(Draft Program)



Who Shall Read Them? The Decipherment of Maya Writing

This workshop provides an introduction to how the Maya hieroglyphic script was deciphered, how the writing system functioned, as well as the types of information that epigraphers can glean from Classic Mayan texts. Illustrated presentations of these topics give way to several hands-on exercises where you can try your own hand at decipherment. No prior knowledge of Maya hieroglyphs is needed or assumed to participate in this workshop, and all needed materials will be provided.

What the Epi-Olmec Texts Say
John Justeson – University at Albany

A workshop on decipherment methodology, applied to the epi-Olmec script, was presented at the 2014 Maya at the Playa; the crucial constraints permitting decipherment were systematic grammatical patterns of candidate language families and chronological patterns emerging from dates and time spans.  This workshop focuses on the cultural and historical results of the decipherment.  Detailed readings will be laid out for the longest texts, on the La Mojarra stela and on a Teotihuacan-style mask.  Along the way, passages from each text are addressed in terms of the evidence that leads to their readings and interpretations, and their level of reliability; and distinctive patterns in the performance of different types of epi-Olmec rituals are identified.  

Great Expectations: Kings and Princes on Naranjo Stela 46
Alexandre Tokovinine – University of Alabama

The workshop centers on the recently discovered Naranjo Stela 46 that contains one of the longest and well-preserved inscriptions in the entire corpus of Naranjo monuments. The narrative on Stela 46, which was dedicated by K’ahk’ Tiliw Chan Chahk shortly before his death, clarifies several key aspects of the local history and provides important insights into Maya ritual practices and worldview. The workshop offers a close reading of the main text on the stela and some relevant sections of the inscriptions from Naranjo, Yaxchilan, and Tikal.

Terminal Classic Texts from Eastern Peten and the Belize River Valley
Stanley Guenter with Harri Kettunen, Marc Zender, and Alexandre Tokovinine

Abstract: The late-eighth century A.D. saw very few inscriptions in the region of eastern Peten and western Belize but in the two decades on either side of the turn of the ninth-century there was a sudden spate of monuments recording events right at the crucial period between the end of the Late Classic and beginning of the Terminal Classic period. In this workshop participants will join the presenters in examining some of these texts from sites such as Yaxha, Naranjo, Caracol, and the sites of the Belize River Valley.

How Maya Priests Used the Codices for Divination

Bruce Love – Independent Researcher
The heart and sole of the Maya belief system is the 260-day tsolk’in or cholk’ij, a never-ending cycle of days and numbers that are the invisible forces shaping our lives from birth to death. From the rain almanacs to the planetary and stellar tables, all the world’s natural forces are tied to this all-important cycle of spirit power that only the shamans and priests with their sacred instruments can read. One such instrument was the hieroglyphic codex, the painted book. In this workshop you will learn how to read the almanacs and count the days with examples from the Dresden, Madrid, and Paris codices.


Zapotec readings of Zapotec hieroglyphic texts
John Justeson - University at Albany & Terrence Kaufman - Institute for the Documentation of the Languages of Meso-America

This paper presents a Zapotec linguistic framework, most crucially a Zapotec grammatical framework, for the reading of Preclassic- and Classic-era Zapotec hieroglyphic texts.  It exemplifies the conformity of the patterning of signs in Zapotec inscriptions with the grammatical structures of proto-Zapotec and proto-Zapotecan words and clauses, and provides relatively unambiguous readings of several passages, some of special cultural or historical interest.  Finally, it provides evidence the real-time placement of some of the best known Preclassic hieroglyphic texts of Monte Alban.

Evidence of Eta Aquariid Outbursts Recorded in the Classic Maya Hieroglyphic Script Using Orbital Integrations

J. H. Kinsman – Independent Researcher & D. J. Asher -  Armagh Observatory & Planetarium
No firm evidence has existed that the ancient Maya civilization recorded specific occurrences of meteor showers or outbursts in the corpus of Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions. In fact, there has been no evidence of any pre-Hispanic civilization in the Western Hemisphere recording any observations of any meteor showers on any specific dates.  The authors numerically integrated meteoroid-sized particles released by Comet Halley as early as 1404 BC to identify years within the Maya Classic Period, AD 250–909, when Eta Aquariid outbursts might have occurred. Outbursts determined by computer model were then compared to specific events in the Maya record to see if any correlation existed between the date of the event and the date of the outburst. The model was validated by successfully explaining several outbursts around the same epoch in the Chinese record. Some outbursts observed by the Maya were due to recent revolutions of Comet Halley, within a few centuries, and some to resonant behavior in older Halley trails, of the order of a thousand years. Examples were found of several different Jovian mean motion resonances as well as the 1:3 Saturnian resonance that have controlled the dynamical evolution of meteoroids in apparently observed outbursts.

The “Eclipse Glyph” in Maya Text and Iconography

Bruce Love - Independent Researcher
The “eclipse glyph,” as it is called by most people in our field, is not referring to eclipses, but rather to the darkened sun and moon associated with heavy rainfall and darkened skies. This glyph is composed of the sun sign or moon sign (occasionally others) between two flanking fields, usually one light and one dark, and is found principally in the Postclassic divinatory almanacs of the Maya codices. Evidence for this proposal comes from iconography as well as texts. Rain pours from “eclipse glyphs” in pictures accompanied by hieroglyphic captions explicitly dealing with rain; they also appear in calendrical sequences that could not possibly be referring to eclipses. Even in the lunar/ eclipse pages of the Dresden Codex that deal with solar eclipses, the “eclipse glyphs” in the texts are about rain.

Rocks, Jocks, and Early Village Life: Excavations at Middle Preclassic Paso del Macho, Yucatan, Mexico
Evan Parker – Tulane University

Extensive horizontal and vertical excavation at the Maya village of Paso del Macho, Yucatan, Mexico has significantly expanded our knowledge on the Middle Preclassic period in the Puuc region. Excavations of mounded architecture, the main plaza, and ballcourt of the site have established a chronological range beginning in the early Middle Preclassic and ending by the Late Preclassic. The earliest architecture at the settlement includes at least three small raised platforms associated with Ek ceramics, the earliest pottery complex in Northern Yucatan. Following this, the site underwent a major planned renovation, culminating in the construction of eight earth and rubble platform mounds, including a ballcourt. The expansion of the settlement coincided with the introduction of exotic trade items such as jade, basalt, and marine shell in addition to the appearance of the Early Nabanche complex of pottery. The manner of the founding and later expansion of Paso del Macho indicates that the introduction of ballcourts at rural Middle Preclassic settlements may be associated with the concomitant rise of major monumental settlements such as Xocnaceh, Yaxhom, Komchen, and Xtobo. Furthermore, the presence of exotic prestige items at a small rural village settlement suggests that the Maya ballgame developed in conjunction with the institution of socio-political inequality in the region.

The Construction of Power and Inequality at Early Xunantunich: Preclassic Architecture and the Development of Sociopolitical Complexity
Zoe J. Rowski – The University of Texas at San Antonio

The lack of Classic period construction at the site of Early Xunantunich provides a unique opportunity to study Preclassic architecture in depth and at a larger scale than can typically be achieved. For the last decade, the Mopan Valley Preclassic Project has conducted extensive excavations at both Classic and Early Xunantunich, providing a wealth of data on Preclassic architecture and early ritual activities.  These structures include an early E-Group, and monumental, flat-topped platforms bounding three formal plazas.

The northernmost platform is truly monumental in scale, measuring over 100m on each side and rising up to 13m in height. Recent investigations of this platform have yielded evidence suggesting that this structure may have been the locus of important ritual performances, which may have played a major role in the development of complexity and inequality at the site. Further, greenstone effigies found cached in the platform’s central staircase intricately link this structure and the surrounding ceremonial center to the early institution of divine kingship. Ritual offerings such as these suggest the development of more formalized public ritual near the end of the site’s occupation in the Terminal Preclassic.

In this paper, I explore the interrelationship between public performance, monumental architecture, and sociopolitical complexity at Early Xunantunich, highlighting recent findings and interpretations of the northern platform’s form and function.

From achiote to zaraguato: Loanwords from the Indigenous Languages of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean
Harri Kettunen - University of Helsinki

Loanwords from indigenous American languages are today found throughout the world. Most of the early borrowings originate in the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. However, although there were – and still are – numerous languages spoken in the area, only a few of them have provided substantial numbers of loanwords to other languages (beyond the neighboring indigenous languages). These are the Arawakan languages in the Caribbean and Nahuatl in Mexico. Within Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, lexical borrowings from native languages are numerous between the indigenous languages themselves but frequent also within the local variants of Spanish. Speaking globally, however, it is primarily Nahuatl and Taino loanwords that have reached the far corners of the planet whereas, loanwords from Mayan languages, for example, are rare in the languages of the world. The exception to this are the local variants of Spanish in Guatemala and the Maya-speaking areas of Mexico. The reason for this are the historical circumstances during the Conquest and the early Colonial era. Furthermore, while the inventory of indigenous American loanwords is relatively wide-ranging, a great deal of these words has to do with the flora and fauna of the Americas – or the natural world in general. In the case of the languages of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean these include flora and foodstuffs such as avocado, cacao, chili, chocolate, maize, tomato, and tobacco, animals such as caiman, coyote, and iguana, natural phenomena and geographic terminology such as cay, cenote, hurricane, and savanna. Besides these, lexical borrowings include cultural terms, such as cacique, canoe, cigar, and hammock. This presentation discusses a variety of indigenous Mesoamerican and Caribbean loanwords, concentrating on the origin of the words, their cultural background, as well as their appearance in various languages. Furthermore, the talk uncovers the initial results of an ongoing study regarding the familiarity of indigenous American loanwords among school children in different countries and languages around the world.

2017 AFAR Research Reports
Logan Brady, Jake Breunig, Mark Breunig, Sarah Chinuntdet, Lea Goldstein, Murphy Jones, Aisha Kauoss, Abby Myers, Kate Roberts, Morgan Scott, Ben Sellers, Josie Wiles, & John Woods – Davidson Day School

As of the summer of 2017, AFAR actively investigated three sites from across the globe. As a part of the well-respected Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project, AFAR participants investigated terminal Classic deposits in the plaza of Cahal Pech’s most prominent and public plazas. Investigations of the Castillo de Zorita in central Spain continued with the discovery of a series of subterranean rooms and our first team of pioneering students launched a brand new site in northern Greece. Members of all three AFAR research teams will share the results of their research efforts.
Illustrative Travels in the Yucatan & Quintana Roo – 2017

Steve Radzi  - Illustrator
Steve Radzi will present a slide show of recent drawings and illustrations of Maya structures in Quintana Roo and a series of Maya ‘Arches’ illustrations that beg discussion, from the Puuc region of the Yucatan.
 Not since Frederick Catherwood trekked Mexico’s remote Yucatan Peninsula in the mid 1800’s has anyone meticulously portrayed these important archeological treasures in situ. Mr. Radzi has hand- illustrated the ruins of the ancient and the mysterious Maya civilization that flourished before Columbus discovered the Americas.

The Last Alliance: Pottery and Politics in the East at the End of the Classic Period
Alexandre Tokovinine – University of Alabama
This paper examines the implications of re-dating the Cabrito/Naranjal polychrome pottery, famous for the so-called Holmul dancer theme, in the Eastern Peten region of Guatemala to the reign of Itzamnaaj K’awiil of Naranjo. It reviews the current data on the regional distribution of Cabrito/Naranjal vessels and its historical context. The presentation concludes with a re-analysis of the Holmul dancer theme as a representation of the Maya oikumene as seen from the royal of Naranjo during the first decades of the ninth century C.E.   

The Maize God and the Deer Lord’s Daughter
Marc Zender – Tulane University

Underlying Maya cosmology, history and religion are several key mythological narratives explaining the origins of the world, and providing sacred charters for civilized/moral behavior. Key elements from these narratives—including shared mythemes, characters, and toponyms—have long been known to recur in various regions of Southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, in the oral traditions of several groups speaking distinct but related Mayan languages. One such is a widely-spread narrative concerning an aged god of the mountains whose daughter, granddaughter, or wife runs away with a young culture hero: a parable often echoing acute concerns about female marital fidelity in contemporary christianized Maya communities. Naturally enough, the contexts of these modern myths have occasioned some concern that they may be little more than thinly disguised retellings of Biblical stories of unfaithful wives, such as Hosea and Gomer. Yet several Late Classic Maya vases and monuments from the 8th century AD apparently reference episodes from this same narrative, here explicitly involving Huk Xib (later Hik Sip), the aged Lord of the Deer, whose daughter is spirited away by Juun Ixiim, the youthful Maize God, in a union that may have produced the famed Hero Twins. Epigraphic and iconographic analysis of the texts and imagery reflecting this lost myth, coupled with cautious comparison with potentially related modern Maya myths, allow us to reconstruct many of the basic events of this ancient tale, although several mysteries remain.

Such continuity reminds us that myths can be surprisingly durable, even in the wake of military conquest and centuries of colonial rule and religious conversion. Nonetheless, still unresolved is the extent to which these various early fragments allow the confident reconstruct of a single, underlying myth. It is suggested that various regional and temporal variants may find expression or emphasis in these texts, raising questions about many of our reconstructions of ancient mythic narratives.

The Collapse Before the Collapse? New Data and Evidence from the Terminal Preclassic Period at Holtun, Guatemala
Michael G. Callaghan, Ph.D., University of Central Florida
Brigitte Kovacevich, Ph.D., University of Central Florida

Recent excavations at the site of Holtun, Guatemala have revealed evidence of extensive Preclassic period (600 BC – AD 300) monumental architecture, possible agricultural terraces, and a diverse residential population including elites and commoners.  Investigations have also unearthed political and ritual evidence from the ill-defined Terminal Preclassic period (AD 150-300).  It appears a burst of Terminal Preclassic activity at Holtun precedes a depopulation and reduction in construction during the Early Classic period.  Entombed temple-shrines from the Terminal Preclassic display painted walls, writing, and graffiti depicting scenes of nude captives and sacrifice.  These finds suggest the Terminal Preclassic period was a tumultuous time at Holtun, characterized by violence and attempts at consolidation of power where elites used ritual to materialize an ideology that emphasized captive-taking and sacrifice similar, yet also distinct, from the later Classic periods. In this talk we present these new data and discuss them in light of previous and contemporary ideas about the transition or collapse of Preclassic period culture.

Refuge and Resilience at the Edge of the Piedras Negras Kingdom
Whittaker Schroder – University of Pennsylvania

At its zenith during the middle of the eighth century, the Piedras Negras court was centered on a core of perhaps 6,000 people on the banks of the Usumacinta River. Inscriptions from the surrounding region demonstrate that this influence spread to allies at secondary sites, including El Cayo and La Mar. However, other inscriptions suggest that the kingdoms of Palenque, Tonina, Sak Tz’i’, and Yaxchilan vied to control these same sites, and ostensibly the region in general. Recent archaeological research throughout the region has proposed that the importance of secondary or minor centers lay in their location along vital travel corridors between the Guatemala highlands and the Tabasco plains. Unresolved, however, is the role that even smaller, tertiary and other centers (indeed the majority of sites) played in the regional politics of the Usumacinta region, especially as the borders between kingdoms shifted so frequently during the Late Classic period. Though inscriptions are lacking in most places, archaeology suggests that in some cases the histories of such sites appear to have been closely linked to that of the Piedras Negras kingdom, while other sites may have been relatively autonomous. This paper presents results of recent research at El Infiernito, a site with a possible defensive function that served as a refuge during the Terminal Classic period. This hilltop site may have supported a small resilient population into the Early Postclassic period, after the widespread political system of the Classic Maya had been abandoned.

The Return of the Lords of the West at the End of Time: The New Warlords at the Beginning of the Terminal Classic Period in the Maya Lowlands
Stanley Guenter – American Foreign Academic Research, Foundation for Anthropological Research & Environmental Studies

Through the Late Classic period the political landscape was dominated by the “Great Powers” of Tikal and Calakmul, and the eastern Peten region saw a centuries-long competition between Naranjo and Caracol. Both Naranjo and Caracol saw few monumental dedications in the mid-eighth century but at the end of the century both sites saw a sudden revival. However, a closer look at the inscriptions of these sites and others in the larger region from this period reveals the rise of a new group of warlords who appear to have no connection to the previous royal dynasties and who, through a comparison of the epigraphic and archaeological records, can be argued to have likely achieved their remarkable rise to power through control of mercenary forces as well as the agricultural production of an area that suddenly became of critical importance at the beginning of the Terminal Classic period. The presentation will conclude by examining where these warlords likely came from and how some of this group were likely instrumental in founding the most important city in the post-Terminal Classic Maya world, Chichen Itza.

Defining the Terminal Classic in the Belize River Valley
Jaime J. Awe – Northern Arizona University, Julie Hoggarth –Baylor University, Christophe Helmke – University of Copenhagen, & James J. Aimers – SUNY Geneseo

Despite the fact that Maya archaeologists have dedicated considerable research energy in their efforts to understand the cultural changes that ensued during the 8th and 9th centuries AD, the Terminal Classic period remains one of the most poorly understood and enigmatic phases of Maya cultural development. The one thing we all agree on is that the changes that occurred during this volatile period of Maya history were not universal, that they varied from region to region, and that they were quite complex.  In this presentation, we provide an overview of the cultural changes that we have identified in the Belize River Valley sub-region of the Maya lowlands.  We also discuss the possible causes for these changes, and the responses made by the Belize Valley Maya as they tried to adapt to the changing circumstances of the Terminal Classic period.

La Corona: An Isolated Stop along the Road of Power
Marcello A. Canuto – Tulane University
After a decade of research in La Corona and the Northwestern Peten, we still have many questions to be answered, especially the role that this center played before and after the hegemonic power of the Kaanul dynasty that held sway throughout the Maya lowlands from the 6th to 8th centuries AD. However, with the aid of LiDAR technology, now we have a more complete and detailed panorama of the settlement in La Corona and its surroundings. In addition, new epigraphic information from the past few years has provided new data regarding the both the beginning and end of La Corona’s alliance with the Kaanul dynasty. These data allow for a better understanding of the geographic, demographic and geopolitical importance of the region.


The Challenges and Benefits of Cultural Tourism

Cultural Transformation of Maya Culture in the Terminal Classic Period






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