Archive for November, 2008

Adios, Merida Insider, A Dios …

November 25th, 2008 by ejalbright

Merida Insider as it appeared when it launched in 2003

Merida Insider was, hands down, the best Web site if you planned to visit or move to Yucatan. And now it’s gone. I click on the link a couple of times a day, but all I get is a broken link and a broken heart.

A few weeks ago I was in Merida and attended a dinner with the man who created and managed the site, Mexico Bob. He and his wife, Sunshine (these are not their real names, but the names they use online, and names with which most of us who know them are most comfortable), got together with a few other MI members: TDKuhn (who happen to be two people), CalMan and SnowyCo, and their respective wives.

Bob talked about what a burden the Merida Insider had become. It had thousands of members, who had created tens of thousands of posts on every conceivable topic dealing with visiting and living in Yucatan. The site had become a real encyclopedia. But it was built on creaky old software, and a few of the members had become pains in the ass. Mexico Bob wasn’t making any money on the site. He was really just doing it for the love of doing it, but he wasn’t feeling the love in return.

Still, he had plans to expand the site and maybe even update the software it ran upon. I didn’t say anything, but I liked the fact that the site was antiquated. Its limited functionality meant the focus was on the written word, not on pictures or multi-media or chatrooms or other nonsense. And as a certified Web geezer, I always felt the simpler the better.

Merida Insider, as it looked in 2008. Sometimes the old ways are the best.

Word for word Merida Insider had the best information available about Yucatan. It also had a lot of personality. Members frequently got into spats, almost always a clash of personalities. It was like living in a big neighborhood. And like a neighborhood, I grew to like many of the neighbors and over time we became friends.

I’d been visiting MI since 2004 when I began work on my book about Chichén Itzá. In those days the shop was run by Mexico Bob and two volunteers. The volunteers eventually quit the board, because they weren’t feeling the love. Mexico Bob continued to run it, but his participation became less frequent.

Then about two weeks ago, someone hacked the site. Actually, they hacked all of Mexico Bob’s sites, including this one (Bob hosts American Egypt). For the past few days Bob has been busy getting his paying clients back up and running. The word, at least of late, was that he wasn’t going to restore Merida Insider. He may change his mind once this particular crisis passes, but based on his comments from a few weeks ago, he probably will keep the site as it is–dead.

There are other forums dealing with Yucatan out there. has many of the same members as Merida Insider. My pal SnowyCo is already over there, sharing his wisdom. Some of my other pals from Merida Insider are there and the indication is that the water is fine. For me, at least for now, the site is a little too earnest, a little too Web 2.0. For me the less glitz the better. But that’s me.

Still, I am a chatty Cathy, and I can’t believe I’ll not land somewhere eventually. Here are some Yucatan sites I particularly like. Go ahead and click on them. Don’t wait for me. I’ll be along eventually.
Yucatan Living

Debi in Merida
Hammock Musings from Merida
Not the News
¿What do I do all day?

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What Exactly Did Peabody Museum Director Say about Chichen Itza Artifacts?

November 24th, 2008 by ejalbright

An early postcard of Chichen Itza’s great sinkhole, the Cenote Sagrado.

The Associated Press reports one thing. The Mexican press reports something different. INAH, the official Mexican agency that oversees ancient Maya ruins, reports something else. But what exactly did William Fash, director of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, promise?

Earlier this week Fash was in Mexico at the Sixth Palenque Roundtable, an occasional gathering of Mesoamericanists. According to Pamela Gerardi, director of external relations for the Peabody Museum, Fash was present to help honor his colleague, retired Harvard professor Ian Graham, who was receiving an honor from INAH, the Mexican agency that oversees ruins such as Palenque and Chichen Itza.

Gerardi was not present, nor has she spoken with Fash, who is still traveling throughout Mexico and Central America, she said. But she agrees that the articles don’t jibe with the facts.

On Tuesday and Wednesday last week, articles appeared in Mexican newspapers and in the US Associated Press that indicated that Fash discussed returning carved jades excavated by Edward H. Thompson a century ago from the Cenote Sagrado at Chichén. Except that in 1976, the Peabody Museum gave Mexico the best carved jades (some 450 of them, according to Gerardi; contemporary reports say it was 240). This was on the heels of a 1960 gift of some 94 objects of gold and copper.

The Peabody Museum still has several thousand artifacts from the Cenote Sagrado, a painful scab that, in the minds of many Mexican archaeologists, will never heal. And like a scab, it gets scraped open every few years. The Mexican archaeologists maintain that Edward Thompson illegally excavated the artifacts and smuggled them into the United States. But their indignation does not have its source in righteous anger. Mexico’s highest court cleared Thompson of wrongdoing. This means there was no theft, no smuggling, no violation of Mexican law. The artifacts were taken fair and square.

Furthermore, the research I’ve conducted for my book on Chichen Itza demonstrates that the artifacts were taken with the approbation of the Mexican government at the time. The later revolutionary governments also had no problem with Thompson’s dredging; one former governor of Yucatan used to give out copper bells from the Cenote Sagrado that Thompson had given him as gifts to visiting dignitaries.

It is clear that Fash made some kind of statement in Mexico, but exactly what he said needs clarification. My guess is that he mentioned the previous return of the jades, and lost in translation was the fact they had already been returned.

I’ve put in a call to Dr. Fash and sent him an e-mail query. Expect more details next week when he returns to work.

In the meantime, below is the official notice from INAH, the agency that oversees archaeology in Mexico. The article is filled with factual errors, so perhaps the entire contents are suspect. For example, it says that Thompson bought “surrounding plots,” but in fact he bought all of Chichen Itza, including the Cenote Sagrado. It says he excavated in the 19th century, but he actually began work on the cenote in 1904. The most important error is corrected in the article itself, which has a head line saying the Peabody “would return” the cenote artifacts, but the text says that it is merely “possible.” Here is the complete notice from INAH:

Peabody Museum would return Archaeological Pieces Found in Sacred Cenote

Archaeological findings of the Chichen Itza Sacred Cenote donated to Peabody Museum by archaeologist Edward H. Thompson, who bought the surrounding plots, are to be returned to Mexico.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University set the arrangements to return the collection to Mexico, as explained by William L. Fash Jr., director of the museum. Thompson began exploration of the Sacred Cenote in the 19th century and found thousand of Prehispanic pieces.

Some items, mainly golden and wooden, were returned in the 1960’s and 1970’s decades, explained the archaeologist in his intervention at the 6th Palenque Round Table in Palenque Archaeological Site.

The jadeite objects that Russian-American epigraphist Tatiana Proskouriakoff studied are the pieces returned in this occasion.

“The museum adopted a good custody policy; sometimes we keep replicas of items we return, and we have a temporary exhibitions program. It is possible that we set arrangements with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to return the custody of this cultural heritage”, stated Fash.

Among the efforts to reintegrate cultural heritage to countries or heirs, is the support to law promulgation in United States regarding devolution of funerary items and osseous rests to North American native peoples.

The archaeologist explained that the Peabody Museum makes strategic planning that includes revising its labor inside Harvard University and its role at international level. Its aim is to become “a doorway to all cultures and countries”.

Collaboration with Mexico includes archaeological sites and monuments registration in Maya region, Teotihuacan and Puebla, supervised by INAH. “The project in Cuauhtlichan, Puebla outstands because it was dated in the Late Pre Classic period, an interesting period in Central Mexico. The results are being analyzed and will be published soon”, stated the archaeologist.

“Academic exchange is also an important aspect; Harvard students contribute to several projects in Mexico, such as Cerritos, Yucatan, where the most important port of Chichen Itza during Terminal Classic period was.”

Barbara Fash, director of the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University [and wife of William], detailed that the task of the Corpus program at this stage is 3 dimensional register of Maya monuments, such as the staircase at Copan, which is the longest Prehispanic hieroglyphic text, she concluded.

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Mostly Lisa at Chichen Itza is Mostly Fun

November 20th, 2008 by ejalbright

Now this is blogging! Mostly Lisa is the Web site of Lisa Bettany, a freelance photographer/videographer from Canada. Lisa does funny little videos about her life that are silly and charming. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a knock out, with two of the most beautiful eyes I’ve seen in a while.

Lisa a while back went to the Yucatan peninsula and visited Chichen Itza. Here’s here report:

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US Musem Director Contemplates Return of Chichen Itza Artifacts to Mexico

November 19th, 2008 by ejalbright

An artist’s rendering of a Maya sacrifice at Chichen Itza’s Cenote Sagrado.

A century ago, the American Consul to Yucatan, Edward H. Thompson, dredged the Cenote Sagrado, a large sinkhole, at Chichen Itza. He wanted to prove that the legends were true: That this was where the ancient Maya had cast precious objects and people as sacrifices to their gods.

Thompson recovered thousands of artifacts, including beautiful objects of gold, jade, pottery, as well as the skeletons of dozens of people. He shipped his finds to the United States where they ended up in the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.

Almost 20 years later, the Mexican government charged Thompson with theft, and demanded the return of the artifacts from the Sacred Well. The Peabody refused, and for more than 80 years, this has been a quiet battle of wills between Mexican archaeologists and the Peabody.

This week William Fash, director of the Peabody, said in an interview with a Mexican journal that the time had come to consider the return of the Sacred Well artifacts to Mexico. The Peabody on two occasions had returned some of the artifacts. In the 1960s the Peabody gave many of the gold objects, and a decade later, many of the carved jades.

Fasher did not commit to returning the rest of the collection, which still consists of thousands of artifacts, but instead suggested that the subject should be explored.

He related some of the history of the collection, explaining that many people believe that the museum funded the exploration of the Sacred Well of Chichen Itza, but this was not the case, Fash said. It was Edward Thompson who decided to donate his findings to the museum.

Fash, however, is not correct. The story behind the dredging of the Sacred Well is much, much more complicated. For example, Mexican archaeologists have long maintained that Edward Thompson illegally smuggled the collection out of Mexico and that the Mexican government knew nothing about the dredging. Both are untrue. And unlike other cases where museums have collections taken illegally, the issue of who owns the collection was already battled out in the courts. In 1944, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that Thompson had not stolen anything, in part because there were no laws concerning artifacts taken from cenotes, and also, because he was the legal owner of Chichen Itza. He had bought the ancient city in 1894.

You can read an Associated Press article on Fash’s comments HERE. The article is not quite correct, for it says that Fash wants to return some carved jades, but those had already been given to Mexico. The Mexican article does not specify exactly what Fash wishes to return.

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Bulgarian President Visits Chichen Itza

November 17th, 2008 by ejalbright

File photo of Bulgaria President Georgi Parvanov with former US Secretary State Colin Powell

Bulgaria’s president, Georgi Parvanov, visited Chichén Itzá over the weekend, concluding a 12-day state visit to Mexico.

The president was accompanied by his wife, as well as more than 30 ministers, businessmen and media from his country. He was met at Chichén by Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco, who accompanied him on an almost two-hour tour of the ruins. The tour was led by Federica Sodi Miranda, director of the Yucatan office of INAH, the agency which oversees the ruins, and included a brief lecture by Director of Research Peter Schmidt, who has supervised many excavations at Chichén Itzá.

Before starting the tour, the governor presented the president and his wife with gifts: Two Jipijapa hats and crafts made by Yucatecan artisans.

The president and his entourage were taken into parts of Chichén closed to regular tourists, such as the thrown room inside El Castillo.

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El Castillo to Adorn Yucatan License Plate

November 13th, 2008 by ejalbright

License plates for vehicles registered in Yucatan will be red next year and will be adorned with an image of El Castillo, the giant pyramid of Chichen Itza.

This isn’t the first time El Castillo has appeared on a license plate. A tiny El Castillo appeared on this version:

Also, the presumed observatory of the ancient Maya at Chichen Itza, the Caracol, was also used as a background for a Yucatan license plate:

Photos from The Plate Hut.

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I’M BACK! Blog Miraculously Resumes

November 11th, 2008 by ejalbright

Chichen Itza’s Las Monjas, October 2008 (photo by Evan J. Albright)

This blog has been, shall we say, dormant over the past few weeks. I’ve been on the road (Amsterdam, Orlando, and, of course, at Chichen Itza) so getting to a computer has been a challenge, much less writing anything.

But I’m back, with enough material to fill a couple of dozen articles about Chichen Itza. See you bright and early tomorrow with the first!

— Evan J.

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