Introduction to Maya Glyphs Workshop

Mary Kate Kelly – Tulane University

Who were the ancient Maya? Eroded temples overtaken by the jungle for a millennium, abandoned cities, and an enigmatic writing system typify our romanticized impression of the Maya. It turns out we know quite a lot about those who inhabited the now ruined palaces, in large part thanks to the thousands of inscriptions that remain to us in the archaeological record.

This workshop will focus on texts from the site of Bonampak, located in modern day Chiapas, Mexico. Engaged in the political landscape of the Usumacinta region, elites from the site of Bonampak recorded their kingly achievements, rivalries, and alliances in carved and painted inscriptions. Workshopping the texts as a group, participants will read through a selection of the inscribed monuments from the site of Bonampak, with the joint goals to provide a basic reading knowledge of Maya hieroglyphs, as well as an introduction to the texts of Bonampak for those who will attend Sunday’s workshop “The Royal Court of Vulture Mountain.”

Intermediate Glyphs and Iconography Workshop: Classic Maya Mythologies

Marc Zender – Tulane University

Underlying Maya cosmology, history and religion are several key mythological narratives explaining the origins of the world, humanity and civilized/moral behavior.  Classic Maya writing and art provide our most important windows into these narratives, identifying key mythological characters by name, attribute or association.  Occasionally these figures have survived in more or less recognizable form in colonial or modern traditions -- as with the Storm God (Chahk) and the Creator God (Itzamna in Colonial sources).  More often they have not, and the sum total of our knowledge of their role in the mythology comes from careful study of the texts and art in which they occur.  Such is the case with K'awiil, Juun Ixiim and God L, complex entities who defy the simple labels of "Lightning God," "Maize God" and "Merchant God of the Underworld."  Beginning with a review of what is currently known about the major gods, places and events of Maya mythology, this seminar-style workshop focuses on an investigation of what might be termed the "lost gods" of this canon.  Recent discoveries concerning the Principal Bird Deity, the Wind God, and Gods D and N are highlighted.  A secondary but equally important focus stems from questions about the nature of the mythological narratives, particularly with respect to subtle variations in theme and focus in different regions.  Was there ever a unified Maya mythology?

The Royal Court of Vulture Mountain: The Inscriptions of Bonampak

Stanley Guenter –American Foreign Academic Research, Marc Zender – Tulane University, Simon Martin University of Pennsylvania Museum, and Mary Kate Kelly – Tulane University

Bonampak was a secondary site located in the hilly terrain of Chiapas west of Yaxchilan, in the Usumacinta region of the western Maya lowlands. Famous for its well-preserved murals, the site also boasts a number of stelae and carved stone panels that outline the history of the lords who ruled over this small kingdom. In this workshop we will concentrate on the inscriptions of the last great lord of the site, Yajaw Chan Muwaan II, who ruled in the late-eighth century A.D. and who commissioned all three of Bonampak’s carved stelae and in whose honor the murals of Structure 1 were painted. This workshop is designed for intermediate participants but is open to all.




What Happened on Jaina?

Mary Miller – Yale University

Among the thousands of Jaina figurines there are a surprising number that were assembled from standardized molds and then finished by hand.   What was the range of shared practice, from clay paste to application of color? What standard subjects were deployed using the smallest inventory of molds and appliqués? This paper will address both the most alluring subjects, such as beautiful young women, along with fully mold-made works, including dancers, attendants, and dwarves.  

1 hour

Severed Heads, Cached Skulls and the Resurrection of the Maize God: Confluence of Archaeological, Iconographic and Ethnohistoric Data.

Jaime J. Awe - Northern Arizona University

In their Blood of Kings volume, Linda Schele and Mary Miller (1986:32) noted that “The Popol Vuh stories are not illustrated word for word in the art of the Classic period, but many elements of the storyline have compelling parallels in Classic imagery created seven hundred years before, and some appear to be directly illustrated, suggesting that these stories are fragments, surviving to the time of the Conquest, of very ancient myth cycles describing the universe and the origins of gods and man.” Building on Schele and Miller’s argument, I provide archaeological evidence which suggests that the antiquity of these concepts extends into the Preclassic period. I also argue that the practice of interring skulls in lip to lip caches was likely related to illustrations of severed heads on ceramic vessels and that this tradition was likely associated with the Popol Vuh’s account of the resurrection of the maize god.

1 hour

‘The Crown Was Held Above Him’: Rethinking Classic Maya Accession

Marc Zender - Tulane University

Ever since David Stuart's (1996) convincing decipherment of the hand-holding-celt sign as K’AL in the 1990s, epigraphers have grappled with the semantics of the k’al verb.  Coupled with Stuart and Houston's (1998) demonstration that the BAAH ‘gopher’ sign often functioned as a rebus for ‘head’ or even ‘self’, many epigraphers have come to translate a common Classic Mayan coronation phrase as k’ahlaj sakhuun tubaah, literally ‘the white headband is tied on his head’.  This paper reconsiders the semantics of this phrase in the light of new evidence drawn from epigraphic, linguistic, iconographic, and ethnohistoric sources.  First, a widespread sense of ‘hold’ is also attested in the Ch'olan languages for k’al, and perhaps better fits the iconic origins of the hand-holding-celt sign.  Second, Mayan languages commonly derive locatives from body parts, strongly suggesting that a form like t-u-baah, although literally meaning ‘at/on his head’, frequently also signified ‘above him’.  Third, occasional depictions of coronation scenes appear to show a priestly attendant literally ‘holding’ a royal crown above the head of the acceding king, rather than tying or placing it on his head.  Taken together, the evidence suggests that this phrase may have codified a key moment in the coronation ceremony where a priestly attendant held the crown aloft, perhaps for an adoring public to observe from a distance.  As will be seen, supportive comparisons can be drawn with coronation ceremonies in comparative perspective, particularly for the Late Postclassic Aztecs.

1 hour

“Conquerors, Captives, and Clients: The Struggle for Hegemony over Eastern Tabasco in the Seventh Century CE”

Simon Martin - University of Pennsylvania Museum

The plain of what is today Eastern Tabasco was once a frontier zone and battleground for some of the best known Classic Maya kingdoms. Three relatively modest centers, Pomona, Santa Elena, and Pomona battled to preserve their independence from the expansionistic ambitions of three great powers, Palenque, Piedras Negras, and distant Calakmul. In an unusually detailed narrative, drawn from texts at all these places, we can reconstruct how this played out over a few decades in the later seventh century, identifying the characters involved and charting the rise and fall of their fortunes.

1 hour

A Curious Katun: A Topsy-Turvy Twenty Years in the Late Classic Period of Maya History

Stanley Guenter – American Foreign Academic Research

Abstract: The two decades on either side of the, 4 Ahau 13 Yax Period Ending of A.D. 731 were one of the apogees of Classic Maya civilization, with the period seeing the production of some of the most iconic emblems of this culture. However, politically, it saw some very strange and unusual events, ones that often don’t fit the standard model of Late Classic politics that sees the Maya lowland world split into two antagonistic blocs, centered on the extra-large kingdoms of Tikal and Calakmul. From a sudden surge in pilgrimage visits to Naj Tunich to mentions of Copan’s king in the heartland of the Snake Kingdom to a sudden flipping of political relationships within the Petexbatun region of SW Peten, this period saw some very unusual events that are begging for explanation. And, at Tikal, in the middle of everything, is the curious case of the only stela that should have been carved in this period at that important site, the main stela of the Twin Pyramid complex built for the Period Ending, being left completely and enigmatically blank. While there are more questions than answers about this period of Maya history, this presentation will outline some of the curiosities about this period of time that make it so fascinating for historians of the ancient Maya.

1 hour

Re-examining the Chacmool, One More Time

Virginia Miller – University of Illinois at Chicago

The reclining stone figure known as a chacmool is found throughout Mesoamerica and even beyond during the Terminal Classic and Postclassic periods. The identity and function of the sculpture, however, has remained an enigma since the first example to be unearthed archaeologically was found in 1875 at Chichén Itzá and given its fanciful name. Interpretations of the male figure range from deity to ballplayer to sacrificial victim. While some of these sculptures, particularly the Mexica examples, bear supernatural attributes, I believe that in its original form the chacmool represents a victorious warrior. Secondly, although strongly associated with highland central Mexico, the chacmool almost certainly originated in the Maya area during the Terminal Classic period, as argued by Mary Miller in 1985. The largest concentration of chacmools is found at Chichén Itzá where 18 have been discovered so far, suggesting that the sculptural form was invented at that powerful and artistically innovative site and then exported to Tula and beyond.

 30 minutes

The ajk'uhuun of La Corona: Court Officials and Regime Administration at a Classic Maya Royal Court.

Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire - Tulane University

Classic Maya royal courts were political institutions of comparable complexity to the royal courts of Western Medieval Europe. Beyond the royal household, they included a set of titled officials with defined roles who regularly assembled at court, representing a protobureaucracy. The seats of royal courts, regal palaces, were elaborate architectural institutions designed to administer complex political economies – featuring buildings and patios to facilitate the exchange of goods and information between the royals and their allies. While polychrome vases and murals famously portray the glamorous facets of these exchanges, they leave aside much of the administrative activities which necessarily framed these.

In this paper, I present architectural, artifactual, and epigraphic datasets which allowed me to identify crucial administrative buildings in the regal palace of La Corona. I propose these structures were the home and workplace of a priestly courtly elite headed by an ajk'uhuun – a courtly title understood as that of a chief priestly scribal figure. These buildings included evidence for scribal activities, the carving of hieroglyphic monuments, and secretive storage space. Additionally, a tightly controlled passageway – for accounting for the goods accumulated and distributed at court – was also part of this administrative complex.

Through a discussion of architecture, artifacts, texts, and images, this paper explores questions related to the structure of Classic Maya royal courts, political economy, and addresses historical figures of La Corona.

1 hour

Art Matters: Maya Archaeology and Art History Methodologies

Dorie Reents-Budet - Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The role of style in Maya archaeology is a frequent topic although only from the viewpoint of social anthropology. It was not until the early 1970s that art history’s methodologies of style were first applied to the study of ancient Maya material culture, pioneered by art historian George Kubler and advanced by his students, among them Mary Miller. Art history investigates the roles and meaning of artworks within the context of the social, intellectual and aesthetic circumstances behind the production and use of material culture, with artistic style being fundamental to the analyses. This talk reviews the application of stylistic analysis by Mayanist art historians during the past few decades, highlighting a range of contributions to ancient Maya culture history made by Dr. Miller and her colleagues.

45 minutes

Cult, Conflict, and Collapse: Epigraphy and the Political Landscape of the Western Maya Mountains

Nicholas P. Carter – Harvard University

This presentation traces the political history of the area around the modern town of Dolores, Guatemala, in the western Maya Mountains, using data from hieroglyphic sources. A relative backwater in the Early Classic period, this region saw the growth of multiple royal capitals in the latter part of the Late Classic. Epigraphic evidence points to intervention late in the seventh century by kingdoms outside the region, including Naranjo, Caracol, and Calakmul, mediated through ritual pilgrimages to Naj Tunich. As Calakmul’s hegemony broke apart, kingdoms in the western Maya Mountains asserted independence, warring with one another for dominance in the decades before the Classic collapse. Painted and monumental texts indicate the importance of minor polities, often not identified with known sites, in these processes.

45 minutes

An Integrated Life: the Sacred Landscape of Mayapán, the Last Major Maya City.

Khristin Landry-Montes

The northern Maya region of the Yucatán Peninsula has been the site of urban development for over 1,000 years. Some of the greatest Precolumbian cities in the New World were built in the area and today the Yucatán peninsula still hosts a vibrant Maya culture. Yucatán is therefore a place rich in history, and the exceptional preservation of many of its Precolumbian cities provides excellent opportunity for art historical and archaeological study. Unfortunately, however, study of the region has too often been eclipsed by research dedicated to Maya cities in Chiapas, Mexico, the Petén of Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize (particularly in the areas of art historical research). In response to the relative lack of information we have for Postclassic urbanism in Yucatán, the present study focuses on the influential city of Mayapán. Located in the interior of the peninsula, Mayapán rose to power in the 13th century and fell roughly seventy years before the Spanish arrived. It was the most powerful Maya city of its day with extensive trading networks reaching as far as Guatemala, the Gulf Coast and central Mexico. Mayapán’s urban identity is marked by such internationalism, especially in the city’s ritual core. There, architecture and art evidence the integration of both Maya and central Mexican worlds. Its major buildings, for example, are close copies of those at earlier Maya centers and many of its murals and sculptures are similar to those from central Mexican cities. However, Mayapán was far more than a reference to other places. It was, instead, a center into which outside elements were anchored and physically bound. As this paper explores, it was the unique and sacred landscape upon and through which Mayapán was built that ultimately dictated Mayapán’s urban design and formalized the city’s visual identity.

30 minutes

Advantages and Limitations of Using Stable Isotope Analysis to Study Ancient Migration: Strontium, Oxygen, and Carbon Isotope Values from La Corona and El Perú-Waka’

Erin Patterson - Tulane University & Carolyn Freiwald - University of Mississippi

The movement of Classic Maya people, including journeys to and from the sites of La Corona and El Perú, has been recorded in numerous epigraphic texts. These references, along with migration studies at Tikal, Copán, and other smaller communities, suggest that there was a considerable amount of migration among Maya centers. We present the results of strontium, oxygen, and carbon stable isotope analysis of over 70 individuals buried at the sites of La Corona and El Perú-Waka’ in the northwest Petén, Guatemala. Initial analysis reveals little long-distance migration and suggests that most movement occurred among Central Lowland centers, lending support to the history recorded in the epigraphic texts. The sample is significant because of its size, and it includes not only royal individuals but also remains from non-elite and non-burial contexts. We are able to explore the residential life histories of over a dozen individuals. We will show that the use of multiple elements can reveal additional migrants not visible with the analysis of a single element. We will also discuss the challenges and limitations of this type of chemical analysis.

30 minutes

Digitizing the Northern Maya Lowlands’ Colonial Geography

Geoff Wallace - McGill University

The most recent monograph to tackle the historical geography of the colonial-era northern Maya lowlands was Peter Gerhard’s The Southeast Frontier of New Spain, published in 1979. Since then, a few scholars have published representational maps as parts of broader studies, but a more thorough update is past due. In recent years, archaeologists have undertaken ambitious and sophisticated projects to digitally map the pre-colonial Maya world using GIS and remote sensing to better grasp the human and physical landscape, or to locate and catalogue archaeological sites. Historians of the same region, however, have yet to take advantage of even rudimentary iterations of these powerful tools.

This paper is part of a broader dissertation project to represent the northern Maya lowlands’ environmental history and historical geography with the aid of digital maps. Its main aim is to demonstrate the utility of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) driven methodologies for the study of the Spanish colony of Yucatán in the colonial period. It combines extant remote sensing data and archival sources to study the environmental and economic role of indigenous towns in the early colonial period, from approximately 1549 to 1700.

This presentation shows some of the ways in which basic GIS could help historians to better understand and represent the historical geography of colonial Yucatán by spatializing archival data. Five early colonial-era datasets are featured five early colonial-era datasets: a 1549 tribute assessment, the Relaciones Geográficas de Yucatán from 1579, a census from 1601, and a report and census of goods extracted through repartimiento de efectos submitted by the Franciscan missionary order in 1701. The result is a small atlas that shows population densities, demographic change over time, and areas of economic specialization. These datasets and the methods used to analyse them offer a more detailed representation Yucatán’s historical geography than previously possible and open new avenues of inquiry into the colony’s economic, environmental, and social history.

30 minutes

You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee; Consumer Culture at the 19th century Maya refugee site at Tikal, Guatemala

James Meierhoff  - University of Illinois at Chicago

In the mid-nineteenth century Maya refugees fleeing the violence of the Caste War of Yucatan (1857-1901) briefly reoccupied the ancient Maya ruins of Tikal, in Guatemala’s northern most district of Petén. These Yucatec speaking refugees combined with Lacandon Maya, and later Ladinos from Lake Petén-Itza to form a small, multi-ethnic village in the sparsely occupied Petén jungle of northern Guatemala. Even with its apparent remoteness from urban centers, the short-lived nineteenth century village at Tikal appears to have been extremely successful, as it was well provisioned with material goods, including copious amounts of foreign consumer merchandise produced in both British and American markets. The presence of metal, glass, un-slipped local ceramics, and an abundance of exotic refined earthenware pottery, spread out in middens as well as household contexts, demonstrates that this village was participating in local, national, and international economies.  This paper investigates one group of Yucatec Maya refugee’s struggle to forge new social, political, and economic relationships from within the relative safety of the “Last Maya Frontier”, a displaced indigenous diaspora zone that was created and maintained alongside the diasporic settlements of three Eurocentric settler societies (Mexico, Guatemala, and British Honduras- later known as Belize). These three societies viewed and conceptualized the Maya Frontier differently, and the refugees used the frontier to exploit these differences. A relatively short occupation span combined with archaeologically intact house floors makes the historic Tikal village the opportune location to directly explore the exploitation of frontier zones by refugee populations. The examination the multiethnic composition of frontier refugee communities allows the ability to study the processes of ethnogenesis through the lens of materiality on the household level. The easing of cultural and ethnic identity markers at Tikal, as seen by the consumer choices made, may have parallels in modern refugee behavior.

30 minutes

History and Archaeology of Lake Miramar, Chiapas: 2500 years of culture

Ramón Folch González  - Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia

In this paper I will present the results of 3 years of research in the southern part of the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico. I have focused on Lake Miramar and its surrounding area where archaeological evidence exists up to the Early and Middle Preclassic periods (1200 – 200 B.C.). Unlike elsewhere in the region where Maya culture dominates, in Miramar it appears that there were a great number of foreigners who left offerings in caves, cliffs and ruins. Evidence shows there is iconography from the Coast of Guatemala, the central depression of Chiapas and the highlands of both Chiapas and Guatemala.

After the conquest of Mexico, the Spaniards set to conquer the rest of Mesoamerica, Chiapas was subdued in 1528, but the Choltí-Lacandon resisted up to 1695. The last battle between Choltí-Lacandon and Spaniards happened in Lake Miramar in 1586. Lake Miramar was also the place where modern Lacandon Jataté group resided until the late sixties. The last five centuries of Lake Miramar are full of unstudied data that can provide crucial answers to some of the modern problems of Maya studies in the region like trade routes, material culture and iconography and interaction between different groups.  

Since this is the first archaeological approach to the region in more than 30 years, important archival work must be done. Explorers have been through the area since the early thirties and information obtained in their works is extremely valuable. This study is a fundamental research to prepare  more ambitious work in the future including excavations and survey.

30 minutes

Building Ancient Cities from the Ground up: Agent-Based Modeling and Lowland Maya Settlement Structure

Beniamino Volta - University of California, San Diego

Understanding how premodern cities functioned is a pressing concern in our increasingly urbanized world. Ancient low-density settlements are especially relevant to current debates about “green” or sustainable urbanism, yet they have received relatively little attention from urban historians. The residential areas of lowland Maya cities tended to have low structure densities, dispersed or loosely clustered layouts, and little evidence of formal planning. Previous research has explained these characteristics as the result of environmental conditions, land-use practices, or weakly centralized political institutions. To date, little work has been done to understand how residential dispersion may have been related to the long-term growth trajectories and sustainability of ancient communities. In this talk I present an agent-based computational model that simulates the emergence of the low-density residential patterns of Maya settlements from the interaction of household-level subsistence decisions, supra-household networks, and the environment. I test the model output against survey data from Uxul and Oxpemul —two regional centers in southern Campeche, Mexico— and discuss its implications for understanding the spatial patterns and demography of these settlements. This study suggests that variations in model dynamics are associated with distinctive spatial signatures that can aid in the interpretation of the archaeological record. By way of conclusion, I address the broader implications of a modeling approach for quantitatively analyzing and comparing low-density settlements.

30 minutes

Were Figurines Sacrificed? Whom Do They Represent?

Mark Van Stone – Southwestern College

 A rich and diverse collection of 200 ancient Maya ceramic figurine molds in the Ruta Maya Foundation in Guatemala City provides a window into the production --and more importantly, the roles- of figurines in Maya society. Obviously they were more numerous and less expensive than we thought: Probably the most democratic, most accessible artforms available to the Maya hoi polloi. Their purpose is also not what one might expect: No figurines have been found associated with altars like household gods. They very rarely portray gods, and instead focus on more everyday aspects of Maya life: soldiers, rulers, performers, salesladies, dogs, birds.
Perhaps more surprising: Very few were found in tombs or caches: All but a handful of the 15,000 Maya figurines recovered archaeologically were found in fill or middens. (The otherwise-unremarkable Jaina cemetery is a stark exception, itself a mystery.)
What figurines were associated with, is ceremony. All but a few of them are musical: whistles or rattles, or both. Their voices must have been an essential feature of ritual. And it appears that they were then ritually sacrificed. Very, very few of the discarded figurines found archaeologically have been found whole. Even the celebrated Burial 39 at El Perú-Waka' was re-entered in antiquity, and deliberately filled with rocks and soil, crushing the 23 figurines therein.

45 minutes







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