Archaeology Under the Canopy

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Tzunu'un, a Maya house site surrounded by forest vegetation at El Pilar

Archaeology Under the Canopy is a concept that was developed for the presentation of pre-Columbian Maya monuments at the archeological site El Pilar, an ancient Maya center on the border of Belize and Guatemala. This style of presentation emphasizes the protection of monuments with rainforest foliage and strategic exposure of ancient structures.

Influential charters[edit]

Though Archaeology Under the Canopy was conceptualized for the Maya world, it is based on The Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments (Athens Charter, 1931), The International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (Venice Charter, 1964), and The Australia ICOMOS Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance (Burra Charter, 1999). The practice of Archaeology Under the Canopy has implications for archaeological conservation all over the world, integrating environmental and cultural contexts of a site.

Standard approaches to excavation[edit]

Exposing ancient architecture provokes the natural process of degradation and decomposition. The standard approach to excavation is to remove soil and foliage to reveal and record archaeological remains. After the excavation is complete, dramatic monuments are typically consolidated and left exposed for public viewing and tourism.

Over the past century of excavation in the Maya world, exposure of the limestone monuments to wind, rain, and acid-producing microbes is causing extensive damage. The same soil processes that make the Maya forest fertile, and underwrote the prosperity of the Maya civilization, are the same processes that damage exposed stone temples.

Alternative approaches[edit]

An example of Archaeology Under the Canopy at Plaza Axcanan, El Pilar

Archaeology Under the Canopy takes an alternative approach. After an excavation is complete, monuments or sections of monuments – such as a wall, room, stair, or doorjamb – are selected for consolidation and viewing. The majority of the monument is covered with plant foliage for stabilization. This practice protects the monument from the elements and the integrity of the environment for the future.

This presentation style of monuments encourages the visitor to kindle their imagination and consider other aspects of Maya life beyond elite architecture. One is inspired to ask about the forest context of this advanced civilization, their relationship to the environment, plant use, land management, forest regeneration, and what happens with neglect to monuments over time.

See also[edit]



Monuments protected by the forest at El Pilar

“Archaeology Under the Canopy.” 2009. MesoAmerican Research Center. Retrieved March 9, 2009.

Carr, A. I. (1998). Ecology of the Maya Forest and El Pilar. The future of El Pilar [microform] : the integrated research & development plan for the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna, Belize-Guatemala. A. Ford. [Washington, D.C.?] : Springfield, Va. :, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs ; Available from the National Technical Information Service.

Ford, A. and M. Havrda (2006). Archaeology Under the Canopy: Imagining the Maya of El Pilar. Tourism, Consumption and Representation: Narratives of Place and Self. K. Meethan, A. Anderson and S. Miles. Wallingford, CAB International: 67-93.

Ford, A. and C. Miller (1994). Arqueología de Acción en la Selva: Creación de la Reserva Arqueológica de El Pilar, Guatemala-Belice. Utzib. 1: 19-21.

Ford, A. and C. Miller (1997). Creación de la Reserve Arqueológica El Pilar en Guatemala y Belice. Un Nuevo Concepto de Rescate Para la Selva Maya. Simposion de Invistigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala. Guatemala, Museo Nacional de Arqueología e Ethnología: 417-426.

Ford, A. and J. A. Montes (1999). "Environment, Land Use, and Sustainability: Implementation of the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna, Belize-Guatemala." Mesoamérica 37(June): 31-50.

Exploring Solutions Past: The Maya Forest Alliance. (2009). "Archaeology Under the Canopy." Retrieved April, 2009, from

ICOMOS. (1931). "The Athens Charter for he Restoration of Historic Monuments." Retrieved March 10, 2009, from

ICOMOS. (1964). "The Venice Charter." from Retrieved March 10, 2009.

ICOMOS. (1976, January 13, 1999). "The Australia ICOMOS Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Significance (the Burra Charter)." Retrieved April 1, 2009.

Larios, R. C., W. Fash, et al. (1992). La Responsibilidad De La Arqueologia En La Conservacion Y Restauracion De Los Bienes Culturales. IV Simposio de Arqueologia Guatemalteca, Museo Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia de Guatemala, Julio, Ministerio de Cultura y Desportes, Instituto de Anthropologia e Historia, Guatemala.

Larios, C. R., W. Fash, et al. (1993). Deterioro y Conservacion de la Piedra y los Estucos En Construcciones Arqueologicas del Area Maya: VIII Simposio de Arqueologia Guatemalteca, Museo Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia, Minsterio de Cultura y Desportes, Instituto de Antropologia e Historia, Guatemala.

Larios Villalta, C. R. and M. Orrego Corzo (1997). Terminos de Referencia para La Conservacion de Tikal Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad: Proyecto de Conservacion Tikal Etapa 1. Guatemala City, Crisarq-Consult, Ministerio de Cultura y deportes, Instituto de Antropologia e Historia, Parque Nacional Tikal.

Larios, R. and A. Ford (1999). Huellas Antiguas en la Selva Maya Contemporanea: Patrones de Asentamiento y medio ambiente en El Pilar. XIII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueologicas en Guatemala. Guatemala, Museo Nacional de Arqueologia y Etnologia: 385-407.

Larios Villalta, C. R. (2000). Criterios de Restauración Arquitectónica en el Área Maya. FAMSI. 2005: 71. Available at: