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Did the Maya Build Architectural Cosmograms?

  • Michael E. Smith (a1)

I criticize recent applications of the “cosmogram” concept to ancient Maya architecture and cities. Although cosmograms—graphic representations of aspects of the cosmos—are known from Late Postclassic and early colonial Aztec and Maya sources, there is no textual suggestion that buildings or cities were viewed as cosmograms. Numerous authors, however, assert confidently that architectural cosmograms abounded in Classic Maya cities. I examine known cosmograms, describe recent studies of architectural cosmograms, and discuss problems that occur when highly speculative interpretations are phrased as confident empirical findings.

Hago una crítica del modelo de “cosmograma” aplicado a la arquitectura y las ciudades mayas. Hay cosmogramas (modelos gráficos de aspectos de la cosmovisión) en las fuentes aztecas y mayas de los periodos Postclásico Tardío y colonial temprano, pero no hay evidencia en textos de que la gente antigua consideraron edificios o ciudades como cosmogramas. Muchos autores, sin embargo, afirman con seguridad que había cosmogramas arquitectónicas en las ciudades mayas. Discuto cosmogramas conocidas, describo estudios recientes de cosmogramas arquitectónicas, y discuto los problemas que ocurren cuando se expresan interpretaciones muy especulativas como resultados empíricos fuertes.

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Wendy Ashmore 1991 Site-Planning Principles and Concepts of Directionality among the Ancient Maya. Latin American Antiquity 2:199226.

Wendy Ashmore 2002 “Decisions and Dispositions”: Socializing Spatial Archaeology. American Anthropologist 104:11721183.

Wendy Ashmore , and Jeremy A. Sabloff 2002 Spatial Orders in Maya Civic Plans. Latin American Antiquity 13:201215.

Peter Carl , Barry Kemp , Ray Laurence , Robin Coningham , Charles Higham , and George L. Cowgill 2000 Viewpoint: Were Cities Built as Images? Cambridge Archaeological Journal 10:327365.

Clemency Chase Coggins 1980 The Shape of Time: Some Political Implications of a Four-Part Figure. American Antiquity 45:727739.

John Gerard Fox 1996 Playing with Power: Ballcourts and Political Ritual in Southern Mesoamerica. Current Anthropology 37:483509.

David A. Freidel , and Linda Schele 1988a Kings in the Late Preclassic Lowlands: The Instruments and Places of Ritual Power. American Anthropologist 90:547567.

Timothy W. Pugh 2001 Flood Reptiles, Serpent Temples, and the Quadripartite Universe: The Imago Mundi of Late Postclassic Mayapan. Ancient Mesoamerica 12:247258.

Timothy W. Pugh 2003 A Cluster and Spatial Analysis of Ceremonial Architecture at Late Postclassic Mayapan. Journal of Archaeological Science 30:941953.

Vernon L. Scarborough 1998 Ecology and Ritual: Water Management and the Maya. Latin American Antiquity 9:135159.

Justine M. Shaw 2001 Maya Sacbeob: Form and Function. Ancient Mesoamerica 12:261272.

Michael E. Smith 2003 Can We Read Cosmology in Ancient Maya City Plans? Comment on Ashmore and Sabloff. Latin American Antiquity 14:221228.

Ivan Šprajc 2000 Astronomical Alignments at Teotihuacan. Latin American Antiquity 11:403415.

Edward R. Swenson 2003 Cities of Violence: Sacrifice, Power and Urbanization in the Andes. Journal of Social Archaeology 3:256296.

Walburga Wiesheu 1997 China’s First Cities: The Walled Site of Wangchenggang in the Central Plain Region of North China. In Emergence and Change in Early Urban Societies, edited by Linda Manzanilla, pp. 87105. Plenum, New York.

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Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-antiquity
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