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Archaeologist David Webster explores the evidence for a classic Maya collapse at Copan

October 19, 2016

thumbnail-14What happened to the Ancient Maya, so well known from the monuments and cities preserved in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras? Was there a collapse?

David Webster, professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University, will explore the archaeological evidence of lords and kings at the ancient Maya site of Copan, Honduras, to answer this question. Drawing upon years of settlement survey and household archaeology, Webster will discuss the political and demographic collapse at Copan during his presentation, “Lords, Time and Collapse at Copan, Honduras” at 6 p.m., Oct. 20, in Cole Hall, room 100. The presentation is free and open to the public.

NIU has a tie with Copan through a former professor and former executive director of the Anthropology Museum. Many NIU students traveled to Copan, Honduras, with Professor William Fash in the 1980s. Fash not only installed a permanent exhibit on the Classic Maya at Copan but also acquired casts of original objects. Their favorite object, a three-dimensional record of the amazing jade from beneath the Hieroglyphic Stairway in Copan, is represented by the resin cast in the Museum’s collection. The original jade piece disappeared roughly a decade ago. So despite being made of resin, this cast in the Anthropology Museum’s collection constitutes a priceless object, with the original form and iconographic details perfectly preserved.

Webster’s career began in Turkey, studying the origins of agriculture at the Neolithic site of Çayönü with Robert Braidwood. He later turned his attention to Mesoamerica and ancient warfare. His Ph.D. fieldwork centered on the Preclassic earthwork system at Becan, Campeche, Mexico. Between 1980 and 1997, he participated in multiple seasons of fieldwork in the Copan Valley, Honduras, where he and his students carried out settlement surveys and large-scale excavations of both commoner and elite household remains. The author of 53 journal articles, 47 book chapters, three books, three edited volumes and five monographs, Webster also co-produced the successful Out of the Past textbook and video series.

In his 2002 book, The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse, Webster traces the history of the Classic Maya and discusses the various theories of collapse, ultimately presenting his own model.   

This presentation is part of the Culture and the Environment lecture series, sponsored at NIU by the Pick Museum, the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy, Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships, and Center for Latino and Latin American Studies.

Founded in 1964 by the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Pick Museum of Anthropology houses a permanent collection of more than 22,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects. Collections emphasize Southeast Asia but include textiles, baskets and ceramics from throughout the world. With a dynamic schedule of exhibitions and programs in the newly renovated Cole Hall, the Anthropology Museum is a cultural destination for residents and visitors to DeKalb. The museum is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Fridays-Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.

For more information about this presentation, please call the Pick Museum at 815-753-2520 or visit