Maya Calendar Origins: Monuments, Mythistory, and the Materialization of Time

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In Maya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos, Prudence M. Rice proposed a new model of Maya political organization in which geopolitical seats of power rotated according to a 256-year calendar cycle known as the May. This fundamental connection between timekeeping and Maya political organization sparked Rice's interest in the origins of the two major calendars used by the ancient lowland Maya, one 260 days long, and the other having 365 days. In Maya Calendar Origins, she presents a provocative new thesis about the origins and development of the calendrical system.

Integrating data from anthropology, archaeology, art history, astronomy, ethnohistory, myth, and linguistics, Rice argues that the Maya calendars developed about a millennium earlier than commonly thought, around 1200 BC, as an outgrowth of observations of the natural phenomena that scheduled the movements of late Archaic hunter-gatherer-collectors throughout what became Mesoamerica. She asserts that an understanding of the cycles of weather and celestial movements became the basis of power for early rulers, who could thereby claim "control" over supernatural cosmic forces. Rice shows how time became materialized—transformed into status objects such as monuments that encoded calendrical or temporal concerns—as well as politicized, becoming the foundation for societal order, political legitimization, and wealth. Rice's research also sheds new light on the origins of the Popol Vuh, which, Rice believes, encodes the history of the development of the Mesoamerican calendars. She also explores the connections between the Maya and early Olmec and Izapan cultures in the Isthmian region, who shared with the Maya the cosmovision and ideology incorporated into the calendrical systems.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Prudence M. Rice is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Note on Orthography and Dates
1. Introduction
Popol Vuh, a Maya Creation Myth
Time and Preclassic Mesoamerica
Chiefdoms and Cycles
The Early Maya and the Isthmian Region
2. In the Beginning: Early Mesoamerican Prehistory
Early Occupation: The Paleoindian or Lithic Stage
The Archaic Stage
The Archaic-to-Formative Transition
The Early Mesoamerican Tradition
3. Mesoamerican Calendrics: Time and Its Recording
The 260-day Calendar
The 360- and 365-day Calendars
The Long Count and the May
Origins of the Mesoamerican Calendars
Recording Time
4. Maya Calendar Developments in Broader Context
Originally Thirteen Months?
Beginnings and Endings
The Months and the Day Names: A Derivational Model
Calendrical Origins and the Popol Vuh
5. Middle and Late Preclassic: The Gulf Coast Olmec and Epi-Olmec
Architectural Patterns
Monuments, Iconography, and Themes
Discussion: Calendrical Implications
The Epi-Olmec
6. Late Preclassic: Izapa and Kaminaljuyú
Izapa, Chiapas
Kaminaljuyú and Related Sites
Discussion: Calendrical Implications
7. The Early Maya Lowlands: Origins and Settlements
Origin Myths
Archaeology: The Earliest Lowland Settlers and Their
Archaeology and Architecture
Archaeology and Exchange
8. Early Lowland Maya Intellectual Culture: Writing, Stelae, and "Government"
Writing Systems
The Stela "Cult" and Calendrics
Ties to the Isthmus
Leadership, Politics, and Government
9. The Materialization and Politicization of Time
Development of the Calendars
The Popol Vuh and Calendars
Pilgrimages and Tollans
Cycling: Chiefly and Calendrical
Maya Calendars: Order, Legitimacy, and Wealth
References Cited
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