Restoring the Restorations at Chichen Itza

November 9th, 2011 by ejalbright

The Great Ball Court of Chichen Itza under restoration (Photo by INAH)

The art and science of restoring Maya ruins has advanced considerably over the last 90 years, and for the next few months archaeologists at Chichen Itza will correct past wrongs that have slowly, inexorably, damaged many of the monuments.

The restoration project is being touted as the largest at Chichen Itza in decades, a project that has resulted in the temporary closing of one monument to tourists.

Over the past two months specialists at Chichen Itza have been restoring the restorations in the Great Ball Court, the largest monument of its kind in Mesoamerica. According to INAH, the federal agency that oversees the ruins, this is one of seven ruins in the ancient city that will undergo restoration.

According to an INAH press release on the project, specialists will be addressing “problems of conservation of the ancient Mayan monuments caused by the passage of time, excess humidity in the region and many visitors.” The same release goes on at length to explain that the restoration is necessary because previous restoration projects used practices that, while appropriate for the time, proved to be impermanent and, in some cases, destructive.

Specifically, the use of concrete, a building material unknown to the ancient Maya, had been widely used in earlier restorations. Concrete, however, traps moisture, eroding the monuments from within. INAH specialists will demolish the work of earlier generations and restore the monuments again. They will replace the concrete with a cement made from lime, stone dust, and fine bark called bajpek, similar to that originally used by the ancient Maya.

The director of the project, José Huchim Herrera, had previously supervised restorations at Uxmal. The techniques learned there are being applied to Chichen Itza.

During the demolition and restoration project, INAH scientists are taking the opportunity to learn more about the monuments and, they believe, the people who built them. Short trenches have been dug around the monuments in search of rubble and other stones that originally came from the monuments but fell away under the elemental assault of centuries of rain and wind.

The Great Ball Court consists of five distinct structures that will undergo restoration: The two walls of the court (each of which has a giant, carved ring, and lined with beautifully carved friezes), the Temple of the Bearded Man on the north end, the ruined temple at the south end, and the two temples of the Jaguar, with Upper Temple of the Jaguars atop the east wall and the Lower Temple of the Jaguar behind the east wall.

The project came as the result of a study by INAH’s Consejo de Arqueología (Council of Archaeology), which determined that extensive restoration was required of the ball court and six other structures on what is called the Grand Platform: The Tzompantli, Platform of Venus, Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars, and the internationally famous Pyramid of Kukulcan pyramid and Temple of the Warriors.

The Great Ball Court restoration is first, and will be conducted in two phases, the first to the core structure of the monuments, and the second to the friezes and other decorative elements. According to INAH it will continue the current season of work through March.

The restoration project will be disruptive of tourism at Chichen Itza, but as yet, no officials from the federal or state tourism agencies have commented.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 at 10:08 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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