The First Maya Civilization: Ritual and Power Before the Classic Period

The First Maya Civilization: Ritual and Power Before the Classic Period

Francisco Estrada-Belli

Language: English

Pages: 192

ISBN: 0415429943

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


When the Maya kings of Tikal dedicated their first carved monuments in the third century A.D., inaugurating the Classic period of Maya history that lasted for six centuries and saw the rise of such famous cities as Palenque, Copan and Yaxchilan, Maya civilization was already nearly a millennium old. Its first cities, such as Nakbe and El Mirador, had some of the largest temples ever raised in Prehispanic America, while others such as Cival showed even earlier evidence of complex rituals. The reality of this Preclassic Maya civilization has been documented by scholars over the past three decades: what had been seen as an age of simple village farming, belatedly responding to the stimulus of more advanced peoples in highland Mesoamerica, is now know to have been the period when the Maya made themselves into one of the New World's most innovative societies. This book discusses the most recent advances in our knowledge of the Preclassic Maya and the emergence of their rainforest civilization, with new data on settlement, political organization, architecture, iconography and epigraphy supporting a contemporary theoretical perspective that challenges prior assumptions.

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Lowlands, the Maya were believed to have had a late start in the process of civilization when compared with their neighbors along the Gulf Coast and in the southern Highlands. The apparent lack of archaeological evidence for any sort of complexity prior to 300 BC seemed to support this view. It was believed that most, if not all, of the trappings of civilization had originated elsewhere and were transferred into the Maya Lowlands when conditions were ripe for their adoption. Those conditions, it

period saw only one remodeling of the E-Group platforms and plaza floor. Thus, all the above elements may reflect fundamental differences in kind and scale between the first and all subsequent construction projects at Cival. The difference in scale is obvious. The difference in kind has to do with the fact that the foundation of the hilltop complex represented something new and grandiose, certainly oversized for the modest Cival community. We must surmise that it served as a gathering place

(Tikal), after Siyaj K’ahk’ had arrived. The protagonist was identified by a long series of titles including, chak tok wayaab (cloud-red diviner; Estrada-Belli et al. 2009). This rare title is only known from another Holmul individual buried at roughly the same time in Building B. A stone stela found outside the palace (Stela 6) also may record the name 136 THE PRECLASSIC–CLASSIC MAYA TRANSITION Figure 6.14 Mural 5, La Sufricaya palace, depicting a scaffold sacrifice ceremony (circa AD 400)

local level in which communities are made and remade. This approach departs from the linear perspective and ideal social categories of cultural evolutionism and the universal laws of behavior and ideal social types that have been part and parcel of the paradigm of the “New Archaeology” for the last 50 years. With a long-term perspective and with a wealth of localized data, we have examined the history of places like Cival not because this particular site had a more significant role than other

Tegucigalpa: Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia. Willey, G. R., Bullard, W. R., Glass, J. B. and Gifford, J. (1965) Prehistoric Maya 167 MAYA CIVILIZATION IN PERSPECTIVE Settlements in the Belize Valley. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Willey, G. R. and Gifford, J. (1961) “Pottery of the Holmul I Style from Barton Ramie, British Honduras,” in: Lothrop, S. K. (ed.) Essays in Precolumbian Art and Archaeology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard

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