Ancient Maya Political Dynamics

Ancient Maya Political Dynamics

Ancient Maya Political Dynamics

Ancient Maya Political Dynamics


"An impressive overview of recent scholarship coupled with the results of a long-term research project at the site and region of Motul de San José. It contributes significantly to the anthropological literature on politics and power."--Daniela Triadan, coeditor of Burned Palaces and Elite Residences of Aguateca

"A long overdue and particularly welcome piece of scholarly work. It synthesizes, digests, and makes available the results of the tremendous boom in political studies in the Maya area that has occurred in the last twenty years as a consequence of rapid glyph decipherment, increased archaeological data, and more sophisticated theoretical modeling."--Eleanor M. King, Howard University

The study of politics, a dominating force throughout history, can provide great insight into the lives of ancient people. Because of the richness and complexity of Maya society, archaeologists and anthropologists have spent decades attempting to reconstruct its political systems.

In Ancient Maya Political Dynamics, Antonia Foias argues that there is no single Maya political history but multiple histories, no single Maya state but multiple polities that need to be understood at the level of the lived, individual experience. She explores the ways in which the dynamics of political power shaped the lives and landscape of the Maya and how this information can be used to look at other complex societies.


Ancient Maya Political Dynamics is a compelling reconstruction of Classic Period Maya politics. While the primary vantage point for discussion is the decade of excavations undertaken at the site of Motul de San José in Guatemala, Antonia Foias also provides comparisons with other archaeologically known polities and considers theoretical perspectives from areas within and outside of ancient Mesoamerica. Her outlook is particularly valuable in that she views politics from a variety of scales—micro, macro, and intermediate—thus providing balance to her interesting and in-depth discussion. She frames the volume within a reconstruction of Maya culture and history, using this framework as a backdrop for considerations of change in political organization over time. She further focuses on variability within these systems rather than on the establishment of centralized or decentralized units. Likewise, her discussion of political anthropology focuses on the dynamic, as opposed to static, nature of political systems. Comparative examples for the Motul de San José case study are drawn from both the Maya area and broader Mesoamerica as well as from the southeastern United States and Mesopotamia. Foias uses her multi-scaled framework to focus on the kinds of data that can be used in the reconstruction of political organization. Thus, the macro-scale discussion focuses predominantly on polity and interpolity organization, as informed by the study of settlement patterns, epigraphy, and ethnohistory. The intermediate-scale discussion focuses on the internal political dimension, as informed by Maya hieroglyphic texts and reconstructions of tribute, tax, and palace economies. The micro-scale discussion focuses on the politics of individuals, households, and subgroups within the community, especially as expressed on stone monuments and in artifact distributions. Her broader discussions include considerations not only of the political power held by the elite but also of the political power held by commoners—either because of their . . .

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