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The Maya Initiative aimed to reinforce and develop conservation practices through collaborative efforts in order to address common regional conservation problems. The project focused on the development of management planning practices at the sites and on the conservation of elements that exemplify problems shared throughout the Maya region.

The components of the project were:

Maya civilization developed from 1800 BCE to 1200 CE, in a 400,000 sq. km area that includes parts of present-day Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Over a period of 3000 years, the Maya culture experienced a complex evolution throughout this large territory. Maya settlements were relatively decentralized, yet surprisingly coherent and long lived. The Maya developed a very rich culture with a sophisticated alphabet and calendars, as well as impressive works of architecture and engineering, such as their religious monuments set in the midst of fairly large urban environments. Using surprising forms and incredible color palettes, they have left remains of their history and beliefs on walls as well as on ritual and domestic objects.

Around 1000 CE, the Maya culture, for all its power and influence, began to undergo a rapid decline. Cities were abandoned and in time overtaken by nature. The culture, however, continues to remain vivid, though at a lower intensity. Today, more then six million Mayan people are living in the land of their ancestors, preserving and transmitting the traditions they inherited, which time and other cultures have not erased. The Mayan language still survives, and the society maintains its very colorful and expressive cultural practices.

Conservation image

Since the nineteenth century, many archaeologists and historians have been involved in discovering and interpreting the incredible material remains of the Maya culture in order to understand its organizing principles and the ways parts of it survived to the present day. Thousands of sites have been identified and numerous ones excavated—often they are partially reconstructed or left unprotected from natural elements. As a result, many sites are suffering the effects of vegetation growth, climate forces, and looting, in addition to more recent threats posed by the development of mass tourism.

The Maya Initiative stemmed from previous GCI involvement in the region and from requests from national authorities. To this end, a cooperative agreement was signed in Merida, Mexico, by representatives from the following governmental organizations: the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, El Salvador; the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, Honduras; the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México; and the Vice Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Guatemala. Through meetings held at several Maya sites and at the Getty Center, project members identified conservation issues of common interest, specific conservation-related needs, and areas of potential collaboration.

The objectives of the project were to improve conservation practice in the region and to foster collaboration among the countries of the area through:

  • development of methodologies to address site management and conservation issues
  • transfer of knowledge to technicians and site managers
  • establishment of reference documents and training
  • dissemination and promotion of the results
  • support for the development of local, national and regional networks

Two World Heritage sites were selected for the Maya Initiative—Joya de Cerén, El Salvador and Copán, Honduras. Both components included training and capacity building for professionals and technicians, which were integrated at all stages of the project and adapted to specific conditions at the sites. Another important component of the project was the wide dissemination of the results and the promotion of the methodologies developed at each site.

Page updated: June 2009