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Material Relations

Material Relations: The Marriage Figurines of Prehispanic Honduras

Julia A. Hendon
Rosemary A. Joyce
Jeanne Lopiparo
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Material Relations
    Book Description:

    Focusing on marriage figurines-double human figurines that represent relations formed through social alliances-Hendon, Joyce, and Lopiparo examine the material relations created in Honduras between AD 500 and 1000, a period of time when a network of social houses linked settlements of a variety of sizes in the region. The authors analyze these small, seemingly insignificant artifacts using the theory of materiality to understand broader social processes.

    They examine the production, use, and disposal of marriage figurines from six sites-Campo Dos, Cerro Palenque, Copán, Currusté, Tenampua, and Travesia-and explore their role in rituals and ceremonies, as well as in the forming of social bonds and the celebration of relationships among communities. They find evidence of historical traditions reproduced over generations through material media in social relations among individuals, families, and communities, as well as social differences within this network of connected yet independent settlements.

    Material Relationsprovides a new and dynamic understanding of how social houses functioned via networks of production and reciprocal exchange of material objects and will be of interest to Mesoamerican archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-278-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book has multiple goals. First, it demonstrates how an analysis drawing on contemporary theories of materiality can enhance our understanding of broad social processes from a dedicated, detailed study of small things. This is a point that is familiar from other archaeological studies in areas as far removed as the recent history of the United States (Beaudry 2006) and ancient Egypt (Meskell 2004). In our case, the small things are three-dimensional fired clay figures, shaped into images of human beings and animals through a combination of modeling by hand and using molds, produced in Honduras before European contact. Some...

  7. 1 Working with Clay: Honduran Figurine Traditions
    (pp. 11-22)

    Figurine production in Honduras goes back well into the period of early village life, with examples at Copán (Cummins 2006) and in the lower Ulúa Valley (Joyce 2003c, 2007b) dating before 1000 BC. These earliest figurines (figure 1.1) are hand modeled, each a unique work. They include both humans and animal figures, some hollow and constructed like ceramic vessels, others solid. Likely due to constraints on firing solid ceramic objects, the larger examples of both humans and animals are hollow. Where sufficient details are preserved, the human subjects of these earliest figurine makers appear to portray women.

    These very early...

  8. 2 Copán: Making Kin
    (pp. 23-38)

    They buried the child at home, carrying out a complex ritual that began by placing two objects on the pavement near a stone-fronted platform. One of these objects was a miniature Ulúa Polychrome ceramic vessel in the shape of a shallow bowl. The second was a whistle, also made from clay, representing a couple, a woman and a man (figure 2.1). Both objects were set close to the wall running north-south that had increased the size of this platform and may have been built as part of the preparation of the area for burial.

    After the child’s mourners covered these...

  9. 3 Tenampua: Conflict and Competition
    (pp. 39-56)

    In 1957 pioneering Honduran archaeologist Doris Z. Stone published a photograph of a figurine very similar to the one from Copán (Stone 1957, figure 56D). Stone described it as “a mold-made figurine of a man and a woman [that] came from Tenampua” (Stone 1957, 53). This laconic statement is all we know about the figurine’s provenience, but it is enough, when taken in conjunction with the figurine itself, to prompt our argument that the Copán marriage figurines came from Tenampua and that they commemorate particularly close social bonds between two culturally and geographically distinct groups, bonds forged through marriage and...

  10. 4 Campo Dos: Wealth and Influence
    (pp. 57-76)

    Nestled on a shelf in the Cultural Resource Center of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Suitland, Maryland, is a mold-made figurine depicting side-by-side standing male and female figures (figure 4.1a). While the general subject is the same as that of marriage figurines from Copán and Tenampua, this is not a product of the same mold, nor does it commemorate the same alliance.

    Once again, a female is depicted on the viewer’s left, a male on the viewer’s right. His loincloth, with a single fold depicted, is simpler than the elaborate belt of the man on the...

  11. 5 Currusté: Family and Ancestors
    (pp. 77-98)

    Unlike Tenampua or Copán, Campo Dos was a village, part of a landscape of evenly spaced hamlets along the rivers in the Ulúa Valley. Each of these clusters of houses was an in-gathering place on special occasions—we suggest in particular events in the lives of family members—that neighbors and kin would have attended. We can trace the most distant visitors to these places by the origins of the pottery we recover archaeologically, showing us that even a relatively modest riverbank village like Campo Dos was in contact with people over a very wide territory. Closer to home, larger...

  12. 6 Travesía: Difference and Identity
    (pp. 99-136)

    When we began this project, we identified sites to discuss strictly on the basis of the presence of marriage figurines: a single object depicting a human pair. In addition to the detailed examples we have discussed in the previous chapters from Copán, Tenampua, Campo Dos, and Currusté, our initial sample included a schematic version of the theme, originally illustrated by Mary Butler (1935, figure 6d), described by her simply as from the Ulúa Valley. This particular figurine shows two heads emerging from a single garment (figure 6.1). The drawing Butler provided indicates some differences between the right- and left-hand figures...

  13. 7 Cerro Palenque: Hosting and Power
    (pp. 137-158)

    The site of Cerro Palenque sits above the confluence of the Río Ulúa, Río Chamelecón, and Río Blanco on one of the hills at the southern end of the lower Ulúa Valley. Dorothy Hughes Popenoe visited Cerro Palenque some time before her death in 1932 and Doris Z. Stone was there in 1936 (Stone 1941, 57–58). Materials from the site were acquired in the 1930s by Gregory Mason on behalf of the Heye Foundation and are now part of the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Systematic excavations there took place in the 1980s...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 159-170)

    Many accounts of the fundamental binding relations in ancient societies take the perspective of government, of political relations, especially political strategies that are recognizable to people living in contemporary nation-states defined by a claimed territory, favored language, and purported historical identity (Anderson 1991). The questions asked concern how an identified political leadership located in a visible capital generates power and how power moves out into the places where the citizenry lives. One of the strengths of archaeology, though, is its capacity to provide us with views of societies that are not just weaker, less-developed versions of those of today, but...

  15. References Cited
    (pp. 171-194)
  16. Index
    (pp. 195-200)