Thoughts on TMS 2012

Thoughts on the Tulane Maya Symposium 2012


The Ninth Annual symposium at Tulane closed Sunday, Feb. 26, with Stanley Guenter’s Last Words: Hieroglyphic Inscriptions from the Terminal Classic Period. It was a weekend filled with exhilarating lectures, Maya art and chats with friends.


The symposium, titled In the Time of the Maya, was brilliantly divided into b’ak’tuns, the approximately 400-year period used to establish a specific time in Maya history. It followed the known history of the Maya in sequential format. Each speaker presented a cycle, an appropriate name since we learned during the course of the symposium that these b’ak’tuns were never chiseled in astronomical stones.


David Stuart opened the Saturday lectures with Cycle 1: Mythic Foundations of Classic Maya History and Kingship. Stuart made the connection between a mythical time, when gods take their place in creation and the historical time, which he says is difficult to pinpoint. He referred often to a “foundational time,” a period neither mythical nor historical that gave rise to the Maya as we know it.


Patricia McAnany, from UNC Chapel Hill, picked up where Stuart left off meshing the “new hearth place” or the three stones of 4 Ahau 8 Kumku and the triadic form of construction seen during the 7th cycle. This, she added, is reflected in the architectonic Triad of El Mirador, the Early Classic city that gained such power in the early stages of Maya development. McAnany’s Making History & Materializing Sacred Place in the Text-Free Style of was an interesting concept, one we would see repeated, obviously in historical times, in Palenque.


Kathryn Reese-Taylor, from the University of Calgary, continued with Cycle 8: The Fall of a Giant and the Rise of a King, referring to the fall of El Mirador and the establishment of a new king of Tikal. The Foundational Era, she added, moves toward the historical era, with evidence of warfare, and the intrusion from Teotihuacan. She showed evidence of this change in two cities, Naachtun and Yaxnohcah, where Reese-Taylor has conducted research. The Central Mexico megalopolis apparently left imprint in the Peten and the Southern Lowlands.


Marc Zender, now in Tulane, followed with Cycle 9: Terse Texts, Passive Participants: Classic Maya Texts of the Tenth Baktun (435-830 AD). This is the period that could be called the Golden Era of the Maya, with writing, architecture and art reaching new levels. Zender talked about connections with Teotihuacan, especially with glyphs and other findings in that city’s “barrios” of La Ventilla and Tetitla. He explains about the rise of the Dzibanche-Calakmul polity (what will be the subject of MARI/Tulane’s 10th Symposium in 2013) and the arrival of Turtle Tooth in Piedras Negras. This is an interesting subject, much talked about, but not explained enough.


Prudence Rice, presently from Southern Illinois Univ. and formerly from the University of Florida, covered 830-1224, in that tumultuous era in her cycle, Transitions and Transformations, an aptly titled presentation. Rice weaved through the debate that is the presence of the Toltec in the Northern Lowlands and the founding of new lineages. She talked about the founding of a lineage in Ek Balam, which had Chichen Itza under its power.


IMS’s good friend, Susan Milbrath, followed with A View from Mayapan, the Last Maya Capital in Mexico. Milbrath made a connection of the art of the murals of Mayapan with the images of the Paris and the Dresden codices based on their time of creation. The Dresden has been dated to ca. 1250, while the buildings of Mayapan date from 1020 to 1170. It was enlightening to see the placement of this codex in a locative element. Once you take a closer look at the art from both sources, you realize how keen her analysis was. Milbrath continued to say that Mayapan had adopted its intellectual heritage from Chichen Itza and the Puuc of the Xiu. Mayapan, as we know, represents the last of Maya kingdoms in Mexico.


Laura Caso Barrera continued with a most interesting lecture on the influence of the trade of cacao, vanilla and annatto in Tah Itza: Times of Consolidation, Resistance, and Conflict, a look at the 12th b’ak’tun, especially its beginning during the last stand of independent Maya polities of the Itzalan state. Caso, a graduate of the University of Calgary and the College of Post-Graduates of Puebla, has done extensive research on the commerce and migration of the Maya of the 17th to the 19th centuries. It is most interesting to consider vanilla, which now is so much identified with Veracruz, an important crop in the commerce of the last stand of the Maya.


Saturday’s session closed with Judith Maxwell of Tulane and her work with the Maya of today. The Thirteenth Baqtun: eve of the New Maya Dawn? dealt with the possibility that the Maya predicted a new era for the Maya of the 13th b’ak’tun.


A gem of the whole symposium experience was the Hieroglyphic Forum led by Guenter, Stuart and Zender. Were you ever in attendance at a Three Tenors concert? Checking out who would give the highest C? In this case, Stan, David and Marc gave that kind of performance. It was fun being present at three “tenors” vocalizing their “decipherments” while checking out what the other two were up to. It reminded me of the exchanges Linda Schele used to have with others during her workshops in Austin. The three-hour forum could’ve taken all day without covering much ground, which made it that much more interesting. I hope the organizers schedule another forum next year.


I did not attend Bruce Love’s workshop on Reading the Painted Books, but wanted to hear Marcus Eberl, from Vanderbilt University, give an Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. As one who has attended dozens of hieroglyphic workshops and still doesn’t know diddley-squat about how to read them, I enjoyed Eberl’s way of teaching the basics. I think I got the gist of how to write large numbers beyond the dots (digits) and the dashes (fives).


One of the treats on the symposium was to have Zender walk us through the newly opened gallery at MARI and guiding us through the exhibits at the New Orleans Museum of Art. At MARI, pieces that have been hiding for years were places in the newly designed gallery on the 3rd floor of the Dinwiddie Hall on the Tulane campus. There's an elevator now, so reaching the MARI gallery is easy.  The new gallery is beautiful, with subdued colors and proper lighting. Zender, Guenter and Canuto guided us through the pieces up for viewing. Then Zender took us down to see some of Merle Greene's rubbings. To stand close and personal to Merle's life-size rubbing of one of the columns of the Lower Temple of the Jaguar was a touching moment. According to Marc, the rubbings will be framed and placed on empty walls in the gallery. There are much fewer walls than rubbings, but they will rotate. Can't wait till next year.


I have purposely left Anthony Aveni’s keynote speech on Friday night to finish this long and personal evaluation. Aveni, as he’s prone to do, kept the audience at the New Orleans Museum of Art in stitches. In his remarks, the scientist and author went through a historical timeline of “change,” as predicted by religious and pseudo-visionaries. He left us with a very interesting thought: leave it to the Anglo civilizations, especially that of the United States, to develop fear of dates as established by calendars and to overly scrutinize just one more day in the life of our planet.  

With Guenter putting it all in context in his final presentation, the Ninth Annual Symposium came to an end. For those of us who try to follow what’s new in the world of the Ancient Maya, the weekend was an extraordinary source of information and analysis. I left with riches that can’t be counted. I thank Marcello Canuto from MARI, Marc Zender and Stanley Guenter and the rest of the organizers for a job well done.


Miami, March 6, 2012


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Copyright 2012 Thoughts on TMS 2012. The Institute of Maya Studies is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Your charitable contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
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