History in Review
Ancient Maya Commoners
Edited by Jon C. Lohse and Fred Valdez, Jr. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2004. Pg. viii, 299. 55 Figures and 7 Tables.) ISBN: 0-292-70571-9.
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 3, 2005
Ancient Maya Commoners is a collection of papers, by a group of outstanding Maya scholars, which examine the lives of the non-elite Maya. Although the Maya population was predominately non-elite, it is the elite members of the culture that have been the subject of most academic inquiry. In this timely work, Jon C. Lohse and Fred Valdex, Jr. have compiled an accessible, yet academically rigorous, collection of essays that explore the current theories and data applicable to the study of Maya commoners.
The eleven essays in this book makes full use of all available data ranging from archaeological and ethnohistorical to ethnographic and modern examples of ancient Maya practices. In addition to describing their research on Maya commoners, the authors have attempted to explain how this information fits into our overall understanding of the Maya and how by learning about the non-elites we can better understand how the elites controlled the population under them. The essays are illustrated and each concludes with a set of useful bibliographic references that can be used as a comprehensive reading guide to each topic under discussion.
A perusal of the titles of the essays in this groundbreaking collection shows the breadth of this work, with essays spanning from preclassic to postclassic periods and over broad geographical areas. The end result is a detailed, and sweeping overview of ancient Maya commoner life. The essays in this volume include:
Although written for a scholarly audience, Ancient Maya Commoners is an eminently readable volume that will fascinate general readers and scholars alike. It is also ideally suited for use in upper level and graduate courses on Maya and Mesoamerica studies, archaeology, and anthropology, as well as social history courses.
- Examining Ancient Maya Commoners Anew, by Jon C. Lohse and Fred Valdez, Jr.
Serving as the introduction to this volume, this essay explores the various approaches taken to the study of commoners, and why the study of Maya commoners is so important to our understanding of the Ancient Maya.
- Daily Life in the Highland Maya Community: Zinacantan in Mid-Twentieth Century, by Evon Z. Vogt.
Vogt shows how ancient Maya life was mirrored in the Zinacanteco culture of the 1950 and how their material goods, daily activities, family structure, and rituals provided important information about the ancient Maya.
- The Role of Pottery and Food Consumption among Late Preclassic Maya Commoners at Lamanai, Belize, by Terry G. Powis.
Powis examines how pottery differed in elite and non-elite households, how pottery is classified, what the various forms of pottery were used for, and how their various uses helps researchers to determine what the Maya commoners ate.
- Of Salt and Water: Ancient commoners on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala, by Barbara Arroyo.
This essay provides a detailed overview of commoner life on the Pacific coast of Guatemala by looking at several different sites - and illustrating how the sites differed and what commonalities existed in regard to commoner housing and artifacts.
- Down on the Farm: Classic Maya "Homesteads" as "Farmsteads," by Nicholas Dunning.
Looking at the residents of farmsteads as corporate groups, Dunning examines the social organization of ancient farmsteads and the farming system used. He also looks at modern Maya farmers and the information that can be garnered from this modern source in regard to the ancient Maya.
- Intra-Site Settlement Signatures and Implications for Late Classic Maya Commoner Organization at Dos Hombres, Belize, by Jon C. Lohse.
In this essay, Lohse looks at the economics of agricultural production and the impact of environmental variability and settlement patterns and how they affected both food production and community organization.
- Heterogeneous Hinterlands: The Social and Political Organization of Commoner Settlements near Xunantunich, Belize, by Jason Yaeger and Cynthia Robin.
Focusing on the settlements at San Lorenzo and Chan Noohol, this essay examines the relationship between the commoner and elite members of Maya society and the role that the individual played in community life and group affiliations. The authors also examine how commoner life differed between the two settlements.
- The Spatial Mobility of Non-Elite Populations in Classic Maya Society and Its Political Implications, by Takeshi Inomata.
This essay examines how Maya population changed over time, and how commoner mobility affected the elites' ability to control the commoner population. Inomata looks at the classic, contact, and colonial periods, and shows the various factors that affected commoner mobility. Also examined is why non-elites migrated to the Maya centers, and why they remained even after the elites fled their capitals.
- Commoners in Postclassic Maya Society: Social versus Economic Class Constructs, by Marilyn A. Masson and Carlos Peraza Lope.
Examines how the Maya differentiated between social class and economic class and how these divisions differed from one local to another. This essay also provides an overview of Maya economic organization.
- Methods of Understanding Classic Maya Commoners: Structure Function, Energetics, and More, by Nancy Gonlin.
Gonlin provides a useful overview of the methodologies used to study classic Maya commoners, including the information that can be garnered from commoner buildings and how the structure and function of associated items such as courtyards and hearths provide insights into commoner life. This essay details four structure function studies carried out at the classic Maya sites of Copan, Joya de Ceren, Tikal and Coba.
- Maya Commoners: The Stereotype and the Reality, by Joyce Marcus.
An apt conclusion for this important volume, Marcus' essay focuses on the stereotypical images ascribed to Maya commoners and shows what the empirical data actually says about the ancient Maya commoners and their role and importance in Mayan society.
Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare, Edited by M. Kathryn Brown and Travis W. Stanton.
This book consists of fifteen essays that explore our understanding of the role that warfare played in the development and history of ancient Mesoamerica.
The Memory of Bones: Body, Being, and Experience among the Classic Maya, by Stephen Houston, David Stuart, and Karl Taube.
How did the Classic Maya view the human body? How did they express their emotions? What role did the human body play in their art, their world view, and their sense of what comes after death? These and many more intriguing questions are answered in this compelling book.
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