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Review Anales de Literatura Hispanoamericana

Ancient Mesoamerica

Review Anuario Brasileño de Estudios Hispánicos

Year: 2011 vol. 22 n. 1

Sheets, Payson; Dixon, Christine; Guerra, Monica; Blanford, Adam. Manioc cultivation at Ceren, El Salvador: occasional kitchen garden plant or staple crop?.  / Cultivo de yuca en Ceren, El Salvador: ¿planta ocasional de huerta o cultivo básico? p. 1-11 El Salvador
Cultura maya / agricultura
Época prehispánica

Summary

Many scholars have thought the Classic period Maya did not cultivate the root crop manioc, while others have suggested it may have been an occasional cultigen in kitchen gardens. For many decades there was no reliable evidence that the ancient Maya cultivated manioc, but in the 1990s manioc pollen from the late Archaic was found in Belize, and somewhat older pollen was found in Tabasco. At about the same time of those discoveries, research within the Ceren village, El Salvador, encountered occasional scattered manioc plants that had grown in mounded ridges in kitchen gardens. These finds adjacent to households indicated manioc was not a staple crop, and vastly inferior to maize and beans in food volume produced. However, 2007 research in an agricultural area 200 m south of the Ceren village encountered intensive formal manioc planting beds. If manioc was widely cultivated in ancient times, its impressive productivity, ease of cultivation even in poor soils, and drought resistance suggest it might have been a staple crop helping to support dense Maya populations in the southeast periphery and elsewhere.

Colas, Pierre Robert. Writing in space: glottographic and semasiographic notation at Teotihuacan.  / Escribiendo en el espacio: notación glotográfica y semasiográfica en Teotihuacan p. 13-25 México
Cultura de Teotihuacan / Sistema de escritura
Época prehispánica

Summary

The study of writing has in many cases devoted attention to the detection of forms of writing. It has also tended to distinguish these from forms of non-writing by relying on the western notion that true writing must represent language. This study departs from former work and applies an integrational theory of writing to the notational system of Teotihuacan in central Mexico, observing the distinction between glottographic (language-based) and semasiographic (idea-based) writing. The article suggests that scribes at Teotihuacan employed the graphic space of speech scrolls to differentiate consciously between glottographic and semasiographic writing. The analysis behind the study reveals an important difference, too, between the infixes and affixes of speech scrolls, whereby infixes always represented semasiographic writing; in contrast, affixes could consist of both glottographic and semasiographic writing. An integrational theory of writing that focuses on graphic space as a distinguishing feature of different writing systems can show how scribes of ancient Teotihuacan established and followed subtle distinctions within their notational system, in a manner unknown in western writing.

Canger, Una. The origin of orthographic hu for /w/ in nahuatl.  / El origen de la hu ortográfica para /w/ en nahuatl p. 27-35 México
Lenguas amerindias / nahuatl

Summary

Today a standard has emerged in the English speaking world for writing the language of the Aztecs. According to this standard the phoneme /w/ is written in the position before a vowel, nahuatl, ahuacatl, ‘avocado.’ An alternative is to write /w/ with (or ), a tradition which in the sixteenth century and onwards was common alongside of . I demonstrate that misrepresents the pronunciation of the language then and now, and in uncovering its origin, I suggest that Pedro de Gante was the prime promoter of .

Woolley, Chris; Milbrath, Susan. “Real-time” climate events in the Borgia-group codices: testing assumptions about the calendar.  / Eventos climáticos en "tiempo real" en los códices del grupo Borgia: pruebas de las suposiciones sobre el calendario p. 37-51 México
Códice Borgia / calendario / cultura mesoamericana
Época prehispánica

Summary

In the past decade, a number of prominent scholars have attempted to use astronomical data to place the images on page 27 of the Codex Borgia in “real-time.” This method has yielded some interesting results, but all of these authors have assumed that the Codex Borgia was produced in accordance with the Aztec calendar. Given the probable origin of the Codex Borgia in the area bordering the Mixtec and eastern Nahua cultural areas, this assumption needs to be tested. This article compares weather-related images that have associated dates on Borgia 27–28 with tree-ring data and estimated maize yields from the Puebla area. Our research for this paper seems to confirm the use of the Aztec calendar in the Codex Borgia. By analyzing depictions of weather phenomenon relating to maize production, we also offer a fresh analysis of this well-known document, specifically arguing that a major drought is shown in a 1 Rabbit year, whereas the year 1 Flint is linked with a period of dryness following heavy rains, a condition sometimes linked with locust swarms like those on Borgia 27.

Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. . Technologies of time: calendrics and commoners in postclassic Mexico.  / Tecnologías del tiempo: calendarios y comuneros en el México postclásico p. 53-70 México
Cultura mesoamericana / calendario / medida del tiempo / etnohistoria
Época prehispánica

Summary

This article explores how the 260-day divinatory calendar changed over the course of Mesoamerican history. I begin with a description of the day-count in an ethnographic context, twentieth-century highland Guatemala. I then examine the day-count as recorded in sixteenth-century historical documents from central Mexico. Ceramic motifs on Early-Middle Postclassic period pottery from Xaltocan, Mexico, guide an examination of the day-count in the eleventh through sixteenth centuries. This study concludes that despite its reputation as an exclusively elite institution, the tonalpohualli has served commoner purposes for at least a millennium. Commoners were more knowledgeable and more active agents regarding cosmology than most Mesoamericanists have previously believed. This study concludes that comparative historical analysis, that is, the systematic search for differences, as well as similarities, in the ethnographic, ethnohistorical, and archaeological records, enhances the contributions of ethnography and ethnohistory to Mesoamerican archaeology.

Sellen, Adam T. . Sowing the blood with the maize: zapotec effigy vessels and agricultural ritual.  / Sembrando la sangre con el maíz: vasos efigie zapotecas y ritual agrícola p. 71-89 México
Cultura mesoamericana / cerámica zapoteca / ritos agrícolas
Época prehispánica

Summary

This paper examines how maize and blood were central elements in ancient Zapotec religious practices and how they were conceptually linked. I analyze the iconography of different types of Classic period Zapotec ceramic effigy vessels. Using a comparative approach, I identify elements that frequently appear on the urns, such as maize plants in different stages of growth, or representations of the milpa. Framing these observations with early colonial historical accounts and ethnographic studies, I suggest that the main theme involved in these ancient representations was fertility, maintained by a sacred pact forged between humans and their deities that required sacrifice through bloodletting. The drawing and offering of blood insured a cycle of sustained and abundant growth for their most important crop: maize. Though many advances have been made in recent years regarding Zapotec iconography, I will offer some new interpretations regarding specific forms represented on the urns.

Borejsza, Aleksander; Frederick, Charles D.; Lesure, Richard G. . Swidden agriculture in the tierra fría? Evidence from sedimentary records in Tlaxcala.  / ¿Agricultura de rozas en la "tierra fría"? Evidencia de registros sedimentarios en Tlaxcala p. 91-106 México
Cultura mesoamericana / tlaxcaltecas / agricultura
Época prehispánica

Summary

Swidden agriculture in Mesoamerica is commonly associated with the hot and humid lowlands and with small isolated communities. Charcoal-rich sediments discovered in Tlaxcala, however, suggest that it was practiced in the cold highlands in the Formative and Classic periods. The headwaters of the Xilomantla drainage incised a nine-meter deep channel shortly before 200 b.c., in response to increased runoff from slopes degraded by agriculture. It was filled back within a few hundred years with sands and muds containing recurrent laminae of charred plant matter that reflect the annual burning of secondary scrub in fallowed fields. A gully in the La Ladera drainage received high inputs of charcoal from the surroundings of a nearby settlement between ca. a.d. 400 and 900. The farming practices inferred from these deposits have no exact ethnographic analog. They inflicted lasting environmental damage, but were upheld for several centuries despite changes in settlement patterns.

Neff, Hector. Evolution of the Mesoamerican mother culture.  / Evolución de la cultura madre mesoamericana p. 107-122 Centroamérica
México
Cultura mesoamericana
Época prehispánica

Summary

An ongoing debate about Early Formative cultural elaboration in Mesoamerica is based largely on claims about where innovations originated and when different regions influenced each other. One view is that Gulf lowland populations called “Olmec” by archaeologists made a number of key innovations and that their influence on contemporary societies stimulated the rise of Mesoamerican civilization. Another view is that multiple regions participated equally and all made innovations that became the legacy of later Mesoamerican societies. Additional empirical work will help resolve some of the issues raised by this debate, as Cheetham and Blomster (2010) have recently suggested in this journal. Explicit theory can also help move the discussion forward.

Levine, Marc N.; Joyce, Arthur A.; Glascock, Michael D. Shifting patterns of obsidian exchange in postclassic Oaxaca, Mexico.  / Patrones de cambio en el intercambio de obsidiana en el postclásico de Oaxaca, México p. 123-133 México
Cultura mesoamericana / intercambio comercial / obsidiana
Época prehispánica

Summary

In this paper, we present a diachronic analysis of obsidian procurement patterns during the Postclassic period in the Lower Río Verde region of Oaxaca. The study is based on x-ray fluorescence (XRF) and visual analysis of obsidian artifacts from excavated household contexts at Early Postclassic (a.d. 800–1100) Río Viejo and Late Postclassic (a.d. 1100–1522) Tututepec (Yucu Dzaa). We report the presence of at least six sources of obsidian imported to the lower Río Verde region in the Early Postclassic, whereas during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries of the Late Postclassic, the local assemblage was dominated by obsidian from Pico de Orizaba and Pachuca. Changes in obsidian procurement patterns in the lower Río Verde region through time are interpreted in light of sociopolitical change at the local, regional, and macroregional scales. The study represents the most detailed analysis of Postclassic period obsidian exchange yet reported from Oaxaca.

Braswell, Geoffrey E.; Paap, Iken; Glascock, Michael D. The obsidian and ceramics of the Puuc region: chronology, lithic procurement, and production at Xkipche, Yucatan, Mexico.  / Obsidiana y cerámica de la región Puuc: cronología, abastecimiento lítico, y producción en Xkipche, Yucatán, México p. 135-154 México
Cultura maya / cerámica / obsidiana
Época prehispánica

Summary

Archaeologists working in the northern Maya lowlands have faced persistent problems in establishing chronological precision and accuracy. In particular, it has proven difficult to create multi-phase chronologies for the Late and Terminal Classic periods. Investigators at Xkipche, a small Puuc site southwest of Uxmal, have employed both seriation and the typological approach to ceramic chronology. The results of the ceramic seriation suggest great persistence from the second century until a.d. 1100, a continuity that is not supported by the Type-Variety approach to chronology. This report begins by reviewing the ceramic data, and then turns to another archaeological material, obsidian. Procurement patterns and production technology are discussed for the 182 obsidian artifacts collected during the first five seasons of the Projekt Xkipche. These data are compared with similar information gleaned from other sites in the northern Maya lowlands. Results of this obsidian analysis conflict with the absolute chronology proposed for the Xkipche ceramic sequence. Finally, a compromise ceramic chronology is proposed, one that is consistent with both obsidian and architectural data. This proposed chronology divides the seemingly monolithic Cehpech ceramic complex into three phases: Early Cehpech (a.d. 550–700); Late Cehpech (a.d. 700–900/950); and, Terminal Cehpech/Sotuta (a.d. 900/950–950/1000).

Eberl, Markus; Prem, Hanns J. Identifying a forged maya manuscript in UNESCO's World Digital Library.  / Identificación de un manuscrito maya falsificado en la Biblioteca Digital Mundial de la UNESCO p. 155-166 México
Manuscritos / bibliotecas digitales / cultura maya
Siglo XVI

Summary

Among the original holdings of the recently opened World Digital Library was a Spanish manuscript on the Maya that supposedly dates to 1548 (initially available at http://www.wdl.org/en/item/2961). It was given the title El modo de cómo hacían la pintura los indígenas (“How the Indians Made Their Paintings”) and contained an explanation of Maya culture accompanied by drawings of Maya glyphs and deities. Detailed analysis shows that the Pintura manuscript is a fake that belongs to the Canek group of forged manuscripts. It is written in the same hand as the Canek forgeries and shares the same stylistic characteristics with this group. Its drawings copy illustrations from the third English or the second Spanish edition of Sylvanus Morley's The Ancient Maya, and from the Madrid Codex. The World Digital Library aims to make significant primary materials from all UNESCO member countries available on the Internet. Forgeries like the Pintura manuscript undermine the trustworthiness and eminence of this project. While the Pintura manuscript was removed from the World Digital Library in August 2009, researchers may find useful the holistic approach that allowed identifying it as a forgery. A historical document is here examined from six angles. What are its physical makeup, its penmanship, and its linguistic properties? Authentic documents should have a traceable history of documentation (here termed a “pedigree”) and their content should be consistent with well-established sources and with culture- and time-specific conventions.

Stone, Andrea J. Keeping abreast of the Maya: a study of the female body in Maya art.  / Mantenerse al día sobre los mayas: un estudio del cuerpo femenino en el arte maya p. 167-183 Centroamérica
México
Arte maya / figuras femeninas / imagen de la mujer
Época prehispánica

Summary

This paper discusses the importance of female breasts in gender construction in Maya art and explains artistic conventions and choices in their deployment. The visual analysis focuses on Late Classic pictorial vases and ceramic figurines. Rather than reflecting a natural body, the female breast was filtered through a cultural lens that drove its highly conceptual rendering in Maya art, mirrored in a breast hieroglyph. Through the principle of contrast, including morphology and absence vs. presence of breasts in specific pictorial contexts, Maya artists constructed female personae varying in age, class, supernatural status, and gender ambiguity. In order to flesh out the layered meaning of the breast, the paper turns to ethnographic studies of modern Maya medicine concerning the hot-cold system. It is argued that ethnographic data on women's bodies in medical discourse shed light on how the breast served as an index of age-based female stereotypes.

Isendahl, Christian. The weight of water: a new look at pre-hispanic Puuc Maya water reservoirs.  / El peso del agua: una nueva mirada a los depósitos prehispánicos de agua en la región Puuc maya p. 185-197 México
Cultura maya / ingeniería hidráulica / simbolismo del agua
Época prehispánica

Summary

In the Maya lowlands ancient water management was multi-componential, diverse across space, and shifted over time. In the seasonally dry Puuc region of the northwestern Yucatan Peninsula, large reservoirs dominated water management during the Late Classic to Early Postclassic periods (a.d. 600–1250). Research reported here suggests that reservoirs were central components of Puuc urban settlements and that natural depressions—from which water reservoirs could be made in the Puuc terrain—were key settlement attractors in the region. In particular, new evidence of the pre-Hispanic construction of a berm of monumental proportions along the perimeter of a water reservoir at Xuch—a Late Classic to Early Postclassic Puuc Maya agro-urban settlement in Campeche, Mexico—stresses the political, economic, and symbolic importance of water and water reservoirs in pre-Hispanic Maya communities, previously demonstrated by colleagues working elsewhere in the Maya lowlands. This article discusses the “weight” of water reservoirs in Classic period Puuc Maya landscapes, adds to the literature on water management in other regions of the Maya lowlands, and explores aspects of economy, power, environment, and cosmology in water management systems of the dry regions of the northern Yucatan Peninsula.

Duncan, William N.; Hofling, Charles Andrew. Why the head? Cranial modification as protection and ensoulment among the Maya.  / ¿Por qué la cabeza? Modificación craneal como protección y conservación del alma entre los mayas p. 199-210 Centroamérica
México
Cultura maya / creencias
Época prehispánica

Summary

Recent attempts to study cranial modification have suggested that the practice was a part of embodiment and socialization among the Maya. Comparison of colonial and modern Maya childbirth and socialization practices supports these arguments. We suggest that the next question to be asked is: “Why was the head specifically targeted for modification among the Maya?” This paper argues that one of the motivations behind cranial modification among the Maya was to protect newborns from injury. We present evidence from colonial documents and ethnographic studies on midwifery showing that animating essences resided in the head and that newborns were particularly at risk for soul loss and injury from evil winds. Further we present data on metaphoric polysemy between the human body and houses to argue that newborn humans were much like newly constructed houses in their susceptibility and that both required ritual ensoulment. The construction of the house roof parallels cranial modification. This likely has parallels in Classic Maya times, with some temple dedications and the construction of vaulted roofs with capstones, and suggests that the need to guard against soul loss has pre-Columbian roots.

Ancient Mesoamerica
Paper | Numerical version with subscription | Semestral | United Kingdom Print ISSN: 0956-5361
Online ISSN: 1469-1787
Year of creation: 1990

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Address: The Edinburgh Building; Shaftesbury Road
Cambridge CB2 8RU United Kingdom

Foro Internacional sobre metodología, teoría, análisis e interpretación de la arqueología, historia del arte y etnohistoria de Mesoamérica. La revista publica artículos principalmente interesados en la arqueología precolombina de la región mesoamericana, pero también incluye artículos de otras disciplinas incluyendo Etnohistoria, arqueología histórica y Etnoarqueología. Los temas incluyen los orígenes de la agricultura, la base económica de las ciudades-Estado e imperios, organización política a través de los períodos desde el formativo hasta el colonial temprano, el desarrollo y función de la escritura y el uso de la iconografía para reconstruir las prácticas y creencias religiosas antiguas.
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