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: Earliest ancestor of land herbivores discovered

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Net neutrality balancing act

33 minutes ago

Researchers in Italy, writing in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management have demonstrated that net neutrality benefits content creator and consumers without compromising provider innovation nor pr ...

India's ancient mammals survived multiple pressures

53 minutes ago

Most of the mammals that lived in India 200,000 years ago still roam the subcontinent today, in spite of two ice ages, a volcanic super-eruption and the arrival of people, a study reveals.

Recommended for you

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

8 hours ago

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

8 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Is Parkinson's an autoimmune disease?

The cause of neuronal death in Parkinson's disease is still unknown, but a new study proposes that neurons may be mistaken for foreign invaders and killed by the person's own immune system, similar to the ...