Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



This dissertation examines the suitability of the legal framework for the protection of cultural heritage in Guatemala, which is the country of origin for over thirty percent of the Maya objects traded in the antiquities market, and proposes strategies that improve the effectiveness of the law. To examine the heritage laws enforced by the Republic of Guatemala, I implement linguistic anthropological methods of qualitative research.

Discourse Analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis, and Conceptual Analysis on the national heritage policies of Guatemala reveal the existence of ontological problems regarding the conceptualization of heritage as a monolithic entity reflecting a State-led narrative with colonialist and essentialist overtones. This instance of Authorized Heritage Discourse raises deontological concerns as it prioritizes Western values- and beliefs- systems that conflict with descendant communities’ traditions, needs, and wants. The selection of Eurocentric values (centralization, sovereignty, property ownership) reflects the neglect of indigenous peoples’ worldviews in the drafting and issuing of these laws. As a result, the heritage laws of Guatemala not only create a sanitized discourse of Guatemala’s past for its commodification in the tourism industry but put a wedge between local communities and their heritage assets and criminalize their traditional lifestyles and practices.

I suggest adopting a series of linguistic, ontological, and deontological amendments to build a viable, sustainable, and respectful heritage system that recognizes and integrates the vast ethnic diversity of the Guatemalan population. Furthermore, I recommend considering a radical alternative in the context of heritage protection: to grant legal personhood to the cultural heritage of Guatemala to honor the Maya worldview, give rights to the cultural patrimony of the country, and force a closer collaboration between the descendant communities and the State.

The identification and acknowledgment of legal concerns in heritage law, and the proposal of a more inclusive heritage system, constitute a step forward toward the reparation to modern Maya communities for the multiple rights violations that occurred before and after the Civil War, including the human rights to life and liberty, freedom of expression and religion, and ability to access and enjoy cultural heritage.



Committee Chair

Saunders, Rebecca



Available for download on Thursday, March 12, 2026