16th European Maya Conference: Copenhagen, Denmark

The Maya in a Mesoamerican Context:
Comparative Approaches to Maya Studies

5 – 10 December 2011

The 16th European Maya Conference is co-organized by the University of Copenhagen (Department of American Indian Languages and Cultures, Institute of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies), the Danish National Museum (Nationalmuseet) and Wayeb (European Association of Mayanists), and will be held from December 5th to 10th, 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark. A four-day Workshop (Dec. 5-8th) will precede a two-day Symposium (Dec. 9-10th).

Programme for Workshop and Symposium

The theme of the conference highlights the integration, interaction and co-development of Maya culture with the wider cultural area of Mesoamerica, as originally defined by Paul Kirchhoff in 1943. In contrast to earlier conferences (1999, 2005) which have emphasized the more immediate or direct neighbours of the Maya, we wish to stimulate a discussion and focus on a geographically broader and chronologically deeper comparative approach to Maya studies, ranging from Preclassic times to the present. The crux is to provide integrative approaches to the Maya as viewed in a Mesoamerican context, rather than operating within the traditional parameters of Maya studies. The goal is a greater awareness of the shared features of the Mesoamerican cultures – as well as the marked differences between areas and periods. Four focal sub-themes have been defined for the conference, and are: a) Linguistics and languages, b) Epigraphy and writing systems, c) Religion and ritual practices and d) Archaeology and comparative studies serve to organize and focus the topic.

List of Speakers (alphabetically):

  • Jaime Awe (Institute of Archaeology, Belize)
  • Erik Boot (Independent Researcher)
  • James Brady (California State University, Los Angeles)
  • Hugo García Capistrán (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City)
  • Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos (Museo Popol Vuh and Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City)
  • Allen Christenson (Brigham Young University, Provo)
  • Lars Frühsorge (University of Hamburg)
  • Michael Glascock (University of Missouri, Columbia)
  • Helen Haines (Trent University, Peterborough)
  • Christophe Helmke (University of Copenhagen)
  • Ana Kondic (University of Sydney, Australia & Université Lyon 2, France)
  • Alfonso Lacadena (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
  • Bruce Love (Independent Researcher)
  • Simon Martin (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia)
  • Julie Nehammer Knub (Independent Researcher)
  • Jesper Nielsen (University of Copenhagen)
  • Carlos Pallán Gayol (Ajimaya/INAH & University of Bonn)
  • Sergio Romero (Vanderbilt University, Nashville)
  • Rikke Marie Søegaard (Independent Researcher)
  • Rogelio Valencia Rivera (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)
  • Søren Wichmann (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig)
  • Roberto Zavala Maldonado (CIESAS-Sureste, San Cristóbal de las Casas)
  • Marc Zender (Tulane University, New Orleans)

Opening Lecture

Simon Martin (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)

Location: The University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Humanities, Nye KUA, Njalsgade 80-90, Building 23, Auditorium 23.0.49

Traditionally, the opening lecture is the first event of the EMC. It serves as an introduction to Maya hieroglyphic writing and provides participants with a general overview of the history of the decipherment. Note that this year the opening lecture will take place Monday morning and workshops will begin in earnest in the afternoon. Ensure that you arrive for registration Monday morning.

All groups will be taught and supervised by experienced tutors. Instruction will be available in English and Spanish (at Beginners level).

The workshop includes INTRODUCTORY LECTURES on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday morning participants will be assigned to their individual workshops.

Introduction to Maya Writing
Tutors: Harri Kettunen (University of Helsinki), Ramzy Barrois (Ecole du Louvre), Guido Krempel (University of Bonn), Simone Thun (University of Copenhagen) & Rosa Worm Danbo (University of Copenhagen)

The information drawn from Maya hieroglyphic texts has fundamentally changed our understanding of the ancient Maya culture. To be able to read what the Maya themselves wrote about their affairs is an intriguing intellectual endeavor and a captivating window into a past culture – with repercussions into present-day realities in the Maya communities of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The objective of this workshop is to provide an intensive introduction to the study of Maya hieroglyphs. Participants will have a chance to decipher hieroglyphs on their own during the workshop with the assistance of the tutors. General tuition will be given in English but explanations can also be provided in other languages (including Danish, Spanish, French, German and Finnish) on an individual basis. No previous knowledge of Maya culture, Maya hieroglyphs, ancient scripts, or linguistics is required to attend the workshop. Towards the end of the three day workshop, participants will be able to understand the basic structure of Maya texts, decipher calendrical information, reconstruct chronology, point at verbs and nominal phrases, and much more. The focus of the introductory level workshop is on the Late Classic history of Piedras Negras in the present-day Guatemala.

From Ochk’in Kalomte to Dzulob: Mesoamerica in the Maya World
Tutors: Sven Gronemeyer (La Trobe University Melbourne) & Dmitri Beliaev (Russian State University for the Humanities)

A truly ground-shaking event took place in the year 378: foreigners from the Central Mexican metropolis of Teotihuacan arrived in the Maya lowlands. Their final destination: the city of Tikal. This event, commonly referred to as the entrada, had a far more reaching influence than just the installation of a new dynasty in Tikal. We see the new foreign rulers Siyaj K’ahk’ and Yax Nuun Ayiin appearing in Teotihuacan-style attire and insignia while they led Tikal to a new height in power. Another entrada took later place in Copan with the arrival of Yax K’uk’ Mo’ at Ux Witik. Among with these invaders came new influences, reflected in iconography, epigraphy, architecture and much more: the common Tlaloc motif or the talud-tablero style. This workshop will specifically investigate the history of the Early Classic entrada events and settle them in their greater political context by reading the inscriptions in group work.
To a lesser degree, other entradas will also be looked upon, as they are for example tangible in the iconographic and epigraphic shift in the Terminal Classic centres of Seibal and Machaquila. And was it actually true that there was a Toltec influence in the Postclassic sites of Northern Yucatan? Many traits of non-Maya influence can be found. In short information tickers, we will also present these evidences. There are some interesting loan words in Mayan inscriptions. Where did the word for cacao came from? And how did the scribes of the Dresden codex spelled the names of the Aztec Venus gods? Cultural exchange is never unilateral. We also want deal with some Mayan influences outside the Maya area, as the Cacaxtla murals or the existence of Mayan quartes in Teotihuacan.

Amerindian Scripts in Comparative Perspective
Tutors: Marc Zender (Tulane University) & Albert Davletshin (Russian State University for the Humanities)

As visual speech capable of encoding all of the complexities of human language, writing ranks among humanity’s greatest inventions. Yet it is for the most part a misunderstood invention, and many of the most widely-held beliefs about writing are rife with inaccuracies, misunderstandings and teleological mythologies. This seminar-style workshop, occasionally interrupted with exercises and challenges of various sorts, aims to compare and contrast several Amerindian writing systems (Mayan, Aztec, Plains Pictographic) and non-linguistic notational systems (the Inka khipu) to reach a nuanced definition of what, precisely, writing is, why it arose when and where it did, and how it differs from other means of graphic communication. Key comparisons will be drawn to Old World systems and the Rongorongo script of Easter Island to illustrate particular features. Writing brings unique perspectives and unique challenges to our study of the past, several of which will be explored during the course of the workshop.

Introduction to Nahuatl Hieroglyphic Writing
Tutors: Alfonso Lacadena (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) & Søren Wichmann (Max Planck Institute Leipzig)

Nahuatl hieroglyphic writing was in use in Central Mexico during the latter part of the Postclassic Period and the first half of the Colonial Period. It was the writing system used by Nahuatl-speaking peoples independently of the political entities to which they belong (mexica-tenochca, mexica-tlatelolca, tetzcoca, tlaxcalteca, huexotzinca, chalca, etc.), and by other people of very different linguistic affiliation belonging to the Aztec Empire. After the Maya hieroglyphic writing, it is the Mesoamerican writing system with the largest corpus of preserved texts.
Traditionally, it has been considered that Nahuatl hieroglyphic writing is a defective or imperfect writing system, basically ideographic/logographic, exhibiting little or incipient phoneticism mainly based on the rebus use of ideograms/logograms, or even a semasiographic system not tied to language. However, recent studies suggest that Nahuatl script is a full writing system of the logo-syllabic type with two main classes of signs, including logograms and phonograms organized in a formal syllabary. The course is designed to all interested in this new approach. It does not require previous knowledge of Nahuatl script or language-although any background or formation in these subjects is welcome.
The workshop will combine theoretical introductions to relevant aspects of the Nahuatl writing system, considering both writing (classes of signs, writing resources and conventions) and linguistics (phonology, toponymy, anthoponymy, numeral system, mensuratives), using practical examples covering the main subjects of the Nahuatl hieroglyphic corpus (history, genealogy, economy, Colonial Court documents, cartography, as well as ritual and religion), dated from the second half of 15th to early 17th centuries.

Participants will be provided with a Workbook specially written for the occasion, containing an introduction to how the system works, a basic grammar of the language recorded in the script, a collection of selected texts, and a Sourcebook with lists of hieroglyphic signs used in Nahuatl writing.

Recommended Bibliography (just to start, more in the Notebook)

BOONE, Elizabeth
2000   Stories in Red and Black. Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. University of Texas Press, Austin.
2007   Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate. University of Texas Press, Austin.
GLASS, John B., with Donald ROBERTSON
1975   A Census of Native Middle American Pictorial Manuscripts. In Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, pt. 3, ed. Howard F. Cline, 81-252. Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 14. Robert Wauchope, gen. ed. University of Texas Press, Austin.
2008   Regional Scribal Traditions: Methodological Implications for the Decipherment of Nahuatl Writing. The PARI Journal, Volume VIII, No. 4, Spring 2008, pp. 1-22.
2008   The wa1 and wa2 Phonetic Signs and the Logogram for WA in Nahuatl Writing. The PARI Journal, Volume VIII, No. 4, Spring 2008, pp. 38-45.
LACADENA, Alfonso, and Søren WICHMANN
2008   Longitud vocálica y glotalización en la escritura náhuatl. Revista Española de Antropología Americana, vol. 38, núm. 2, pp. 121-150.
1992   The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Standford University Press, Standford. [specially the chapter about writing]
1973   Phoneticism in the Late Pre-Hispanic Central Mexican Writing System. In Mesoamerican Writing Systems (E. Benson, ed.), pp. 1-46. Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C.
PREM, Hanns J.
1992   Aztec Writing. Supplement to Handbook of Middle American Indians. Epigraphy. Vol. 5, pp. 53-69, Austin.
2009   Cohesión y diversidad en la escritura náhuatl. Itinerarios 8, pp. 13-41.
2009   The principles of Nahuatl Writing. Göttinger Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft 16, pp. 47-81.
2008   One hundred and fifty years of Nahuatl decipherment. The PARI Journal Volume VIII, No. 4, Spring 2008, pp. 24-37.


Dr. Jesper Nielsen, Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of American Indian Languages and Cultures, Institute of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Artillerivej 86, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark. Tel. +45 35329196

Dr. Christophe Helmke, Assistant Professor and Post-doctoral researcher, Department of American Indian Languages and Cultures, Institute of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, Artillerivej 86, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark. Tel. +45 35328969