Unearthing the Maya: Highlights of the Stuart Collection

George E. Stuart

George Stuart at his library in Barnardsville, North Carolina.

Born in 1935, George E. Stuart was raised in Camden, South Carolina. It was there as a boy that he first developed what would be a lifelong fascination with books and history and with the collecting and study of archaeological artifacts. While still in high school, Stuart participated in his first dig, preparing maps and drawings for an archaeologist working on the excavation of a Native American mound site outside of Camden. He graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in geology in 1956. During his college years, he spent the first of four summers working as a draftsman and artist with the major archaeological excavation of the Etowah Indian burial mounds near Cartersville, Georgia. His experiences in Georgia both whetted his appetite for archaeology and brought him to the attention of a new research team working under the auspices of the National Geographic Society at the site of the important Maya ruins of Dzibilchaltun in Yucatán. Stuart’s proven skills as a draftsman were precisely what the team needed; he was hired and worked for two years as project cartographer of the ruins of the ancient city.

Stuart’s success in Yucatán led to his becoming a permanent member of the National Geographic staff. Hired as a cartographer in 1960, he remained with National Geographic for nearly forty years, working in a variety of capacities, including staff archaeologist, Vice President for Research and Exploration, Senior Assistant Editor for Archaeology for National Geographic magazine, and Chairman of the Committee for Research and Exploration. In these various positions, Dr. Stuart not only participated directly in a number of the most important archaeological investigations of the past fifty years, including field work in the Maya ruins at Dzibilchaltun, Balankanche Cave, and Cobá, but played an equally vital role in the organization and funding of worldwide archaeological research. In his position as Chair of the Committee for Research and Exploration, for example, he oversaw the annual allocation of over four million dollars in grants for scientific research. Then, as Senior Assistant Editor for Archaeology at National Geographic magazine, Dr. Stuart played a crucial role in the dissemination of the results of that research.

Schematic view of a tomb at Copán by George Stuart (1989).  [ enlarge ]

During his years at National Geographic, Stuart pursued graduate studies in anthropology, receiving a master’s degree from George Washington University in 1970 and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1975. In the decades that followed, his contributions to archaeology have been remarkable, not only for the quality of his scholarship but also for his efforts in making the findings of modern archaeological research accessible to the layman. His published map of the ruins of Dzibilchaltun did much to establish his reputation as a scholar in the field of Maya studies, a reputation further consolidated by his highly valued specialized studies of the ruins of Cobá and on Maya art and epigraphy. More for a popular audience, he produced a series of outstanding monographs that have become classic descriptions of the ancient Mesoamerican civilization and of archaeology in general, including The Mysterious Maya (1977, co-authored with his first wife, Gene Stuart), Ancient Mexico (1992), Lost Kingdoms of the Maya (1993; also co-authored with the late Gene Stuart), Archaeology and You (1996), and Ancient Pioneers (2003). This last book was described by one reviewer as “the best work on American archaeology ever produced.” Dr. Stuart is currently working with his son David, himself an eminent scholar in the field of Maya studies and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, on a book about the ancient Maya city of Palenque. This new work will appear in 2007 from the London publisher Thames and Hudson.

Gene and George Stuart’s Lost Kingdoms of the Maya (1993).
Checklist no. 37.

Since 1984, Dr. Stuart has expanded his efforts on behalf of research and the dissemination of knowledge about the civilizations of Mesoamerica. In that year, he founded the Center for Maya Research, a non-profit organization whose aim has been to promote research related to the archaeology, iconography, and epigraphy of the Maya. Through the Center for Maya Research and the affiliated Center for Ancient American Studies, Dr. Stuart has also served as editor in chief of two scholarly journals, Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing and Ancient America. In 1994, Dr. Stuart and his wife, Melinda, a museum curator and historian of American culture, transferred both centers to their new home in Barnardsville, North Carolina. There they also renovated an existing structure to accommodate the remarkable library Dr. Stuart had assembled over much of his professional life. These facilities served the research needs of both visiting scholars and local academic institutions and also provided space for special seminars and symposiums. On March 1, 2006, the Center for Maya Research (as well as the more informal Center for Ancient American Studies) and the Stuart library were officially renamed the Boundary End Archaeology Research Center (BEARC). With essentially the same goals as the earlier centers, BEARC provides a similar range of services.

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