary Mayas, instead of the traditional accounts that focus on kings and gods.
“Truth is, we don’t know squat,” said George Stuart, director for the Center for Maya Research and keynote speaker for the 2013 Maya Meetings. “There’s about 6,000 known Maya sites and we’ve only researched about 5 percent of them.”
The conference was held on Jan. 15-19 by the UT Mesoamerica Center, headed by one of the most prominent epigraphists in the world, David Stuart, son of George Stuart.
“Right now we are in an exciting time, things are almost moving too quickly,” David Stuart said. “This is the most active time in Maya research. I think this is a great time to be, intellectually.”
The annual conference was founded in 1977 by one of the pioneers of Maya scholarship, Linda Schele, when she was still a graduate student at UT — one of her youngest students was David Stuart.
David Stuart was 12 years old when he presented his first academic paper in Mesa Redonda, Mexico, in 1979. At 18 he became the youngest recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship.
David Stuart was introduced to Schele by his father, who had a 40-year career with National Geographic.
“One of the first places to start is with the contemporary Mayan communities,” David Stuart said. “My hope is that in 10 years, in a little village of Chiapas, a kid could read the stories of the kings of Palenque the way we read about the kings of England and Spain.”
Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Boston University who attended the conference, said he shared this objective.
“To serve — that is, perhaps, one of the main objectives of our science,” Estrada-Belli said. “It is now time to start giving this knowledge to our kids.”
Several who attended the conference, including Estrada-Belli, said they particularly liked the fact that the conference included not only scholars but engineers, chemists, students and enthusiasts.
“I thought the organizers gave a lot of importance to UT graduate students’ research,” said Ana Izquierdo, a professor from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “Which is brilliant, because they get the chance to expose and learn from the best exponents in the field — that was a very good thing.”
Since the inception of the UT Maya Meetings, the conference has been used as a model for other conferences and attracts the attention of amateurs and enthusiasts from around the country.
“I enjoyed the conference, but it was too short,” said John Sneider, an enthusiast from Palm Springs, Calif. “I spent $700 on the plane ticket, and this is the eighth or ninth time I do it, but it flew by me.”
The conference’s location has been alternating for three years between Antigua, Guatemala and Austin. The next conference will be held in Antigua from Jan. 7-11, in 2014.