I regularly receive the publications of the Boundary End Archaeological Research Center that focus on the decipherment and interpretation of Maya hieroglyphics. When I received the September 2013 Report 60, “The Rise of Chak Ek’,“ I was not prepared for the amazing story behind the research.
To do justice to the “back-story” of Report 60, authored by Native American inmates in the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, it seemed best to present the report Preface in the words of its author, archaeologist George E. Stuart.
Dr. Stuart’s (I think he would rather be called George) accomplishments in the field of Mesoamerican archaeology are well known to both professionals and the public. His many articles and books would be too long to list here, yet few outside of the profession of archaeology are aware of his quiet work as staff archaeologist for the National Geographic Society for decades until his retirement in 2001. His work brought discoveries and research about the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica to a worldwide audience.
I was always in awe Geographic’s accurate, but impactful photographs of the Maya, Aztec, Olmec, Mixtec and Zapotec (the list is long) ruins made by its photographers, but Dr. Stuart was always working behind the scenes to foster those articles, and to be certain the writers and photographers had it right. Report 60 is again representative of his quiet and persistent work that resulted in an important contribution to the study of Maya writing by prison inmates who were written off by some in this society—those shortsighted persons were wrong.
For a copy of Report 60, “The Rise of Chak Ek’,“ or any of the other many publications of BEARC online, go to: Boundary End Archaeological Resource Center
“FOR MORE THAN A DECADE the Center for Maya Research and its successor, the Boundary End Archaeology Research Center, have taken part in a remarkable and productive relationship with a group of Native American inmates serving time in the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, and other prisons in the state.
The story began in 2001, when Barry A. Bausman, also known by his Cherokee name, Uguku Usdi (“Little Owl”), and some fellow prisoners took an interest in the ancient Maya calendar and in astronomy. This came after they read Michael D. Coe’s 1999 classic, “Breaking the Maya Code.” Uguku Usdi was so captivated by this history of the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphic script that he wrote a letter of inquiry to the people mentioned in the text or bibliography who were likely still alive. I responded, and thus began an exchange of letters and telephone calls that continues to this day. The correspondence file is now more than a foot thick, and growing.
Uguku Usdi and the study group he founded had begun work on the astronomical and calendrical content of the Maya codices with a total lack of source material. Thus, my first task was clear – to provide some basic references.
At the time I received Uguku Usdi’s first letter (forwarded from National Geographic, shortly after my retirement), I was in the midst of sorting books – my own library of some 7,000 volumes along with about that same number from the library of the late Matthew W. Stirling, the gift of his widow, Marion Stirling Pugh.
As one might imagine, many duplicates came to light each day. These I set aside for the group. Hardback books, forbidden to go directly to prisoners, I shipped to prison chaplain Ricardo Duran, who placed them in his office library; paperbacks I sent (in packages conforming to strict limits of content and weight) directly to Uguku Usdi’s cell block. Soon, the prisoners had access, not only to the best reproductions of the codices themselves, but also to complete sets of our own Center’s special publications and serials- Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing and Ancient America, along with papers by scholars, past and present, who had written on Maya astronomy and the calendar.
The letters that came back were both encouraging and, at times, somewhat discouraging. Uguku Usdi’s vivid descriptions of the In Lak’ech Study Group (as they called themselves) sitting around in the yard of Cell Block 4 reading papers by John Teeple, Floyd Lounsbury, David Stuart, and others were wonderful. Nonetheless heartening were the stories of frequent “lockdowns,” when the prisoners, confined to their cells, had to rely upon Maya hieroglyph flash cards held outside the bars for the response of others of the group who could see them!
Soon, the In Lak’ech Study Group began to produce papers. Eventually these reached more than a dozen in number. These I shared with colleagues who specialized in the topics involved, particularly Mayanist Bruce Love of Littlerock, California, and Professor Anthony F. Aveni of Colgate University, Hamilton, New York. Both agreed that the paper presented here deserved publication. Thus, I offer it here as the final print issue of the Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, nearly 30 years after the appearance of Number One.
For co-authors Uguku Usdi, Alberto Saa, and Christopher Wehunt and their colleagues, this is an achievement of the first order, accomplished in the face of almost unimaginable odds. As is the case with all inmates, these men had neither e-mail nor access to the Internet. And if that were not enough, the continuing movement of prisoners among California’s hideously overcrowded facilities now separates the members of the In Lak’ech Study Group. We are honored to publish this result of their determined efforts.”