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Review Anales de Literatura Hispanoamericana

Ancient Mesoamerica

Review Anuario Brasileño de Estudios Hispánicos

Year: 2011 vol. 22 n. 2

Woodfill, Brent. The Central Role of Cave Archaeology in the Reconstruction of Classic Maya Culture History and Highland-Lowland Interaction. p. 213-227 Guatemala
Época prehispánica

Summary

The unexpected discovery of an elaborate stone coffer with lowland-style carved images and early Maya inscriptions in a cave in the northern Guatemalan highlands has great implications for our understanding of highland-lowland interaction. However, this discovery proved to be only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the importance of subterranean evidence in this region. Investigations in caves in central Guatemala over the past decade have been a central part of the regional investigations, often directing subsequent reconnaissance, settlement surveys, and site excavations. Indeed, the early history of the region and the trade route passing through it has largely been reconstructed from evidence in cave shrines along the mountain valley routes from Kaminaljuyu and the Valley of Guatemala to lowland Maya sites. This article reviews this evidence, which also demonstrates how cave assemblages can be used not merely to study ancient ritual, but to examine broad problems in culture history and critical elements in the study of elite power, ceramic production, settlement patterns, interregional trade, and ancient economy.

Healy, Paul F.; Blainey, Marc G. Ancient Maya Mosaic Mirrors: Function, Symbolism, and Meaning. p. 229-244 Centroamérica
México
Época prehispánica

Summary

This paper examines the composite lithic artifacts of the ancient Maya commonly termed “mirrors.” Typically flat, shiny objects with polished iron-ore polygons fitted in a mosaic pattern onto a slate backing, we assess these plaques for the technological, spatiotemporal, and functional contexts of their manufacture. Data from over 500 archaeological specimens, from dozens of Maya sites in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, were examined as part of this study. We also consider the iconography, epigraphy, and possible symbolism of these curious artifacts. Based on this analysis, we conclude that ancient Maya mosaic mirrors were employed in rituals, often by elite individuals, as both symbols of authority but also, importantly, as possible mystical devices for divinatory “scrying.” They were highly valued, often beautifully made, reflective ceremonial objects whose possible use for prognostication in shamanic rites likely has great antiquity in Mesoamerica.

O'Neil, Megan E. Object, Memory, and Materiality at Yaxchilan: The Reset Lintels of Structures 12 and 22. p. 245-269 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

This article focuses on Structures 12 and 22 from Yaxchilan (Chiapas, Mexico), where the ancient Maya reset stone lintels from the sixth century a.d. in eighth-century buildings. The resetting highlights attention to the preservation of the lintels as relics from the past. Valued for their antiquity and the histories they had accrued, particularly from contact with ancestors, they served as loci for communication with the past, with memory inhering in their materiality. This essay also explores the lintels’ physical contexts and how the Maya may have engaged with them. For example, the arrangement of the Structure 12 lintels would have guided circumambulation. Such movement was associated with sacred processions, and evidence suggests the building was reserved for ancestor veneration. Although only restricted groups could have entered the small structure to perform rites, these may have been integrated into extended ceremonial circuits in public spaces. This article connects with studies of the life histories of things, in which analysis is directed toward objects’ use, reuse, and modification. Examining how people interacted with sculptures over time offers insight into the people and the objects and provides glimpses into Late Classic Maya perception of sculptures and their material qualities.

Schwerin, Jennifer von. The Sacred Mountain in Social Context. Symbolism and History in Maya Architecture: Temple 22 at Copan, Honduras. p. 271-300 Honduras
Época prehispánica

Summary

Did Mesoamerican temples really symbolize sacred mountains? If so, what accounts for their varying forms across space and time? Through a socio-historical and iconographic approach, it is now becoming possible to explain the social and historical factors for why design in ancient Maya temples varied. Using these methods, this paper reconstructs and reinterprets one famous “sacred mountain” in the Maya region: Temple 22, at Copan, Honduras, dedicated by king Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil in a.d. 715. Since 1998, the author has led a project to conserve, document, analyze, and hypothetically reconstruct thousands of sculptures from the building's collapsed façades. In design and symbolism, the building probably represented not just a mountain, but the Maya universe. In its more specific historical context, Temple 22 was designed as royal rhetoric to affirm order at a disorderly moment, and used both traditional and innovative forms to assert Copan's leading role on the boundary of the Maya world.

Anderson, David S. Xtobo, Yucatan, Mexico, and the Emergent Preclassic of the Northern Maya Lowlands. p. 301-322 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Traditionally, research on the Preclassic Maya has focused on settlements found in the Southern Maya Lowlands. Apart from work at a few well-known archaeological sites in the Northern Lowlands, such as Komchen, Dzibilchaltun, and Yaxuna, the Preclassic Northern Maya had received relatively little attention from scholars. In recent years, however, many previously unreported archaeological sites with Preclassic materials have come to light. In northwest Yucatan, Mexico, a survey carried out by Proyecto Costa Maya encountered 140 sites with Preclassic components, including the site of Xtobo. Xtobo stood out from its neighboring Preclassic sites due to its extent and the size and complexity of its architecture. In addition, initial surveys of the site suggested that it was never reoccupied after the Preclassic period, thereby making it a valuable site for studying the Preclassic period in the Northern Maya Lowlands. After three seasons of fieldwork, the Proyecto Arqueologico de Xtobo was able to build substantially on the initial findings of the Proyecto Costa Maya, mapping 67 ha of settlement, including 387 structures, and carrying out a stratified sample of test pit excavations throughout the site. The project documented a dense and well-organized settlement, which included complex architectural features, such as pyramids, triadic groups, elite residences, and a ballcourt. The settlement at Xtobo shows many signs of a complex sociopolitical organization and interaction with other areas of the Maya region and Mesoamerica. The results of the Proyecto Arqueologico de Xtobo indicate that the Northern Maya Lowlands were an important and integral part of Preclassic Mesoamerica and should be considered in larger cultural reconstructions of the time period.

King, Stacie M. Thread Production in Early Postclassic Coastal Oaxaca, Mexico: Technology, Intensity, and Gender. p. 323-343 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Excavations at the site of Río Viejo in coastal Oaxaca, Mexico, yielded evidence of intensive cotton thread production during the Early Postclassic (a.d. 975–1220). Spindle whorls were recovered in relatively large quantities in and around houses at Río Viejo, indicating that thread production was interspersed with other household activities and residents likely produced enough thread for local use and for export. Measurements of coastal spindle whorls show that the Río Viejo thread was unique compared to other coastal and highland sites in Oaxaca and Mesoamerica beyond. I argue that this uniqueness may in part stem from the particular variety of cotton that they were spinning, but also might reflect an interregional demand for their thread. The whorl data are presented in multiple ways to compare to other sites where intensive thread production has been proposed. Here, I discuss the problems inherent in whorl calculations and make a call for more standardized recording, ideally with volumetric density measures. In the final section of the paper, I use mortuary data and other lines of evidence to re-evaluate the ethnohistorically-documented relationship between women and textile production. In coastal Oaxaca, the evidence suggests that thread production was not linked to specific gender identities in a way that is marked archaeologically. Instead, adult members of households in coastal Oaxaca materially emphasized a shared group identity over any specific gender-based identities. The production of thread was a broadly shared household-level practice that involved multiple producers, which both created and reinforced social bonds between residents and provided Early Postclassic residents with secure and comfortable access to highland goods, paving the way for the more developed thread production industry in the Late Postclassic period.

Nielsen, Jesper; Helmke, Christophe. Reinterpreting the Plaza de los Glifos, La Ventilla, Teotihuacan. p. 345-370 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

We present a reinterpretation of the unique group of painted glyphs of the Plaza de los Glifos, in the La Ventilla residential area (ca. a.d. 300–450) situated in the ancient central Mexican metropolis of Teotihuacan. Based on a careful review of previous interpretations of the glyphic La Ventilla floor, the writing system, and the possible language(s) of Teotihuacan, we suggest that the majority of the 42 glyphs are not references to toponyms or titles, but are related to disease-causing entities and curing rituals. Crucial to this proposal is the identification of two glyphic representations of a ‘deer-snake,’ a supernatural creature closely tied to diseases and ailments known throughout most of Mesoamerica and beyond, before and after the conquest. We further argue that contemporary and colonial concepts and practices concerning illness and curing offer ways of understanding several other glyphs from La Ventilla and may serve to account for the unusual placement of the signs.

Slater, Donald A. Power Materialized: The Dart-Thrower as a Pan-Mesoamerican Status Marker. p. 371-388 Centroamérica
México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Throughout the deep history of Mesoamerica, the dart-thrower (a.k.a. atlatl) played a vital utilitarian and symbolic role. Although it was a highly effective tool exploited for practical purposes such as hunting and warfare, ample evidence exists which reveals its association with themes of authority, power, and prestige. The survival of ornamented dart-throwers, as well as the context in which the implement appears in Mesoamerican material culture and forms of graphic communication, reveal its role in the production and assertion of high social status. This argument will be supported by archaeological and ethnographic evidence which demonstrates that the dart-thrower served as a pan-Mesoamerican symbol of power beginning no later than the Middle to Late Formative period and continuing through the Conquest.

Winter, Marcus. Social Memory and the Origins of Monte AlbanIn  Archaeology and Memory in Middle America  p. 393-409 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

The founding of Monte Alban marked the beginning of the urban revolution in Oaxaca and a reorganization of Zapotec culture and society, which soon had repercussions among Mixtecs and other Otomangue groups in highland Oaxaca. While local factors contributed to Monte Alban's origins, the architectural expression of the city's core, consisting of a main plaza with leaders’ dwellings on each side and a ceremonial precinct at one end, comes from the Mixe-Zoque area, probably La Venta or highland Chiapas. One of the earliest architectural monuments at Monte Alban is the Danzantes Wall with carved stones that portray founding participants, including many chiefs from valley communities, as interpreted, imagined and remembered by the city's leader or leaders, years after the event. The wall was short-lived, partly dismantled within a few generations of its completion, and the carved stones reused, erasing the narrative's original significance. In contrast, elements of the city's core layout persisted at least until the end of the Late Classic as a template, remembered and repeated, sometimes with modifications at Monte Alban and elsewhere, of how a city should be.

Villalobos Acosta, César. Los Cerros de Trincheras en el paisaje cultural sonorense: ¿Evidencia de memoria colectiva?In  Archaeology and Memory in Middle America  p. 411-423 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

En el actual territorio de Sonora, México, la adopción de la agricultura y el sedentarismo estuvieron acompañados de un profundo cambio reflejado tanto en la emergencia de la cerámica como en el patrón de asentamiento entre los años 200 a 1450 d.C. Uno de estos desarrollos culturales es lo que ahora conocemos como la cultura Trincheras. Se piensa que hacia el 900 d.C. el paisaje cultural fue transformado por la aparición de asentamientos en los cerros que se conocen genéricamente como cerros de trincheras. Parecería que el emplazamiento de estos sitios no fue parte de un proceso homogéneo en su presente, sino el producto de sucesos interconectados con su pasado. En ellos, la memoria colectiva pudo haber tenido un rol fundamental en los rechazos y permanencias observadas en la cultura material. El objetivo del presente artículo es discutir las características de dos cerros de trincheras y cómo éstos pudieron haber sido el referente en la memoria colectiva de la sociedad prehispánica del noroeste de México durante el 900–1450 d.C.

Sheets, Payson. Pilgrimages and Persistent Social Memory in Spite of Volcanic Disasters in the Arenal Area, Costa RicaIn  Archaeology and Memory in Middle America  p. 425-435 Costa Rica
Época prehispánica

Summary

Ancient Costa Ricans in the Arenal area exhibited extraordinary persistence in landscape use and social memory, in spite of repeated catastrophes caused by explosive volcanic eruptions. The Cañales village on the south shore of Lake Arenal was struck by two large explosive eruptions during the Arenal phase (500 b.c.–a.d. 600). Following ecological recovery, the village was reoccupied after each of these eruptions. I argue that the people who reoccupied the village were direct descendants of pre-disaster villagers due to the fact that they reinstated use of the same path to the village cemetery. While previous interpretations emphasized ecological reasons for village reoccupation, I suggest that a dominating reason for reoccupation was to re-establish contact with the spirits of deceased ancestors in the cemetery. The living and the spirits of the deceased constituted the functioning community. The refugees re-established processional access to their cemetery as soon as possible, perhaps even before the village was reoccupied. Archaeologists rarely discover evidence of ancient pilgrimages. However, the combination of remote sensing and detailed stratigraphic analyses allow them to be detected in the Arenal area. Villagers created and perpetuated social memory by regular linear ritual processions along precisely the same path, in spite of challenging topography and occasional regional disasters obscuring the path. This recognition has implications for the arguments of sedentism versus residential mobility during the Arenal phase.

Velázquez-Castro, Adrián. El reinado de Axayacatl y la creación del estilo Tenochca del trabajo de La ConchaIn  Archaeology and Memory in Middle America  p. 437-448 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Recientemente, en el Museo del Templo Mayor se ha llevado a cabo un proyecto de investigación uno de cuyos principales objetivo es el conocimiento de las tradiciones tecnológicas del trabajo de las conchas de moluscos, que se desarrollaron en diferentes sitios y regiones del México prehispánico. En el presente trabajo se presentan los resultados de los análisis tecnológicos de cinco colecciones de piezas conquiliológicas que comprenden más de 2,000 años de la historia del centro de México, desde el preclásico temprano hasta la conquista europea (1250 a.C.–1521 d.C.). Se identifican rasgos que son comunes y que evidencian la existencia de una memoria colectiva de larga duración en la elaboración de objetos de concha, así como elementos que son particulares y en los que pueden observarse rupturas o cambios. En este sentido resultan particularmente interesantes las producciones que se elaboran en Tenochtitlan a partir del reinado del gobernante Axayacatl, ya que ciertos materiales y herramientas de uso común en épocas anteriores en el altiplano central de México son olvidados, quizás para la conciente creación de un estilo tecnológico propio de la capital del recientemente consolidado imperio azteca.

Vail, Gabrielle; Hernández, Christine. The Construction of Memory: the Use of Classic Periodo Divinatory Texts in the Late Postclassic Maya CodicesIn  Archaeology and Memory in Middle America  p. 449-462 Centroamérica
México
Época prehispánica

Summary

Maya codices were important repositories of cultural knowledge and traditions passed down through the centuries. Rather than being focused on human actors, however, the Late Postclassic period Maya screenfolds contain almanacs that predict the movements of celestial bodies during earlier time periods. The purpose of these seemingly “out-of-date” tools was to predict the future based on notions of cyclical time. Recent research suggests that centuries-old astronomical almanacs do more than model the past or formulate rituals. Instead, they are formulated to integrate celestial events with other cycles of time and to contextualize them with events from the mythic past, such as the destruction of a former world by flood. The memory of this calamitous primordial event, framed in terms of astronomical and seasonal cycles, is preserved in pre-Hispanic and historic documents as a means of conveying the ill-fortune associated with like-in-kind events that are certain to repeat, and of scheduling the performance of appropriate ritual actions to mitigate their destructive potential.

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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