As part of its Maya Initiative, the GCI has been collaborating with the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (IHAH) since 1999 to establish a long-term conservation strategy for the Hieroglyphic Stairway at the Maya site of Copán in Honduras, in order to ensure the stairway's preservation for future generations. In recent decades, the deterioration of the hieroglyphs on the stair risers has been a major concern for scholars, conservation specialists, and IHAH because it impacts the ability to read the carved stone text. The inscription, executed in the eighth century, is the longest known text from ancient Mesoamerica and provides a unique historical account of four centuries of the Copán dynasty.
In July 2007, three members of the GCI project team traveled to Honduras to present the findings and recommendations of the Institute's conservation report on the stairway. Presentations were made to the public at Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and Copán Ruinas, as well as to professionals involved at the site. At the presentation in Tegucigalpa, held in the recently restored Old Presidential Palace, the report was officially handed over to the minister of culture and the director of IHAH, in fulfillment of the GCI-IHAH institutional agreement.
The report presents the findings in three major areas of study conducted by scientists and conservators: archival research; laboratory analysis of biological specimens and samples of stone and mortar; and environmental monitoring at the site. In addition, the condition assessment and treatment trials carried out on the stairway were the basis for proposed short- and long-term conservation and maintenance programs. The report also proposes improvements to the stairway shelter and the designation of a guard assigned to the stairway to prevent access at all times. These proposals include both preventive measures, which mitigate the factors contributing to the deterioration or loss of the stone, and direct remedial repairs to stabilize damaged and deteriorated areas, both now and in the future, following scheduled inspections and monitoring and recording of conditions.
Such a maintenance program of inspection, followed by repair as needed, requires trained personnel to carry it out regularly. The GCI project at Copán involved several local conservation personnel and training in photographic monitoring, but at present the site does not employ sufficient site conservation personnel to address maintenance needs. The training of maintenance technicians in the use of lime mortars for stabilizing stone surfaces and masonry—and in performing basic recording techniques—represents both the best short-term and most sustainable long-term solution to conserving the stairway and other monuments at Copán.
A copy of the report, The Hieroglyphic Stairway of Copán, Honduras: Study Results and Conservation Proposals, is available in English and Spanish in the Conservation section of getty.edu.