Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Maya Art Return Volume 52 Number 1, January/February 1999
by Angela M.H. Schuster

[image] A looted wooden lintel from the Petén region, carved ca. A.D. 550-650, bears a portrait of a warrior king. (Justin Kerr) [LARGER IMAGE]

The Denver Art Museum has returned a carved wooden lintel taken from the Classic period site of El Zotz in the Petén region of Guatemala, 12 miles northwest of Tikal. One of fewer than a dozen such artifacts known to exist, the lintel, dated stylistically to ca. A.D. 550-650, was stolen from temple I, the northernmost pyramid in the site's main plaza, sometime between 1966 and 1968.

According to Dorie Reents-Budet, visiting curator of the museum's New World section, the lintel depicts a ruler, standing in profile, dressed in war regalia, and holding a knotted staff of war and sacrifice known from stelae at Tikal. The ruler's name is not preserved, and it is unknown whether he was a lord of El Zotz or Tikal. Surviving texts, however, refer to his mother as a "divine," or noble, woman. The glyphs on the lintel representing his father's name also appear on a pottery vessel from Tikal.

The lintel was purchased by the Denver Art Museum in 1973, when the United States had no law prohibiting the importation of Precolumbian art from Guatemala. "When we gathered all of the information surrounding the lintel's acquisition," says Denver Art Museum director Lewis Sharp, "returning it was simply the right thing to do." The lintel, which was welcomed home by Juan Antonio Valdés of the Instituto Guatemalteco de Antropología in a repatriation ceremony this past November, will be displayed alongside a well-known wooden lintel from Tikal in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología e Etnología in Guatemala City.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America