Posted by: Johan Normark | November 3, 2010

Water and the striating State

The third level of my five “plateaus” of water as archaeological material focuses on water and the hierarchical assemblage commonly named the State. Water is a fluid that can be captured and controlled by various assemblages at increasing scales. The State is the primary apparatus of capture (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). This is where water management studies enter the project (Lucero 2006; Normark 2006; Wittfogel 1957). It is here we find striations of the landscape on various scales. Like a slow moving glacier striates the bedrock, the State makes its own marks on its territory. The landscape becomes marked/striated with aqueducts, irrigation systems, reservoirs, etc. in order to maintain the State assemblage. The State was often the greatest assemblage that affected smaller scale assemblages on a daily basis. What we find in plateaus 1 and 2 were affected by the State’s striations.

Owing to the karst geology in the Maya lowlands, surface water is not common, particularly during the dry season. If agriculture had a deterritorializing effect on the State, water is believed to have been a territorializing force in the Maya area. The State needed to control not only a dispersed and self-sufficient population but also a mobile one and water was an important attractor (Drennan 1988; Ford 1990; Lucero 2002; Santley 1990). A rich mythology concerning water emerged and it was captured and overcoded by the State. Mythologies common to agricultural assemblages, such as the earth emerging out of water, and the sun’s path from the eastern sea to the western sea became part of the State’s expression (Houston 2010). The 365-days calendar called haab (ha – water) relates to the agricultural cycle and like the other calendars it became the duty of the State to maintain the rituals associated with the calendars.

Calendars and myths will be seen as part of socio-technological diagrams. Just as Marx’s ideas emerged in the context of steam engines and Spinning Jennies and Copernicus ideas emerged in the context of clockworks, the “Maya State” assemblage and its expressions emerged in the context of water management technology. Not only do ideas emerge in a socio-technological context, the ideas are its socio-technological context (Palmås 2010). Hence the political ideas of the Maya area were expressions of a socio-technological diagram. Scarborough differentiates even more fundamental diagrams: technotasking and labortasking. The first one is the one we live in today and is linked to an expansionist logic and “rapid and frequently exploitative resource use.” Labortasking, that characterizes the Prehispanic Maya, is an “investment in accretionally built enhancements and long-lived survival for a changing and highly dynamic landscape” (Scarborough 2009:199).

It was crucial for the State to maintain the water sources through labortasking and technology. Standing water could become stagnant and generate conditions for insects and parasites. It could also create noxious chemicals, such as nitrogen which may have been fatal to a State apparatus (Lucero 2002). Water lilies are found in clean standing water and could have been used in reservoirs. These plants decrease evaporation, recycle organic materials and create an environment for invertebrates (Harrison 1993). Water lily symbols have been interpreted as the royalty’s ability to provide clean water (Lucero 1999). These symbols are the expressions of the diagram that maintained the State (Normark 2010b). Mapping the diagram of this complex assemblage and its affect on the first two plateaus is the task of this plateau.

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