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Mayan mysteries unearthed in Glenwood

Stina Sieg
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo courtesy of Colorado Mountain College.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Why, so many centuries after their society’s collapse, do the Maya still intrigue us so? Charles Counter may not know, but he feels the mystique.

“People always respond to Mayan culture,” he said. “It’s just ingrained in Western thinking.”

It’s certainly ingrained Counter now. For about a year, the exhibits director for the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History was entrenched in the museum’s new traveling display, “Temple of the Warriors.” It tells the history of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico through the eyes of an “archeological power couple.” Though Ann and Earl Morris came to explore and restore the temple more than 80 years ago, Counter made their adventures sound fresh and kind of exciting. There’s a reason they’re the stars of the show, after all.



“It was definitely a grand adventure,” Counter said. “It was definitely in the Indiana Jones mold.”

It all began in 1924, when Earl Morris was drafted into the Yucatan by Mayan scholar Sylvanus G. Morley and the Carnegie Museum in Washington, D.C. The archeologist brought along Ann, his wife of less than a year, who would end up documenting the dig’s findings in drawings and paint. For four years, Chichen Itza was unearthed in a way no other site had been before. Among all the buildings in shambles (some of which date back to 600 AD or so), there were hundreds of pictographs and murals. Instead of pilfering all things of value, as had been done in previous explorations, Morris’ party had been instructed by the Mexican government and the museum to leave everything at the site. They cleaned the place up as they went and pain-stakingly reconstructed parts of the buildings, making sites like the vast Temple of the Warriors look grandiose again.



In essence, they left Chichen Itza better than they found it. It’s probably the first time in history a group of archeologists obeyed the “campsite rule”

And while that sort of reconstructive approach to archeology may be controversial these days, Counter, for one, is happy it went ahead.

“I’m really thrilled they did it,” he said, calling the whole experience “a landmark sort of deal.”

Beyond the spiffed up buildings, the Morris party left behind some great stories. Counter learned about the hacienda the couple built, about the fancy dinners they hosted and plays they put on. Though they were living smack in the middle of the jungle, they didn’t let their urbane lifestyle suffer.

“It was a white, Anglo Saxon life dropped on top of living in the wilderness of the Yucatan,” he said. “It was sort of an elitist kind of thing.”

How audacious ” and how fascinating. Later, both Morrises would write books of their experiences, and Ann would become the model for a new generation of burgeoning female archeologists. But it’s those early years that are so incredibly intriguing for Counter.

With this exhibit, he wanted to give a personal look into the lives of these people. There’s an audio tour that uses actual quotes from both Ann and Earl. There are two of Ann’s original water color works on display, as well as her scrapbook and a picture of her in costume for one of her

plays. There’s also a model of the Temple of the Warriors constructed by Counter and his students according to Earl’s careful diagram of the building. To top this off, there’s a DVD playing which shows scores of lantern slides (precursors to modern slide projection), carefully hand-painted, which depict the experience.

With all of this, Counter’s goal has always been to impress upon folks what a huge deal this dig was. Happily, according to the reaction of attendees at the museum’s home in Boulder, they seem to be getting it.

“People are moved that such a thing could or did happen,” explained Counter.

He’s certainly one of them.


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