During the first half of 2003, members of the Institute's Maya Initiative project team continued a variety of activities aimed at developing a conservation strategy for the hieroglyphic stairway at the Maya site of Copán in Honduras. The GCI's work on the stairway—the longest text carved on stone in Central America—is in partnership with the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH).

conservation image

Through archival research conducted at IHAH, at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, and at the Laboratory of Anthropology at the Museum of New Mexico, the project team was able to document a large portion of the conservation history of the stairway—from its excavation in the 1890s through its restoration in the 1930s and to its conservation treatment in recent decades.

At Copán, team members carried out treatment trials to test different mortars for repointing (filling of joints between blocks) of the stairway, using mixes of different local limes and aggregates, which have been analyzed in the laboratory at the GCI. The physical characteristics and appearance of the different mortars are being evaluated both on site and in the laboratory, in order to make a recommendation for future repointing of the stairway. Testing of treatments for the surface of the carved blocks was also undertaken to evaluate different cleaning techniques and materials, including those for reduction of previous treatments, as well as several consolidation and stabilization methods for surface flaking and detachment.

In April, the tarp covering the stairway—the fifth since 1985—was replaced by IHAH. Prior to the replacement, the GCI had the opportunity to make recommendations concerning the new tarp and its installation. The removal of the old tarp permitted photographic documentation of stairway condition control blocks in natural light, thereby providing better comparison with earlier and historic photographs.

The conservation of the hieroglyphic stairway is part of the Institute's Maya Initiative, which seeks to advance regional conservation practice and collaboration.