The architecture of the Mayan “silent majority“
by Richard Thornton, Architect & City Planner
This is one of dozens of anonymous color slides that I took while Ana and I were roaming the one lane dirt “highways” of eastern Campeche. It is a 20th century house on top of an ancient Mayan kaab or temple for the commoners. I would see something interesting and ask Ana to stop her Jeep. We might discuss the view a minute or so then drive on. Probably, within four days I had forgotten that I had even taken the photo. I would not see that view again until 2022 . . . 52 years later. It was then that I realized that the lives of the 90% of Mayas, who were illiterate commoners, were little different that those Native Americans, who lived, where I live now.
Sunrise in Oaxaca with Yvette
The unforgettable August that my brain filed for future use
The August that I turned 21 was probably the most intense parade of experiences in my life. It is no wonder that the exploration of the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula quickly became a sealed chest in my brain that could only be unlocked by seeing the hundreds of color slides in 2022. Architecture school had been an endless torture of working day and night 6 1/2 days a week . . . punctuated maybe 2 or 3 times a month with a 5-6 hour Saturday night date. Suddenly, I was living a fantasy.
Fourteen days before taking the photo at the top of the article, I had been at a Marxist guerilla camp in southeastern Michoacan. I had danced with my assigned companion at a posh party in El Pedregal during late June, when her hair was dyed blond. By mid-August, she desperately wanted to escape the Cuban Comandantes, but anyone who tried to go home, was shot. In six months, Pilar would be killed, when ambushed by Mexican soldiers, who had been trained by US Army Green Berets.
Alicia’s Upper Middle Class home in Colonia Nueva Sta. Maria, Mexico City
I came back to Mexico City, to find Alicia Moreno wanting to stage a “becoming a woman” ceremony, while her mother was out of town. . . complete with rose petals on the bed . . . but it was botched, just as it was beginning, by her weird aunt showing up at the front door. Then I turned 21. In October, she invited me to come back to Mexico to stay at her home for two weeks at Christmas, so we could try again. Surely there would be some time, when we could be alone at her house.
Eight days earlier, I had been camping with seven French college coeds, next to Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Mexico. Everyone there agreed that I and Yvette, my tentmate and an architecture student from Lyon, were a perfect match. We were. She was a French Protestant, who loved Mesoamerican architecture, nature, the mountains, animals and living out in the country. Yvette asked if she could come to Atlanta at Christmas to meet my family. I enthusiastically agreed . . . my mother would adore her. However, instead, Yvette stepped onto a bus, going to the Mexico City Airport and disappeared without an explanation letter, forever.
Four days after I took the photo of the Maya house on a mound, I was touring Palenque with David and Linda Schele. Linda would some day crack the Maya Code.
The Palace at Palenque – I met archaeologist George Stuart for the first time in the ball court in the lower righthand corner of this photo. He was photographing stone carvings for National Geographic Magazine, but merely told me that he was an archaeologist from South Carolina. LOL In 2012, scientists at the University of Minnesota would find a 100% match between the surviving Maya Blue stucco at Palenque and attapulgite, mined in the Chattahoochee River Basin of the State of Georgia!
Two days after Palenque, I was staying at a clandestine FLN guerilla training camp in extreme eastern Chiapas . . . posing as a college student reporter for the Great Speckled Bird Newspaper. The FLN, now called the Zapatistas, were Pro-Democracy Populists who wanted close relations with the USA, Canada and France. They were the winners, still controlling much of Chiapas today. The new president of Mexico is a member of the political party, which spun off from the Zapatistas.
I learned about the Itza Mayas and my own Creek heritage, the good ole fashion way . . . by being assigned a lovely, recently graduated, Maya school teacher as my 24/7 companion. She looked different than most of the young folks there at the camp.
I don’t remember her Maya name, but she spoke English fluently and was teaching English to the other young people. At 5′-8″, she was taller than most of the men. She had a gracile physique like most of the Eastern Creek women in Georgia . . . who look a little different than the Muskogee Creeks. In fact, her facial features were like several of my female cousins and the mother of my Creek girl friend, when I was a sophomore at Georgia Tech.
In the only photo that I have of her, she is telling me not to take photos of any of the male soldiers. I don’t remember her Maya name. I do remember that when I asked her why she looked different than most of the other Mayas, she proudly announced. “I am an Itza!”
A historic farmhouse on an Itza Maya pyramid
The Harshaw-Stovall House on GA Hwy. 255, near Sautee, is a one-and-one-half-story weatherboarded farmhouse situated on a high knoll in the Sautee Valley, originally built in 1837. The original four-room-with-central-hall antebellum house has evolved over the years into a Victorian Eclectic cottage with a wrap-around porch, rear dining room/kitchen ell, two-story sleeping porch, and steep gables projecting from three sides of the hipped roof. Modest interior detailing includes original mantels, paneled doors, wide-board pine floors, and an open single-run stairway. The mantels and doors reflect a high degree of local craftsmanship in the wood selected, the finish, and the assembly of pieces with pegs to produce flat, delicate mantels or doors, suggesting late Federal Period styling.
The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Nacoochee Valley National Historic District and Archaeological Zone. The house and farm now constitute a *** -rated inn and “farm to table” restaurant. If you stay there, you will get to eat on fine porcelain china that once belonged to my grandmother. I had no use for it and no place to store it, so I gave the china to the inn’s new owners.
Here is the catch. Part of the “high knoll” is actually a very large Native American mound . . . but not the style of mound that one normally sees in other parts of the Southeast and Mississippi Valley. Note that on right is a level terrace, supported by an ancient stone wall, but in the middle and left side of the photo, the terrain rises to a dome profile.
The Stovall House and Farm greatly puzzled archaeologist Robert Wauchope in 1939. He found numerous, sophisticated artifacts on the farm, but couldn’t figure out if there had been any structures there, because the owner would not let him excavate near the house. Also, the location did not look like any mound sites in his home state of South Carolina or in the Mississippi-Ohio River Basin sites, where he had worked.
In the next article, I will take the readers through the analytical process used to determine the shape and location of an earthen pyramid that once stood on this location. You will have many surprises.
This is the courtyard of a house in a small village in extreme southwestern Campeche. Note the outdoor kitchen shed in the center of the photo. These are found in all Creek town sites.