As mentioned in a recent post I am writing a review of the book The Kowoj. A central portion of this book concerns the geopolitics and political economy of late Postclassic and early Colonial Central Petén lakes region. In the book Prudence Rice once again outlines her may model which she has advanced in several studies during the past half k’atun. The seat of the may was a sacred city that held power for 13 k’atuns (256 years) before it was ritually terminated. Within this territory each k’atun was seated at various smaller towns. Rice argues that there were antagonisms related to calendrical matters such as competition to seat the k’atun. This model is largely based on the Books of Chilam Balam and similar Colonial sources.
Rice has also proposed that the may model worked for the earlier Classic and Late Formative periods. For her the Classic lowland Maya political economy was a “relatively decentralized time-knowledge-based “cosmopolitical economy.”” (Rice 2009b:70). This is a ritual economy where “the relations of production, consumption, and distribution of resources (including knowledge) are situated in and directed toward the socio-political ritual activities of a society that establish the fundamental order” (Rice 2009b:72). In a ritual mode of production the goal is not to produce valued material goods but to produce and reproduce social and cosmic order (Rice 2009b:73).
In order to show how such an economy worked she emphasizes pottery production which is her expertise. Rice suggests that the may seats created “signature” styles in ceramics, architecture and monuments that were associated with certain realms and political affiliations (Rice 2009a:142). Hence, “the highest quality elite polychromes were produced in the royal palaces of sacred may and k’atun seats; other kinds of less intricately finished pottery were produced at progressively greater social and spatial distances from divine centers” (Rice 2009a:119). Changes in production may therefore also reflect political changes in the may model. Certain styles may have been produced during intervals of the may cycle (such as during a half may) (Rice 2009a:143).
There is much to say about the may model such as if it is possible to project geopolitics mentioned in heavily Christianized Colonial period documents centuries and even millennia into the past. Few Mayanists working with the Classic and Late Formative data in the Central lowlands have been persuaded by the may cycle model. I personally believe that Rice is partially right (on the ritual economy and its relation to calendars), but that the emphasis on the may cycle itself is a later development. I also do not believe we can find such ideal patterns in the past. Too much “real” problems affect geopolitics.
Rice, Prudence M. (2009a). Late Classic Maya pottery production: review and synthesis. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 16:117-156.
Rice, Prudence M. (2009b). On Classic Maya political economies. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28:70-84.