Mayanist researchers have from time to time used textual sources from the Colonial period and projected them into the Prehispanic past in order to shed some light on historical or cultural issues. The so-called Books of Chilam Balam (BCB) have been particularly important in trying to understand Maya cosmology. These nine manuscripts, found at various places in the northern Yucatan, were all written down with Latin alphabet, but in Yucatec. Chilam/chilan is a priest who declares prophecies and Balam is a common surname meaning Jaguar. Since these Colonial period books mention historical events predating the European arrival it has been assumed that they all go back to a common Prehispanic narrative. Particularly the mentioning of katun (20 year periods) prophecies that date back to Prehispanic times have been of interest. A recent example is Prudence Rice’s may-cycle (13 katuns) sociopolitical model for the Prehispanic Maya area. The reason why Mayanists have found these books of interest is that they were written down by Maya authors for Maya addressees that were largely “outside” the Spanish governance and mission. Hence, they have been assumed to be less affected by Spanish influence and therefore more authentic to the Prehispanic beliefs.
However, in his outstanding study “Converting Words” William Hanks (2010:362) shows that “there is simply too much Christianized Maya reducido [missionary Maya, the way Christian ideas were translated into Yucatec Maya by the Spanish missionaries] in the BCBs to think that these texts come from a position of sheer exteriority. Their writers were colonial subjects; even if they carved out spaces of discursive autonomy, they did so using much language that was itself the product of linguistic reducción.”
Basically, those who wrote the BCBs (and there were many authors for each manuscript) were people deeply affected by Christian doctrines. Hanks (2010:362) shows that “doctrinal Maya, the converting word, was an important part of the scribal repertoire and the genre of the books. This in turn poses a formidable problem of method for the older way of reading these works. How can we be confident whether a passage […] is an ancient text or […] a colonial one? The answer is that we cannot be confident in such judgments unless we undertake an in-depth analysis of Maya reducido, which has been lacking in the literature to date.”
Since few archaeologists are capable of doing such an analysis I suggest references to the BCBs or the Popol Vuh to be handled with care. I am deeply suspicious of any attempt to fill spatiotemporal gaps in our understanding of the Prehispanic past with analogies from sources that potentially were heavily affected by Christian doctrines. Such sources are primarily texts. A greater focus on material objects without this filling in of voids should be a better strategy. However, that is not exactly the way the anthropological tradition of Mesoamerican archaeology works. It will always be anthropocentric and the analogies will sneak in one way or another.