At the famed Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, you can sit in the cafe, have a slice of basil pesto quiche, and gaze up at stunning evidence of the looting of the ancient world.
The dining room is dominated by an 8-foot-tall carved limestone monument, or stela, of a Mayan king.
“He’s shown in all his regalia, with an elaborate headdress, various ornaments hanging from his belt and jade belt pendants,” says Timothy Potts, the Oxford-educated director of the Kimbell. “It’s so rich. It’s so lively. It’s a tapestry; every square inch is covered with something.”
Despite his obvious admiration for the stela, Potts says that it was likely looted from its original site in the 1960s, taken out of Guatemala and sold.
So how did this stela get from the jungles of Central America to a Forth Worth art museum?
In Guatemala’s Peten Province, not far from the Mexican border, is the archaeological site of the Mayan city El Peru-Waka, which means literally “centipede place with water in it.” The city of about 4,000 people flourished between 100 B.C. and A.D. 800, with plazas and pyramids and orchards. It was ruled by the dynasty of the Centipede Kings.
Now, all that’s left of the limestone structures are great mounds covered with vegetation. In the trees, militias of howler monkeys defend their real estate.
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