The Royal Ontario Museum's role in the land of the ancient and modern Maya covers more than half a century. The story begins in the late 1950s when the Museum began to look beyond its traditional involvement in the archaeology of the Middle East and the Classical world. As is true of so many long-term projects, the birth of the ROM's engagement with the Maya world came not from a detailed plan but from a chance encounter between Kenneth Kidd, at the time curator of Ethnology at the ROM, and A. H. Anderson, the first Archaeological Commissioner of Belize (then known, until 1973, as British Honduras). The meeting happened neither in Canada nor in Belize but in England, during an International Congress of Americanists. Surely neither of them knew, as Anderson spoke of his country's need for archaeological exploration and Kidd thought of his museum's hope to expand its archaeological role, how far-reaching the effects of their talk would become.
The first flowering of the ROM's new enterprise came when Dr. William Bullard joined the staff for the express purpose of developing a program of research in Belize. The country was almost a blank on the archaeological map of the southern Maya Lowlands, although work under the aegis of England's Royal Anthropological Institute took place in the 1920s, Sir J. Eric S. Thompson carried out excavations for the Carnegie Institution of Washington in the 1930s, and the early 1950s saw Harvard University enter the field for a time. The nature of archaeological funding, coupled with immense logistical difficulties, kept all the work at a relatively small scale; the ROM's hope was for a …