Full-circle Maya

Sister city initiatives are all about forging connections and recognizing what a small world we live in. That’s clearly the case with one of Asheville’s newest sister cities: Valladolid in southern Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The circle begins in Barnardsville, where retired National Geographic Society archaeologist George Stuart lives.

Distinguished visitor: Vallalodid, Mexico, officials honored Barnardsville resident—and Mayan history expert—George Stuart, pictured here with wife Melinda. Photo by Gwen Hughes

Mayan history is Stuart’s specialty: In addition to his scholarly work, he’s written such popular layman’s tomes as The Mysterious Maya and Lost Kingdoms of the Maya (both co-authored with his first wife, the late Gene Stuart). Three years ago, he and his current wife, Melinda Stuart, merged their various nonprofit endeavors—the Center for Maya Research, the Center for Ancient American Studies and the extensive Stuart library—into a single entity, the Boundary End Archaeology Research Center.

Last fall, students from the Universidad de Oriente near Valladolid visited Stuart at the research center, Asheville Sister Cities board member Gwen Hughes explains. The visit grew out of a collaborative effort involving Asheville Sister Cities, A-B Tech, UNCA and Warren Wilson College, she says. Imagine the one young Mayan’s surprise when, looking at Stuart’s photos of a long-ago dig in the Yucatan, he recognized his grandfather.

And this past summer, Stuart traveled to Valladolid with an Asheville Sister Cities group, providing a “Day with George,” as Hughes terms it. Held in Valladolid, the fundraiser featured a lecture by Stuart and a slide show about his mapping of a nearby Mayan ruin. Hughes says the moneys raised will help more students visit Asheville (and George) in 2010.

“It was an amazing full day of information, fun stories and an inside glimpse into the Maya culture of many centuries ago,” Hughes recalls. It included a lunch prepared by culinary students at the university and an afternoon tour of Ek Balam, the Mayan ruins closest to Valladolid.

Other connections have helped make this sister-city partnership one of Asheville’s most active, says Hughes. A group of students and staff from A-B Tech’s computer, nursing and dental-assistant programs has traveled to Mexico, laying the groundwork for establishing a language program that would teach Asheville’s dental-assistant students Spanish and Valladolid’s English, she explains. Groups from Mars Hill and Warren Wilson colleges have also visited the Mexican town, and Hughes expects more academic collaborations to come.

And by the way, she also notes that Stuart questions the myth that the Mayan calendar says the world will end in 2012.

Info: Asheville Sister Cities Inc., 33 Page Ave., Asheville NC 28802 (valladolid@ashevillesistercities.org).

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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