Yale Professor Presents Mexican Government with Records of Ancient Maya Art

Renowned Maya art expert Mary Miller, The Vincent Scully Professor of History of Art at Yale University, today presented to the Mexican government original documentation from her studies of the ancient murals at Bonampak - one of the most significant Maya sites in Chiapas, Mexico.

Renowned Maya art expert Mary Miller, The Vincent Scully Professor of History of Art at Yale University, today presented to the Mexican government original documentation from her studies of the ancient murals at Bonampak - one of the most significant Maya sites in Chiapas, Mexico.

Joined by Yale President Richard C. Levin, Miller presented the original data and large format-prints of the wall paintings to Sergio Raul Arroyo, the Director General of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) at Mexico’s Museo Nacional de Antropologia.

“Perhaps no single artifact from the ancient New World offers as complex a view of Prehispanic society as do the Bonampak paintings,” said Miller. “No other work features so many Maya engaged in the life of the court and rendered in such great detail, making the Bonampak murals an unparalleled resource for understanding ancient society.”

The Bonampak Documentation Project-a team Miller assembled in 1995 with funding from the National Geographic Society and the Getty Foundation-recorded every aspect of the detailed murals in three narrow rooms at the Bonampak site, down to minute scraps of paint.

Back in New Haven, Connecticut, Miller and her students studied the data from the sites, which they had collected in three formats-color transparency, photographic infrared and video infrared.

In 1999, the project hired an archaeological artist who hand-painted a reconstruction that incorporated all of the data into a single large-format work. With guidance from project members, including representatives from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Brigham Young University and the University of California, Riverside, and experts in epigraphy, iconography and a pigment specialist, the artist completed the half-size re-creations of the murals in about two years.

Located deep within the tropical rainforests of Chiapas, Mexico, Bonampak is home to the most complete and important mural program of the ancient Americas. These three rooms of murals, painted around A.D. 800, reveal the ancient Mayans at the end of their splendor, engaging in court rituals and human sacrifice, wearing elegant costumes and stripping the clothing from fallen captives, acknowledging foreign nobles and receiving tribute. The murals and Miller’s work, featured in this year’s May issue of Arqueologia Mexicana, offer a rare glimpse of a once mighty civilization on the brink of its demise.

“These Bonampak paintings offer a unique window onto a lost world,” noted President Levin, who traveled to Mexico City to strengthen ties between the University and Mexico. “I am pleased that Yale has been able to support such important research at every step of the way.”

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345