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Review Anales de Literatura Hispanoamericana

Ancient Mesoamerica

Review Anuario Brasileño de Estudios Hispánicos

Year: 2012 vol. 23 n. 1

Spence, Michael W. Finding a balance. p. 1-7 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

The invitation to do this autobiographical article reached me on my seventieth birthday, catching me in an unusually reflective mood, so I decided to take a stab at it. If nothing else, I could honor my mentors, especially James Anderson and René Millon. Without them I might still be doing archaeology but it would be a very different sort of archaeology, probably not as good and certainly not as much fun. But I don't find this kind of writing easy. Social scientists are not used to having “I” as the main subject of a sentence, an analogy perhaps to the difficulty we have in maintaining a balance between our professional and personal lives. However, I seem to have overcome that academic modesty, as this paragraph demonstrates. So here we go.

Barber, Sarah B.; Olvera Sánchez, Mireya. A divine wind: the arts of death and music in terminal formative Oaxaca. p. 9-24 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

This paper examines the social context of music and musical instruments in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica through the detailed analysis of a late Terminal Formative period (a.d. 100–250) burial from the site of Yugüe in the lower Río Verde Valley of Oaxaca. The burial contained a sub-adult male interred with an incised bone flute and a plaster-backed iron-ore mirror. The Yugüe flute is the earliest reported bone flute from Mesoamerica and is incised and carved to create the bas relief image of a skeletal male figure. Based on the instrument's archaeological context and elaborate incising, we argue that the flute was categorized in pre-Columbian ontology as an animate object that actively participated in ceremonial action at Yugüe. While the nature of such ceremony remains unclear, the incising on the flute indicates that the instrument was capable of making manifest ancestral and divine forces affiliated with rain, wind, and agricultural fertility.

Hamann, Byron Ellsworth. Sacred Geography in the Nochixtlan Valley. p. 25-45 México
Época colonial | Época prehispánica

Summary

The pages of the Mixtec screenfolds are painted with hundreds of place signs. Only a handful have been linked to specific locations on the ground. In this essay, I propose identifications for seven place signs which appear on pages 4 to 1 of the Codex Vienna and page 3 of the Codex Nuttall. I draw on five types of sources: testimonies from the 1544–1547 Yanhuitlan idolatry investigation, the pictorial records of the Mixtec screenfolds themselves, the findings from a FAMSI-funded study of colonial and independence-era land records, previous archaeological surveys, and on-the-ground reconnaissance. By considering the sequential relations of place signs painted in the Mixtec screenfolds, the spatial connections of geographic features visible today (features whose names and recent history are recorded in archival land records), and the sacred connections revealed by the actions of nobles and religious specialists in the Yanhuitlan idolatry investigation, strong proposals for the identification of particular place signs can be made. In turn, these identifications have broader implications for understanding colonial transformations of space. Over the course of the sixteenth century, sprawling pre-Hispanic polities were atomized. The land documents their leaders then created mapped out visions of political space that were far more circumscribed than those we see in pre-Hispanic books, and indeed in alphabetic documents—such as the Yanhuitlan idolatry investigation—that date to the first half of the sixteenth century. This suggests that different types of research methods are needed for studying landscape representations created before and after the middle of the sixteenth century.

Hicks, Frederic. Governing smaller communities in Aztec Mexico. p. 47-56 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

The Nahua-speaking area of Postclassic central Mexico was composed of many city-states, which consisted of a nucleated and urbanized central area where the major political and economic centers were located, and a predominantly rural area where most of the people lived. This outlying area and its small communities had to be governed, and this paper identifies, from ethnohistorical sources, the most likely tasks of local government and the local officials responsible for carrying them out. Special attention is given to the role of the local nobility, where present, and of their equivalent, when not; to overseers of labor, and to leaders of the all-important labor squads which built and maintained the urban centers. The custodians of wealth and those most likely to have been military or ritual leaders are identified.

Hill, Jane H. Proto-Uto-Aztecan as a Mesoamerican language. p. 57-68 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

New evidence is presented in support of the hypothesis that Proto-Uto-Aztecan (PUA) was spoken by a community of cultivators in the northwest quadrant of Mesoamerica. New cognates are presented in support of reconstructions of meanings of PUA words within the maize-cultivation domain. It is argued that some of this vocabulary was borrowed from an Otomanguean language, perhaps Proto-Oto-Chinantecan. In addition, it is argued that PUA included a vocabulary in the domain of pottery. New reconstructions of a pottery lexicon are proposed, and arguments that this vocabulary was borrowed from an Otomanguean language are presented. If PUA speakers were familiar with pottery, then PUA was spoken as late as 4400–4100 b.p. and did not begin to break up into its daughter languages until after knowledge of pottery reached its speakers.

Overholtzer, Lisa. So that the baby not be formed like a pottery rattle: Aztec rattle figurines and household social reproductive practices. p. 69-83 México
Época prehispánica

Summary

This paper examines the materiality—or the mutually constitutive relationships between people and things—of Aztec rattle figurines in order to shed light on household ritual life in Postclassic central Mexico. By examining iconographic, archaeological, and ethnohistoric evidence, I argue that these figurines were actively used in household healing rituals concerning successful biological and social reproduction, comprised of the work, relationships, and attitudes that perpetuate human life. I then consider the physical experience of that ritual use by exploring the visual, tactile, auditory, and physiological aspects of these figurines. I contend that their visibility in workshops, markets, and the home presented an image of the female body that reinforced women's important roles in the production and reproduction of the household and society. Finally, the material qualities of these figurines reveal ancient discourses on the human body and experimentation with bodily representation in terms of scale, form, and material.

Ferrand, Ezgi Akpinar; Dunning, Nicholas P.; Lentz, David L.; Jones, John G. Use of "aguadas" as water management sources in two Southern Maya lowland sites. p. 85-101 Guatemala
Época prehispánica

Summary

Aguadas, either natural or human-made ponds, were significant sources of water for the ancient Maya. Aguadas are common features in the Maya Lowlands and make valuable locations for collecting archaeological and paleoenvironmental data. This article discusses research conducted at four aguadas around two adjacent Maya sites, San Bartolo and Xultun in Peten, Guatemala. Both San Bartolo and Xultun were established during the Preclassic period. However, the fates of the two sites differed, as Xultun continued to prosper while the city of San Bartolo was abandoned near the close of the Late Preclassic period. We argue that aguadas provide important clues for understanding the fate of these two ancient communities and many others in the Maya Lowlands.

Rice, Prudence M. Continuities in Maya political rhetoric: K'awiils, k'atuns, and kennings. p. 103-114 Centroamérica
México

Summary

Classic hieroglyphic texts do not describe Maya political organization, nor do colonial documents, forcing archaeologists to look elsewhere for clues. I propose that continuities in calendrically-based geopolitical rhetoric are recognizable in imagery and literary devices that can be traced from Preclassic/Formative times into the Colonial period. Imagery revolves around God K, k'awiil, and manikin scepters. The Classic manikin scepter materializes God K/K'awiil as a symbol of legitimate rulership, particularly at accession; the Postclassic analogue in the Dresden and Paris Codices is a God K effigy head, God K also symbolizing k'atuns. Related literary devices are kennings, specifically the took'-pakal or “flint-and-shield,” which appear in Classic texts and in the Chilam B'alam books in the context of defeat in warfare, the latter particularly referring to k'atun wars. Interrelated concepts, including obsidian, mirrors, serpents, and one-legged deities in the Popol Vuh and in Mexico (Tezcatlipoca), amplify these proposed continuities.

Geller, Pamela L. Parting (with) the dead: body partibility as evidence of commoner ancestor veneration. p. 115-130 Centroamérica
México
Época prehispánica

Summary

As a complement to life histories authored by many researchers of Maya bones, this study narrates death histories. The latter entails detection of perimortem and postmortem changes to decedents' bodies, followed by translation of these changes' encoded meanings. Biographical analysis of body parts and the buildings in which they are situated facilitates such an endeavor. Past investigations of partibility have focused on protracted processing of noble and royal bodies as a means to reconstitute decedents' identities. Commoners' burials, however, have received far less attention. Consequently, it is difficult to determine if partible practices differ according to or transcend social class. To address this lacuna, a multiscalar frame is applied to a burial sample comprised of decedents from varied social settings in the Three Rivers region, northwestern Belize. Identification of widely shared practices related to the becoming and venerating of ancestors offers a springboard for examining particulars within patterns. Scaling down, commoner burials unearthed at the minor center RB-11 are summarized and special attention is paid to the death history of Individual 71. This decedent's intentionally fragmented body reflects general thinking about ancestors as partible and dividual persons. Yet, certain attributes of Individual 71's burial are unique to the sample as a whole, which demonstrates how social class, circumstance, and individual life history are also instrumental in the reformation of ancestorhood.

Wrobel, Gabriel D.; Helmke, Christophe; Nash, Lenna; Awe, Jaime J. Polydactyly and the Maya: a review and a case from the site of Peligroso, upper Macal river valley, Belize. p. 131-142 Belice
Época prehispánica

Summary

A single right fifth metatarsal found in Tomb 1 at Peligroso, Belize exhibited a small deformity in the form of a small (7 mm) accessory digit emanating from the plantar surface at mid-shaft. This Type A postaxial polydactyly is the first archaeological example of polydactyly reported for Mesoamerica. Polydactyly is one of the more commonly reported morphological anomalies and thus its appearance in Maya populations would have been prevalent enough to demand explanation. A review of related terminology in pertinent Amerindian languages is presented as a means of exploring the manners in which digits and the human body are conceptualized. Maya iconographic representations of polydactyly at Palenque have parallels to other Mesoamerican renderings of supernumerary digits used to identify divinities and deified ancestors. However, the Peligroso mortuary context comprised disarticulated and commingled bones, suggesting that the individual did not have a distinctive social role related to the presence of an extra digit.

Zaro, Gregory; Houk, Brett A. The growth and decline of the Ancient Maya city of La Milpa, Belize: new data and new perspectives from the Southern plazas. p. 143-159 Belice
Época prehispánica

Summary

Construction histories of ancient Maya monumental centers have long been used to interpret the growth and decline of Lowland Maya polities. Changes in the built environment at monumental centers reflect labor appropriation by ruling elites and may indirectly serve to gauge changes in political clout over time. Consequently, the precision and accuracy with which archaeologists measure these changes take on increased importance when assessing the ancient Maya political landscape. Recent excavations in the monumental core of La Milpa, Belize, have generated new data that call for a re-assessment of the center's historical trajectory. Our data indicate that La Milpa had a larger Late Preclassic foundation, likely grew much more incrementally through the Classic period, and persisted centuries longer than previously understood. The apparent persistence of occupation into the tenth century a.d. challenges the traditionally accepted dates for La Milpa's abandonment, and, the ceramic sequence upon which it is often based.

Zralka, Jaroslaw; Hermes, Bernard. Great development in troubled times: the Terminal Classic at the Maya site of Nakum, Peten, Guatemala. p. 161-187 Guatemala
Época prehispánica

Summary

Recent investigations carried out at the Maya site of Nakum, located in the northeastern part of Guatemala, revealed traces of very intense Terminal Classic period occupation and architectural construction and renovation. Archaeological excavations in the site's core and its periphery indicate that the apogee of Nakum's cultural prosperity and demographic increase occurred during the Terminal Classic period when many new structures were constructed and almost all old constructions were rebuilt. The growth and prosperity of Terminal Classic Nakum stands in stark contrast to the prevailing pattern of collapse and abandonment seen at many other lowland Maya sites during this turbulent period. Archaeological and epigraphic data suggest that Nakum survived the collapse of other major cities such as Tikal or Naranjo by at least a century. Nakum's success can be attributed to its role as a fluvial port that controlled commercial activities within this region. Its advantageous location on the banks of the Holmul River, combined with weakened competition from formerly more powerful neighbors such as Tikal and Naranjo, apparently permitted Nakum's ruling elite to actively expand its trade relationships in spite of the broad economic and political crisis that profoundly affected the Southern Maya Lowlands. However, its success was relatively brief, for by the end of the Terminal Classic (ca. a.d. 950) Nakum apparently succumbed to the same forces that had caused the collapse and abandonment of most Southern Maya Lowland cities.

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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