August 03, 2021

New Monograph Sheds Light on Looted Ancient Maya Lintels with a Storied Past

New Monograph Sheds Light on Looted Ancient Maya Lintels with a Storied Past

This book explores the discovery and cultural significance of two ancient Maya lintels and advocates for their reprovenancing and eventual repatriation


LOS ANGELES–On April 7, 1950, Dana Lamb, an American explorer of some renown at the time, stumbled upon a Maya ruin in the tropical forests of northern Guatemala. Within this ruin, he discovered a pair of carved door lintels replete with ancient Maya cultural meaning. Lamb photographed the lintels, which depict scenes set at the local court and possibly the kingdom of Yaxchilan. These sculptures portray different rituals—fire drilling, accession, god impersonation, and the presentation of captives—providing insight into ancient Maya cultural and political life. Even more importantly, the lintels are among the few masterworks of Maya sculpture from the Classic period that can be attributed to a specific artist, Mayuy. Lamb went on to name this site Laxtunich, but he failed to record its precise location, perhaps intentionally, creating the mystery at the center of A Maya Universe in Stone (Getty Research Institute, $50).


Using fieldwork, physical evidence, and Lamb’s expedition notes, the authors identify a small area of archaeological sites where the carvings were likely produced. The forensics of locating Laxtunich and what its sculptures can tell us about setting, meaning, and dynastic or noble patronage in Classic Maya civilization make a compelling moral case for not only the reprovenancing of these culturally significant works but also the repatriation of them to Guatemala, their country of origin.


Stephen Houston is Dupee Family Professor of Social Sciences at Brown University.


Pre-publication endorsements: 

“A multifaceted and illuminating account of an enigmatic group of looted monuments, this text offers a unique portrait of an eighth-century Maya sculptor and his world. In addition to considering the artistic, political, and cosmological spheres into which the works intervened, it does not shy away from modern realities of looting and the art market, laying out a persuasive case for the origin of these sculptures that will aid in their eventual repatriation.”

—Claudia Brittenham, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Chicago


“Cultural restitution—in the form of provenancing “orphaned” ancient monuments—is one of the most important endeavors in contemporary archaeology, art history, and epigraphy. In this book a group of leading scholars combine their considerable expertise to show how the meaning and context of a superb work of purloined art can be illuminated and restored.”—Simon Martin, Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania


Note, possibly one more endorsement to come.


Publication Information:

A Maya Universe in Stone

Edited by Stephen Houston

Getty Research Institute

192 pages, 8½ x 10 inches

67 color and 49 b/w, 2 tables


ISBN 978-1-60606-744-4

US $50.00/£40.00


Publication Date: 19 October 2021


Media Contact:

Sydney Lopez, Getty Publications

(310) 440-6536


About Getty Publications:

Getty Publications produces award-winning titles that result from or complement the work of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Conservation Institute, and Getty Research Institute. This wide variety of books covers the fields of art, photography, archaeology, architecture, conservation, and the humanities for both the general public and specialists. Publications include illustrated works on artists and art history, exhibition catalogues, works on cultural history, research on the conservation of materials and archaeological sites, scholarly monographs, critical editions of translated works, comprehensive studies of Getty’s collections, and educational books on art to interest children of all ages.


Getty Publications

1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 500

Los Angeles, CA 90049-1682



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