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Letter from the Ambassador

His Excellency Francisco Villagrán de León

His Excellency Francisco Villagrán de León, Ambassador, Republic of Guatemala.

April 2009

From the rise and fall of the great Maya civilization to the Spanish Conquest and into the modern era, the history of the Maya is rich in drama, accomplishment, and pathos. For modern-day Guatemalans, most of whom have Mayan blood in their veins, this legacy is a source of great national and cultural pride. Yet a legacy as rich as that of the Maya deserves to be appreciated by the entire world. In this sense, we all owe a debt to the University of Pennsylvania and its Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Penn faculty and students were among the pioneers of Mesoamerican archaeology and have a long and distinguished tradition of discovering, documenting, interpreting, and preserving artifacts from the culture's great archaeological sites. From their earliest work by Robert Burkitt in the highlands and the excavation of Piedras Negras in the 1930s, to their excavations at the great Mayan city of Tikal during the 1950s and 1960s and more recent efforts at Copan and Quirigua, Penn archaeologists have made major contributions to our understanding and preservation of the Mayan heritage. We know that much of what the great Maya civilization created has been lost and can never be recovered. Books and artifacts that contained centuries of Mayan history were destroyed by the conquistadors and the Christian clergy who followed them. Inscribed stone and painted ceramics have no doubt succumbed in uncounted numbers to the forces of time and the jungle environment. Today, as throughout history, looters are all too often one step ahead of archaeologists in the race to claim historical artifacts.

His Excellency Francisco Villagrán de León at the Opening Celebration with Curator Elin C. Danien and Luis Fernandez, Group Vice President and Unit Business Director, Rohm and Haas, presenting sponsor of the exhibition

Luis Fernandez (left), Group Vice President and Unit Business Director, Rohm and Haas, presenting sponsor of the exhibition; Dr. Elin Danien (middle), Research Associate at the Penn Museum and Curator of Painted Metaphors; and His Excellency Francisco Villagrán de León (right), Ambassador, Republic of Guatemala at the Press Preview of Painted Metaphors.

It is therefore with both gratitude and enthusiasm that I welcome the Penn Museum's new traveling exhibition, Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya. More than just a unique and fascinating collection of ancient artifacts, the exhibit is a celebration of the essential roles of the archaeologist and the museum in collecting, conserving, and conveying the significance of these artifacts for viewers today. I offer my thanks and congratulations to the Penn Museum for this most valuable and timely effort.

His Excellency Francisco Villagrán de León
Ambassador Republic of Guatemala