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Water and Ritual

Water and Ritual

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    Water and Ritual
    Book Description:

    In the southern Maya lowlands, rainfall provided the primary and, in some areas, the only source of water for people and crops. Classic Maya kings sponsored elaborate public rituals that affirmed their close ties to the supernatural world and their ability to intercede with deities and ancestors to ensure an adequate amount of rain, which was then stored to provide water during the four-to-five-month dry season. As long as the rains came, Maya kings supplied their subjects with water and exacted tribute in labor and goods in return. But when the rains failed at the end of the Classic period (AD 850-950), the Maya rulers lost both their claim to supernatural power and their temporal authority. Maya commoners continued to supplicate gods and ancestors for rain in household rituals, but they stopped paying tribute to rulers whom the gods had forsaken.

    In this paradigm-shifting book, Lisa Lucero investigates the central role of water and ritual in the rise, dominance, and fall of Classic Maya rulers. She documents commoner, elite, and royal ritual histories in the southern Maya lowlands from the Late Preclassic through the Terminal Classic periods to show how elites and rulers gained political power through the public replication and elaboration of household-level rituals. At the same time, Lucero demonstrates that political power rested equally on material conditions that the Maya rulers could only partially control. Offering a new, more nuanced understanding of these dual bases of power, Lucero makes a compelling case for spiritual and material factors intermingling in the development and demise of Maya political complexity.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79583-9
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers
    (pp. 1-4)

    A key goal of this book is to explore how ritual and material factors articulate in the development and demise of political complexity. I attempt to do so using two factors: water and ritual, specifically short-term and long-term seasonal vagaries and traditional rituals writ large. I illustrate this model by examining the emergence and demise of Classic Maya rulers (ca. ad 250–950) in the southern Maya lowlands. My focus is on the way in which Maya kings used their wealth to offset seasonal problems (e.g., provisioning of dry-season water supplies) and integrated people by sponsoring large-scale traditional rituals. These...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Water and Ritual
    (pp. 5-32)

    I focus on economically stratified (including incipient) agricultural societies, and how and when wealth differences transform into political power. Specifically, how do a few people get others to contribute their labor, goods, and services without compensating them equally? My definition of political power reflects the focus on surplus appropriation, and therefore my perspective is necessarily materialist. Thus, I view resources as a condition for, not a cause of, political complexity (cf. Fried 1967:111; Russell 1938:31) and focus on the way people interact with their natural and social surroundings. My approach is not environmentally deterministic but acknowledges the key role that...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Classic Maya Political Histories
    (pp. 33-53)

    No one questions the existence of powerful Classic Maya rulers in the southern Maya lowlands of present-day Central America (northeastern Chiapas, eastern Tabasco, southern Campeche and Yucatán of Mexico, north and central Guatemala, Belize, and western Honduras) (Figure 2.1). To appreciate their accomplishments, we need to understand the variety of political systems as well as the people who supported rulership via surplus goods and labor—commoners. Farmers provided rulers’ foods, goods, and the labor to work in their fields and to build their palaces, temples, and ball courts. Evidence for surplus above and beyond household and community needs is quite...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Maya Rituals: Past and Present
    (pp. 54-66)

    The goal in this chapter is to illustrate the continuity of traditional Maya rituals from past to present to demonstrate how the present can inform the past and vice versa. Before discussing the Maya, however, I define ritual—what it is and what it is not, and how to identify ritual in the archaeological record. In the final section I discuss Maya rituals and present expectations regarding the relationship between traditional rites and the emergence of Maya rulership.

    The definition of ritual is not agreed upon in anthropology (Richards and Thomas 1984), not to mention elsewhere. For example, in the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Community and the Maya: The Ritual History of Saturday Creek
    (pp. 67-113)

    In this chapter I detail the distinguishing features of community organizations (see Table 1.1) and Maya minor centers, which have several factors in common (see Table 2.1). I also present the history of ritual activities at Saturday Creek, a minor river center without rulers or any other royal trappings. My intent is to show that all Maya conducted the same rites, whether or not they were taxpayers, and whether or not they were royal.

    In community organizations, farmers live in villages and practice swidden or small-scale intensive agriculture as well as hunt and fish. Relatively low population densities result in...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Local Rulers and the Maya: The Ritual History of Altar de Sacrificios
    (pp. 114-144)

    In this chapter I detail the distinguishing features of local polities (see Table 1.1) and secondary Maya centers, which have several factors in common (see Table 2.1). I also present a history of ritual activities at Altar de Sacrificios, a secondary Maya center.

    Depending on individual circumstances, a local polity can be viewed as several politically integrated communities—versus economically integrated ones, which they typically are. Farmers, who live in dispersed but densely settled villages, rely more on intensive agriculture, including small-scale water/agricultural systems. They still must deal with the vagaries of annual rainfall, including periodic drought, flooding, or rain...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Regional Rulers and the Maya: The Ritual History of Tikal
    (pp. 145-174)

    In this chapter I describe centralized and integrative polities (see Table 1.1) and river and nonriver major Maya centers, which have several factors in common (see Table 2.1). I also present a history of ritual activities at Tikal, home to some of the most powerful Maya kings.

    When Anu and Enlil [major gods] gave me the lands of Sumer and Akkad to rule, and entrusted their sceptre to me, I dug the canalHammurabi-the-abundance-of-the-peoplewhich bringeth water for the lands of Sumer and Akkad. The scattered people of Sumer and Akkad I gathered, with pasturage and watering I provided them;...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers
    (pp. 175-195)

    The main question I have attempted to address in this book is how a few people get others to contribute labor and services without compensating them equally. In Chapter 1, I have presented a model of how emerging rulers use several types of traditional rituals in various settings to acquire and maintain political power, as well as how such power eventually can be lost. In brief, while the means of acquiring political power vary, the general processes of situating political change typically do not, and material support is a must—namely, surplus goods and labor. Ritual expansion occurs in tandem...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Water,Ritual, and Politics in Ancient Complex Societies
    (pp. 196-200)

    In Chapter 1, I have presented a scenario on the emergence of rulers. My goal throughout this book has been to address a key question—how do a few people get others to contribute labor and goods without compensating them equally? To appreciate how political leaders emerge, it is first critical to understand—in addition to social and historical circumstances—material issues, namely, the amount and distribution of agricultural land, seasonal water issues, and where people live and work across the landscape. Together they influence the amount of available surplus in any given area. Uniting political power and the material...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 201-202)
  15. References Cited
    (pp. 203-238)
  16. Index
    (pp. 239-254)