Posted by: Johan Normark | March 22, 2011

Entrainment of materials, cognition, and gender in the Maya area

Even though I have financial support for various project for the next four years I have already begun to draw the outlines for a future project that I hope to initiate around 2015. In this future project neuroarchaeology will be combined with my old idea of “genderized calendars”, that is, how the Classic period calendar inscriptions reflected gender relations in Maya royal courts. This time I will rely on more updated transliterations of the glyphic corpus than I did in a previous study. In order to increase the scope of the project I also wish to focus on the entrainment of various temporal rhythms, materials and past activities as known from the iconographic record of the Maya area.

Before I get to familiarize myself with various perspectives of temporality in Speculative realism I will maintain Deleuze’s and Bergson’s monistic ontologies where everything is part of the same emergent whole which means that materials of a certain metric duration, such as the use-life of a building, can be entrained with that of a human life span. Entrainment means that formerly independent assemblages fall into step with one and another. Physiological, subjective, and social scales are linked together in entrainment. There are virtual processes continuing to work within these new assemblages, making them more and more complex and asymmetrical. This takes us further away from the nature of pure duration. When we use these asymmetrical entities (artifacts, post holes, construction fill) to reconstruct temporal processes we can simply not set them in succession, but we must see them as parallel, entrained and nested with various temporal sequences. The traditional chronological table will not be sufficient here. The chronological table will be emptied from all its transcendent cultural content since it tends to constrain our thought into predefined directions established early in our discipline. Thus, instead of seeing the Classic period as a period with Classic period people and culture that did this or that because they were different from Formative people, we should focus on the meshing of various scales of oscillations that has emerged from a non-metric time. It is only the non-metric time that is continuous, not the cultures that have been defined from actual remains.

The idea of entrainment works on many scales. For instance, gender identity falls into step with the workings of the lineage, polity, etc. At the northern lowland site of Xuenkal Ardren and others (2010) show how monumental construction ceased and new architectural and material influences came to the site during the Terminal Classic. The settlement changed from dispersed residences to freestanding platforms that supported multiple residential structures located in the site center. In one building 17 ceramic spindle whorls were recovered within the last construction fill and upon interior floors and middens. The spindle whorls were lightweight and had small diameter and hole sizes that made it possible to spin fine cotton thread. Hence, these new platforms were not only residential in the Terminal Classic but were locations where corporate groups produced elite goods. This increased scale and intensity of household craft production may indicate increased tribute demands from Chichen Itza. In short, gender roles in cloth production at Xuenkal intensified and fell into step with the emergence of Chichen Itza as a major subordinating force in the Northern Lowlands.

Ardren, T. Manahan, T. K., Wesp, J. K., & Alonso, A. 2010. Cloth production and economic intensification in the area surrounding Chichen Itza. Latin American Antiquity 21(3):274-289.



  1. So, what your project about? I’m really interested in Mayan archaeology but I don’t understand what you’re trying to get at. I’ve a few archaeology degrees but I decided to be a highly paid exec instead. Plus what on earth has happened to archy vocab? The text above is impenetrable..jeez.. I know that I’m not stupid.

  2. My vocabulary is not really archaeological or Mayanist here. I refer to ontological issues and the vocabulary is philosophical. My main goal is to develop a non-anthropocentric perspective of archaeology where processes and objects are in focus. These processes have different temporalities (some are fast, others are slow). My main interest here is to see how processes and objects of different rhythms fall into step with one another once they have formed a new assemblage. In my example above I suggest that the old processes of “gendering” at Xuenkal changed and ultimately entrained with the tribute demands of a larger assemblage (Chichen Itza). My project itself will not work with this particular data, I just wanted to exemplify with a recent study. I have not decided what I will focus on yet.

  3. Mmmmm.. since we know that theory and practice are applied at the same time shouldn’t you be using vocabulary that’s philosophical? So, if you’re deal with “processes” how would you say that it relates to Maurice Bloch? I‘d like to know what these “processes” are and what philosophical trends you think are pertinent.

  4. I follow Deleuze’s device that philosophy is the invention of concepts, concepts that I apply on archaeological data. Why is Bloch of importance? Process for me is whatever makes an object to change its form, position, property, etc. These may be human-related but most of them are not. Bloch has, like most anthropologists, an anthropocentric perspective and therefore he subordinates the treatment of objects under the human necessity (common among Marxist materialism). The Speculative realists breaks with such perspectives. Most of them break with materialism as such and they argue that realism does not have to be materialist. There is after all no matter out there. We have pencils, computers, water, molecules, atoms, quarks, galaxies, etc. These are all objects (or assemblages in DeLanda’s terminology), but exactly where is matter located? Timothy Morton suggests that Graham Harman’s object-oriented-ontology (OOO) breaks with capitalism and that Kantian perspectives, which have dominated science (including Bloch), are closely related to the capitalist idea of production. Harman’s objects are not dependent on such production (and that makes him different from DeLanda that I used in my example). His objects exist without relations.


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