An Architect's Perspective
Although George Andrews became fascinated with Maya culture, from the ancient Maya people's work in astronomy to their graffiti, he never lost sight of his architect's training. Indeed, he continued to practice—he built his and Gerrie's own homes and contributed to other residential architecture projects in Eugene, Oregon. A professor in the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts, George earned several faculty accolades as well as a Fulbright Award to lecture at Technical University, Helsinki, Finland in 1962–63. Yet Maya architecture clearly was his passion.
"I feel comfortable around those buildings. They seem to suit me somehow. In my other life, I must have been a Maya architect."—George Andrews, "Architect Uncovers Maya Secrets," The Register-Guard [Eugene, Oregon], Aug. 17, 1986
George understood the challenges of surveying excavated Maya ruins. The buildings are not necessarily plumb—you are likely to get a different vertical measurement on one corner of a building than another. Right angles aren't a guarantee either. But he also understood the importance of documenting Maya architecture to the best of his abilities.
The Andrews had to obtain permits to do their research—often requiring a good deal of bureaucracy. With the help of macheteros and other locals, they also battled more natural elements, including large wasp nests and snakes.
Developing Research Tactics
For George, documenting Maya architecture to the best of his abilities meant collecting data using modern architectural field practices. He created data sheets to make note of every aspect of a structure, from the thickness of its walls to the springline offset of its vaults. He used these data sheets to collect the same data on every site, with the hope of building an architectural databank of Maya architecture.
Gerrie's description of their process (written in 1993):
"When we arrive at a site (all kinds of transportation, hiking, etc.) we measure whatever we can find with the help of natives to cut trails for us and partially clear sites, etc. George takes photos of all, and I take notes. When we return home I type the field notes so George will have them to work with. He edits, makes reconstruction drawings, etc. I then type the reports into the computer and preserve them on discs."
The Alexander continues to process Andrews' reports to make them openly available for scholarship. Andrews’ final reports have been scanned and are available under the George F. and Geraldine D. Andrews papers located in the Texas ScholarWorks.
Fittingly, Andrews’ floppy discs became the Alexander’s first foray into digital archeology and preservation. Graduate students in the University of Texas’ School of Information focused a semester project on Andrews’ digital archives.
One of the largest Maya sites, Tikal was a major urban center. Located in Guatemala, the site is composed of many structures, including a palace complex and a multitude of temples. The temples are typical of what people usually picture when thinking about Maya architecture: a pyramid with a long flight of very steep steps ascending to the top.
"The tallest of this group, Temple IV, which measures about 64.45 m high from the base of the platform supporting its pyramid substructure to the top of its roof comb, soars high above even the tallest trees in the surrounding rain forest."
George's commitment to collecting data is perhaps clearest in the case of their 1971 trip to Latin America, which included Tikal on the itinerary. He had broken his leg earlier in the trip but refused to be deterred from his work. Maneuvering archaeological sites is difficult even without the added complication of crutches. At Tikal, George enjoined Gerrie to carry the camera equipment at Temple I so he could climb up and down the many steps on his rear end!
Palenque is a well-studied Maya site located in Chiapas. George's reports on Palenque are the result of fieldwork conducted in 1974, 1978, and 1981, but he didn't complete the report until 1991, after he and Gerrie had re-entered the data into his newer data collection form.
"…it seemed to me that a survey of the kind I undertook would be extremely useful as a way of updating the Maudslay documentation to include the results of another 70 years of exploration, excavation, and restoration."
The site features about 20 temples, and George's report demonstrates how he used his eye for architectural nuances to suggest chronologies for different structures. For example, he noted in a comparison of the Palenque temples that "Temple V of the North Group is another matter, however, and I believe it was constructed earlier than any of the typical temples, since it has stepped vaults (an early trait in other regions) and is made of a soft sandstone, rather that [sic] the typical limestone used in all typical temples."