Lost Sigil

A Window Into the Past: Yucatán

Every civilization, doesn’t matter how old, or how powerful it is, will one day perish. Some last for a millennium, others only a few centuries, but every one of them will awaken, rise, and in the end, fall. What remains are only ruins and artifacts, left for future researchers to find, explore and marvel at them.

Another interesting thing to behold is the actual perception of vintage photography, taken by (or of) explorers during their excavations in situ. Some of them were meant for the academic research, some were meant for public, but all of them provide a partial view at the field work, at the view of the western civilization on the unknown cultures of foreign lands, the society of that time and much more.

Today we take a look at the excavations photography of the Olmec and Maya cultures in Yucatán, (all credit for the pictures goes to the archives of National Geographics).

Monte Albán

Photographed in 1937, the ruins of Monte Albán spread out near Oaxaca, Mexico. Carved out of a mountain, the site was home to a succession of peoples—Olmecs, Zapotecs, and Mixtecs—over a period of 1,500 years.


Maya Glyph, Palenque

Marion Stirling examines a Maya glyph on the palace at Palenque in 1942. The royal residence was designed and constructed over the course of nearly a century, A.D. 615-711.

Temple of the Sun, Palenque

The Temple of the Sun was one of the buildings in the great Maya city of Palenque in southern Mexico. Palenque also held other temples, an aqueduct, and a palace with a three-story tower.

Piedra Parada, Chiapas

In 1945, an expedition brought Stirling and his wife to the site of Piedra Parada in Chiapas, Mexico. They used a local home as a headquarters. “I should like to have dug below the house,” Stirling said.

Maya Stela, Quiriguá

Quiriguá in southeastern Guatemala has an impressive array of eighth-century Maya stelae, monuments carved from red sandstone. The site was inhabited beginning in the second century.

Colossal Head, Tres Zapotes

Stirling uncovered this colossal Olmec head at Tres Zapotes in Veracruz, Mexico, in 1939. The head is made from gray basalt and measures just under five feet tall.

Matthew Stirling, La Venta

Between 1938 and 1946 archaeologist Matthew W. Stirling (pictured) led eight expeditions to southern Mexico to study Olmec and Maya sites. In 1940 near Veracruz, he and his wife, Marion, excavated La Venta, a thousand-year-old Olmec ruin memorable for its massive and mysterious carved basalt heads.

La Venta, Tabasco

An expedition team member examines Olmec artifacts uncovered at La Venta in Tabasco, Mexico, in 1943. The Olmec culture rose on the Gulf of Mexico around 1200 B.C. It was distinguished by exquisite works of art ranging from detailed jade figurines to 20-ton carved stone heads.

Diver, Dzibilchaltún

Flashlight strapped to his wrist, a diver rises from the depths of a Yucatán cenote at the Maya site of Dzibilchaltún in 1958. He probed for Maya relics, such as this unbroken jar, 80 feet below the surface.

Temple of the Seven Dolls, Dzibilchaltún

An aerial photo from a 1950s expedition to the Maya site of Dzibilchaltún shows the Temple of the Seven Dolls, so named for seven small clay figurines found beneath the floor, and a limestone causeway wide enough for four lanes of auto traffic. The site is in the Mexican state of Yucatán.


Adventurous tourists visit the ancient city of Uxmal in 1921. One of the largest Maya cities in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Uxmal was built between A.D. 700 and 1000.

Ball Court, Chichén Itzá

Legendary National Geographic photographer Luis Marden—on his first foreign assignment—shoots the great ball court at Chichén Itzá in 1936. More than a sport, Maya ball games were spectacles that drew thousands to ceremonial centers.

Sacred Cenote, Chichén Itzá

Spanish records tell how live victims were thrown into the sacred cenote at Chichén Itzá (photographed here in 1936) on the premise that, as sacrifices to the Maya gods, they would not die—even though they were never seen again.

El Castillo, Chichén Itzá

In 1936, a visitor scales the northern stairway of the pyramid known as El Castillo at Chichén Itzá in southern Mexico. Built to awe, the 79-foot-tall pyramid has become the towering icon of Chichén Itzá, one of the largest and most powerful of all Maya cities.

via NG


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  1. Knut-D. Blume October 6, 2016

    You have a picture on your web page wich is called: Matthew Stirling, La Venta. This is not correct. In fact it is the so called Monument A from Tres Zapotes. Sincerely, Knut-D. Blume

    • Knut-D. Blume October 6, 2016

      Sorry, my error. The correct labeling is atop the picture not under it. The next passage comes a little narrow here.

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