I have not been active on the blog for about two weeks as my focus is elsewhere. This is a busy time of the year but two days ago I received an unexpected phone call. A project application of mine (“The necromantic ordering of days: from the Long Count to the Short Count in Maya calendars”) had been approved so now I can begin my fourth postdoctoral research project in seven years. This happened just as I was about to start writing on a fifth project application, this time together with my former thesis advisor Per Cornell and my new colleague Christian Isendahl (also a Mayanist, formerly at Uppsala University). This (fifth) project, in cooperation with INAH-QR in Mexico, will deal with the settlements along the Cancun-Tulum coastline during the contact period. Let’s see if we receive funds for that project as well.
So what is my new (fourth) project about? It emerged from my coverage of the 2012-phenomenon on this blog (who says blogging is a waste of time?) and elsewhere on the internet. It sparked my slumbering interest in the Maya calendars. Since time and temporality are some of my main interests in archaeology I saw a way to combine three different aspects of time in this project: the Maya view(s) of time, archaeological views of time and ontological aspects of time. My growing interest in the field of “neuroarchaeology” (Malafouris, Renfrew, etc.) will also be applied in this project. That is, how do objects shape our mind? Or to put it in the context of my project: how did the Maya calendar(s) shape the mind(s) of the Maya?
Time-keeping and calendars emerge through the interaction between objects and the events they generate. Once codified, the calendars are “necromantic” objects that affect the perception of time across multiple generations. Just like our own lives are shaped by ancient Roman months and a later Papal calendar reform, the lives of the Classic period Maya were affected by calendar systems created by long-dead Formative period people.
The specific aim is to study how the Formative (2000 BC–AD 250) and Classic (AD 250–1050) Maya Long Count of accumulative time disappeared in favor of a cyclical Postclassic (1050–1519/1697) Short Count. The “divine kingship” was associated with the Long Count until the cessation of dated monuments at the beginning of the 10th century AD, an event that coincided with the Maya collapse. In the Postclassic period the Short Count dominated and did so until the Spanish conquest of Noj Petén in 1697. This calendar consists of cycles of 256 years and its importance in the Postclassic coincides with myths of previous ages. Knowledge of earlier history, past collapses and perception of ruins enforced a calendar change that emphasized previous creations and/or repeated periods of time. The change in how the Maya used their calendars will primarily be studied from changes in site plans, artefact assemblages, etc. and when these occurred in relation to known calendar periods.