Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis, and Interpretation

Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis, and Interpretation

Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis, and Interpretation

Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis, and Interpretation


"Aimers has brought together leading Maya ceramicists who provide their candid views on how they classify pottery. This volume is of particular theoretical strength for the discussion on terminology in classification, both for critically evaluating the type-variety system and for general classification of pottery."--Heather McKillop, author of Salt

"At last, we have the opportunity to learn the potential strengths as well as the pitfalls of a single method for the study of the prehistoric Maya."--Fred Valdez Jr., coeditor of Ancient Maya Commoners

"An intriguing journey through an analytical technique that is foundational to building deep and complex histories yet is deployed with a flexibility that some accept and others question."--Patricia A. McAnany, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"Aimers has pulled together a series of theoretical, methodological, and substantive papers by prominent Maya ceramicists that evaluate the development, current utility, and limitations of the type-variety method."--E. Wyllys Andrews, Tulane University

The ancient Maya produced a broad range of ceramics that has attracted concerted scholarly attention for over a century. Pottery sherds--the most abundant artifacts recovered from sites--reveal much about artistic expression, religious ritual, economic systems, cooking traditions, and cultural exchange in Maya society.

Today, nearly every Maya archaeologist uses the type-variety classificatory framework for studying sherd collections. This impressive volume brings together many of the archaeologists signally involved in the analysis and interpretation of ancient Maya ceramics and represents new findings and state-of-the-art thinking. The result is a book that serves both as a valuable resource for archaeologists involved in pottery classification, analysis, and interpretation and as an illuminating exploration of ancient Mayan culture.


A decade ago, when we decided to start the Maya Studies series with the University Press of Florida, we did so with two specific targeted books in mind. the first of these was a volume that synthesized all of the results of the various archaeological projects that were then taking place in central Belize; that volume was published by the press in 2004 as The Ancient Maya of the Belize Valley: Half a Century of Archaeological Research, edited by James Garber. the second book that we solicited was one that dealt with new approaches to and issues in Maya ceramic analysis. While this second book took a bit longer to come to fruition, it was worth the wait. Ancient Maya Pottery: Classification, Analysis, and Interpretation, edited by James John Aimers, is an excellent contribution to understanding Maya pottery and how it is analyzed and interpreted.

For a Maya archaeologist, ceramics are crucial to interpreting the archaeological record. Large numbers of pottery sherds are found at all Maya sites. To some extent, they are both a bane and a blessing for archaeologists. They are a blessing because they can be dated and used to interpret past societies—provided that their stratigraphic and contextual situations are understood; they are a bane because their quantity and often poor preservation make them difficult and time-consuming to analyze. Pottery is plastic and malleable, changing to reflect cultural mores and preferences. in a society that did not use metal objects until very late in their history, this meant that most containers were made of pottery and that these containers morphed into different forms and styles as time passed. Thus, ceramics are a keystone in Maya archaeology for relative dating, for interpreting social differences within past groups at any one point in time, and for determining contextual functions.

Spectacular examples of Classic period Maya polychrome ceramics (A.D. 250–A.D. 900) are rightly prized by the countries in which they have been found, and many examples are professionally displayed in the world’s museums. However, the vast majority of Maya pottery does not meet this artistic standard, and most of the materials with which archaeologists work would never be placed on exhibit. Yet all pottery—whether beautiful or mundane . . .

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