Recovering painted organic objects from Ancient Mesoamerica: Strategic considerations in the field and the lab

Harriet F. Beaubien

Abstract

Objects made of organic materials, such as gourds or wood, have been found at sites throughout the ancient Maya world, most commonly as offerings and furnishings in high-status tombs. In these contexts they are typically detected only when they were also ornamented with paint, appearing as concentrations of paint flakes that are the remnants of paint layers after the collapse and complete decay of the organic substrates. Because of this exceptional instability, conservation involvement during the excavation process is key to their recovery. Considerations in developing an appropriate conservation strategy – including decisions about field preparation, lifting, laboratory excavation, analysis and reconstruction – are discussed using variously successful case study examples from several sites in Central America.

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