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Piedras Negras, Guatemala expedition records

PU-Mu. 1105

Piedras Negras is a Maya site in Guatemala particularly noted for the beautifully sculpted stelae and hieroglyphic inscriptions it has yielded. Between 1931 and 1939 the University of Pennsylvania Museum conducted extensive excavations at this site. John Allen Mason led the first two seasons of work at the site (1931–1932), and Linton Satterthwaite directed the remaining six seasons (1933–1939, excluding 1938). Most of the monuments at the Museum borrowed from Guatemala were returned in 1947; only Stela 14 and one leg from Altar 4 remain on display in the Museum today. The textual records from the excavations of Piedras Negras consist of 11 linear feet of correspondence, financial records, field notes and diaries, catalogs, and reports and publication materials. The arrangement of the records reflects the original order insofar as could be detected, and portions that had been separated over time were re-integrated into this scheme.

Summary Information

Creator(s)Jayne, Horace Howard Furness, 1898-1975
Mason, John Alden, 1885-1967
Satterthwaite, Linton, 1897-1978
Date(s)[bulk] Bulk, 1931-1939
[inclusive] 1930-1973
Call NumberPU-Mu. 1105
Physical DescriptionExtent: 10.0 Linear feet
Language(s)eng

Biography / History

Piedras Negras is a Maya site in Guatemala particularly noted for the beautifully sculpted stelae and hieroglyphic inscriptions it has yielded. The site, located in the northwestern corner of the Department of Petén, Guatemala, along the Usumacinta River, which forms in this area the border between Guatemala and Mexico, was discovered in 1894 by a Mexican lumber man, and brought to the attention of Teobert Maler, a pioneer archaeologist and explorer of the Ancient Maya. Maler visited the site in 1895 and 1899 under the auspices of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, but conducted no excavations. His work consisted of disinterring and photographing the large carved stelae and other monuments. His report was published in 1901 as Volume II, No. 1 of the Memoirs of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. Thereafter the site was visited several times, beginning in 1921, by Sylvanus G. Morley for the purpose of recording glyphic inscriptions. Morley took many photographs and notes and made many drawings of the glyphs. His assistant, Oliver Ricketson, made a map of the site, which was later superseded by the map of University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Between 1931 and 1939 the University of Pennsylvania Museum conducted extensive excavations at this site. J. Alden Mason, Curator of the American Section, went to Guatemala in 1930 to select the site and obtain an excavation permit that would allow for the removal on loan to the Museum of half of the monumental sculpture uncovered by the expedition. Mason's visit also served to make renewed arrangements with Robert J. Burkitt, who was also excavating in Guatemala for the Museum at this time (see separate Record Group). Mason made some artifact collections on this trip, which are documented in the records. In December of the same year Mason visited the site again as a member of the Museum's aerial survey of Petén and Yucatan.

The site was selected because of its fine sculpture, its early origin, and the fact that little work had been done in that area of the Maya world up to that time. It was also relatively more accessible than many other Maya cities. Mason led the first two seasons of work at the site (1931–1932), and returned again in 1936 to inspect the progress of excavations. Funding for the first three seasons was provided by Eldridge R. Johnson, founder and former President of the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, NJ. Linton Satterthwaite was Assistant Director under Mason, and directed the remaining six seasons (1933–1939, excluding 1938). The seasons ran generally from February to May, but sometimes began or ended late, that is in March and June.

The work of the first two seasons concentrated heavily on building a road to the site through the jungle and the removal of a number of monumental stone stelae and other sculpture, half of which were sent to Guatemala City and the other half to the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Included among these was Lintel 3, dated ca. 750 AD, still considered to be among the most beautiful specimens of Maya sculpture, and Stela 14 (on display in the Museum's Mesoamerican Gallery), credited with giving Tatiana Proskouriakoff the inspiration for her decipherment of Maya hieroglyphics. The second season produced a new map of the site, but also saw part of the camp catch on fire, resulting in the loss of part of the photographic record.

Under Satterthwaite's direction, the focus of the excavations shifted from the more glamorous task of bringing carved monuments to the exhibition galleries of the Museum to purely archaeological questions, such as uncovering architectural remains, establishing building sequences, and stratigraphy. Satterthwaite concentrated heavily on the architecture of the city, excavating a total of eleven temples and seventeen palaces, as well as two ball courts and a number of sweathouses. As a result the collecting of artifacts became less important in the later seasons. In 1934 and 1935 Satterthwaite visited the nearby site of Yaxchilán and in 1936 the site of Palenque, to obtain architectural data and measurements for comparative purposes. Some of the records for these trips can be found among the Piedras Negras record group, but most of them have been transferred to a separate group, Linton Satterthwaite— Various Sites (see separate listing).

The expedition staff changed almost every season, with the exception of Satterthwaite and his wife, who participated every year, and were the only Museum personnel in 1934. T. Egan Wyer was the engineer for the first season, responsible for constructing the road. Fred P. Parris, architect, took over for Wyer for the second and third seasons. He surveyed and mapped the site. Mary Butler was responsible for artifact analysis, specifically pottery, and stratigraphy. She worked in 1932 and 1933. Tatiana Proskouriakoff, an eminent figure in Maya archaeology, especially the study of Maya art, architecture, and epigraphy, began her archaeological career on the Piedras Negras expedition during the seasons of 1936 and 1937. She later worked for the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC and Harvard University. Other members of the expedition included David W. Amram, Jr. (1932), Francis M. Cresson, Jr. (1935–1937), William S., Jr. and Marian A. Godfrey (1939), and representatives of the Guatemalan Government. Marian A. Godfrey (later Boyer) eventually became Secretary (1942–1949) and Acting Director (1945–1946) of the Museum.

Most of the monuments borrowed from Guatemala were returned to the country of origin in January, 1947, after an extension to the original loan. Only Stela 14 and one leg from Altar 4 remain on display in the Museum's Mesoamerican Gallery today.

A number of publications have resulted from the findings at Piedras Negras, but Satterthwaite never finished all the reports he intended to produce. Much material remains in this collection of use to the Maya scholar and student. See the attached Appendix I for a complete list of Museum publications covering this site.


Scope and Contents

The textual records from the excavations of Piedras Negras consist of 11 linear feet of correspondence, financial records, field notes and diaries, catalogs, and reports and publication materials. The arrangement of the records reflects the original order insofar as could be detected, and portions that had been separated over time were re-integrated into this scheme. The material has been divided into the following eight series: Correspondence, Financial Records, Field Notes, Object Catalogs, Miscellaneous Notes – By Structure, Miscellaneous Notes – Alphabetical, Reports and Publications, and Photograph Catalogs and Photographs.

The correspondence consists mainly of letters from J. Alden Mason and Linton Satterthwaite, as field directors, reporting to Museum Director Horace H. F. Jayne on the progress of excavations, and letters to representatives of the Guatemalan and Mexican Governments regarding the contract, export permits, and other logistics. A copy of the contract is included in this series. The records from Mason's preliminary trip to Guatemala in 1930 were originally filed with the records of Robert Burkitt's excavations (see separate finding aid), since Mason met with Burkitt on the trip. However, they are more relevant to the Piedras Negras expedition and therefore have been moved here. The photocopies of letters of David Amram to his family were donated in 1985 by Amram himself, and placed in this series. Many pages of correspondence from the 1932 season were partly burned. These had to be photocopied onto acid-free paper for preservation purposes, and the originals were discarded.

The arrangement of the field notes was problematic, since Satterthwaite did not keep his notes in diaries by year, but had divided them into notebooks by architectural structures and other subjects. Satterthwaite's numbering system for the notebooks has been retained. J. Alden Mason's notes are arranged chronologically at the beginning of the series. Other notes by Satterthwaite, Mary Butler, and Mrs. Satterthwaite have been arranged by staff member and thereunder chronologically, and placed after the numbered notebooks. Surveyors' notebooks, containing mapping information and measurements, complete the series. Margaret Satterthwaite's diary (1931) does not specifically discuss excavation operations, and is restricted due to its personal nature. Some of Mary Butler's notebooks have been added to this series from a 1989 donation from her husband, Clifford Lewis III.

Notebooks discussing Satterhwaite's visits to other sites in the Maya area, originally filed in this record group, have been moved to a separate group, Linton Satterthwaite— Various Sites. The notes contain material that has little bearing on the Piedras Negras expedition, even though some trips to these sites were undertaken during Satterthwaite's seasons at Piedras Negras, specifically to Yaxchilán and Palenque.

The two series of Miscellaneous Notes (By Structure and Alphabetical) were originally filed with Linton Satterthwaite's records as Curator of the American Section. Their order was retained but they were moved to the Piedras Negras records. These series consist of notes taken in the field or written up as part of the post-season analyses, and cover a variety of topics and subjects. Included is also material used in preparation of publications. Complete reports and drafts of papers, however, are located in the series Reports and Publications.

Photograph Catalogs and Photographs includes a complete set of field photographs pasted in albums. Additional sets of prints can be found in Special Collections— Photographic Archives— Standard Size Prints. The remaining series are described below. Oversize maps, plans, and drawings have yet to be described.


Administration Info

Publication Information: University of Pennsylvania: Penn Museum Archives,

Finding Aid Author: Finding aid prepared by Alessandro Pezzati

Use Restrictions: Although many items from the archives are in the public domain, copyright may be retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law. The user is fully responsible for compliance with relevant copyright law.


Controlled Access Headings

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Partial Index to Subjects and Correspondence

(Other subjects are described in the Expedition Summary, Scope and Contents Note, Series Descriptions, and Container Listing)

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