You may remember that the Bosnian pyramid inventor Semir Osmanagic was invited to speak at a Swedish university a while ago. The reactions following this invitation caused some critical comments in the blogosphere. What you may not know is that this led to a forum discussion in issue # 2 of AP: Online Journal in Public Archaeology. My contribution can be found on pages 35-37.
Debates regarding the Maya collapse never end and in recent years various versions of the “drought” hypothesis have dominated (I tend to criticize them on various grounds). A new study on the distribution of obsidian at Classic and Postclassic sites has brought back an old collapse scenario to life. Changing trade networks led to the collapse in this study. Some details are new but not the idea itself. Read more about it in Antiquity. I guess the debate will continue.
The extirpation of idolatry (idolatria) in the Maya area is a sad history of religious intolerance. During Colonial times idolatria meant “the adoration or cult that gentiles give to creatures or statues of their false gods” (p 149). From the earliest days of Christianity, idolatry became linked with superstition which was seen as a confession of unbelief by external worship.
The Spanish crown argued that the higher posts in the ecclesiastical hierarchy should be held by those clerics who were well educated, served in cathedrals or had extirpated idolatry. However, it was a futile endeavor that never succeeded because the Spaniards misunderstood what the Maya did with their “idols”. They did not “worship” them but more on the problematic use of Christian terminology in describing Maya ritual activities in a later post. Hence I use “” around terms like deity, god, religion, etc. to show their problematic uses.
In this post I will describe the historical sources to our knowledge about these activities. These are the dossiers or relaciónes de méritos that the priests and friars or an agent of them brought to Spain to show their merits. Some historians have argued that these are dubious sources as torture may have been used to make people confess. Chuchiak downplay the use of torture being used in the confessions because the local parish priest relied on local scribes and the Spaniard was quite isolated, or as one of them said “I am a lone island of Spanish civilization amongst a furious sea of idolatrous natives” (p 147).
Clendinnen and Tedlock argue that the clergy over-reported the cases of idolatry because this would look good to Spanish administrators. Chuchiak argues the opposite because the clergy had much to lose if people reported that widespread idolatry persisted. They could be removed from their office for failing. Sometimes even the clergy was blamed for being the cause of the idolatry. In fact, bishops and governors broke up large parishes where reports on idolatry persisted. Hence, the local priests would lose part of their annual revenue if idolatry persisted.
The Catholic clergy did not deny the powers of the idols but they attributed them to the devil. The term cizin (“devil”) came to stand for all Prehispanic “deities”, “religious” images and rituals. However, for the Maya their “gods” were both benevolent and malevolent. They changed their minds and the Maya propitiated them with gifts and sacrifices. Since these images were not important for their “worship”, the clerics broadened the definition of idolatry to include everything that was different from Spanish Christian society.
The campaigns against idolatry have been subdivided into three periods. The first is the period of the iconoclast bishops that began with de Landa (1572-1636). The second period, the “Era of the Zealous Juez Provisor”, ran from 1636 to 1714. These chief judges of the episcopal court called the Provisorato de Indios led the campaigns. The third era (1716-1827) is called “Era of Clerical Disillusionment”. During this time the clergy lost the hope of converting the Maya. They rather focused on idolatry among mestizo, mulatto and Spaniards. The clerics became more and more negative towards the Maya and after 1812 when the Maya were freed from tribute the clerics became hostile. The parish priests disappeared and they delegated the responsibilities to vicarios. Hence, idolatry became more and more. In fact, of the 399 known idolatry cases 347 or 87% did not involve worship of idols or images.
Chuchiak IV, John F. (2002). Toward a regional definition of idolatry: Reexamining idolatry trials in the “Relaciónes de méritos” and their role in defining the concept of “idolatria” in Colonial Yucatán, 1570-1780. Journal of Early Modern History, 6(2):140-167
On Friday 11 May, John Major Jenkins (JMJ) wrote this on Facebook in response to the Xultun discovery:
“Good news of new inscriptions. But scholars are using it to dismiss 2012. They are doing that by saying that it’s not about doomsday. DUH. Maya time is cyclic and goes on beyond 2012 — DUH. But then what about 2012? How did the ancient Maya think about it? What about the astronomy at Izapa and in Tortuguero Monument 6? Nothing said. Professional Maya scholars are far behind the curve of investigating the evidence for how the ancient did think about 2012. They are fixated on reacting to the silly doomsday meme in the marketplace, and in so doing they are forgetting to do their jobs.”
This is a typical response from one of the leading New Agers in the 2012-circus (although he claims he is not a New Ager…). First of all, JMJ has a personal grudge against pretty much anyone who disagrees with his ideas and points out problems with them (he sees academics as gatekeepers of knowledge). Two of the authors of the Science article, David Stuart and Anthony Aveni, have criticized him before. Now, JMJ believes they are using the Xultun discovery to dismiss 2012. He has clearly not read the article where there is no mention of this at all. JMJ cannot separate what interest media from scholarly interests. The authors of the article simply answer the questions being asked by journalists.
I am not sure if JMJ directs the second “DUH” (about Maya time being cyclic and going on beyond 2012) to scholars or to what he believes is “common knowledge”. What the new data from Xultun informs us about is that there is no end of a 13 baktun cycle (as believed by JMJ). Some Maya calendars are cyclical but the Long Count is primarily cumulative.
And why would these scholars mention Izapa and Tortuguero in this context? JMJ seems to believe all calendar stuff and archeoastronomical data must be about or relate to his galactic alignment idea. It is all about him and he continues to spread disinformation by claiming that scholars are “fixated on reacting to the silly doomsday meme in the marketplace, and in so doing they are forgetting to do their jobs”. Saturno and others have done their job very well by making a contribution that will stand the test of time. It is always amusing when an amateur tells professionals how to do their jobs.
My son Simon is in today’s Göteborgsposten (p 7), one of Sweden’s largest newspapers (only in the paper version as far as I can tell). We went to a family day at the city museum of Gothenburg. The theme of the day was “cultivate now”, to get people more interested in growing plants. My son began to paint a “house” for hedgehogs in black paint which will be set out in Slottsskogen, the city park. His mother told the journalist that he likes black paint and hedgehogs. My son added “Yes, even if they are spiny”. The journalist got his last name wrong, they used his mother’s name instead of mine.
Most of the archaeoastronomical information from the Maya area concerning the movement of the Sun, Moon and planets like Venus, Mars and Mercury has been found in the Postclassic codices. In the recent issue of Science, Saturno, Stuart, Aveni and Rossi report on early 9th century wall paintings from the site of Xultun that includes numerical tables and a series of long numbers that appears to work in the same way as the astronomical tables found in the later codices.
Many bar-and-dot numbers are arranged in vertical columns. These contain no more than three numerals. On top of at least five columns there are “Moon” glyphs that are combined with the facial profiles of deities. Similar glyphs are used to record Moon ages in the Lunar Series. The authors argue that the numbers represent elapsed days as they were recorded in the Long Count (tun, winal and kin). The span between two columns is almost a lunar “semester” of 177 or 178 days (29,5 days x 6). These numbers are important in Maya archaeoastronomy since the eclipse tables in the Dresden Codex use the same intervals. They are not correlated to precise eclipse phenomena. It makes up a tally that spans a period of roughly 13 years (4784 days to be precise).
There is another array of four columns in red colors. Here each column begins with a tzolkin day station. Below them are five numbers but they are not Long Count dates but are believed to be Distance Numbers with a duration between 935 and 6703 years. The intervals of the columns do not link the different tzolkin day stations and this indicates that the each column is self-contained. These four intervals have one common divisor and that is 56,940 days which is a multiple of the Calendar Round (3 x 18980 days) and the canonic Mars period (73 x 780 days). The authors believe the wall paintings may have been copied from Late Classic codices. The significance of this discovery is that we now have the first evidence of Classic period astronomical tables similar to the ones in the 4-6 centuries later codices.
Saturno, William A., David Stuart, Anthony F. Aveni, and Franco Rossi (2012). Ancient Maya Astronomical Tables from Xultun, Guatemala. Science, Vol. 336, 714-717.
Readers of this blog may recall that I have written about an upcoming documentary that supposedly will show that the Maya were visited by aliens. The producer behind this documentary, the Mexican soap opera actor Raul Julia-Levy, is in the pseudo-news again. It now seems that the documentary may not be finished (unless this is part of Julia-Levy’s attempt to create a hype for his product…).
Anyway, The Wrap, says that the executive producer, Elisabeth Thieriot, has fled Mexico with two dozen hard drives and ten computer towers that contain footage for the documentary. She filmed without a valid permit on federal ground (such as at Calakmul and Jaina). Apparently three other people have also been accused of stealing footage and equipment. The Wrap article also mentions that Julia-Levy may actually be an imposter by the name of Salvador Fuentes… What a mess. On Twitter, Julia-Levy addressed Thieriot two days ago with these words: “Serpent you can run, but you can’t hide from the law, I’m coming after you and the rest!”
Tonight I will begin to read Miguel Angel Astor-Aguilera’s book The Maya World of Communicating Objects: Quadripartite Crosses, Trees, and Stones (2011). Miguel is an anthropologist and he has worked in the ejido of X-Cabil in the Cochuah region, half-way between Saban and Tihosuco. This will hopefully be my final book to read for my cave and climate change project. It also appears to provide a nice transition to my water project. The book description has this to say about the product:
One of the “case studies” in my water as an archaeological object project deals with artifacts either produced by the help of water or produced to deal with water in one way or another. Ceramic vessels are first modeled when the clay is wet but later in the process water needs to be removed by intense heat for the vessel to become a solid container for other liquids. At this stage the vessel enters other objects/assemblages of larger scales but shorter duration than the vessel itself. Liquid water was used in a short-term ritual event or feasting whereas an ancient ceramic vessel is still around. With a ceramic vessel water could be deterritorialized from larger bodies of water or be captured from rain and be reterritorialized at another location and with another object, such as young Maya men as discussed by Stephen Houston in a recent post.
In this post Steve refers to a three year old article where he suggested that “pots with such labels could have been bestowed in the setting of age-grade rituals or promotions, a recognition of feasting and expensive drinks as markers of adult status, even trophies and material honours while in page service, ballplay or war” (Houston 2009:166). A vessel from Uaxactun contains a glyphic passage that names the drinking vessel (yuk’ib), the expression ti yax ch’ahb, “for the first fast/penance(?).” This is followed by the name of the owner, which is a ch’ok or “youth.” The vessel was apparently intended for an age-grade ritual. Steve is assured that “most such vessels marked and materialized shifts of status: a liquid passage from boyhood to the obligations of elite men.”
In case you wonder why there are so few blog posts these days it has to do with the fact that I have only 1,5 month left of work before my vacation. I have to finish a multitude of articles (nine or ten I think it is!) and work on two books. So my work primarily consists of editing, editing, editing… Not much new input from reading that might be of interest to readers of this blog. I expect there will be around one blog post a week until my vacation.
Tomorrow it is Walpurgis night here in Sweden (Valborgsmässoafton or simply Valborg). The weather forescast predicts good weather so my prediction is that we will have plenty of drunk people welcoming the spring around bonfires. This is also the time when the students’ choirs sing “Längtan till landet” (better known as “Vintern rasat ut”). Valborg is not complete without hearing this song. And I have very little to blog about right now…
Last week I read Matt Edgeworth’s book on the archaeology of rivers. It is a short book but it contains plenty of interesting examples for my own study on water as an archaeological object. I will describe three of these examples. For Edgeworth “most rivers are neither natural nor cultural, but rather entanglements of both” (p 15). He calls rivers “wild artefacts” since their form cannot be controlled. Water management implies a manipulation of the water source.
The first example I choose to describe from Edgeworth’s book is a classic study by Leopold and Wolman. They studied small rivers in Maryland and Pennsylvania and this resulted in the creation of a standard type of natural watercourse, supposedly unaffected by human modification. It later turned out that the channels had been modified by colonial period mill dams. Sediment accumulated behind the mill dams and below these sediments Walter and Merritts found evidence of another kind of river with multiple branching channels. The new study showed that the modern, incised, meandering form was the result of human utilization of streams for power.
Another of Edgeworth’s examples deals with the levees of the Yellow River in China. Levees are parallel to the direction of the current and they channel water. When the Yellow River floods it deposits sediments that build it upwards. When the river rises above the surrounding floodplain people needs to raise the levees, etc. At some places the river runs up to ten m above the surrounding terrain. In 1861 the river escaped the channel and six years later it flowed into the sea, 500 miles north of the old mouth. 26 major changes in the course of the river are known from the past 3000 years. The river has also been used in warfare. In 1938 the Chinese forces cut a gap in a levee so that the river swept away advancing Japanese forces. This had long-term negative effects as hundreds of thousands of local people drowned. Not until 1946 could the river be returned to its former course.
The third example concerns the infamous “Vildhussen” (Magnus Huss) in Sweden. In 1794 Huss began to excavate a canal through a dam of glacial material located in the eastern end of Lake Ragunda. This was done in order to bypass the Storforsen rapids in River Indal (Indalsälven) which was disastrous for transporting logs. This new canal would make it easier to move logs. However, in 1796, the spring floods breached the dam. Storforsen was transformed into Döda fallet (The dead waterfall). Upstream the drained Lake Ragunda was transformed into a fertile plain. Downstream huge amounts of sediment re-deposited on the Indal delta and formed the island where Midlanda airport is located. When I was still in the military service I was supposed to be stationed at Midlanda airport in case of war (I was part of an air defense unit). At that time I had no idea that Midlanda island was the result of Vildhussen’s hyss (mischief).
Edgeworth, Matt (2011). Fluid Pasts: Archaeology of Flow. Bristol Classical Press.
I read in the news that geologists in Chechnya believe they have found more than 40 giant dinosaur eggs. The largest is said to be one m long but there are examples that are 25 cm long as well (which is roughly the size of the largest known dinosaur eggs). I doubt that these are dinosaur eggs for several reasons. First of all the eggs would have been very thick in order not to collapse from their own weight. Second of all, if they were eggs from the same species, the eggs would be of fairly similar size, not vary this much. Third of all, from what I can see in the video below the eggs are also found vertically in the stratigraphy whereas a dinosaur nest would have been horizontal (unless there has been som folding going on, which I doubt). Finally, the best evidence that these are not eggs is found 20 seconds into the clip. There you see three “eggs” being stuck to each others like siamese triplets… The ”geologists” seem to have some security problems (just look how close that falling piece of rock is to the man 14 seconds into the clip). In any case, the “eggs” seems to be some sort of concretions.
In my search for a concept of time for archaeological purposes that is compatible with Harman’s object-oriented philosophy I have now returned to an old blog post of mine. The old blog post is based on my licentiate thesis which was written during my “pre-Bergsonian” period. I have earlier described the way Husserl’s model of time consciousness can be reworked to fit the archaeological record. Just like Husserl, Gaston Bachelard saw time as instantaneous, existing only in the actual. I encountered the writings of Bachelard in an anthology about time and physics and I found it suitable for archaeological purposes. Bachelard’s view of time was developed in reaction to Bergson’s continuous duration. I am not a philosopher but I believe there are some interesting overlaps between Bachelard’s view of time and Harman’s view.
Like Whitehead and Latour, Harman argues that only the actual exist. For Harman time is therefore not a flow or a continuum. It is the tension between sensual objects and their sensual qualities. The “flow” is a sense of accidents on the surface of deeper sensual objects. The iceberg had a time in relation to Titanic. The time it took for the collision to occur was not a continuous flow but rather an event. Since two objects only can relate on the inside of a third object there are infinitely many times that unfolds on the interior of a vacuum-like space. As time “moves on” the objects are recomposed and they can seldom be decomposed to their former objects.
Bachelard argues that time can only be observed in instants and duration can only be experienced through these instants. Instants without duration forms duration in a similar way as a line consists of infinitely small points with no dimension. Bachelard maintains an idea of both momentary and discrete instants. The first term means that the instant has no extension and the second means that the instant is isolated from another instant. In such a view, time could be seen as having neither extension nor flow. Time is just made up of an infinite succession of discrete instants. This would also suit Harman’s demand that objects are withdrawn from their relations and that they are never exhausted by them.
As I said above, Bachelard’s view of time was largely a response to Bergson’s view on time. Bergson argues that the idea of instants belongs to quantitative science and that they are static and kills the flow of time. A discrete instant cannot, according to Bergson, produce the next instant and thus the future must be determined and continuity remains a problem. Bachelard tries to solve this problem by claiming that only nothingness is continuous, being and events make time discontinuous. Bachelard argues that if time is continuous then we see time as independent of the events that make us perceive time. Bergson, on the other hand, sees time as continuing between events, in what Bachelard sees as voids. Time is empty if nothing happens and nothingness lacks magnitude and as such it is not measurable. The instant is therefore found between nothingness and nothingness.
Time’s being is not carried from one instant to the next to form duration according to Bachelard. The instant is solitude and isolated, always breaking with the past. The “new” is something that exceeds earlier conditions because the instant does not have a history. The new cannot be new if it is connected with the past and therefore he rejects Bergson’s continuity as this means that the present is inscribed in the past. However, the instant cannot be perpetually vanishing if it is not also perpetually returning. Time is perpetually heading towards non-being as the future passes into the past through the present. The idea that something will end is therefore the foundation for Bachelardian continuity. What last from the past is what begins again. Only that which starts over again has duration. Bachelard therefore argues that rhythm, as a system of instants, is critical to the concept of time. Duration is constructed by rhythms, rhythms that are by no means necessarily grounded on an entirely uniform and regular time.
Bachelard’s notion of a consciousness is that it only exist in the act and a time that is intermittent and discontinuous by no time at all. All our memories of events are reduced to their root in an instant according to Bachelard. We have only selected memories, not of continuity. Memory needs many instants. Therefore, we never remember duration, we only have snapshots. Continuities have to be constructed as they never are complete, solid, or constant. In a way, this resembles how archaeologists create chronological tables. Thus, an artifact, a posthole, construction fill, etc. are not just objects but also traces of events. The objects are our nodes for past events in an otherwise unknown and “empty past”. We construct continuity of fragments. Bachelard argues that the tension of looking towards the immediate future forms our present duration. Both memory and anticipation comes from our habits and past and future are habits themselves, they do not exist in reality. For Bachelard, past and future are empty and do not affect time and being since they are continuous nothingness. Time is only the present instant. The present never passes since we constantly move into a new instantaneous present.
One problem with Bachelard’s view of time though is that there is a dialectic relation between the instant and nothingness. Being is thus defined from its opposite, which is nothingness. Hegel (not a popular figure in OOO), argues that being is a movement to overcome nothingness, thus becoming. The dialectic movement of opposites is the foundation of all being. However, Bergson’s critique of dialectic thinking suggests that, in order for us to understand nothingness, we must first have an idea of something full (the instant). This means that nothingness only becomes a negation and an inversion of the instant. Thus, dialectics set up contradictions on a scale with degrees which means that the instant is located in one end of the scale and nothingness at the opposite end, being a difference of degree to the instant. Degrees are believed to be homogeneous (spatial) units of measurement. The dialectics therefore confuses difference in kind with difference of degree in Bergson’s analysis. Therefore, Bachelard’s view on time is based on spatial metaphors such as point, line and void. We represent time in spatial media, but this is still not the nature of true duration. I wonder if duration even is a relevant concept in OOO?