New study explores role of theater in Maya political organization

October 2, 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

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Outside competition breeds more trust among coworkers

September 19, 2018

Working in a competitive industry fosters a greater level of trust amongst workers, finds a new study from the University of British Columbia, Princeton University and Aix-Marseille University, published today in Science ...

Oldest-known aquatic reptiles probably spent time on land

September 19, 2018

The oldest known aquatic reptiles, the mesosaurs, probably spent part of their life on land, reveals a new study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. The fossilized bones of adult Mesosaurus share similarities ...

Research shows SE Asian population boom 4,000 years ago

September 19, 2018

Researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) have uncovered a previously unconfirmed population boom across South East Asia that occurred 4,000 years ago, thanks to a new method for measuring prehistoric population ...

Searching for new bridge forms that can span further

September 19, 2018

Newly identified bridge forms could enable significantly longer bridge spans to be achieved in the future, potentially making a crossing over the Strait of Gibraltar, from the Iberian Peninsula to Morocco, feasible.

0 comments

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.