Christopher Jones

Christopher Jones passed away on September 3, 2015.

photo-1_jonesJones was the second of four sons born to Marian Ginn Jones and William Powell Jones of Gates Mills, Ohio. He earned a BA in English literature at Harvard College, and an MA (1963) and PhD (1969) in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia Chris began his formal study of archaeology, ultimately focusing on Maya archaeology and epigraphy under Linton Satterthwaite and William Coe. From 1962 until 1965 he conducted extensive excavations at Tikal in Guatemala. This was during the peak period of the Penn Museum excavations in the Maya lowlands, which extended from 1956 until 1970.

In 1966 Chris began teaching anthropology in Buffalo, New York where he met and married (1968) Leslie Wright. Returning to the Penn Museum in 1973, he devoted his career to the study of lowland Maya archaeology and epigraphy. He returned to the field to direct archaeological excavations at the site core of another major Maya site, Quiriguá, Guatemala excavated through the efforts of the University Museum, during the field seasons of 1976 and 1977. Thereafter he devoted his career to the study of ancient Maya writings and to the publication of numerous reports on the excavations at Quiriguá and at Tikal.

Jones began his fieldwork at Tikal in 1962 when we, along with many others, enjoyed an annus mirabilis under the aegis of Bob Dyson as field director. Over the next decade, through diligence and brilliance Chris deciphered the Maya hieroglyphs for “mother” and “father,” for which he was particularly proud. His focus on these apparently simple aspects of the ancient writing system masked the importance of the more significant revelations that appeared in his paper “Inauguration Dates of Three Late Classic Rulers of Tikal Guatemala” (American Antiquity 1977). This study placed him in the great line of epigraphers along with Knorosov and Proskouriakoff. Jones’ important volume The Monuments and Inscriptions of Tikal (1982) with illustrations by William R. Coe, appeared in the same year as the Sophie D. Coe translation of Knorosov’s Maya Hieroglyphic Codices (1982). In Excavations in the East Plaza of Tikal, Guatemala (Tikal Report 16: 1996) Jones described a series of edifices that represents a market, the only example of purpose built structures that served the commercial interests of the pre-eminent Maya capital. His pivotal chapter summarizing this discovery appeared just before his death, in Eleanor King’s The Ancient Maya Marketplace (2015).

Jones was one of a small number of scholars who was both a fine epigrapher and a skilled excavator. At Tikal he followed up his decipherment of the complex king lists and dates of reigns with the construction of a dynastic history of the famous ancient city and its subordinated polities. Chris, through his careful excavations, also illuminated the historical development of the important East Plaza group as a market area. His work that was closest to my own became the subject of his doctoral dissertation: “The twin-pyramid group pattern, a classic Maya architectural assemblage at Tikal, Guatemala” (1969; Becker and Jones forthcoming). Chris’s excavations demonstrated that a new example of these groups at Tikal was erected every 20 years and that each new group followed a specific pattern of architecture and monument placement that is predictable. These significant findings will appear posthumously as Tikal Report 18.

Chris also delighted in sharing his love and knowledge of the ancient Maya with a broader public whenever the opportunity arose. He was instrumental in the creation of the Penn Museum’s long running annual Maya Weekend, a popular program that brought Maya archaeology and epigraphy to a public audience. Chris also led extremely popular tours of Maya sites in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico for the University Museum, Wilderness Travel and the Smithsonian Institution.

Chris is survived by his wife Leslie Ginn Jones and their four sons: Edward Keiser Jones; William Powell Jones, married to Christina Ewig; Frederick Wright Jones, married to Christine Achterman-Jones; and Ashton Ginn Jones, married to Stelia Nappi. Family as well as many friends and colleagues, such as William A. Haviland, Virginia Greene, Elin Danien and Denise B. Tyler, all contributed to this text. (Marshall Joseph Becker)

 

 

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