Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Early Tikal travellers

Tikal was too remote to be visited by Stephens and Catherwood during their travels in the region in 1839 and 1840. It was not until 1848 that visits to the site were made by Ambrosio Tut and the Corregidor of the Peten district Modesto Méndez. Their report was published in the Gaceta de Guatemala in the same year. They were accompanied by a local artist Eusebio Lara, a native of Flores, who made at least ten drawings. These seem to have been coped on at least two occasions. One set was copied by the German Dr Ahrens, probably from originals then in the posession of Modesto Méndez and sent to Berlin by Hesse together with his translation of the report. They were engraved and published by the Gesellschaft fur Erdkunde in 1853. A year later an English translation of the report was made for Frederick Chatfield, the Chargé d'Affaires in Central America and was presented to Earl Stanhope who laid it before the Society of Antiquaries in 1854 together with another set of copies of Lara's drawings which were later presented to the Society of Antiquaries by Charles Chatfield.

Since our visit to Tikal early in 2008 we have been able to view these drawings, which are very crude and do not capture the feel of the original monuments. Their attempts at transcribing the hieroglyphic inscriptions are useless for epigraphic puropses. Nevertheless it has been possible for Norman Hammond to identify the originals of most of the drawings for an article in Antiquaries Journal (vol. 64, 1984, p.83-103, which reproduces most of them, together with the German engravings and modern drawings and photographs and also a translation of the report. One example of the drawings will have to suffice here, but they can all be viewed online at the Society of Antquaries Catalogue of Drawings and Museum Objects. Put "Maya" in the keywords and submit your search.

Drawing in Society of Antiquaries, identified as Tikal Stela 11
Modern drawing of Stela 11 by Michael Coe
The Berlin engraved version of the drawing of Stela 11
Stela 11 with altar in front