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mesoamerica and the maya world

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History of Mesoamerica and the Maya World

Ancient handprint at the ruins of Kabah

Ancient handprint at the ruins of Kabah.

This post will be sticky in the “history” category. To start with, here are some links that might be helpful. For now, many of these utilize the old Buried Mirror html, which is less responsive for mobile than the current look. Some are blog posts that may also appear below. These issues will get addressed.

The image is a photo I took in February 2007 of a red handprint on the interior of the arch at the Maya ruins of Kabah in the Puuc region of the Yucatan. Most Maya structures were brightly painted, and this handprint was left in red paint. The handprint was originally obscured by a stucco surface, which has peeled away. Similar handprints in blue paint can be seen at Uxmal, about 20 kilometers northeast. (See more below.)

Maya History

Maya Timeline
Proto-Mayan and the Origins of the Maya
About Yik’in Chan K’awiil, 27th ruler of Tikal
The Great Collapse: The Decline and Fall of Ancient Maya Civilization
The Cult of the Talking Cross, and the Caste War of the Yucatan
Old School Mayanists:
Sylvanus G. Morley and J. Eric S. Thompson

Recent Discoveries

Ancient Tomb Discovered at Copan (May 17, 2007)
Ancient Offerings found at Nueva de Toluca (May 25, 2007)

Modern History

Revolution in Guatemala, 1944

Popularization

Gibson Girl

Ometochtli

Mesoamerican animal husbandry

Illustration of stone rabbit sculpture from the Oztoyahualco 15B apartment compound. (Manzanilla ed.1993; drawing by Fernando Botas). http://bit.ly/2bEl0bZ . Via http://bit.ly/2bDOKEN

Illustration of stone rabbit sculpture from the Oztoyahualco 15B apartment compound.
(Manzanilla ed.1993; drawing by Fernando Botas). http://bit.ly/2bEl0bZ. Via http://bit.ly/2bDOKEN.

A team of researchers led by Andrew Somerville of the University of California San Diego, as reported by Cynthia Graber in Scientific American, have produced new evidence that ancient Mesoamericans raised animals for food. Traditionally it was felt that they did not engage in such acitivites, evidentally because researchers were looking for large food animals such as the cattle and pigs introduced by Westerners.

Archaeologists had already noted ample rabbit remains at Teotihuacan, near modern Mexico City. The current research team, however, noted a few curious things:

  • Carbon isotope analysis provides evidence of the rabbit’s corn and cactus fruit diet, which is different from that of wild rabbits and suggests that they were raised domestically.
  • Ruins of what appears to be a dedicated rabbit pen have been discovered.
  • A rabbit statue was found at the site of the pen.

According to Mexconnect, domesticated rabbits are still a common feature of central Mexican cuisine:

The rabbit, still hunted but more often raised domestically, is popular in Central Mexico, where it is most often eaten adobado – marinated in a chile and spice rub – or estofado – stewed. The latter is a more suitable way of cooking larger rabbit, from three-and-a-half to four pounds. Smaller ones generally run from one-and-a-half to two pounds and can be prepared using shorter cooking methods such as frying or grilling. In either case, even domestically raised rabbit benefits a great deal from being marinated first.

Buen provecho!

Photo Wednesday: The Stone of the Sun

This image of the Aztec calendar wheel — also known as the Stone of the Sun — that was excavated in the Zócalo (main square) in Mexico City comes from Drogdon’s photostream. The basalt stone is about twelve feet in diameter. It is now in the collections of the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.

It’s possible that this is a photo of a replica, as it doesn’t look sufficiently aged to be the real stone. (If anyone knows, please leave a comment.)

A new discovery at El Mirador

A pair of monumental (26-foot) stucco panels have been discovered at the important classic Maya site of El Mirador in the Peten by a team led by Richard Hansen of Idaho State University. The figures in the panels appear to represent the heros twins of the Maya creation myth.

This is clearly an important find. The panels can be dated to the Late Preclassic period, from about 300 BCE to a little after the beginning of the common era.

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Video via MSNBC

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A Maya suspension bridge?

maya suspension bridge

A fellow named James O’Kon claims that the Maya built the longest bridge span in the ancient world.

His theory is based on computer reconstructions derived from a 12-foot high and 35-foot diameter rock formation in the Usamacinta River near the site of Yaxchilan, which flourished between 500 and 700. A similar second structure was discovered in 1992.

O’Kon, who is former chairman of the forensic council of the American Society of Civil Engineers, enlisted the services of his Atlanta engineering firm to create a reconstruction of the bridge.

To my eye the bridge does not look consistent with known Maya architecture.

The full story is at the Georgia Tech Alumni website, which is also the source of the image shown above.

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Ancient Maya produced high-quality textiles

girl with embroidered blouse in momostenango, guatemala

That the ancient Maya produced high-quality textiles will come as little surprise to anyone who has traveled through the modern Maya world. But because few textiles are preserved from ancient times, it has been difficult to confirm that this was the case. Now researchers at the University of Rhode Island have performed a lab analysis of forty-nine samples from a tomb at Copan. The analysis showed a high degree of sophistication in the textiles’ manufacture — one had a count of 100 yarns per inch, which would be high by modern technology and consequently “speaks to the technology they had at the time for making very fine fabrics” according to textiles conservator Margaret Ordoñez.

The story is at ScienceDaily. The article has a weird lead, which claims that “Very few textiles from the Mayan culture have survived.” When will people learn that the Maya culture is still very much alive? And that “Mayan” is the adjective for the language, not the culture?

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Image of girl from Momostenango from DavidDennis’ photostream

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The war on plants

sunflower detail

Dale Pendell, author of Pharmako/Poeia, has argued that the “war on drugs” is like a religious war, intended to keep officially sanctioned drugs like alcohol and chocolate dominant. A new study, reported by Scott Norris in an article in National Geographic News, suggests that sunflowers may have been similarly suppressed by the Spanish in Mesoamerica.

It has long been believed that sunflowers originated in the east-central U.S. and only spread to Mexico in recent centuries. But the new study, led by David Lentz of the University of Cincinnati, argues that sunflowers have been domesticated in Mexico for at least 2000 years, which suggests an independent origin of domestication in Mexico.

This conclusion is based on plant remains discovered in Cueva del Gallo in the Mexican state of Morelos. The sunflower achenes (fruits containing seeds) from this site are larger than wild varieties, indicating domestication. They have been dated to 300 BCE.

“We have filled in the gaps with lots of additional data that now make the Mexican sunflower [domestication] hypothesis irrefutable,” Lentz said. “Given all available data, the best explanation is that the sunflower was domesticated twice.”

But Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., insists that “genetic research shows that all present-day domesticated sunflowers originated from a single domestication event, from wild progenitor populations in the central United States.” Smith says that if sunflowers were domesticated in Mexico there should be more remains than have been observed.

Lentz responds that sunflowers were used differently in the two locations. In the U.S. they were primarily a foodstuff, but in Mexico they were mainly used for ceremonial purposes.

Lentz’s team interviewed indigenous people in different parts of Mexico where sunflowers are grown today.

Eleven of 14 indigenous groups had unique words for “sunflower” bearing no resemblance to the Spanish word for the same species, according to the new study. Spaniards did not arrive in Mexico until the 1500s.

This linguistic evidence—along with distinctive traditions associated with the plant—suggest a long history of indigenous Mexican use and not a more recent cultural borrowing, the researchers argue.

They also suggest that the Spanish may have suppressed indigenous use of the sunflower because of the plant’s symbolic associations with the sun god and warfare—hence the lack of modern Mexican remains with lineages that can be traced back to ancient times.

If Lentz is correct, one wonder what other ancient ceremonial plants might have been suppressed during the Conquest.

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image from charlie_cva’s photostream

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Adding up the bones

and arms, and hearts, and hands, and arrows . . .

Geographer Barbara Williams and mathematician Maria del Carmen Jorge y Jorge have, after three decades of labor, deciphered an Aztec code used to calculate the areas of land plots.

The Aztecs needed to calculate the area of irregular shaped parcels of land for tax purposes. Their calculations were recorded in two books, the Codex Vergara and the Codice de Santa Maria Asuncion, in which older documents written on tree bark or cotton cloth were presumably transcribed onto paper brought by Spanish conquistadors. According to an article by Alan Zarembo in the L. A. Times,

The pages of the books are filled with tiny property maps. For each plot, there are two drawings — one showing the lengths of the sides and another showing the area. The measurements are represented by seven symbols: lines, dots, arrows, hearts, hands, arms and bones. Each map also includes the name of the property owner and the soil type.

Researchers already knew what each map represented and the value of some of the measurements. A line, for example, was the standard unit of length, which was known as a tlalquahuitl, or rod, and in modern units would measure a little more than 8 feet.

When the researchers knew the values of the units in roughly rectangular plots, they could easily follow the logic of the Aztecs and reproduce their calculations by multiplying lengths and widths.

But they were stymied in calculating many plots because they didn’t know the value of the units. The breakthrough came when Jorge y Jorge, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, found that the values of some areas were prime numbers.

So now we know, a hand equaled 3/5 of a rod, an arrow was 1/2 , a heart was 2/5 , an arm was 1/3 , and a bone was 1/5.

But I would like to know more about how the Aztecs classified soil types.

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Edweard Muybridge

eadweard muybridgeA reader named “Yes” correctly identified the photographer of this week’s photos as Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904).

Muybridge was born in England and emigrated to the U.S. in 1851. While he would become best known for his motions studies such as yesterday’s jumping horse, I think he first won fame for his monumental photographs of Yosemite Valley. But in San Francisco he became involved in a scandal surrounding the murder of his wife’s lover, and under the circumstances he thought it prudent to transpose himself for a time to Guatemala.

In Guatemala, his documentary photographs of work on coffee plantations — such as Wednesday’s photo, which shows coffee workers on a plantation in San Isidro — were important recordings of an economy in the throes of radical, and painful, transformation.

But Muybridge also did some more conventional travel photography during his time in Guatemala (1875). Tuesday’s photo shows a view of Lake Atitlan, while we began on Monday with a photograph of Volcan Quetzaltenango.

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Photo quiz, part 3

Here’s another image by our mystery photographer (see also the past two days’ posts). What’s going on here? (Hint: the picture documents a subject for which the photographer is well known.) Who is he? What is the approximate date of the photo?

san isidro

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La Maldicion de Malinche

Amparo Ochoa’s take on Mexican history.

Dazzling temples

rosalila temple repllica, copan museum, honduras

According to Queensland University researcher Rosemary Goodall and her colleagues who have been working at the well-studied ancient Maya site of Copan in Honduras, the temples must have dazzled, literally. Goodall used infared technology to analyze paint shards. She found that tiny bit of mica were mixed with the paint.

“I discovered a green pigment and a mica pigment that would have had a lustrous effect,” Goodall, who was concentrating her research on the Rosalila Temple, reported. “I’m sure that when the sun hit it, it must have sparkled. It must have had the most amazing appearance.”

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SHOWN: Rosalila Temple replica at Copan Museum, taken December 1999.

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LINK: Study determines why Mayan temples dazzle

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Mexico’s oldest bar closes

cantina el nivel, mexico city

Cantina el Nivel opened its doors in 1872. It is considered one of the oldest continuously operating bars in Latin America. Located in Mexico City’s historic center, the bar will make way for expansion of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Defecito.com, the source of this story (and photo), comments:

Es una lástima que espacios historicos terminen en el olvido así, sin que a nadie le importe mucho. Al fin y al cabo es parte de la historia colectiva que poco a poco desaparce, así en silencio.

[Too bad that historic sites end this way, without anyone much caring. So it is that our collective history disappears little by little, in silence.]

Columbus and microbial globalism

the harp and the shadowAccording to a study by Kristin Harper, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, there is new support for the notion that syphilis was exported from the Americas to Europe by the conquistadors who followed in the wake of Columbus.

The study was published in the Public Library of Science Neglected Tropical Diseases. Just in case your subscription to that august journal has lapsed, I will report that the study examined the evolutionary relationships in the family of organisms (known as phylogenetics) that include syphilis. By comparing the DNA of the organism, the researchers concluded that venereal syphilis came into being fairly recently, while a related (but less severe) disease, yaws, is ancient. The study supports an American origin for the disease, which apparently developed in the sixteenth century.

Because syphilis began to spread through Europe upon the conquistadors’ return from the new world, it has long been thought to have had an American origin (years ago I read speculation that it was the result of bestiality). But there is a minority of scientists who have subscribed to the notion that syphilis is ancient in origin and predates the conquest. Some in this school criticize aspects of the new study’s methodology.

Still, the anecdotal evidence supports a New World origin, and this study gives the conjecture new support. If this is the case, then the spread of syphilis can be viewed as one of the first and most lasting consequences of globalism. (Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel explores similar issues).

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Shown: The Harp and the Shadow, a novel of Columbus by Alejo Carpentier

Ancient pyramid found in Mexico City

The pyramid, about 36 feet high, was found in the central Tlatelolco area. The discovery pushes back the date of the founding of Tlatelolco by a couple of centuries, meaning the Aztec presence in central Mexico began earlier than previously supposed.

via Yahoo news

Aztec tomb discovered

Using radar equipment, archaeologists have located the tomb of the Aztec ruler Ahuizotl 15 feet below a ceremonial center in the heart of Mexico City. The tomb is large, consisting of several chambers.

Ahuizotl was the uncle of Moctezuma, who led the Aztec emperor at the time of the conquest by Hernán Cortés. He was cremated in 1502 according to a large monolith that was recently discovered, prompting the search for his tomb. From an article about plans to excavate the tomb:

Leonardo López Luján, the lead archaeologist, told Associated Press that his team hoped to be inside the chambers by October, staring at the ashes of Ahuizotl, as well as offerings befitting his status as the last Aztec ruler to die in power.

The team was moving slowly because the entrance is flooded and filled with rocks, forcing the need for pumps to keep the water level down as archaeologists excavate while hanging from slings, he said. He said the conditions may have helped preserve the tomb’s contents.

LINK:
GroundReport | Archaeologists in Mexico City Find First Tomb of Aztec Ruler

Chiminos Island Lodge

Chiminos Island Lodge is located in the remote Petexbatun Region region of the Peten. It bills itself as an “eco-archaeological adventure.” I have never visited, but that seems fair enough based on the evidence of this video.

Lodge home page

Casa de Montejo, Merida

The Casa de Montejo is a historic building that faces the zócalo in Merida. It is considered a notable example of New World Plateresque architecture. The building is dated 1549 in an inscription. Commissioned by Francisco de Montejo the younger, the son of the conqueror of the Yucatan, it now houses a bank.

casa montejo, merida

The Casa de Montejo is a poignant memorial of the conquest. The two conquistadors shown above are standing on the heads of conquered Maya.

detail of the casa de montejo, merida, yucatan

Sites we like: La Casa Azteca

Casa Azteca is another of my favorite Mesoamerica-related sites. It is quite a thorough and up-to-date source of news and commentary, especially on archeaological subjects. As a bonus, Casa Azteca lists upcoming events in different sites around the country. In general I’m not that fond of Live Journal as a platform; nonetheless, but Casa Azteca is one of the premier sites for information about Mesoamerica and the Maya world. (Click the screenshot to visit the site.)

la casa azteca

The ruins of Santa Teresa, La Antigua, Guatemala

santa teresa, la antigua, guatemala

In 1677 three nuns arrived in Antigua from Peru. They had been sent to establish a Carmelite convent in the then Guatemalan capital. A few years later, building began on the church of Santa Teresa, where the foreign nuns and their new local sisters would be based; construction was completed in 1687. Unfortunately, thirty years later a major earthquake damaged the church. The nuns were terrified, and thereafter lived in thatched huts in the convent garden.

But that would not be the last earthquake to damage the building. Another hit in 1751. Then, in 1773, a catastrophic earthquake caused the building’s total destruction. These are the ruins that are visible today (which is remarkable, since most damaged buildings in Antigua are quickly rebuilt). Although the facade may appear fairly intact from the street view, the interior is in total ruins, and cluttered with rubble to this day.

The convent itself — which had been abandoned by the nuns in favor of the garden huts — actually faired considerably better than the church. It was used as a men’s prison well into the twentieth century

The Garifuna Journey

This 45-minute video, shot entirely in Belize, presents an overview of the history of Garifuna people of the Central American Caribbean coast, as told in their own voices. (Around 18 mins. are some historical photos.) The Garifuna are an ethnic mix of Carib, Arawak, and African peoples. To the outsider, Garifuna drumming is the most immediately striking and characteristic aspect of the culture. There are some examples around the 15 minute mark in the video. Around 21-22 mins. is a taste of punta, the contemporary expression of traditional Garifuna rhythms. There is a female chorus around 39 mins.

I am still looking for the perfect Garifuna drumming video — there is a lot of touristy stuff, much of it shot in restaurants or at staged performances, on the web, but the authentic experience seems elusive.

Manioc

native women preparing manioc

For some time archaeologists have disputed whether manioc was a significant foodstuff of ancient Mesoamerica. While it seemed a logical possibility, there was scant hard evidence to support the thesis. Now a University of Colorado – Boulder team has uncovered an ancient field of manioc at a Maya site in present El Salvador, providing the first substantive evidence of the ancient use of manioc as a food crop in Mesoamerica.

Manioc, also known as cassava or yuca, is a member of the spurge family. Its potato-like root is often said to taste like a mixture of potato and coconut. It is extremely starchy and therefore is a good source of calories.

The image, Native Women Preparing Manioc for a Feast, by Theodor De Bry, is from Colonial Latin America. De Bry (1528–1598) was a Flemish engraver and publisher who specialized in depictions of explorations of the Americas (which he never visited).

This item is via La Casa Azteca. (More information there.)

The fountain at La Merced, Antigua, Guatemala

merced fountain, antigua, guatemala, 1975

The church of La Merced is one of the most distinctive in Antigua. Its history is strongly marked by earthquakes. Originally built in the mid-sixteenth century, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times until assuming more or less its present shape in the eighteenth century. Perhaps its most striking feature, its churrigueresque facade, was added in the nineteenth century.

But this post is not about the church — I will save that for another time. This is about the fountain in the adjacent courtyard. Called the Fuente de Pescados, it dates from the eighteenth century; it was restored in 1944. Twenty-seven meters in diameter, it’s said to be the largest classical fountain in Guatemala, or in Central America, or in Latin America — it doesn’t really matter.

The fountain is in the shape of a water lily. Water lilies are more common in the lowlands, in which bodies of water tend to be still or slow-moving, than in the highlands. In Maya symbology, the water lily, perhaps as a result of the way it seems to emerge out of the watery depths, is associated with creation. A Lancandon legend says that the first god created a water lily, from which all the other gods emerged (Miller and Taube, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya).

I took the picture at the top of this post some three decades ago. Compare it to the following one, which I took about five years ago. Here you can see that the surrounding arcades have been completely restored. The stucco-like surface has been replaced with brick. It’s not an unpleasant change, and now one can walk all the way around the courtyard, looking down on the fountain from many angles.

Still, the romantic quality of the ruins in the first photo brings a wave of nostalgia. I feel fortunate to have been among the last to see the fountain in this form. I don’t know when this latest restoration occurred, but I suspect it followed the massive earthquake that struck the highlands just a few months after the first picture was taken. Nothing is permanent in Mesoamerica, where Christian churches are built on the foundations of ancient temples, and the earth itself rearranges the surface of things at frequent intervals.

la merced fountain in antigua, guatemala, 200

Casita in Mixco, Guatemala

Many years ago we lived in this little house in Mixco, on the outskirts of Guatemala City. The house was near the police checkpoint at the edge of town, where the road to Antigua (as I recollect you got there along Avenida Roosevelt) began to leave the broad Guate valley and wind up the bucolic hills toward the old capital. The area was largely rural — we would watch lizards sunning themselves on the fence outside our kitchen window; on the other side of the fence cattle grazed. Down a dirt road was a little cantina.

Today there is a broad freeway to Antigua. It bypasses this area, which has all been swallowed up by the grim urban sprawl that characterizes the city today.
casita in mixco

Revolution in Guatemala, 1944

Jorge Ubico y Castañeda ruled as dictator of Guatemala from 1931 to 1944, the year documented in this great historical footage (with “Sail to the Moon” by Radiohead as a soundtrack). Ubico was one of the models for the president in Miguel Angel Asturias’s classic novel El Señor Presidente (The President). Asturias’s book stands as one of the greatest novels about the Latin American strongman.

In 1944 Ubico’s regime was overthrown by the “October Revolutionaries” after a general strike forced him to cede power to a cabal of his generals. Two young officers, Jacobo Arbenz and Francisco Javier Arana, executed a final coup, and then allowed a general election. In 1945 Juan José Arévalo was elected president, initiating was is called The Ten Years of Spring. The period ended when the United Fruit Company was nationalized and the CIA orchestrated a coup to undo the progressive reforms.

Stela B, Copan

stela b, copan

In every civilization of the ancient world, there are art works and monuments that stand out among their fellows as objects of special character. The great portrait sculptures that stand in silent rows down the center of the Great Plaza of copan created one of these special places. They constitute one of the great masterpieces of the Maya legacy. Although the artists who made them did not sign their works and leave us their names, the patron of these great works did. He was Waxaklahun-Ubah-K’awil (commonly known as 18 Rabbit), the thirteenth king of the Copan dynasty.

— Linda Schele and Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs

The trend in Maya archaeology has been away from architectural and fine arts connoisseurship and toward broader societal analysis, with new work focusing less on the grand monuments of the ruling elite than was the case in the past. A working archaeologist in the Maya area today is more likely to be sifting dirt for fragments of fish and animal bones than reconstructing a soaring temple overgrown with vegetation. But some achievements are too great to be resisted, and the stelae at Copan are among them.

Waxaklahun (whose name actually alludes not to a rabbit but to a War Serpent) assumed the thrown of Copan on July 19, 695, when the city was at the height of its power. He soon oversaw a prodigious program of construction of public monuments. His projects included Temple 22, a remodel of the ball court, and the initiation of work on the hieroglyphic stairs of temple 26, perhaps Copan’s most famous feature (see map). And, over a period of years, he filled the Great Plaza with a major series of stelae.

The stelae are in at least a couple of different styles. It was once thought that these styles relected an evolving artistic aesthetic, but we now know, from their inscriptions, that the historical sequence of the works does not correspond to the stylistic differences. Schele and Mathews suggest instead that the stelae were the works of two different artists (or workshops), one more “innovative,” producing works more fully in the round, and the other more “conservative” (traditional), producing works emphasizing shallower front and back reliefs.

Stela B is an example of the latter style. At the time of its construction (August 22, 731) the planet Venus appeared in the constellation Virgo, which the Maya associated with Chak, the rain god. The stela depicts Waxaklahun bedecked with the diadem of Chak in his headdress, and further allusions to Chak in his elaborate regal regalia. The stela formidably expresses the king’s royal authority and his association with Copan’s patron deities (complex allusions to the Macaw Mountain Lord are prominent on the reverse side).

Five years later, around the time Waxaklahun — now an old man who had reigned more than forty years — erected his last stela (Stela D) in 736, a representative of the Maya state of Kalakmul met with K’ak’-Tiliw, the vigorous, youthful ruler of Quirigua, a vassel state to Copan. Kalamul was an emerging power and the enemy of Copan’s trade partner, Tikal. Copan, though at the extreme southern limit of the Maya region, occupied a strategic position that offered the possibility of controlling trade in jade and obsidian through the Motogua valley. About a year after this portentous meeting, K’ak’-Tiliw attacked and defeated Waxaklahun. In the fighting the mighty patron of the Copan’s Great Plaza stelae was captured.

Waxaklahun was sacrificed to the gods in the Great Plaza of Quirigua. As he attended his priestly executioner he must seen that K’ak’-Tiliw’s monuments were not so fine as his own.

Borges at Uxmal

borges by tom christensen

Over at Right Reading I’ve posted some comments about Borges’s trip to Uxmal when he was eighty.

Four Keys to Haggling

street vendors, antigua

People from cultures where haggling is not a regular practice are sometimes uncomfortable in dealing with market and street vendors. They may even accept the offer of unknown locals to help them get a good price — in which case they will end up paying not only the vendor but also the helper.

For residents of the Mesoamerican region, haggling is a natural and expected part of most transactions. Archaeologists have established that a lively trade network permeated ancient Mesoamerica, and trade is still a large part of everyday life in the region. More than just a method of marketplace price regulation, it is also a social activity. A purchase without conversation is an act of rudeness.

Haggling is not something to stress over — in fact, it should be fun, at its best full of wit and good humor. Following are four keys to successful haggling.

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Aventura

Archaeologists have discovered traces of an ancient Maya city in a papaya plantation in the Corozal area of Belize. The find includes three Mayan foundations tentatively dated to the early classic period. Skeletons of a man and a woman were also uncovered, although they seem to be from a little earlier. According to the Belize Reporter, “It is believed that Aventura had seven to ten thousand inhabitants and encompassed an area of two to three square miles.” The Reporter article also alludes to a temple and some “ornate pottery.” I suppose in time exactly what the site comprises will become clearer.

Processual and Postprocessual, Emic and Etic

These are words you might encounter if you read archaeological writing about Mesoamerica — or anywhere else for that matter. Since the meanings aren’t transparent, I asked a friend at Cornell for clarification. His answer follows.


  • Processual: Binford, Colin Renfrew, Flannery in Mesoamerica, and compatriots. All about making global statements about human behavior derived from middle-range theory (ethnoarchaeological rules) combined with “knowable” data about the past (environment, tools, diet). Largely focused on making archaeology a science, and on making statements about the ways in which culture is all a human adaptation to the environment. Came up with some good methods, but largely dehumanizing and Eurocentric theory.
  • Postprocessual: Ian Hodder, Shanks, Tilley, compatriots. I can’t think of anyone in Mesoamerica. Comes at archaeology from a variety of perspectives (e.g. Marxist, feminist, cognitive) and all about how processual theory ignores most of human existence and thought. Also disagrees with the progressivist and environmentally deterministic aspects of processualism, and focuses instead on things like agency and choice and labor and all that culture stuff that isn’t directlyrelated to the environment. Some folks have gone all the way to “there is no truth,” but mostly people are just arguing that the past can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on your cultural context,the questions you ask, the data you recover, your methods, etc.
  • Emic: Words natural to the actor. So when I make cookies, I describe the process to myself as “stirring.” In contrast to etic, which islanguage natural to the observer, which might be stuff like “whip until nearly stiff.” In anthropology, largely used to differentiate the “native” view (as in, the view native to the actor) and the “observer” view, as in the view alien to the actor. So an etic ethnography would use structuring terms unfamilar to, and not necessarily meaningful to, the people it described. (Like the way dudes used to go out and describe hunter-gatherer groups as, like, partially matrilocal but with descriptive kinship terminology only.)

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