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Guatemalan government honors renowned UT Austin scholar for her work in deciphering hieroglyphics

“Linda Schele is a different kind of researcher because she has a different attitude in her method of studying history,” said Alfredo Aguilar, the counsel general of Guatemala. “She is the first investigator of Mesoamerica who shared her studies with the actual Mayas.”

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“Linda Schele is a different kind of researcher because she has a different attitude in her method of studying history,” said Alfredo Aguilar, the counsel general of Guatemala. “She is the first investigator of Mesoamerica who shared her studies with the actual Mayas.”

The award presentation in the Art Building auditorium was made during UT’s annual Maya hieroglyphic meetings, which were started by Schele 22 years ago. This year, nearly 800 beginners and advanced scholars on Mesoamerican topics are attending the 10-day meetings workshops. Conference participants, including many from Guatemala, filled the auditorium for the award ceremony.

During the years Schele has been involved with Maya research, she has co-authored A Forest of Kings (1990) and The Maya Cosmos (1993). Her newest book, with co-author Peter Mathews and titled The Code of Kings, will be published soon. Schele also was co-curator of the acclaimed 1986 Blood of Kings exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Since 1987, she has been giving workshops in Spanish to Maya in Guatemala and the Yucatan.

“Our intention is to repatriate the information about history, religion and identity that we have recovered from Maya inscriptions and imagery, to the descendants of the people who created this great human legacy,” Schele has said of her work.

The art history professor saw her first Maya site in 1970 and was hooked. “I became so fascinated by the art of the Maya that I was compelled to try and understand who did it, when they did it and why they did it. In short, I was obsessed with the Maya.”

Aguilar said Schele initiated the formation of multidisciplinary research groups, integrating native Maya-speaking people and archeologists. “We are thus able to discover the greatness of our culture together. She has valued us, and she has believed in our ability to help. She respected us, she listened.”

Also speaking at the award presentation was a Guatemalan woman by the name of Nik’te. “We, the Maya, are very grateful to Linda because she has given us the tools to interpret our own language,” she said. “Now that she has been involved – we are making great strides. We view Linda not as a foreigner from another country, but as a companion and mentor.

“Our hope and prayer is that Linda’s work will continue. We hope that here isn’t just one Linda, but many Lindas.”

Schele responded that she has never been alone in her research and that “working with the Maya has always been an exchange. They have given me my soul. Guatemala has become my second home, the home of my heart.”

In June of 1997, Schele was diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the pancreas. A fund-raising campaign is currently underway to create a chair in precolumbian art and writing in her name. The College of Fine Arts has received donations from around the world and, so far, approximately $600,000 has been raised toward a $2 million chair.