A new commitment from the Robert and Dee Leggett Foundation is aiding Millsaps in the excavation and reconstruction of an ancient Maya palace. The excavation of the “Kuche palace” will take place over the next ten years, and build on two decades of archeological and preservation work at Millsaps’ biocultural reserve located in Yucatan, Mexico.
“This will be the first time that a Maya palace in this region will be excavated using modern scientific methodology and reconstructed for presentation to the general public,” says George Bey, Millsaps professor of anthropology and a leader of the Kiuic project. “It will be one of the most important archaeological projects in the 150 year history of Maya field studies and will establish the city of Kiuic as the site of one of the archeological treasures of the ancient world.”
The Kuche palace forms the center of the ancient Maya city of Kiuic, whose ruins are contained within Millsaps’ 4,500 acre biocultural reserve, Kaxil Kiuic. Since 1999, Millsaps faculty and students have been involved in archeological preservation work in the area, and have helped lead the way in scholarship on ancient Maya society. Excavation of the Kuche palace will build on that scholarship and help to reveal a more vivid picture of Maya civilization at its height—A.D. 800-950.
The palace site is thought to be roughly 15 acres, and to have been abandoned abruptly around 950 A.D, coinciding with a decline of the Maya society. Research teams will study what caused the Maya to abruptly abandon the palace.
The Leggett Foundation will provide $125,000 over five years to help cover the costs of the project. “We saw the possibilities for increased research in Maya archaeology, the significance of the area as a biopreserve, and the possibility of achieving the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” says Leggett Foundation trustee Bob Leggett, a 1962 graduate of Millsaps. “It was a chance to get wider recognition for the important work being done.”
Leggett said, “My wife Dee and I have been associated with the Kiuic project from the very beginning in 1994. We made a trip to the Yucatan with President Harmon, Dr. Bey, other faculty, and several trustees and spouses. We visited the site and Dr. Bey shared his vision of a different way of doing archaeology. By the next morning there was enough money pledged to purchase the land and operate for several seasons.”
The Kiuic project has already been recognized by the National Geographic Society, the Archaeological Institute of America, and the World Heritage Foundation for its efforts. It has been highlighted in two National Geographic Documentaries: “Quest for the Lost Maya” (2012) and recently “Lost World of the Maya,” (2019).
Through the success of this project, Bey, Leggett, and others hope to secure Kiuic’s status as a “World Heritage Site,” as recognized by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Such a designation will help gain widespread recognition of the site and Millsaps’ work there.
Says Leggett, “I am always surprised at how many Millsaps alums are still unfamiliar with the entire Yucatan effort. It is a distinctive opportunity that comes to few undergraduates, even at much larger schools.”