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In the southern Maya lowlands, rainfall provided the primary and, in some areas, the only source of water for people and crops. Classic Maya kings sponsored elaborate public rituals that affirmed their close ties to the supernatural world and their ability to intercede with deities and ancestors to ensure an adequate amount of rain, which was then stored to provide water during the four-to-five-month dry season. As long as the rains came, Maya kings supplied their subjects with water and exacted tribute in labor and goods in return. But when the rains failed at the end of the Classic period (AD 850-950), the Maya rulers lost both their claim to supernatural power and their temporal authority. Maya commoners continued to supplicate gods and ancestors for rain in household rituals, but they stopped paying tribute to rulers whom the gods had forsaken. In this paradigm-shifting book, Lisa Lucero investigates the central role of water and ritual in the rise, dominance, and fall of Classic Maya rulers. She documents commoner, elite, and royal ritual histories in the southern Maya lowlands from the Late Preclassic through the Terminal Classic periods to show how elites and rulers gained political power through the public replication and elaboration of household-level rituals. At the same time, Lucero demonstrates that political power rested equally on material conditions that the Maya rulers could only partially control. Offering a new, more nuanced understanding of these dual bases of power, Lucero makes a compelling case for spiritual and material factors intermingling in the development and demise of Maya political complexity.
From the tombs of the elite to the graves of commoners, mortuary remains offer rich insights into Classic Maya society. In Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya: Rituals of Body and Soul, the anthropological archaeologist and bioarchaeologist Andrew K. Scherer explores the broad range of burial practices among the Maya of the Classic period (AD 250–900), integrating information gleaned from his own fieldwork with insights from the fields of iconography, epigraphy, and ethnography to illuminate this society’s rich funerary traditions. Scherer’s study of burials along the Usumacinta River at the Mexican-Guatemalan border and in the Central Petén region of Guatemala—areas that include Piedras Negras, El Kinel, Tecolote, El Zotz, and Yaxha—reveals commonalities and differences among royal, elite, and commoner mortuary practices. By analyzing skeletons containing dental and cranial modifications, as well as the adornments of interred bodies, Scherer probes Classic Maya conceptions of body, wellness, and the afterlife. Scherer also moves beyond the body to look at the spatial orientation of the burials and their integration into the architecture of Maya communities. Taking a unique interdisciplinary approach, the author examines how Classic Maya deathways can expand our understanding of this society’s beliefs and traditions, making Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya an important step forward in Mesoamerican archeology.
Ancient Maya comes to life in this new holistic and theoretical study.
In recent years, archaeologists have used the terms hybrid and hybridity with increasing frequency to describe and interpret forms of material culture. Hybridity is a way of viewing culture and human action that addresses the issue of power differentials between peoples and cultures. This approach suggests that cultures are not discrete pure entities but rather are continuously transforming and recombining. The Archaeology of Hybrid Material Culture discusses this concept and its relationship to archaeological classification and the emergence of new ethnic group identities. This collection of essays provides readers with theoretical and concrete tools for investigating objects and architecture with discernible multiple influences. The twenty-one essays are organized into four parts: ceramic change in colonial Latin America and the Caribbean; ethnicity and material culture in pre-Hispanic and colonial Latin America; culture contact and transformation in technological style; and materiality and identity. The media examined include ceramics, stone and glass implements, textiles, bone, architecture, and mortuary and bioarchaeological artifacts from North, South, and Central America, Hawai‘i, the Caribbean, Europe, and Mesopotamia. Case studies include Bronze Age Britain, Iron Age and Roman Europe, Uruk-era Turkey, African diasporic communities in the Caribbean, pre-Spanish and Pueblo revolt era Southwest, Spanish colonial impacts in the American Southeast, Central America, and the Andes, ethnographic Amazonia, historic-era New England and the Plains, the Classic Maya, nineteenth-century Hawai‘i, and Upper Paleolithic Europe. The volume is carefully detailed with more than forty maps and figures and over twenty tables. The work presented in The Archaeology of Hybrid Material Culture comes from researchers whose questions and investigations recognized the role of multiple influences on the people and material they study. Case studies include experiments in bone working in middle Missouri; images and social relationships in prehistoric and Roman Europe; technological and material hybridity in colonial Peruvian textiles; ceramic change in colonial Latin America and the Caribbean; and flaked glass tools from the leprosarium at Kalawao, Moloka‘i. The essays provide examples and approaches that may serve as a guide for other researchers dealing with similar issues.
As archaeologists peel away the jungle covering that has both obscured and preserved the ancient Maya cities of Mexico and Central America, other scholars have only a limited time to study and understand the sites before the jungle, weather, and human encroachment efface them again, perhaps forever. This urgency underlies Yaxchilan: The Design of a Maya Ceremonial City, Carolyn Tate's comprehensive catalog and analysis of all the city's extant buildings and sculptures. During a year of field work, Tate fully documented the appearance of the site as of 1987. For each sculpture and building, she records its discovery, present location, condition, measurements, and astronomical orientation and reconstructs its Long Counts and Julian dates from Calendar Rounds. Line drawings and photographs provide a visual document of the art and architecture of Yaxchilan. More than mere documentation, however, the book explores the phenomenon of art within Maya society. Tate establishes a general framework of cultural practices, spiritual beliefs, and knowledge likely to have been shared by eighth-century Maya people. The process of making public art is considered in relation to other modes of aesthetic expression, such as oral tradition and ritual. This kind of analysis is new in Maya studies and offers fresh insight into the function of these magnificent cities and the powerful role public art and architecture play in establishing cultural norms, in education in a semiliterate society, and in developing the personal and community identities of individuals. Several chapters cover the specifics of art and iconography at Yaxchilan as a basis for examining the creation of the city in the Late Classic period. Individual sculptures are attributed to the hands of single artists and workshops, thus aiding in dating several of the monuments. The significance of headdresses, backracks, and other costume elements seen on monuments is tied to specific rituals and fashions, and influence from other sites is traced. These analyses lead to a history of the design of the city under the reigns of Shield Jaguar (A.D. 681-741) and Bird Jaguar IV (A.D. 752-772). In Tate's view, Yaxchilan and other Maya cities were designed as both a theater for ritual activities and a nexus of public art and social structures that were crucial in defining the self within Maya society.
In the first comprehensive treatment of Classic Maya patron deity veneration, Joanne P. Baron demonstrates the central importance of patron deity cults in political relationships between both rulers and their subjects and among different Maya kingdoms. Weaving together evidence from inscriptions, images, and artifacts, Patron Gods and Patron Lords provides new insights into how the Classic Maya polity was organized and maintained. Using semiotic theory, Baron draws on three bodies of evidence: ethnographies and manuscripts from Postclassic, Colonial, and modern Maya communities that connect patron saints to pre-Columbian patron gods; hieroglyphic texts from the Classic period that discuss patron deity veneration; and excavations from four patron deity temples at the site of La Corona, Guatemala. She shows how the Classic Maya used patron deity effigies, temples, and acts of devotion to negotiate group membership, social entitlements, and obligations between individuals and communities. She also explores the wider role of these processes in politics, arguing that rituals and discourses related to patron deities ultimately formulated Maya rulership as a locally oriented institution, which limited the ability of powerful kingdoms to create wider religious communities. Applying a new theoretical approach for the archaeological study of ideology and power dynamics, Patron Gods and Patron Lords reveals an overlooked aspect of the belief system of Maya communities.

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