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Linda Schele and Maya Archaeology


David Freidel

More than a quarter century ago, Linda Schele, observing that there was no settlement map of Palenque, set out with Alfonso Morales to begin the process with a comprehensive sketch map. Hers was the first published report on the settlement outside the monumental core area (L. Schele, 1981, Sacred Site and World View at Palenque. In Dumbarton Oaks Conference on Mesoamerican Sites and World Views, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson, pp. 87­117. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.). Today, Alfonso Morales is contributing as an archaeologist to the Precolumbian history of Palenque and Palenque is being mapped accurately by Schele's student, Ed Barnhart. Schele (1986) also collaborated with archaeologist and ceramicist Robert Rands (they were research fellows together at Dumbarton Oaks in 1975­1976) on the definition of sequential development in the technology and design of tombs and temples at the site (L. Schele, 1986, The Founders of Lineages at Copán and Other Maya Sites. Copán Note 8. Copán Mosaics Project and the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia). In 1974, Schele collaborated with Peter Mathews on the inventorying and documenting of texts and images from stucco and stone decoration fragments collected and stored in the Palenque bodega by previous archaeological expeditions to the site. This work required painstaking reconstruction of provenience information from archaeological field notes, published in their monograph of photographs and drawings (L. Schele and P. Mathews, 1979, The Bodega of Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.).

In the mid-1980s, Schele joined the Copán Mosaics Project as epigrapher at the invitation of William Fash. In that context, she worked with David Stuart, Barbara Fash, and Nikolai Grube on the recording and decipherment of the texts of that site. Commensurate with the rapid dissemination of new decipherments by informal means among Maya epi-graphers, Schele started the Copán Notes, a series of preliminary reports on epigraphy and iconography with a principal focus on the Copán research. The several hundred entries in this series comprise the most detailed and useful history of epigraphic research at a Maya site. She published her interpretations of the Copán glyphic and archaeological evidence in four books (L. Schele and M. E. Miller, 1986, The Blood of Kings. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; L. Schele and D. A. Freidel, 1990, A Forest of Kings. Morrow, New York; D. A. Freidel, L. Schele, and J. Parker, 1993, Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path. Morrow, New York; L. Schele and P. Mathews, 1998, The Code of Kings, The Language

of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs. Scribner, New York).

Schele took special pleasure in her collaboration with David Sedat and Robert Sharer in the tunnel excavations inside the Copán acropolis. She regarded the expertise of these archaeologists and their colleagues with an unmitigated admiration and awe. At the same time, she never failed to voice confident and enthusiastic opinions on iconographic and epigraphic matters relevant to this research. She championed the conjunctive approach to Maya studies, which among other things, includes the cross-correlation of archaeological and epigraphic information. Acknowledging that the Maya used historical texts as political propaganda, she nevertheless insisted that they also described real people and events. In 1986, Schele (Copán Note 8, 1986) hypothesized that the Copán dynastic founder Yax-K'uk'-Mo' was not a mythical but rather a historical figure. In addition to Late Classic retrospective history, her evidence at that time consisted of fragmentary Early Classic texts from broken Copán monuments that confirmed the existence of glyphic history from that era. As excavations in the acropolis tunnels proceeded, which was partially supported by funds from her endowed chair at the University of Texas at Austin, she witnessed the material documentation of the founders of the dynasty in tombs deeply buried inside the acropolis.

Schele's final collaborative book, Code of Kings (1998), exemplifies her interest in central issues challenging archaeologists in the Maya area. Written with Peter Mathews, the book thematically addressed continuity and disjunction between the Classic and Postclassic periods. Their study of monumental architecture at Seibal, Uxmal, Chichen Itzá, and Iximche provided a framework for renewed consideration of the Itzá migrations, the Putun hypothesis, and the relationship between the ethnohistorically known K'iche', Kak'chikel, and the Classic lowland Maya. It is a bold and substantive effort to bridge between the history of the Classic Maya and that of Colonial Maya and their modern descendants.

Linda Schele died of pancreatic cancer on April 18, 1998. She leaves an impressive legacy of field archaeologists who trained with her, as well as valuable and influential contributions to the archaeological record of the Maya. She is survived by her husband, David Schele, who with Linda launched an endowed chair at University of Texas at Austin to continue work on Mesoamerican writing and art. ·

David Freidel is professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

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