Our Work

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We are dedicated to continue to be a source of information and education about flora and fauna of Mesoamerica today that is related to Classic Maya civilization 2000 years ago. What plants are edible (besides maize, beans, squash, ramon, and root crops?

The report on this web page has a more realistic list of edible plants were available 2000 years ago. Includes both cultivated plants plus plants of forests and other local habitats that can be harvested and eaten without needing to “sow” them.

We are working to learn what plants in these Mayan areas have healthy aspects to improve local food habits in rural areas today. Amaranth seeds and bledo leaves are but one example of a Maya and Aztec “superfood.”

This FLAAR report is so popular it is downloadable on dozens of other web sites. If you are a professor you are welcome to post this on your web site for students.


Botanical gardens, institutes, individuals are also welcome to borrow this PDF to post on your web site.

At age 19, in the tomb of the jade Jaguar (Burial 196, Str. 5D-73, Tikal) there were birds shown on the polychrome vases. The king’s body was covered by a jaguar hide (yes, parts of the leather were still preserved, and of course all the claws). Seashells and stingraw spines adorned the body as well.

Still today we are doing research on fauna of the Mayan world: birds (especially waterbirds), reptiles (crocodiles, snakes), frogs, toads, scorpions, deer, plus all creatures associated with treetop ecosystems.

Even though we also have a large research library on birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, etc., we prefer to be out in the forests, swamps, bogs, rivers, and savannas. We also coordinate our research with local people: we provide them the library documentation, they cooperate with their first-hand experiences.

Since this is not a commercial publication we can include as many full-color photos as we had back in past years, plus our research is based on hearing howler monkeys already at age 16, in 1961, hiking into the forests of Tabasco, then 12 months at Tikal in 1965, then many months at Yaxha each year in the early 1970’s.


This PDF can be posted and shared by any zoo, any school or university, and placed on any website as your own download. No cost, no permission paperwork.

FLAAR is a non-profit educational organization founded by Nicholas Hellmuth in 1969 to map and preserve the Classic Maya ruins of Yaxha and nearby Classic Maya cities of Peten in the early 1970’s. Together with Guatemalan archaeologist Miguel Orrego, archaeology students in Guatemala and from US universities, we accomplished improved maps of Yaxha, Nakum, and Topoxte Island. Several of the helpful students then initiated their own projects nearby and achieved additional advances. Here you can find more about Our People, FLAAR employees and people that colaborated with us.

One distinguishing characteristic of all our field work is our dedication to high-resolution photography. My first photographs were in Palenque, at age 16, in 1961, with a Leica camera. I was at Bonampak with the same camera in 1962 and spent every available summer day photographing Puuc, Chenes, and Rio Bec temples and palaces. Gradually learned about medium format cameras and in subsequent years learned the benefits of 4x5” cameras and 8x10” film cameras (especially for photographing temples, palaces, acropolises, and ball courts).

This focus on medium-format and large-format photography evolved into learning about how printers could reproduce these high-resolution images. Our first research and reports on the printing aspect were a result of a 6-month honorary Visiting Research Professor position by the Japanese government at MINPAKU, the Japanese National Museum of Ethnology, outside Osaka, Japan.

Durst Rho 351R printer reviews

Our work in digital imaging is to enable FLAAR to be a pre-eminate resource for museums, universities, schools, and individuals to be able to understand which digital imaging technology can assist them in their business. Here is Dr Hellmuth in the Durst headquarters in Europe, evaluating UV-curing technology as a new and improved manner of printing large images. These test photographs result from FLAAR evaluations of advanced digital cameras such as the 22-megapixel Phase One P25+ and the 48-megapixel BetterLight (technology we had starting circa 1998-1999).

The rollout camera we utilized from 1999 onwards, BetterLight, was digital, and thus higher resolution and more precise than antiquated film-based rollout cameras developed in the 1970’s. Those old cameras produce distorted images (scrunched or stretched out of proportion). With a digital camera we could measure each vase and with a computer could do the rollout precise beyond past limitations. So our rollouts can be enlarged and printed at 3 to 5 meter lengths with no distortion.

Also, as a Guest Visiting Professor at Universidad Francisco Marroquin (in advanced digital imaging) and being a volunteer photographer at the Museo Popol Vuh on that campus, we initiated accomplishing rollouts of cache vessels and urns and even the inside rims of ceramic plates.

Digital imaging technology experience can assist National Parks, Museums, and Schools

The technologies receiving primary focus by FLAAR involve very high-resolution digital imaging. FLAAR has performed over 20 years of research within the fields:

  • Fine Art Photo Giclee printing processes
  • UV-Curable Ink Flatbed Printers
  • Solvent and Eco-solvent inkjet printers
  • Flatbed cutters, laser cutters, laminators, coaters

Our wide-format inkjet printers have been exhibited in two expos at Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT). Our photographs of flora, fauna, and Classic Maya archaeology have been exhibited in Graz, Austria, Cologne, Germany (at Photokina) and in museums and universities in Guatemala, Central America.

Monterrico, Pacific Coastal swamps, Guatemala 2010.

Here is Nicholas Hellmuth in the water photographing Water hyacinth flowers. Nicholas used a Phase One P 25+ medium format digital camera back on a Hasselblad ELX camera in those years, all kindly donated. But today, in 2020, this antiquated equipment should be replaced.

Today there are Phase One cameras TEN TIMES better but we do not yet have one. If a kind and considerate individual, corporation, or foundation that could provide us with a brand new Phase One XT medium format system (camera, lenses, special Capture One software, and computer powerful enough that can easily handle these large files) would allow us to record remote ecosystems in the rain forests of Guatemala in a way never before achieved by an ecologist, botanist, or zoologist (because most use point-and-shoot cameras…).

The new Phase One is available in 100 MP size or 150 MP size, literally.

Nicholas Hellmuth, white waterlily  

Nicholas Hellmuth photographing in Chisec, Guatemala   Results of Chile Pimiento, Guatemala

Much of our research in 2007-2008 was devoted to digital imaging of Maya ethnobotany, namely the edible and utilitarian and sacred plants and flowers of Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and Mexico.

Trimble 3D laser scanning and mapping instrument   FLAAR digital imaging projects

FLAAR digital imaging projects tend to be focused on Latin America. But since the use of 3D imaging is also advanced in other parts of the world, we are also learning from technology used in other parts of the world. Here FLAAR is a guest of the team at Viminacium, a Roman archaeological project an hour from Belgrade, Serbia (March 2009). The instrument here is a Trimble GX 3D Scanner and mapping instrument, more sophisticated than what is used on most pre-Columbian sites (in these years). FLAAR thanks the project team in Serbia for making this visit and technology demonstration possible for us.

Gustavo Gallegos is currently (June-July 2020) testing new technology for 3D scanning and software for 3D renderings that could be used by any and every national park, museum, archaeological project, botanical project, ecological research (Gallegos also has tested his methods by drone, so he can accomplish 3D scanning of topography). He and video + still photographer Camila Morales can be reached via their own web site anima.works. Both are also experienced in animation and design.


Canon iPF 9000S printer, at Belgrade, Serbia, 2009, while giving lectures at local universities and local events throughout each country in this region. Here we are printing some examples of Maya iconography, photographed at Copan Ruinas, Honduras. We have donated digital images to IHAH for use in their museum and in past years our images of Copan Ruinas were used in posters to attract tourists to this archaeological site and nature preserve.

One week per month, August 2018 through July 2019, were focused on flora, fauna, and ecosystem field work and photography in diverse areas of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. This project was at the invitation of the co-directors of the park. With cooperation from both sides we accomplished lots of results in finding previously unphotographed ecosystems and finding plants (that no botanist had noted in this area in the previous century) to add to the next Plan Maestro of the park.

February and March 2020 were dedicated to one-week-per-month field work along the rivers, creeks, lakes, lagoons, swamps, and hillside biodiverse ecosystems of the Municipio de Livingston, Departamento de Izabal, Guatemala. This project is at the request of the coordination team of the Alcalde of Livingston. The initial reports and results are on the NEWS areas of home page of www.maya-ethnobotany.org and www.maya-ethnozoology.org.

As soon as COVID 19 subsides and highways are open again, we look forward to accomplishing more field work here, especially preparing material for local schools in Q’eqchi’ Mayan and in Garifuna language, and preparing infographic posters to suggest reasons for preserving endangered species and fragile ecosystems.


Updated July 2020.

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We are dedicated to continue to be a source of information and education about flora and fauna of Mesoamerica today that is related to Classic Maya civilization 2000 years ago.

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