New study explores role of theater in Maya political organization

Oct 02, 2006
Classic Maya (AD 250-900) Stone Sculpture
Stela from Copán, Honduras, that depicts the ruler with an elaborate headdress and ornaments. Credit: Courtesy Takeshi Inomata

Magnificent stone sculptures of Classic Maya culture (AD 250-900) have long fascinated archaeologists and the general public alike. But what did the scenes depicted in these monuments mean in their society? In an article to appear in the October 2006 issue Current Anthropology, Takeshi Inomata (University of Arizona) argues that these images commonly show acts of public performance conducted by rulers, revealing the prominent role which state theater played in Maya political organization.

Analyzing plazas where many stone monuments are placed, Inomata suggests that extensive gathering places were a crucial concern in Maya city planning. The spaces were designed to accommodate all of, or a substantial part of, the entire kingdom's population.

Wearing ostentatious feathered headdresses and elaborate costumes, Maya kings danced in these large plazas in front of a large audience. These mass spectacles were occasions in which the general populace shared the experience of witnessing rulers engaged in culturally charged ritual performances, explains Inomata. However, this also meant that rulers were under constant evaluation by their subjects.

"Large-scale theatrical events gave physical reality to a community and helped to ground unstable community identities in tangible forms through the use of symbolic acts and objects," Inomata writes. "The centrality of rulers in communal events suggests that the identities of a Maya community revolved around the images of supreme political leaders. … Large gatherings also gave the elite an opportunity to impose their ideologies and cultural values on the rest of society through performances."

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Crocs rocked pre-Amazonian Peru: New research uncovers 7 crocodile species in single 13-million-year-old bone bed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Losing 1 electron switches magnetism on in dichromium

28 minutes ago

The scientists used the unique Nanocluster Trap experimental station at the BESSY II synchrotron radiation source at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin and published their results in the Journal Angewandte Chemie.

Korean tech start-ups offer life beyond Samsung

8 hours ago

As an engineering major at Seoul's Yonsei University, Yoon Ja-Young was perfectly poised to follow the secure, lucrative and socially prized career path long-favoured by South Korea's elite graduates.

Recommended for you

Ancient wheat points to Stone Age trading links

6 hours ago

(AP)—Britons may have discovered a taste for bread thousands of years earlier than previously thought, thanks to trade with more advanced neighbors on the European continent.

Who's your daddy? Hippo ancestry unveiled

Feb 24, 2015

A great-great grandfather of the hippopotamus likely swam from Asia to Africa some 35 million years ago, long before the arrival of the lion, rhino, zebra and giraffe, researchers said Tuesday.

CT scan taken of mummified remains in statue

Feb 24, 2015

(Phys.org) —A CT scan and endoscopy have revealed a master's mummy inside a Buddha statue. These were mummified remains of an ancient Buddhist monk who lived during the 11th or 12th century. Investigations ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.