|Graphic: Norman Hammond|
Dr. George Stuart, chair of the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration, 1994-1998, and as staff archaeologist since 1960 an influential committee member for many years, died at his home in Barnardsville, North Carolina, on June 11, 2014, at the age of 79. Through the National Geographic Society (NGS), he was a major benefactor of Mesoamerican, and especially Maya, archaeology for several decades, shaping research through his advocacy of projects to support with grants which, though not large by the standards of federal bodies such as the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities, were promptly evaluated, swiftly available, and often renewed on the basis of success.
George Edwin Stuart III was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, on April 2, 1935, but was raised in Camden, South Carolina, did his BS in geology at the University of South Carolina in 1956, and was a quintessential Carolinian all his life. Although he took an MA at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1970 during his tenure at NGS, his PhD was from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a dissertation on his boyhood interest, the archaeology of central South Carolina.
Despite these Southeastern U.S. interests, which included fieldwork in Georgia between 1952 and 1958, and brought the award of an honorary Doctor of Letters from Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina (1985) and a Distinguished Alumnus Award from UNC (2007), it is for his contributions to Mesoamerican archaeology that George Stuart will be most widely and fondly remembered.
His Maya career began as surveyor on the NGS–Tulane University Expedition to Dzibilchaltun in Yucatan (1958-1960: his map was not published until 1979) under E. Wyllys Andrews IV, where his drafting and artistic talents first came to notice and landed him a job as a cartographer/draftsman in the map division of National Geographic in Washington, D.C. He also codirected the Coba Archaeological Mapping Project in Quintana Roo in 1974-1975, working with William Folan and his team.
In 1968 he researched, compiled, and drew the NGS "Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent," which appeared as an insert in National Geographic Magazine (Vol. 134, No. 4). Its 24-by-18 inches packed in an amazing amount of data, and the reverse added an index, a detailed map of the Valley of Mexico showing the Aztec and later landscape, and a time chart illustrated by sculptures. It sold out, was reprinted with minor additions in 1972, and remains a treasured and useful resource to many of us. The subsequent "Land of the Maya" map (National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 176, No. 4, 1989) was similarly useful. By 1975, George Stuart had become a writer and editor for the magazine and for NGS books and films. In 1980 he was promoted to senior research cartographer, and in 1990 senior assistant editor for archaeology of the magazine itself and a member of the Editorial Planning Council. His good sense, good advice, and good humor made him an increasingly valued member of the NGS core staff, and this enhanced his influence on the Research and Exploration committee.
When he became the committee's chair in 1994, he acquired an annual discretionary fund. One year, he noted, a misplaced decimal point by the accounting division multiplied this tenfold; he utilized it all for pressing archaeology projects. He instituted small (less than $5,000) grants made on his own initiative to get what he saw as important projects off the ground, notably some by graduate students who would not have succeeded at committee grant level. His acumen was borne out by several of these becoming formal, multi-year Research Committee–funded investigations, as were some that he took to the committee and argued for on the basis of a hunch that they would repay a modest $25,000 of immediate support. While he and the committee were wary of engendering open-ended commitments of the kind that had funded the Leakeys' human origins research in Africa for many yearsso that four years was the normal time limit on any project receiving fundshe would also suggest to those who had been successful and looked like continuing that they simply think of another project and submit it to the committee. In this way George Stuart became a veritable Maecenas for Mesoamerican archaeology.
At the same time, he was writing popular books for the NGS Special Publications division: Discovering Man's Past in the Americas (1969), The Mysterious Maya (1977), and Lost Kingdoms of the Maya (1993) were all co-written with his first wife, Gene S. Stuart (1930-1993) and combined a high level of scholarship with an easy style and superb illustrations. He also wrote Archaeology and You (1996) with Frank McMananamon, published jointly by NGS, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and the National Parks Service; Ancient Pioneers: The First Americans (2001); and oversaw Peoples and Places of the Past for the Historical Atlas Division of NGS (1983).
George Stuart was also a serious Maya scholar: with David Stuart, the youngest of his four children with Gene and a noted Maya epigrapher and art historian, he wrote Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya (2008), a book about the first Maya site to be seriously explored. His interest in the intellectual history of Maya studies yielded an examination (2003) of the contribution made by Constantine S. Rafinesque (1784-1840), and the superb "Quest for Decipherment: An Historical and Bibliographical Essay on the Study of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing" (1992). He was an ardent bibliophile, on one occasion mortgaging his house to buy a set of Lord Kingsborough's Antiquities of Mexico (1829-1833). He kept the dozen elephant-folio volumes in his office in a tall stack on the floor, and enjoyed the incredulity of visiting colleagues. He built a library extension when he moved to Bamardsville, which became the focus for his research and for occasional small conferences; his 15,000 books were donated to the University of North Carolina's Wilson Library in 2007, but he remained active in Maya scholarship.
In 1985, realizing that advances in Maya hieroglyphic decipherment were outrunning the capacity of general Mesoamerican journals to accommodate the resulting studies, and also that many needed to be short monographs rather than articles, Stuart started the series Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing, published from the Center for Maya Research that he established as a non-profit corporation in Washington, and available by subscription. The first two reports were in fact very short"On the Yaxha Emblem Glyph as Yax-ha" and "On a New Child-Father Relationship Glyph Noted on Tikal Stela 31," both by David Stuart. The third, Problematic Emblem Glyphs: Examples from Altar de Sacrificios, El Chorro, Río Azul, and Xultun, was by Stephen Houston in 1986; in 1987 a further eleven reports appeared. The last of these, report 14, at 52 pages by far the longest to date, was David Stuart's classic Ten Phonetic Syllables. As the series became established, George Stuart recruited Jeff Splitstoser, a fellow member of the Pre-Columbian Society of Washington, D.C., as managing editor. This proved useful when, after a hiatus in 2002-2004, publication resumed from the Boundary End Archaeology Research Center (BEARC, www.precolumbia.org/BEARC), a second nonprofit that Stuart had established in Barnardsville after his retirement from NGS and move away from Washington with his second wife, Melinda Young Frye, whom he had married in 1994. BEARC continues to operate, and its research output, in future online, will be among his legacies. The print series of Research Reports ended with number 60 in September 2013, The Rise of Chak Ek', on an aspect of the Dresden Codex Venus table, written by a group of long-term inmates in a California state prison whom Stuart had encouraged in their hieroglyphic studies and supplied with publications. It was a thoughtful, generous, and intellectually productive act absolutely typical of George Stuart, and the last thing he did before the onset of his final illness.
He was honored in diverse ways: in 1992 by election as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, the world's premier archaeological society; in 1996 by the SAA with a Presidential Recognition Award after he had set up the Gene S. Stuart Award "to honor outstanding efforts to enhance public understanding of archaeology" in "the most interesting and responsible original story or series about any archaeological topic published in a newspaper or magazine." In 2000 the SAA added their Award for Excellence in Public Education: in addition to his output of books and articles from NGS, George Stuart had given classes in venues ranging from local colleges to grade schools. In 1997 Harvard's Peabody Museum gave him the Tatiana Proskouriakoff Award for "outstanding achievement in the study of New World archaeology." He was an honorary citizen of both Guatemala City, where the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in 2006 also gave him the Orden del Pop (Order of the Royal Mat—a symbol of Maya rulership), and Valladolid in Yucatan. He loved the Maya and their land, and was himself a man universally and affectionately respected across the whole profession of Mesoamerican and wider New World Archaeology.
This eulogy first appeared in the The SAA Archaeological Record 15(1), January 2015.