The Royal Lives of La Corona: Introductory Hieroglyphic Workshop

Mary Kate Kelly Thursday, April 27 9:00am-2:00pm

Who were the ancient Maya? Ancient temples overtaken by the jungle for a millennium, abandoned cities, and an enigmatic writing system that still bears hidden secrets typify our romanticized impression of the Maya. It turns out we know quite a lot about those who inhabited the now ruined palaces, in large part thanks to the thousands of inscriptions that remain to us in the archaeological record. And the subjects of the texts acted in ways that seem exceedingly human and relatable, even by our modern standards. This introductory workshop on the hieroglyphs is designed to provide a basic reading knowledge of the glyphs, but with a focus on the site of La Corona and its rulers. Despite the relatively small size of the site, La Corona played an integral role in the broader regional politics of the Classic Maya, as is beautifully detailed in the inscriptions they left behind. La Corona employed a unique rhetoric in its texts that gives us insightful perspective on the lives of their elite. With questions of political rivalry, alliance, and domination close at hand, we can understand the actions of elites in light of the political world they lived in.

Altun Ha and the Riddle of the Water Scroll Emblem Glyph: Intermediate Hieroglyphic Workshop

Christophe Helmke and Stanley P. Guenter, Thursday, April 27 9:00am-12:00pm

The hieroglyphic texts of the eastern Maya world talk about an important kingdom, identified by its royal title, known among epigraphers as the "Water Scroll" Emblem Glyph. This is believed to refer to the archaeological site of Altun Ha, in northern Belize, but the evidence has always been problematic. In this workshop participants will be able to join Christophe Helmke and Stanley Guenter in an exploration of the texts from Altun Ha, Pusilha, Nim Li Punit, Tikal and others and weigh the arguments for how to interpret these inscriptions and how they correlate with the archaeological evidence.

Caracol’s Lost Hieroglyphic Stairway: Intermediate Hieroglyphic Workshop

Marc Zender, Simon Martin, Christophe Helmke, and Stanley Guenter, Sunday, April 30th, 9:00am-12:00pm

This intermediate-level hieroglyphic workshop explores our evolving understanding of an important hieroglyphic stairway discovered more than a hundred years ago (Maler 1908). Although discovered at Naranjo, the text focused on K’an II of Caracol, strongly suggesting the hand of a foreign monarch in the monument's design (e.g., Beetz and Satterthwaite 1981, Stone et al 1985, Schele and Freidel 1990). Deepening the mystery, the stairway was clearly disordered and incomplete, and several scholars eventually pointed out disconnected blocks and fragments of the original monument as far away as Ucanal (Graham 1978, 1980) and even Caracol itself (Martin 2000; Martin and Grube 2000). This led to the consideration that the stairway may not in fact have originated at Naranjo at all, but may have instead been relocated there from Caracol (Martin 2000:57-58). Although the suggestion remains controversial in some quarters (e.g., Chase and Chase 2016:42) recent evidence bears it out in surprising ways. Just this past summer, Jaime Awe's project uncovered two substantial new portions of the same monument in front of Xunantunich Structure A9, contributing sixteen new glyph blocks and, it would seem, key elements of the beginning and end of the narrative (Helmke and Awe 2016a, 2016b).

Thanks to the archaeological and epigraphic detective work of many of our colleagues, we are now in a position to reconstruct a great deal of the original stairway that must once have stood at Caracol (Helmke and Awe 2016b; Martin 2017). As will be seen, the tale told by this fragmentary and disjointed monument is a fascinating one, including the dramatic conclusion to a ‘civil war’ in the Snake Dynasty, itself providing a critical prologue to a move of the dynastic capital from Dzibanche to Calakmul. Equally interesting is the archaeology of the monument. Erected at Caracol to celebrate the ending of 642, it seems to have stood there for several decades before being damaged and dismantled (perhaps in 680), with substantial portions hauled away to Xunantunich, Ucanal, and Naranjo. As Awe and Helmke (2016b) have pointed out, this pattern of dispersal likely speaks to the composition of Naranjo's army: an alliance of (at least) these three centers, comprising warriors as well as (heavenly-laden) bearers, bringing home all manner of spoils from the sack of Caracol.




Invisible Clues: The Reconstruction of Classic Maya Palatial Activities with Interdisciplinary Methods

Maxime Lamoureux-St.Hilaire – Tulane University

How can we study what kind of activities the ancient Maya performed, and where they did so? Beyond architecture and artifacts, what kind of more subtle archaeological traces are there for us to find?

This paper introduces how different interdisciplinary methods may be used to reconstruct activities, which occurred in the distant archaeological past. Namely, macro-botanical, micro-artifactual, and geochemical methods are presented through the Classic Maya case-study of the regal palace of La Corona, Guatemala. By combining these methods with more traditional archaeological ones, we will study economic activities such as the preparation of food, the manufacture of artifacts, as well as the storage and discard of both perishable and durable goods. The presented results provide insights into the practicalities, which were necessarily associated with the government of a Classic Maya political institution.

The Chamber of Secrets at Xunantunich

M. Kathryn Brown – University of Texas at San Antonio & Leah McCurdy - University of Texas at San Antonio

Although ancient Maya graffiti has been documented at a number of sites, our understanding of this art form remains limited.  New evidence from the ancient Maya site of Xunantunich may shed light on the function of graffiti in certain contexts.  Our investigations at El Castillo, a 39 meter tall acropolis, uncovered a Late Classic eastern room that was carefully filled with clay and stacked stones. The walls were covered with incised images and designs, ranging from simple sketches (graffiti) to more formal renderings.  In this presentation, we suggest that this room was a special place where an ancient Maya Sage trained apprentices in the arts and sacred knowledge. Lending support to this interpretation, the walls were partitioned into sections and several images were repeated as if the designs were being practiced. This suggests that some plastered walls were not simply structural but also served as canvases for sketching, artistic training, and learned scribal expression. This newly discovered chamber of secrets provides a glimpse into how ancient Maya sacred knowledge is passed on.  

Land and Sea: Ancient Maya Coastal Trade and Exchange

Jim Aimers – SUNY Geneseo

In archaeology, “trade” refers to the long-distance circulation of goods whereas “exchange” typically refers to the movement of people and ideas. In this paper I explore the importance of coastal trade and exchange to the ancient Maya with reference to the work of Elizabeth Graham.

Commemorative Ceramics of the Ancient Maya: Ajaw Dates, the Calendar and Festive Crockery

Christophe Helmke – University of Copenhagen & Jaime Awe - Northern Arizona University

Decorated ceramics are one of the hallmarks of Classic Maya civilization. The motifs, iconographic scenes and glyphic texts that adorn such vessels testify to the importance of such highly specialized serving vessels in the varied activities of royal courts. Vessels that bear emblematic calendrical notations constitute one specialized sub-set, providing abridged dates in the Tzolkin calendar. Typically these dates provide a numerical coefficient and the day Ajaw ‘king’, the final named day of the Tzolkin calendar. Here we will review a selection of vessels bearing such dates and propose correspondences to the Long Count calendar, by analogy to the monuments of Tonina, Caracol and Tikal that bear similar Ajaw dates, known as “Giant Ajaw Altars”. On this basis, we examine two recently discovered ceramic vessels with Tzolkin dates that were found within the tomb of Structure A9 at Xunantunich. These vessels and their dates constitute one crucial line of evidence in the dating of the tomb, evidence that will be presented here and weighed in relation to other dating methods.

A Tale of Two Chapels: Toward an Understanding of Community Dynamics at Rancho Kiuic, Yucatan, Mexico

Maggie Morgan-Smith – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Formerly known as San Sebastián, the community of Rancho Kiuic functioned from the late Colonial to National periods as a ranching operation occupied by several generations of Maya-speaking landowners and laborers in the Puuc Hills region of Yucatan. Drawing on mixed-methods research, this paper explores the community’s two chapel complexes (Capillas I and II), used by members of landowning and laborer families, respectively. I argue that differences in the uses and material signatures of these complexes give insight into community dynamics, specifically socioeconomic distinctions among the Rancho’s occupants that impacted decisions to abandon the community in the mid 20th century, and continue to shape interactions with the landscape today.

Verbosity and Ancient Mesoamerica: A Comparison of the Epi-Olmec and Maya Hieroglyphic Traditions

Stephanie M. Strauss – University of Texas at Austin

Of the great logophonetic traditions of ancient Mesoamerica, scribes working in the Epi-Olmec and Maya systems were arguably the most verbose. Only a handful of Epi-Olmec inscribed objects remain extant today, and yet the corpus boasts some of the longest texts in Mesoamerican literary history. That said, the ways in which artist-scribes approached the presentation of text and image in the greater Isthmian and Maya regions differed in several key ways. This presentation will explore the conventions of Epi-Olmec visual culture, and compare its linear writing system - from specific glyphs to graphic orientation - to that of the ancient Maya.

A View from the Hinterland: A Diachronic Investigation of the Integrative Strategies and Limits of the Classic period Copan Polity in the Cucuyagua and Sensenti valleys of Western Honduras.

Erlend Johnson – Tulane University

Scholarship on the ancient lowland Maya has tended to develop black-box models describing

the Classic period "polity". This presentation attempts to open up this black-box in order investigate the

dynamic processes by which lowland Maya polities functioned. It focuses on one aspect of Maya statecraft: the integrative strategies employed by Maya rulers as they expanded their polities. The Classic period Maya polity of Copan provides an ideal place to study these processes due to its position on the edge of the Maya world. Because the Copan polity was surrounded by non-Maya neighbors with distinct cultures and political structures, evidence for both material links from and structural transformations instigated by the Copan polity are more visible there than at contemporary sites in the Maya heartland. This presentation examines both the timing and degree of political changes during the Classic period (AD 100-900) in the Cucuyagua and Sensenti valleys located 25km and 50km southeast of Copan respectively.  Results from survey and excavation suggest that a Maya lowland style political hierarchy was adopted in the Cucuyagua valley by the Late Classic period (AD 600-900), suggesting that it was integrated into the Copan polity. Evidence of a fragmentary, heterarchical political system in the Sensenti valley during the Late Classic period suggests that this area remained outside of Copan’s political hegemony.   

Searching in the Dark: social implications of pottery from caves in Belize

Dorie Budet - Museum of Fine Arts Boston & Ronald L. Bishop - Smithsonian Institution

Explorations in Belize’s karst caves reach back to the earliest days of archaeological investigations in the country. During the 1970s as Commissioner of the Department of Archaeology of Belize (then British Honduras), Liz Graham encouraged scientifically-based investigations of the caves. She recognized the importance of these underworld settings for Classic Period rituals of rulership and religious belief as well as their potential to better understand the fundamental ideologies of Maya society. This paper reviews more than 30 years of investigations of pottery found in Belize’s caves, focusing on paste compositional, typological and stylistic analyses for evidence of social interaction and meaning.

The Classic Maya Hiatus: A (Re-)Reassessment

Stanley Guenter – American Foreign Academic Research & Foundation for Archaeological Research and Environmental Studies

Gordon Willey famously described the Hiatus as a “rehearsal for Collapse”, and this period of apparently lessened cultural (especially monumental) production has been interpreted in many different ways in the more than four decades since his seminal analysis. The Hiatus has been seen variously as affecting all of the Maya Lowlands or being a phenomenon restricted to only Tikal and a few of its neighbors. Causes have ranged from broken trade relations with Central Mexico to extreme catastrophic events, such as volcanic eruptions, to the currently most popular idea, that the Hiatus is a phenomenon restricted to Tikal and its nearest allies and is a result of defeat and domination by the Snake Kingdom of Dzibanche and Calakmul. This presentation reexamines a range of data from across the Maya Lowlands and beyond that suggest the Hiatus affected a far wider area than previously thought and that this has important implications for suggested causes for this phenomenon.

The Revitalization of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing

Marc Zender – Tulane University

Recent decades have seen a growing interest in Classic Maya hieroglyphic writing on the part of speakers of modern Mayan languages. Beginning in the late 1980s and consolidating in the mid-2000s, largely through the efforts of a handful of key scholars, amateurs, and institutions (such as Friends of the Maya, which later became MAM), Maya speakers were invited to participate in hieroglyphic workshops held in Mexico and Central America. Many of these Maya epigraphers have become well-versed in hieroglyphs as a result, and have begun organizing and leading their own workshops. At the same time, sporadically throughout the 1990s and 2000s, but reaching a peak just before 2012, some of the more artistically-inclined Maya epigraphers had begun to experiment with producing new hieroglyphic texts. As is usual with such things, early efforts were unconvincing: derivative of the Classic tradition, inconsistent, erratic, and unrefined, even as late as several hieroglyphic monuments erected in the Maya area in December 2012. But there has been a sea change since 2012, and the art has matured substantially of late. Practitioners are aware of all of the latest decipherments, adapting their oeuvre accordingly, and they agree on a growing set of conventions in adapting lowland glyphs to highland languages. Gains have been consolidated, hands have become practiced, and some of the work produced during the last few years now ranks alongside that of master artists from the Classic period. The revitalization of Maya hieroglyphic writing is no longer just a possibility. It has happened.

Serpent Rising: The Early Classic Kaanul Hegemony

Simon Martin – University of Pennsylvania Museum

This talk gives a summary of the latest developments in the complex history of the Kaanul kingdom. In recent years a better understanding of its early rise to power in the sixth century has emerged, beginning with the recognition of Dzibanche as its first major capital. New finds,joined by new ideas about earlier finds, allows us to fill some important gaps in our knowledge.

Setting the Stage for Kingship: Ritual Practice, Urbanism and Sociopolitical Organization at Preclassic Ceibal, Guatemala

Melissa Burham – University of Arizona & Jessica MacLellan – University of Arizona

The enigmatic Classic Maya civilization traces its roots to the Preclassic period, a time when small communities gradually transformed into urban centers with centralized institutions of rulership. Recent investigations of outlying residential groups at the lowland Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala shed light on this process, suggesting that ritual was at the heart of early sociopolitical organization and was a key consideration in later urban planning. In the Middle Preclassic period (ca. 1000-350 BC), domestic rituals had little in common with the public rites performed in the Central Plaza. However, as the city grew over the course of the Late Preclassic (ca. 350-100 BC) and Protoclassic (ca. 100 BC-AD 300) periods, temples were constructed amid residential groups in outlying areas, and ritual practices at all levels of society became remarkably similar. This paper explores how the changing relationships between domestic, semi-public and public rituals over the course of Preclassic period paved the way for divine kingship in the Classic period.

Interregional Interaction and the Reinvention of Traditions: A New Perspective on Early Development in the Northern Lowlands from Yaxuná, Yucatan, Mexico

Ryan Collins – Brandeis University

Investigations of Yaxuná, Yucatan, Mexico are slowly beginning to shed light on the complex web of interregional interactions and processes of urbanization that impacted daily life in the early Northern Lowlands. Because of data from Yaxuná, we now believe this region to be contemporaneously occupied by permanent and semi-permanent settlements like those of the Central Lowlands in the Maya area during the earliest portions of the Middle Formative (1000 to 400 BCE) period and extending into the Late Formative (400 BCE to 250 CE). Despite seeming contemporaneity, however, the material traditions present in the Yaxuná E-group complex are strikingly distinct from deposits found in other Mesoamerican E-groups, during the Middle Formative period. Yet, by the onset of the Late Formative period, the material traditions (caches, commemorations, and termination rituals) at Yaxuná begin to take on more familiar forms and begin to include item classes like greenstone and obsidian. Because of this I argue that increasing interregional interactions between Yaxuná and its southern contemporaries led to a gradual transformation of traditions at the site, and suggest a rethinking of the paradigm which places the development of the Northern Lowlands as secondary, or peripheral, to that of the Central Lowland Maya.

Cavernous Disparities: Using Biological and Mortuary Evidence to Understand Population Differences from Subterranean Contexts in Central Belize

Jack Biggs – Michigan State University

The significance of underground spaces for the ancient Maya can be easily seen via references in ancient texts and in the physical caves and rockshelters themselves. Bioarchaeological excavations of mortuary caves and rockshelters as part of the Central Belize Archaeological Survey (CBAS) have revealed that despite being located within a few kilometers of each other, these spaces appeared to have been used by very different populations as well as each been used for different rituals, both mortuary and non-mortuary. This paper explores how human remains from the caves of Je’reftheel and Actun Kabul as well as from the Sapodilla and the Caves Branch Rockshelters can inform us about the cultural differences between geographically close subterranean spaces as well as the different mortuary populations that were buried there.

The Island and the Mainland: Connections between Maya Communities on Ambergris Caye and Northern Belize

Scott Simmons – University of North Carolina Wilmington

Ancient Maya occupation on Ambergris Caye has been documented from Preclassic through Postclassic times. Work at the site of Marco Gonzalez has concentrated on several structures in which solid evidence has been found for connections to Maya polities in northern Belize and beyond. Other sites on the caye have also yielded evidence of these connections. Nonetheless, relationships between island and mainland communities changed substantially over time. Although the northern location of the caye makes it seem logical that its closest connections were with north-central Belize communities, there is evidence that connections with northern Belize in particular intensify in Terminal Classic times and continue through the Postclassic. Here we discuss the material evidence for these connections through time, focusing primarily on the Late and Terminal Classic Periods as well as Early Postclassic times.

The San Pedro Maya and the British Colonial Enterprise in Belize, 1847–1936

 Jason Yaeger, UTSA President’s Endowed Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas at San Antonio

Dr. Elizabeth Graham was a pioneer in colonial Maya archaeology, directing pathbreaking archaeological investigations at the early colonial settlements in Lamanai and Tipu.  With these studies, she set the bar very high for later projects with her careful excavations and materials analysis, deep and productive interdisciplinary collaborative research design, and the training and mentoring younger scholars.  Dr. Graham’s work provided a template for the San Pedro Maya Project. During four years of fieldwork from 2001 to 2004, a team of scholars combined archaeological, archival, and oral historical research to understand the ways in which Yucatec immigrants who came to British Honduras during the Caste War were incorporated into the colonial society and economy.  In this paper, I discuss the methodological challenges of studying 19th century Maya villages, synthesize our data, and present some of the project’s major interpretations.  I focus on questions regarding the degree and nature of the involvement of San Pedro Maya people in the colonial economy, San Pedro Maya engagement with and resistance to various colonial institutions, and the ways in which their material culture reflected and reinforced a Yucatec ethnic identity in the evolving colonial context. 

Ancient Maya Agroecosystems: Twenty Years of Fieldwork and Two Days of LiDAR

Tim Beach – UT Austin, Geography and Environment

The study of Maya agroecosystems has entered a period of great dynamism with the explosion of LiDAR imagery. Our research group acquired nearly 300 square km of LiDAR imagery that covers large areas of ancient Maya wetland fields for the first time. The coverage indicates both wide-scale wetland canal and field systems and intensive, polycultural complexes of upland terraces and wetland fields. Over the last 15 years, we tested many such systems with excavations and multiple proxies for past formation and cultivation. But, the LiDAR imagery shows we studied only a small spatial sample of these systems. We present what we now know based on excavations from Lamanai to Sierra de Agua, and use the Lidar imagery to outline our future plan to obtain a more geographically representative sample. Our goal here is to contextualize wetland agriculture both diachronically and synchronically within Maya History.

The Times they are a Changing: Yucatec Influences in Terminal Classic Western Belize.

Jaime J. Awe – Northern Arizona University

Archaeological investigations in western Belize have recorded a growing body of evidence that are indicative of the rise of Yucatec influences in this lowland Maya sub-region during the Terminal Classic period. Evidence for Yucatec influence in the Belize River Valley is manifested by shared architectural styles and programs, and by the presence of Yucatecan artifacts and ideology.  This changing pattern represents a departure from the previous Late Classic cultural tradition which reflects closer ties with central Peten sites. Besides providing evidence for Yucatecan style architecture and artifacts in western Belize, I suggest that these non-local traits were likely associated with the waning influence of Peten sites during a period of decline and abandonment in the central Maya lowlands, and with the concurrent rise of Terminal Classic polities in the northern lowlands of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Missing Mayas: A Belizean Conundrum

Matthew Restall – Pennsylvania State University

Where do the Mayas, ancient and modern, fit into the foundational mythology of Belize as a British colony and as a nation? The path to an answer is as twisting and unpredictable as any trail through the Belizean countryside. This paper does not claim to have found the answer, but it does seek to explain why the question must be answered, and what obstacles and guideposts might be found along the way.

What's to Be Done?

Elizabeth Graham – University College London

It’s been suggested by the organizers that I highlight the challenges and successes of my career. I don’t see myself as having successes, but since I ain’t dead yet, I can talk about the challenges that have interested and still interest me, and which I hope some day will be met with some success. The obsession of my life as an archaeologist has been soils, but I have only recently been successful at getting funding for something I’ve fought for since 1989. This is my research on what are known as Dark Earths, and I think some of the project results and future plans will be of interest to the Maya at the Lago audience, especially since the topic is closely connected to environmental issues and, not least important, the fu of the planet. But I might also mention the unusual ideas I have been writing about, and which I hope will be taken up by younger researchers—particularly indigenous researchers—who are not so set in their ways as we oldies are. By this I mean the rejection of the concept of “human sacrifice”; the critical importance of circum-peninsular trade and communication, which I see as the core of Maya civilization; and the ways that Maya history can be seen to be similar to the history of many other world civilizations or even empires in the nature of the links that bind economy and trade to conflict.


The Ancient Maya of East-Central Belize

Meaghan Peuramäki-Brown - Athabasca University & University of Calgary

From 1975 to 1977, the first systematic research of the ancient Maya of the Stann Creek District of Belize was conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Graham and the Stann Creek Project (SCP), the results of which were published by the Royal Ontario Museum and Prehistory Press in 1994. Since that time, three major research projects were initiated in the district: The Point Placencia Archaeological Project (PPAP), the Maya Mountains Archaeological Project (MMAP), and the Mayflower Archaeology Project (MAP). In 2014, the Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project (SCRAP) was initiated at the site of Alabama in the southern portion of the Stann Creek District. This presentation introduces the audience to SCRAP research and how it has attempted to build from results of the SCP, PPAP, MMAP, and MAP. SCRAP research as focused on the notion of “boomtown” development, and has pursued investigations based on studies of the monumental core, settlement zones, and resource areas of the Alabama site and beyond.







ML2017 FP 2