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Royal Distinction for archaeologist Maarten Jansen

On 24 April it was announced that, following his farewell, archaeologist Professor Maarten Jansen was appointed Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion. Unfortunately, due to the corona pandemic the actual ceremony will have to wait.

The pandemic has also affected the annual honours ceremony to mark King’s Day on 27 April: the 1.5-metre rule means that it is impossible to pin the decorations on the honourees. Archaeologist Maarten Jansen, now retired, was informed on 24 April that he had been awarded a high Royal Distinction: Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion. The presentation of the decoration by the mayor of his hometown, Rijswijk, has been postponed to a later date. The mayor did, however, personally inform Jansen of the exciting news via a video call.

Maarten Jansen
The laureate

Exceptional lecturer

Maarten Jansen, Professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology and History, also studied and obtained his PhD at Leiden University. He is a gifted lecturer. He specialised in South and Central America, particularly Mexico, and raised students’ awareness of the relevance of indigenous interests when conducting research. He developed a successful specialisation which focusses on the archaeology and cultural history of the Americas. In the eighties and nineties in particular, when Jansen lectured about the Mayan manuscript that had just been deciphered, the lecture halls were packed to the rafters. Students from all over the world, especially from South America, flocked to Leiden.

The importance of the present

Jansen was an early champion of the idea that the past of contemporary indigenous peoples can never be understood without considering the present. He also shared this vision in the ‘Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Peoples’ programme, which transformed the views of students and PhD students – i.e. future researchers. With his research, Jansen has also succeeded in ensuring that the past of indigenous peoples has acquired new meaning for them too.

Maarten Jansen
Jansen during The Night of Arts and Knowledge in 2014

Dutch school

Thanks in part to Jansen, we now know much more about the pre-Columbian (Mexican/Mixtec) codices (pictorial books) which have survived to this very day. The analytical techniques he developed in collaboration with several fellow researchers in order to comprehend these historical documents are even referred to in the field as the ‘Dutch school’. Jansen’s focus on pre-Columbian cultures, with a particular emphasis on the interpretation of Mexican pictorial manuscripts, has helped establish Leiden as one of the world’s leading centres of excellence in the field.

Social importance

There is no denying that Jansen has always put social and general interests first. In his ERC Advanced project ‘Time and Calendar in Mesoamerica’ he involved many researchers with an Indian background, who were often given insufficient opportunities at home. They also brought knowledge from their own communities that would otherwise have been difficult to access, which proved to be an additional scientific bonus.

Jansen’s scientific work and his heartfelt commitment to indigenous peoples has not gone unnoticed in Mexico, either: he has received many honours there.

Photo above: 'Discussions between Art and Science', 2015, Gordon Meuleman
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Lintje Maarten Jansen
The insignia of the distinction will be awarded at a later date.
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