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Maya Calendar Origins

Maya Calendar Origins

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    Maya Calendar Origins
    Book Description:

    InMaya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos, Prudence M. Rice proposed a new model of Maya political organization in which geopolitical seats of power rotated according to a 256-year calendar cycle known as theMay. This fundamental connection between timekeeping and Maya political organization sparked Rice's interest in the origins of the two major calendars used by the ancient lowland Maya, one 260 days long, and the other having 365 days. InMaya Calendar Origins, she presents a provocative new thesis about the origins and development of the calendrical system.

    Integrating data from anthropology, archaeology, art history, astronomy, ethnohistory, myth, and linguistics, Rice argues that the Maya calendars developed about a millennium earlier than commonly thought, around 1200 BC, as an outgrowth of observations of the natural phenomena that scheduled the movements of late Archaic hunter-gatherer-collectors throughout what became Mesoamerica. She asserts that an understanding of the cycles of weather and celestial movements became the basis of power for early rulers, who could thereby claim "control" over supernatural cosmic forces. Rice shows how time became materialized-transformed into status objects such as monuments that encoded calendrical or temporal concerns-as well as politicized, becoming the foundation for societal order, political legitimization, and wealth. Rice's research also sheds new light on the origins of thePopol Vuh, which, Rice believes, encodes the history of the development of the Mesoamerican calendars. She also explores the connections between the Maya and early Olmec and Izapan cultures in the Isthmian region, who shared with the Maya the cosmovision and ideology incorporated into the calendrical systems.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79503-7
    Subjects: Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Note on Orthography and Dates
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    For Mesoamerican peoples and especially the Maya, time and cosmic order were inextricably fused. But when and how were the ideas and structures relating to time, the cosmos, and social order developed and integrated? Those questions lie at the heart of this book. My answer, in brief, is that their development began thousands of years ago through observations of cyclically occurring earthly and celestial phenomena. Such observations culminated in a complex set of calendrical principles and associated mytho-ritual practice that established the context for rulership and power in Mesoamerica . . . and this ordered context endured for millennia. My...

  8. 2 In the Beginning: Early Mesoamerican Prehistory
    (pp. 12-29)

    Of the many debates that have engaged archaeologists and bioanthropologists working in the Western Hemisphere, one of the most enduring focuses on the hemisphereʹs earliest occupation by humans (see Fagan 1987). When European explorers discovered this previously unknown and hence ʺnewʺ world they were compelled to explain the origin of its inhabitants, which they did via the only available treatise to explicate the natural world, the Bible. One question concerned whether or not the hemisphere’s occupants were ʺhumanʺ (in a theological sense) and subject to baptism into the Holy Roman Catholic faith. A later question concerned the age of the...

  9. 3 Mesoamerican Calendrics: Time and Its Recording
    (pp. 30-57)

    One of the most distinctive features of Mesoamerican civilizations is their extraordinarily complex and precise calendrical systems. Mesoamerican peoples from Mexico through Honduras, comprising nearly one hundred ethnolinguistic groups, developed at least sixty variant calendars that were based on a shared structure and may have had a single origin (Edmonson 1988:4, fig. 3; cf. Kelley 1974; Marcus 1992a:127). As late as the middle twentieth century, fifty-six indigenous communities in Mesoamerica still retained one or both of the major calendars from pre-Columbian times (Gossen 1974a:217).

    Ancient and modern non-Western peoples throughout the world are able to order past events in time...

  10. 4 Maya Calendar Developments in Broader Context
    (pp. 58-74)

    The 365-day calendar can be envisioned as incorporating three intervals of approximately 260 days. The first is that between zeniths, from the late-summer zenith to the spring zenith in the lower latitudes of Mesoamerica (Fig. 4.1; see Table 3.3). During the Archaic period in this region the summer zenith coincided approximately with the scheduling of seasonal settlement aggregations and also with the reconstructed base date of the Maya Long Count calendar. It is possible that this festive event, occurring in the equivalent of our early August, established the beginning of the earliest precursors of the Mesoamerican calendar(s), timed from second...

  11. 5 Middle and Late Preclassic: The Gulf Coast Olmec and Epi-Olmec
    (pp. 75-107)

    The theme pursued in this book is that basic principles of Maya geopolitical organization were shared with those of the Isthmian region in the Formative period and were expressions of ideological/calendrical structures developed by and during that time. Thus it is necessary to review some of these developments in the Isthmian region, where they are archaeologically recognizable earlier and more extensively than in the Maya area. The late Early and Middle Preclassic/Formative periods, dating from approximately 1200 to 400/300 B.C., were a time of dramatic cultural transformations in Mesoamerica, with the emergence of what anthropologists and archaeologists refer to as...

  12. 6 Late Preclassic: Izapa and Kaminaljuyú
    (pp. 108-139)

    We now move to the other side of the Isthmus, where, by 1350 B.C., in the Mazatán region of southeastern Chiapas, the site of Paso de la Amada was the seat of a large chiefdom with a population of three thousand to five thousand people (Clark 1997:228). Around 1100–1050 B.C., this area may have experienced ʺan aggressive takeoverʺ by the Olmec, former trade allies: ʺAll the formerly independent simple chiefdoms were consolidated into one complex chiefdom directed from a new regional center. . . . Most of the former head villages of the traditional simple chiefdoms were abandoned, and...

  13. 7 The Early Maya Lowlands: Origins and Settlements
    (pp. 140-164)

    The Maya lowlands (Fig. 7.1) are centered on the Yucatán peninsula, incorporating the Mexican states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, and northeastern Chiapas, along with the country of Belize and the northern part of Guatemala known as the Department of El Petén. The lowlands also stretch southeastward to include northwestern Honduras. Geologically, the lowlands are a shelf of limestone interspersed with dolomite and chert and characterized by karst topography: low hills, subsurface drainage, and sinkholes (’ono’ot; Sp.cenote). Comparatively little surface water is found in the region, especially in the northern peninsula, where cenotes are common sources of water...

  14. 8 Early Lowland Maya Intellectual Culture: Writing, Stelae, and “Government”
    (pp. 165-186)

    One of the key unifying themes in Mesoamerican thought and culture was language and orality. Mesoamericans, including the Maya, ʺlinked language and dialogue to the dawn of consciousness in the creation of the human condition. . . . In effect, beautifully executed speech and song are the only substances, with the possible exception of blood, that the human body can produce which are accessible to, and worthy before, divine beings. . . . If divine beings are pleased, human life is allowed to continueʺ (Gossen 1986:7).

    Before the invention of writing, events and traditions were remembered and passed along orally....

  15. 9 The Materialization and Politicization of Time
    (pp. 187-204)

    It has been proposed that the analytical concepts of order (social and cosmic), political legitimacy, and wealth (OLW) and their interrelations are key factors for understanding ancient civilizations, both how they overcame ever-present politico-economic instability and how their variable bases of political and economic power operated (Baines and Yoffee 1998, 2000; Richards and Van Buren 2000). Ideology, its negotiation and manipulation, underlies both OLW and political stability, and this facilitates application of another analytical concept, the ʺmaterialization of ideologyʺ: the expression of ideas in physical form in art, artifacts, monuments, architecture, ritual, and performance (DeMarrais, Castillo, and Earle 1996). Such...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 205-216)
  17. References Cited
    (pp. 217-248)
  18. Index
    (pp. 249-268)