royal Maya palace now being excavated in Guatemala provides an
opportunity to try a new approach to archaeological preservation
that not only will protect the ancient site but will also provide
economic support for the modern Maya villagers who live in the
is the hope of expedition leader Arthur Demarest. The Vanderbilt
anthropologist is attempting to raise sufficient private funding
to re-create the former splendor of the huge, labyrinthine palace
and to make it the centerpiece of a new ecotourism center.
hope this project will create a model for future archaeological
research in developing countries — and especially for the Maya
area — using the ancient treasure of the Maya civilization to
benefit their descendants,” Demarest says.
lies at the center of an ancient city named Cancun, which means
“place of serpents.” Cancuén is not only a lost city, but also
a lost natural world. In addition to the ruins, the site contains
one of the last stands of tropical rainforest in the southern
Petén region of Guatemala, complete with endangered tropical species
including howler monkeys, woolly anteaters and rare birds; so,
the plans include strict environmental preservation measures.
integral part of the planning is to establish an educational program
that will train members of the local village in the various skills
needed to operate an ecotourism center and to preserve and protect
can’t just keep excavating ancient Maya ruins while the modern
Maya settlements nearby are starving,” Demarest says.
for continued archaeological study, rainforest conservation and
indigenous community development are being carried out under the
auspices of Vanderbilt University’s Institute of Mesoamerican
The archaeologist has taken the first step
toward this goal by working in collaboration with a nearby village
of modern Maya K’ekchi people. He has contracted with the villagers
to protect the site from looters.
effort has the support of Guatemala’s new minister of culture,
Otilia Lux de Coti, who is a native Quiche Maya. Lux de Coti has
said that she would like to see more projects that will help the
modern Maya to discover and benefit from their great ancient heritage.