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About the Tikal Project Image Database

During the fifteen years (1956-1970) that the University of Pennsylvania Museum (UPM) carried out archaeological investigations at the ancient Maya city of Tikal, Guatemala, professional photographers and researchers created over 60,000 photographic images. A great many of these images recorded primary data about the Maya past during architectural restoration, excavation, survey, and laboratory work. These staff members produced an equally rich photographic record of the people involved in investigating that past while part of the Tikal Project – the largest scale archaeological project ever undertaken in the Americas until that time.

Several professional photographers were part of the Tikal project staff in Guatemala in the early years of the project. Between 1956 and 1964, George Holton, Joya Hairs, and Walwin Barr created historic images of Tikal’s archaeological remains, of the project archaeologists, field workers and their families, and visitors. Many of the 118 researchers were also skilled photographers and they continued to photograph the work and surroundings at Tikal throughout the 1960s. Their visual contributions to University Museum’s Tikal photographic archive are stunning.

Due to the costs of traditional publication, only a small fraction of the 60,000+ images will ever be published in print form. While UPM receives a large number of requests each year for reprints and publication permissions, most are for images already in print and familiar to requesters. The advent of web-technologies makes it possible for us to produce an online catalog of these images in order to increase awareness of the archive’s contents and stimulate usage of this important collection by scholars, students, K-12 educators, publishers, and avocational Mayanists.

In 2002, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) provided UPM’s Tikal Digital Access Project (TDAP) with support to produce an online archive of 500 historic images from the UPM Tikal Project collection. This support provided TDAP with the opportunity to address the physical care of the image collection, identify and catalog undocumented color transparencies, establish standards for digitization and digital document management, establish a thesaurus for Maya archaeology derived from the system of nomenclature established by the UPM Tikal Project which drives the online keyword searches, and deliver the 500 images via FAMSI’s website. This support has been critical in establishing the foundation for future web access to the entire contents of the UPM Tikal Archive. A full report on FAMSI-funded activities will be available shortly.

Search the Tikal Digital Access Project Images



The 500 images selected for this phase of online access includes images from five broad subjects that TDAP and FAMSI felt would be of immediate interest and use:

  • History of the Project – Images that document the first several years of the project, including images of project staff, the construction of camp, logistical challenges, workmen, etc.
  • Field Investigations – Images from excavations in the North Acropolis, the East Plaza, and the Sustaining Area Project, including the images from Tikal’s minor urban centers.
  • Monuments and Inscriptions – Images that compliment those already published in Jones & Satterthwaite’s Tikal Reports No. 33.
  • Ceramics of Tikal – Images that serve as a companion to the illustrations in Culbert’s Tikal Reports No. 25.
  • Artifacts from Tikal – Images of artifacts (other than ceramics) that compliment Moholy-Nagy’s Tikal Reports No. 27A.

These images were selected from among the 60,000+ black and white 35mm, 2 ¼ x 2 ¼, 4 x 5, and 8x10 (or larger) negatives; or, the 3,000+ 35mm and 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ color transparencies. Emphasis was placed on the color images whenever appropriate and possible, as these have been least accessible. Many required identification, cataloging, and digital color restoration.


The documentation provided for each image includes:


  • The UPM Tikal Project Negative Number. This tripartite number (e.g. 63-4-121) represents the year the photograph was taken (the first number), the UPM Tikal Project Staff Number of the photographer (the second number), and the sequential exposure number, taken by that photographer, in that year (the last number). Some negative numbers are preceded by alphabetic codes (e.g. C63-4-121). These letters are codes for the original format of the image:
  • C = 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ Color Transparency
  • CX = 35mm Color Transparency
  • Y = 4 x 5” Black & White Negative
  • X = 35mm Black & White Negative
  • No prefix = 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ black and white negatives, which make up the bulk of the 60,000+ images


  • The UPM Tikal Project staff member photographer.


  • Captions were taken from the negative catalogue cards created by the UPM Tikal Project whenever possible. The specific date of the photograph was added to the caption if it was available and determined to be relevant to the photograph. Color transparencies dated after 1957 were not completely catalogued. In these cases, a caption was created by the TDAP project staff after careful research (a full description of this process is in the research report).


  • The appropriate citation to be included when using the image in any context. For more information on citations and permissions, see Use of the Images section below.


  • The original format of the source negative.

Use of the Images

The University of Pennsylvania Museum holds the copyright to all images in the database. The UPM copyright statement can be found here. Images for use in publications, either in print or on the web (commercial or non-profit), require permission from the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Images are available in print or high-resolution digital format for this purpose. For ordering and permissions information, email us at
or click here.

Images are provided in this database at a resolution of 150 DPI, a sufficiently high-quality image for what constitutes "Fair Use" under U.S. Copyright Law. Users are welcome to download and use these images for classroom teaching, personal study, research, and scholarship, including professional oral presentations, student assignments, theses, and dissertations. In all of these cases, the image should be appropriately cited, using the Credit information provided with the image. If you have questions about how to credit an image, please email us at
and we will gladly help.

Information about how and to what extent these images are being used is helpful for ensuring ongoing support for the care of and providing access to the collection. We would appreciate emails describing how you are using the images! Email us at


Through this process, we are continually surprised by the specific knowledge viewers have of these images. We welcome your comments about the specific images in this collection and will document all input in the negative catalogue. Other comments about the utility of the collection or suggested content are also welcome. Kindly email us at

We are also willing to share our experiences and documents relating to digitization standards, metadata and authority control, digital project management, etc. Please feel free to contact the Tikal Digital Access Project Manager, Sharon Aponte Misdea at
or 215.573-1186.

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