David Stuart (born 1965) is an archaeologist and epigrapher specializing in the study of ancient Mesoamerica, especially Maya civilization. He is widely recognized for his work in deciphering Maya hieroglyphs and interpreting Maya art and iconography, starting at an early age. He is the youngest person ever to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, at age 18. He is currently the Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin.
He is the son of the archaeologist George E. Stuart and the writer Gene S. Stuart, both of whom wrote extensively for the National Geographic Society. He spent much of his childhood accompanying his parents on archaeological digs and expeditions in Mexico and Guatemala. He developed a deep interest in Maya hieroglyphs and decipherment in the mid 1970s, reading scholarly works beginning at age 10. Shortly thereafter he made original contributions to the field and began working closely with the noted Mayanist Linda Schele. He gave his first scholarly paper at the age of 12 at the 1978 Mesa Redonda de Palenque, an international conference of Mesoamerican scholars.
Stuart's work on the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs led to a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984. He is the youngest-ever recipient of that award. Stuart has continued to make major contributions in the field of epigraphy, particularly related to the decipherment of the Maya script used by the pre-Columbian Maya civilization of Mesoamerica. See for example Coe (1992), p. 231 et seq. His insights into the structure and content of Maya hieroglyphic writing was highlighted in the award-winning documentary film "Breaking the Maya Code" (Night Fire Films, 2008).
Stuart received his Ph.D in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University in 1995. At that time he was appointed the Bartlett Curator of Maya Hieroglyphs at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, and was a Senior Lecturer at Harvard's Department of Anthropology before beginning at the University of Texas at Austin in 2004. Over the years Stuart has conducted field research at numerous archaeological sites, including Coba, Palenque, Yaxchilan, Piedras Negras, Copan, Dos Pilas, La Corona, Calakmul, San Bartolo and Xultun. His work often focuses on the documentation of Maya sculpture and inscriptions. He remains actively engaged as a member of several excavation projects at ancient Maya sites in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
His many publications include Ten Phonetic Syllables (1987), which laid much of the groundwork for the now-accepted methodology of Maya hieroglyphic decipherment. In 2003 he published a volume in the ongoing Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions series (Peabody Museum, Harvard University), devoted to drawings and photographs of sculpture from Piedras Negras, Guatemala. He co-authored Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya (Thames and Hudson, 2008) with his father, George Stuart. His most recent work, The Order of Days (Random House - Harmony, 2011) explores the important role of time and cosmology classic Maya civilization, while also debunking the 2012 phenomenon claim that the Maya viewed the year 2012 as the end of their elaborate calendar. At present he is completing a new book which will offer a detailed analysis of the three temples of the Cross Group complex at Palenque.
Stuart is currently the Director of The Mesoamerica Center at The University of Texas at Austin, which fosters multi-disciplinary studies on ancient American art and culture. He also oversees the activities of the Casa Herrera, UT's academic research center in Antigua, Guatemala, devoted to studies in the art, archaeology and culture of Mesoamerica.