In recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the study of Maya culture, Brown University anthropologist, archaeologist, and epigrapher Stephen Houston has been awarded the Order of the Quetzal in the rank of Grand Cross by the President of Guatemala. It is the highest honor the Republic can bestow upon its citizens or foreigners.
A member of the Brown faculty since 2004, Houston has worked on several major excavations of Mayan cities, most recently the ancient city of Piedras Negras in Guatemala. He studies ancient Mayan script to shed light on political and social systems in Mesoamerica.
Vice President Rafael Espada presented a sash and badge while conferring the award in a July ceremony. The citation notes that Houston “has effected an excellent dissemination of Maya culture in the English-speaking world that has enriched knowledge of the cultural patrimony of Guatemala, for which reason it is logical to recognize his personal merits and to extol his scientific career.”
Established in 1936, previous recipients of the Order of the Quetzal include several heads of states, high-ranking diplomats, and prominent Guatemalans. Houston says that very few scholars have ever received the honor and never before, to his knowledge, has any received the rank of Grand Cross.
“It touched me to the core that they would invest me with the Order,” said Houston, the Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology. “Guatemala is the country where I have spent close to 30 years as a researcher of Maya civilization. It is the hearth and focus of that civilization, from 1000 B.C. to the present. More than any place, Guatemala is where my heart lies.”
During his remarks, Houston spoke emotionally and passionately about his debt to the country, its people, and its archaeologists. He spoke of the “overwhelming privilege of working there as a guest in service of the ‘People of the Maize’ — the Maya past and present.”