Labná, México

Compare Catherwood's illustration to our archive photograph. Notice that the arch remains standing today, but it has changed since Catherwood's time. Some sections have been cleared and rebuilt, others no longer stand. How do you think the illustration compares to the photograph? Left: Catherwood 1844:XIX "Gateway at Labná." Right: Photograph 1960s-1970s. Accession number 2006.016.964.

    Frederick Catherwood and John Lloyd Stephens spent several months in the Puuc region, as they so admired the architecture and design. As elsewhere, they methodically documented the ruins, measuring and describing the building techniques and materials. The quality of construction and materials (such as mortar or cement) was obvious to them. They also noted some design features and motifs, speculating about their meaning.

    Archaeologists have since rediscovered the Maya gods and associated symbologies. Motifs representing snakes (the zig-zagging line) or stone latticework are easily attributed to the Puuc style. Gerometric forms are assumed to be symbols of Maya cosmology. Most impressively, these intricate buildings were sculpted without tools of iron or the use of the wheel to transport materials.

    Farming activity, expansion, looting, and erosion threatened these sites. Catherwood brought artifacts to New York hoping to preserve them (though they were destroyed in a fire in 1842). Today, developments in ethics and law require that we respect these sites as the cultural property and heritage of the local Mexican people. The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia is a Mexican federal government bureau established in 1939 to guarantee the research, preservation, protection, and promotion of the prehistoric, archaeological, anthropological, historical, and paleontological heritage of Mexico. It is illegal to disturb or remove any archaeological sites or artifacts today.

This image from our archives (2006.016.966) is another example of the beautiful Puuc style of architecture. Labná was closely connected to Uxmal, Kabah, and other neighbouring cities. "Sacbe" (roadways) connected all of the cities. These archways were entrances along the roadways to buildings or certain neighbourhoods within a city. All of the Puuc region cities have great archways like these that still stand today.

© 2018 SFU Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, created by Jackie La Mouri. Photographs courtesy of Dr. Brian Hayden.