While the Cross Group of Palenque is justly famed as one of the jewels
the crown of Maya studies, the story of its dismemberment and eventual
reassembly is unfamiliar to most. The tablet from the Temple of the Cross
now resides at the Museo Nacional, and there is little indication at the
site itself that visitors are seeing a replica, not the original. The tale
of the Temple of the Cross Tablet goes back to some of the earliest visits
by Europeans and Americans to the site in the 19th century, and plays out
well into the 20th. Part of the Tablet was taken to Washington DC in the
1840s, where it remained until 1908. Its presence in Washington gave many
19th century Mayanists the chance to study the inscrutable hieroglyphic
system with new precision. Its return to Mexico was a cause for national
celebration. While Elihu Root and Zelia Nuttal are often credited with
facilitating the Tablet's return, the role of various curators and
administrators at the Smithsonian Institution has yet to be fully examined.
Mr Robb examined the various political and curatorial inputs that lead to
the eventual repatriation of the tablet.
Matthew H. Robb is currently enrolled in Yale University's Ph.D. program
the History of Art. He also holds an appointment as Visiting Assistant
Curator for Ancient American Art at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD.
After completing his Master's degree at the University of Texas at Austin in
1999, he was Assistant Curator for Pre-Columbian Art at The Art Museum,
Princeton University, until the fall of 2000. His interest in the art of
ancient Mesoamerica was first sparked by Gillett Griffin of Princeton, whose
enthusiasm for the Olmec led Matthew to help organize the 1995 exhibition,
The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership.
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