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Ritual and Power in Stone

Ritual and Power in Stone

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  • Book Info
    Ritual and Power in Stone
    Book Description:

    The ancient Mesoamerican city of Izapa in Chiapas, Mexico, is renowned for its extensive collection of elaborate stone stelae and altars, which were carved during the Late Preclassic period (300 BC-AD 250). Many of these monuments depict kings garbed in the costume and persona of a bird, a well-known avian deity who had great significance for the Maya and other cultures in adjacent regions. This Izapan style of carving and kingly representation appears at numerous sites across the Pacific slope and piedmont of Mexico and Guatemala, making it possible to trace political and economic corridors of communication during the Late Preclassic period.

    In this book, Julia Guernsey offers a masterful art historical analysis of the Izapan style monuments and their integral role in developing and communicating the institution of divine kingship. She looks specifically at how rulers expressed political authority by erecting monuments that recorded their performance of rituals in which they communicated with the supernatural realm in the persona of the avian deity. She also considers how rulers used the monuments to structure their built environment and create spaces for ritual and politically charged performances. Setting her discussion in a broader context, Guernsey also considers how the Izapan style monuments helped to motivate and structure some of the dramatic, pan-regional developments of the Late Preclassic period, including the forging of a codified language of divine kingship. This pioneering investigation, which links monumental art to the matrices of political, economic, and supernatural exchange, offers an important new understanding of a region, time period, and group of monuments that played a key role in the history of Mesoamerica and continue to intrigue scholars within the field of Mesoamerican studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79564-8
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XVI)
    (pp. 1-16)

    The Late Preclassic period in Mesoamerica, which dates from 300 BC to approximately AD 250, witnessed the florescence of a unique mode of artistic expression known as the Izapan style. The term “Izapan style” takes its name from the site of Izapa in the hills above the Pacific coastal plain, or Soconusco region, of modern Chiapas, Mexico (fig. 1.1). The convention of erecting carved stone altars and stelae in pairs in courtyards surrounded by platform mounds first emerged during the Late Preclassic period in this region (fig. 1.2).¹ The monuments at Izapa are perhaps best known for their dense, figural...

    (pp. 17-42)

    As discussed in the Introduction, the term “Izapan style” takes its name from the site of Izapa, which is located on the sloping piedmont above the Pacific coastal plain of modern Chiapas, Mexico. This Pacific coastal and piedmont zone, generally referred to as the Soconusco region, was renowned for its production of cacao, which flourished in the rich volcanic soils of the piedmont that received ample annual rainfall, enabling maximum agricultural productivity. During the Postclassic period, this Soconusco—or Xoconochco—region represented the most southeasterly extension of the Aztec Empire and stretched along the Pacific Coast from Tiltepec, near Tonalá...

    (pp. 43-74)

    The story of the discovery and documentation of the site of Izapa has been described in great detail by Norman (1976) and Lowe, Lee, and Martínez (1982), yet deserves at least some retelling in order to place the present study within a historical framework. This chapter traces the gradual unfolding of the story of Izapa and, in particular, its monuments, as they came to the attention of scholars eager to fit them into fluid chronological frameworks and stylistic groupings. Perhaps even more tellingly, the gradual acknowledgment of Izapa’s unique geographic and temporal role paralleled greater advancements in the field of...

  7. FOUR PART OF A CONTINUUM: Supernatural Communication in Late Preclassic Izapan Style Art
    (pp. 75-90)

    One of the most striking motifs in the corpus of stelae from Izapa is a winged or flying figure. Walking through the courtyard of Izapa Group A (fig. 4.1) during the Late Preclassic period, for instance, one would have been confronted on more than one occasion by the visage of an individual peering out from under an enormous bird headdress, with arms stretched diagonally outward, weighted with decorative wings. Although rendered in stone, the dynamic postures of these enigmatic avian-costumed figures suggest movement and performance, as if permanently engaged in an ongoing ritual cycle.

    While these recurring images of winged...

  8. FIVE THE PERFORMANCE OF RULERSHIP: Avian Transformation in Izapan Style Monuments
    (pp. 91-118)

    Given the exploration in Chapter 4 of the theme of supernatural contact and its relationship to expressions of rulership both during the preceding Middle Preclassic period and the ensuing Classic Maya period, the images of rulers costumed as birds at Late Preclassic Izapa can be more fully analyzed. In particular, this chapter considers various mythological, hieroglyphic, archaeological, and ethnohistoric data that provide a compelling context within which this imagery can be understood. It also moves beyond purely formal or iconographic discussions and attempts to place this imagery into well-established Mesoamerican traditions of supernatural communication and divinely sanctioned authority.

    As discussed...

    (pp. 119-142)

    The political justification for and mythological underpinnings of the avian performance monuments scattered throughout Late Preclassic sites between the Gulf and Pacific coasts, as discussed in the previous chapter, are only one part of the equation. Another critical aspect to consider is their original context within the confines of Late Preclassic ritual centers. The site of Izapa offers the most productive opportunity to do this, as it contains the most extensive corpus of Izapan style sculpture and because the vast majority of the monuments were recovered in situ, in a Late Preclassic context (Lowe, Lee, and Martínez 1982: 159). Moreover,...

  10. SEVEN BEYOND RITUAL: Macaws, Men, and Matrices of Exchange
    (pp. 143-156)

    While the previous chapters concentrated on the mythological and conceptual underpinnings of recurring Late Preclassic avian imagery, there are numerous clues—iconographic, archaeological, and mythological—suggesting that this emphasis on avian transformation was linked to an intricate web of economic and political factors. Building on these clues, this chapter explores the possible economic ramifications of these rituals that figured so prominently in the monumental record of the period. To proceed, however, it is necessary to point out that this exploration of the possible economic significance of these performances rests on the assumption that Late Preclassic rulers were costuming themselves specifically...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 157-174)
    (pp. 175-206)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 207-214)