AbstractsPolitical Science

Politics in Plazas: Classic Maya Ritual Performance at El Palmar, Campeche, Mexico

by Kenichiro Tsukamoto

Institution: University of Arizona
Year: 2014
Keywords: Maya; Mesoamerica; Plaza; Power; Ritual Performance; Ideology; Anthropology
Record ID: 2042909
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10150/339054


This dissertation research examines the political significance of plazas in ancient Maya society from the Late Preclassic period through the Terminal Classic period (ca. 150 B.C.- A.D. 900). I consider plazas not as by-products of temples and palaces, but as political arenas in which different social actors created and transformed social realities and values. My primary question is how power relations and ideologies emerge from people's practices and their engagements with materiality – more specifically, the construction of plazas and ritual performances. I address this question through the combination of various methods including the following: spatial analyses based on GIS, extensive excavations, epigraphic studies, and material analyses through petrographic microscopy and particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE). Using these methods, I conducted archaeological research at El Palmar, a Maya polity located in southeastern Campeche of Mexico. During the 2007-2014 field seasons, I investigated eleven plazas in total with eight located in the urban core and three in its outlying areas. The results from the urban core suggest that the power relations at El Palmar changed through time. Such changes are reflected in the designs of both public and exclusive plazas and associated ritual events. The results in the north outlying plaza, where a hieroglyphic stairway was built around A.D.726, further suggest that a group of officials negotiated their status and power with rulers. The protagonist of the event was not an El Palmar ruler but an official who emphasized diplomatic relations with foreign rulers, giving the El Palmar ruler only scant reference. Considering inter-regional contexts, however, they were not only engaged in internal power struggles, but also cooperated to negotiate with foreign dynasties. This complex mechanism of power was closely tied to the remodeling of the plaza and ideological symbolism materialized by mortuary practice, fire rituals, and termination rituals. My dissertation concludes that ritual performances in outlying plazas were not merely a reflection of royal ideology promoted by rulers but could have introduced new power and ideological relations in the community, relations that would be difficult to identify solely through the analysis of the main plaza.