Posted by: Johan Normark | September 21, 2015

The Elders and the Hills

Ten days ago (on 9/11) Stefan Permanto successfully defended his dissertation thesis in social anthropology at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. Here is the abstract of his thesis entitled The Elders and the Hills: Animism and Cosmological Re-Creation among the Q’eqchi’ Maya in Chisec, Guatemala:

This thesis is based on fieldwork conducted in the municipality of Chisec in the department of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala. Within the context of post-war Maya cultural emergence and the recent introduction of non-indigenous elements this study examines the cosmological notions and ritual practices among a group of elderly Q’eqchi’ men and women. The main motive for this endeavor is the expressed concern of the elders that the younger generations of today are diverting from what the elders consider to be the traditional ways of life that are inherited from their ancestors. The elders fear that if traditional cosmological notions are lost it may eventually wreak havoc in the world. Therefore, these elders have come together not only to narrate and share their vital knowledge amongst themselves but also to transmit it to future generations.

Theoretically, the thesis is inspired by the recent re-definition of the concept of animism within anthropological theory. Stripping the concept of earlier evolutionary notions that debunks it as only irrational understandings of the world, the cosmological notions and ritual practices of the Q’eqchi’ elders are taken at face value and approached as ways of being-in-the-world. While this ‘new’ animism has been deployed in studies among indigenous peoples from Amazonia to South East Asia it has been conspicuously absent in Mesoamerica. By applying the new perspectives on animism to the cosmology of the Q’eqchi’ elders this study contributes not only to the general body of anthropological studies of animism and indigenous societies but expands it to include the Maya region.

Since culture is neither static nor homogeneous the work and ambition of the elders to preserve and transmit their inherited knowledge inevitably gives fuel to a process of rediscovering and re-creating their cosmological roots and ritual practices: a cosmology the elders assert is crucial not only for human and non-human wellbeing but also for a sustainable ecology and cosmic equilibrium.

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 16, 2015

Maya and Iron Maiden

The title track on Iron Maiden’s latest album “The Book of Souls” is about the Maya (the cover is also supposed to depict Eddie as a Maya…). Here is the song and you find the lyrics below (some of it is fairly accurate):

Sacrifices buried with kings
Accompany them on a journey with no end
To an afterlife that’s rich with fruit of all the gods

And to face the demons
Of their underworld hauntsThe sentient is sent to seek out all the truth
A flight to earth that is a given from his birth
To rise from ashes of the dead
Out of the fire is sent to fulfil man’s desire
By power day and night and death he ruled them
The sky and earth and the fires too
Two headed reptile symbol of his reign
Universes of the underworld
A life that’s full of all the wealth and riches
Can never last for an eternity
After living in a golden paradise
The ultimate sacrifice

Prophecy of sky gods, the sun and moon
Passing of old ways will come true soon
Falling of ages, forest of kings
The search for the truth, the book of souls

The rulers of planets and stars
The power of the kings of traders and the wars
Planetary cycles and the phases of the moon
Is in the document a kingdom they will learn
They were praying to the gods of nature
And were living in the cities of stone
Towers reaching upward to the heavens
Sacred wonders for the world unknown
Make their lives be a mystery no more
Records kept and the passing of laws
Sacred gods to the book of lies
When a civilization dies

Prophecy of sky gods, the sun and moon
Passing of old ways will come true soon
Falling of ages, forest of kings
The lost book of souls, destruction begins

Ascending the throne wearing feathers and shells
He brought back their lives from the void
Alien invasion brings nothing but death
Mass exodus and plant life destroyed

Domain of the Earth to the journey of truth
The underworld caves, Mayan slaves
Defeat of the dark Lords
The ultimate proof
In the place where the ancestors rule

The book of souls

Posted by: Johan Normark | September 8, 2015

Articles on water and time in press

Today I received the proof for my upcoming “reaction” article in Archaeological Dialogues (Vol 22:2)”Going against the flow: reaction to Veronica Strang.” A few hours earlier Quaternary International accepted my article “Multi-scalar cognitive time: experiential time, known time, and Maya calendars.” The latter article is to be found in a special issue on the “material dimension of cognition.”

Cochuah book

“In recent years the Cochuah region, the ancient breadbasket of the north-central Yucatecan lowlands, has been documented and analyzed by a number of archaeologists and cultural anthropologists. This book, the first major collection of data from those investigations, presents and analyzes findings on more than eighty sites and puts them in the context of the findings of other investigations from outside the area. It begins with archaeological investigations and continues with research on living peoples. Within the archaeological sections, historic and colonial chapters build upon those concerned with the Classic Maya, revealing the ebb and flow of settlement through time in the region as peoples entered, left, and modified their ways of life based upon external and internal events and forces. In addition to discussing the history of anthropological research in the area, the contributors address such issues as modern women’s reproductive choices, site boundary definition, caves as holy places, settlement shifts, and the reuse of spaces through time.”

Later this year The University of New Mexico Press will publish this anthology (edited by Justine Shaw). It includes two chapters by me:

Postclassic miniature shrines in the Cochuah region

Not only the home of the Earth Lord: Cochuah caves as holy places, holey spaces, and emergent wholes

Posted by: Johan Normark | March 15, 2015

Brief update: the time of tsunamis?

Apart from teaching and supervising a couple of theses I am currently wrapping up two projects: one of my own (Water as an archaeological object) and one as a participant (The early modern town). After this I will be able to focus on my project on time (The necromantic ordering of days). I also have an idea of a future project focused on rare events with broad impact that I can relate to my previous research on time (Black Swan events) and water (i.e. tsunamis). Remains of a tsunami deposits have recently been found in Yucatan but this project intends to focus on the phenomena worldwide (Japan, Indonesia, India, Mediterranean, Norway, etc.).

I recently came back from a 17 days trip to Hainan in China (where they celebrated the Chinese New Year). Later this year I will visit Indonesia and Malaysia again. Hopefully I will be able to squeeze in Myanmar as well since Bagan is one of my must see sites. One month from now I will also go to Nordic TAG in Copenhagen. Apart from my session I will join a plenary discussion regarding the next 30 years in theoretical discussion (I better polish my crystal ball)…

Posted by: Johan Normark | January 10, 2015

Water as a hyperfact

I have just uploaded an article in last year’s Current Swedish Archaeology (volume 22, 2014). The abstract is found below. 

Most entities studied by archaeologists share the same basic necessary conditions. They are limited spatiotemporal units which are continuous within a human frame of sensorial reference. These entities cannot dissolve into their constituent parts without affecting their function, capacity, and morphology. Further, they usually occupy one physical state at a time. The hyperfact, on the other hand, is vastly distributed, it can dissolve into most of its parts without affecting its “essence”, and it can be in several physical states at the same time. Water is a typical hyperfact, existing on multiple scales, from molecules to the hydrological cycle. In this text I show how local manifestations of this hyperfact can be found in ceramics, architectural features, agriculture, water management systems, and regional settlements of the Cochuah region in southern Mexico.

I just uploaded a new article on my Academia.edu site. It is an object-oriented gender study of a queen mentioned in the inscriptions of Yo’okop in the Cochuah region. This is not the final version of the article. I will upload the final version once I receive it. There are only minor changes, such as a caption to the figure in the text.

Posted by: Johan Normark | November 26, 2014

TAG – Manchester

The timetable for this year’s TAG conference (Manchester) is now available. I will give a paper in the session “Assemblage and Archaeology” on Tuesday afternoon, December 16, 2014. Here is my updated abstract.

Temporality, assemblages and Black Swans

Levi Bryant defines time as the duration a machinic assemblage needs to produce an output. The rate of production depends on the assemblage. Since Bryant follows the Bergsonian/Deleuzean order of time, where past and present are merged into a creative flow, the future is not included. Tristan Garcia proposes an order where the present comes first, followed by the past which has less degree of presence. Last comes future which has maximal absence. Future is only a fixed point of reference. Yet, it is this inexistent future cognitive assemblages attempt to predict. Calendar systems are tools for prediction, acting both as bright objects and incorporeal machines in Bryant’s terminology.

As the past of an assemblage grows it becomes more determined which means that origins are open but later trajectories follows the constraints, entanglements and gravity formed by the assemblage itself. Its predicted future becomes increasingly narrower until the assemblage ceases to produce. This end is often an unexpected Black Swan event to the assemblage itself whereas archaeologists, in hindsight, insert a narrative behind the demise. One such narrative is the Maya collapse. Resilience theories and Holling’s adaptive cycle are used as narratives to explain why the “Classic Maya Civilization” reorganized rather than collapsed. To the “post-collapse” Maya themselves the disruptions in assemblages related to the Classic period divine kingship led to a change in the calendar systems. Future was no longer a fixed point in a failed accumulative calendar, but a recurrent point in a cyclical calendar.

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 23, 2014

2012 and the Maya Collapse Ecology in the End Times

This is not the final version of this article. It is to be published in a series of essay clusters on ecology from an object-oriented perspective. Some of these essays are available on O-Zone’s website. This version is incomplete as it lacks an abstract (which is available below), some page numbers. Most importantly, note that the reference “Whitesides and Jenkins” on page 7 is wrong. It should be “Whitesides and Hoopes.”

Abstract

The 2012-phenomenon includes apocalyptic fantasies regarding an impending collapse of our contemporary society, supposedly prophesized by the ancient Maya and their Long Count calendar. Sometimes connections to the ancient Maya collapse are made. That also happens to be the quite common in academic circles. Some academic researchers believe we can learn from the past failures for future solutions. The objects that were involved in the ancient Maya collapse were not the same as now and therefore we have little to learn from the Maya collapse in relation to our own ecological crisis. The ancient and contemporary Maya’s sensual profiles of ecology, time and space were/are quite different from those found within the “2012-phenomenon” and academia.

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 21, 2014

Nordic TAG session: Archaeology outside the correlationist circle

Considering that this is a “dormant” blog it has been quite active the past weeks. Anyway, here is a session proposal for next year’s Nordic TAG in Copenhagen.

Nordic TAG

Copenhagen

April 16th – 18th 2015

 

Johan Normark

Department of Historical Studies

University of Gothenburg

 

Archaeology outside the correlationist circle

Correlationism describes the position where subject and object cannot be thought of separately, they are always correlated with each other. Speculative Realism (SR) is an umbrella term for various attempts to break with this correlate. So far it is the Object-Oriented Ontologies (OOO) that has had greatest impact outside philosophy. Some of the strengths with OOO are that they take a stand against reductions of objects to processes and networks. Objects are not exhausted by these relations; they are existent in their own right. Time and space are the result of objects and not the opposite. Rather than inserting objects into an anthropocentric narrative, objects are the starting point of a multiscalar view where all processes occur inside objects.

Being a discipline focused on objects archaeology could not just make use of these ideas but also elaborate on them and put them into operational use. Concepts like vicarious causation, alien phenomenology, gravity, bright objects, incorporeal machines, hyperobjects, etc. change the way archaeological objects can be treated and understood. This session invites contributors to discuss how OOO and SR can be useful for archaeological studies focusing on a wide range of topics such as materials, landscape, settlement, social organization, gender, etc.

Please submit abstracts for papers (max. 200 words), including title and names and contact details of authors to Johan Normark (johan.normark@archaeology.gu.se) by January 1st 2015.

http://conferences.saxo.ku.dk/nordic-tag-2015/

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 10, 2014

Temporality, assemblages, and Black Swans

Abstract proposal for a TAG session in Manchester:

An assemblage is co-constituted with its time and space. In Manuel DeLanda’s perspective, an assemblage emerges from a formless, topological, and symmetrical virtual continuum. Intensive processes break this symmetry and discontinuous actual forms emerge. Because of Graham Harman’s object-oriented critique of process and external relations, Levi Bryant has relocated the virtual within the actual. All processes and relations occur within assemblages, not between them. To Bryant, time is the duration a machinic assemblage needs to produce the parts it consists of. Still, Bryant follows the Bergsonian-Deleuzean tradition where past and present are merged into a creative flow. Future is ignored.

Tristan Garcia suggests an order of intensity of presence. The past is always moving away from presence but there is an order of this past. The past is relatively present and the future has only absence. Future is not ordered but it is a fixed point of reference. To Garcia the present comes first, followed by the past which has less degree of presence. Last comes the future which has maximal absence. As the past of an assemblage grows it becomes richer in determination which for archaeological contexts means that origins are open but later trajectories follows the constraints and entanglements set up by the assemblage itself. Its predicted future becomes increasingly narrower until the assemblage ceases to work. This end is often an unexpected Black Swan event to the assemblage itself whereas archaeologists, in hindsight, insert a narrative behind the demise. One such narrative fallacy is the Maya collapse.

Posted by: Johan Normark | October 4, 2014

Maya collapse and water as hyperfact

A brief update for those of you who still follows this blog. I have been busy writing articles and books (and still am I must add). Earlier this week I submitted an article for the proceedings of the 18th European Maya Conference in Brussels last year. Here is the prelimary abstract for the article “Colonial period analogies and the mega-drought hypothesis for the Maya collapse”:

Palaeoclimatological models for the Maya area suggest that a series of droughts coincided with the Maya collapse (ca AD 750-1050). In order to find correlates to how these droughts affected Prehispanic communities, researchers have used direct historical analogies from the Colonial and modern periods. These correlations neglect the changes that the Spaniards brought to the area, such as the reducción and the congregación. This text focuses on how “black-boxed” analogies from the Colonial period affect some contemporary interpretations of the earlier Terminal Classic collapse. Colonial period changes in local and regional settlement patterns reveal some inherent assumptions in the generalized and reductionist palaeoclimatic studies.

Another artice will also be published in Current Swedish Archaeology, entitled “Water as a hyperfact” and this is the preliminary abstract:

Most entities studied by archaeologists share the same basic necessary conditions. They are limited spatiotemporal units which are continuous within a human frame of reference. These entities cannot dissolve into their constituent parts without affecting their function, capacity, and morphology. Further, they usually occupy one physical state at a time. The hyperfact, on the other hand, is vastly distributed, it can dissolve into most of its parts without affecting its “essence,” and it can be in several physical states at the same time. Water is a typical hyperfact, existing on multiple scales, from molecules to the hydrological cycle.

Posted by: Johan Normark | April 16, 2014

The 2012-phenomenon and the (new) age of hyperobjects

Yes I know, I have ceased to blog so I should not post anything more here (115 days have gone since my “last” post). All I will do here and in the future is to post links to my texts on Academia.edu. Here is a paper I presented last week in London.

Posted by: Johan Normark | December 21, 2013

The end

As I mentioned in my previous post I have decided to stop blogging. This is the final blog post but the blog will remain online. It will remain online partly because if my plans work out I will write at least two more articles on my blogging about the 2012-phenomenon.

I have written 821 posts, there are 3146 comments and at the time of writing 564,422 views. Thanks for visiting the blog and commenting on it for the past 4.5+ years.

Why am I ceasing to blog? There are several reasons. The blog has served me well when I actually wrote about Maya stuff or theoretical issues. More recently my posts have tended to focus on the books I have bought, the conferences I have attended (and not attended), vacations, etc. I feel that I no longer have a genuine interest in maintaining what the blog originally was about. It has almost turned into an extension of my facebook account. Although I seldom posted stuff on the blog during the past six months it still took time to maintain and overview the blog. I do not have that time anymore.

I may create a webpage where I update my research but less often than on this blog. However, that is not something I plan to do in the near future. If I do it I will add the link on this blog.

Today is the ha’b (365-day) anniversary of the end of the 13th Baktun last Gregorian year (and even this year the December solstice falls on the 21st). I thought that would be a good date to “terminate” the blog. But who knows, maybe “I’ll be back” like another terminator (?)…

Happy solstice everyone. A new age emerge today. As it coincide with the death of the composer of one of my favorite tunes I end the blog with this beautiful instrumental tune.

Posted by: Johan Normark | December 18, 2013

The end is nigh

I should have been presenting two papers in Bournemouth during the last two couple of days but the flu struck me on Sunday and I have spent the three last days indoors and in bed here in Göteborg. Hence, I will not be reporting anything from the TAG conference as I had originally planned. 

My interest in this blog has also plunged during the past six months or so. Therefore I have decided to stop blogging on December 21, i.e. one year after the supposed “end date” of the Maya Long Count. Thus, I will only write one more blog post which will be #821. If you want to see what I am up to in the future you should visit my Academia.edu page

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