Richard Miles: A Graphic History


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Archaeology: A Secret History - BBC Four 

Episode 2 “The Search for Civilisation”

Palenque was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century.

John Lloyd Stephens and his travelling companion Frederick Catherwood are probably the most famous couple of Mayan explorers. Their popularity is linked to their best-selling book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán, first published in 1841, a series of anecdotal tales about their visits to the ruins of many ancient Maya sites. The combination of vivid descriptions by Stephens and the romanticized drawings of Catherwood made the ancient Maya known to a wide audience.

Stephens and Catherwood first came across Maya ruins at Copán, where they spent a couple weeks mapping the site (There is a long-standing myth that Stephens was actually able to buy the city of Copan for a sum of $50. However, the traveller actually only bought the right to draw and map its buildings and carved stones). They reached Palenque in April 1840 and left in early June, choosing the corridor in the Royal Palace as their camp base.Their indian guides were too frightened to stay there after nightfall and left them alone. In the first night they heard a loud crash and thought that somebody was trying to break in. Fearing for their lives they blocked off the passage and barricaded themselves in. Stephens’ narrative is very descriptive in detailing the problems encountered with ticks, mosquitoes, stinging flies, bats, mice and flesh eating insects. The second night “the mosquitoes were beyond all endurance, the slightest part of the body, the tip end of a finger exposed was bitten”. While there, Catherwood contracted malaria but continued to work in spite of his illness.


Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Filed under richard miles Archaeology: A Secret History The Search for Civilisation the maya Palenque john lloyd stephens Frederick Catherwood mexico chiapas pre-columbian archaelogy BBC FOUR screencap

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