The Origins of Maya States

The Origins of Maya States

The Origins of Maya States

The Origins of Maya States


The Pre-Columbian Maya were organized into a series of independent kingdoms or polities rather than unified into a single state. The vast majority of studies of Maya states focus on the apogee of their development in the classic period, ca. 250-850 C.E. As a result, Maya states are defined according to the specific political structures that characterized classic period lowland Maya society. The Origins of Maya States is the first study in over 30 years to examine the origins and development of these states specifically during the preceding preclassic period, ca. 1000 B.C.E. to 250 C.E.

Attempts to understand the origins of Maya states cannot escape the limitations of archaeological data, and this is complicated by both the variability of Maya states in time and space and the interplay between internal development and external impacts. To mitigate these factors, editors Loa P. Traxler and Robert J. Sharer assemble a collection of essays that combines an examination of topical issues with regional perspectives from both the Maya area and neighboring Mesoamerican regions to highlight the role of interregional interaction in the evolution of Maya states. Topics covered include material signatures for the development of Maya states, evaluations of extant models for the emergence of Maya states, and advancement of new models based on recent archaeological data. Contributors address the development of complexity during the preclassic era within the Maya regions of the Pacific coast, highlands, and lowlands and explore preclassic economic, social, political, and ideological systems that provide a developmental context for the origins of Maya states.

Contributors: Marcello A. Canuto, John E. Clark, Ann Cyphers, Francisco Estrada-Belli, David C. Grove, Norman Hammond, Richard D. Hansen, Eleanor King, Michael Love, Simon Martin, Astrid Runggaldier, Robert Sharer, Loa Traxler.


In 1973 the Origins of Maya Civilization Advanced Seminar was held at the School of American Research (SAR), in Santa Fe. The basic goal of the SAR conference was to construct a model to explain the appearance of Maya civilization between ca. 1–250 CE (Adams and Culbert 1977:3). Much has transpired in the years since that Advanced Seminar, especially given the great increase in archaeological data bearing on the origins issue. The mammoth site of El Mirador was not even mentioned at the 1973 Advanced Seminar or in the subsequent publication of its results (Adams 1977). Back then it was held that Maya civilization coalesced during the Terminal Preclassic or Protoclassic period. Now we look back at least a thousand years earlier to the Middle Preclassic for the origins of Maya states. In 1973 little was known of Maya political organization or polities. When discussion turned to evolutionary concepts, the prevailing view often held that the Classic Maya represented a chiefdom-like society. In his summary of the SAR Seminar, however, Gordon Willey (1977:420) suggested that Tikal might have ruled over a centralized state during the Early Classic period, after establishing prestige-enhancing relationships with Teotihuacan.


This volume is the result of an International Conference on the origins of Maya states held in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania Museum on April 10–13, 2007. Prior to the conference each participant was asked . . .

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