19th European Maya Conference: Bratislava, Slovakia

Maya Cosmology:
Terrestrial and Celestial Landscapes

17- 22 November 2014

The 19th European Maya Conference in 2014 is organized and hosted by the Comenius University in Bratislava, the Slovak Archaeological and Historical Institute (SAHI), the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, and the University of Economics in Bratislava.

It will be held from 17th to the 22nd of November. A three-and-a-half-day Workshop (17th-20th of Nov.) will precede a two-day Symposium (21th-22nd of Nov.). All parts of the program will take place in Bratislava, in buildings of Comenius University and the Faculty of Arts (at adjacent addresses, including: Šafárikovo námestie 1, Gondova 2 and Štúrova 9), Slovak University of Technology (Radlinského 11) and University of Economics (Konventná 1).

Programme for Workshop and Symposium

The main topic of the EMC focuses on Maya cosmology in the wider sense: Maya perception of space and of the cosmos and their reflections in archaeological and epigraphic sources as well as in colonial and contemporary ethnographical documents. Astronomically oriented objects and structures used for astronomical observations will also be given attention. Another key point involves models of Maya urbanism and their connection with the architectonic configuration of space and the symbolic parallels between Maya macrocosms and microcosms as well as vertical and horizontal arrangements of space, including the underworld of caves, terrestrial and celestial realms of universe and mediatory elements, such as trees, mountains and artificial structures. The main topic includes the conceptualization of space by its mythological, ritual and eschatological aspects. Newest information, critical reinterpretations of older theories based on new research and innovative methodological approaches will be given preference.

Cosmología maya: paisaje terrestre y paisaje celestial

El simposio se enfocará en el tema de la cosmología maya en un sentido muy amplio: la percepción maya del espacio, la visión del cosmos y su reflejo tanto en las fuentes arqueológicas y epigráficas como en los documentos etnográficos coloniales y contemporáneos. También se prestará atención a los objetos orientados astronómicamente y estructuras utilizadas para las observaciones astronómicas. Un otro punto de enfoque son los modelos del urbanismo maya relacionados con la configuración arquitectónica de espacios, con la revisión del paralelismo simbólico entre el microcosmos y el macrocosmos maya o entre la distribución vertical y horizontal de espacios incluyendo el inframundo, las cuevas, los niveles terrestres y celestiales del universo junto con los elementos mediadores como los árboles, montañas y estructuras artificiales. El tema principal incluirá los aspectos mitológicos, calendáricos, rituales y escatológicos de la conceptualización del espacio. Se dará preferencia a la información más novedosa, a las reinterpretaciones críticas de las teorías más antiguas basadas en las investigaciones recientes y a los procedimientos metodológicos innovadores.

List of speakers (in alphabetical order):

  • Dmitri Beliaev & Albert Davletshin (Russian State University for the Humanities)
    A Stairway to Heaven for the King: Royal Palanquins in Classic Maya Text and Image
  • Guillermo Bernal (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
    Palenque: Imágenes y Palabras del Reino de este Mundo
  • Edwin Braakhuis (Utrecht University)
    Watery underworld or realm of the rain deities: The aquatic environment of the Tonsured Maize God
  • James Brady (California State University)
    The Translation of a Maya Cosmogram onto an Uncooperative Terrestrial Landscape
  • Oswaldo Chinchilla (Yale University)
    Landscapes of Creation: An Interpretation of Mesoamerican E-Groups
  • John F. Chuchiak (Missouri State University)
    Caves of Life and Caves of Death: Colonial Yucatec Maya Rituals and Offerings in Caves and Cenotes, 1540-1750
  • James Fitzsimmons (Middlebury College)
    Searching for the Classic Maya “Upperworld”: A View from Epigraphy, Architecture and Material Culture
  • Nikolai Grube (University of Bonn)
    Hunting in the Forest of Kings
  • Kathryn Marie Hudson (University at Buffalo) & Mallory Matsumoto (University of Bonn) & John Henderson (Cornell University)
    Up, Down and All Around: Verticality as Demarcative Practice in the Construction of Copan’s Historical Landscape
  • Jan Kapusta (Charles University Prague)
    Pilgrimage and Living Mountains among the Contemporary Highland Maya
  • Jared Katz (University of California at Riverside)
    A Blustery Melody: An Analysis of the Classic Maya’s use of Music as a Mediatory Art Form
  • Milan Kováč, Jakub Špoták, Tomáš Drápela (Comenius University), Tibor Lieskovský (Slovak University of Technology) & Vladimír Karlovský (Observatory and Planetarium M.R. Štefánik)
    Skywatchers from Uaxactun: New Perspectives on Astronomical Significance of Pre-Classic Architectural Alignments
  • Jesper Nielsen (University of Copenhagen)
    How the Hell? The Colonial Demonization of the Maya Underworld
  • Frauke Sachse (University of Bonn)
    Worldviews in Dialogue: Precolumbian Cosmologies in the Context of Early Colonial Christianisation in Highland Guatemala
  • Ivan Šprajc (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)
    Lunar Orientations in Maya Architecture
  • Karl Taube (University of California at Riverside)
    Centering the World: Ancient Maya Temples and the Creation of Sacred Space
  • Rhonda Taube (Riverside City College)
    Bound Place and Segmented Time: The Function and Meaning of Space in Contemporary K’iche’ Maya Rituals
  • Fátima Tec Pool (Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán)
    Venerar el inframundo. Tráfico y deposición ritual de cerámica en las cuevas mayas (del preclásico al clásico terminal)
  • Rogelio Valencia Rivera (Universidad Veracruzana)
    Maíz y atole son su trono: K’awiil y la Montaña de Sustento
  • Érik Velásquez (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) & Vera Tiesler (Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán)
    El anecúmeno del ecúmeno: la cabeza como locus animico en el cosmos maya del Clásico y sus insignias fisicas
  • Lorraine Williams-Beck (Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán)
    The Center as Cosmos in pre-Hispanic and Early Colonial period Campeche
  • Héctor Xol Choc (Universidad Rafael Landívar)
    Loq’laj choxaal loq’laj ch’och’ – Cielo sagrado tierra sagrada. El uso y contexto de difrasismos relacionados con la tierra y cielo en los idiomas mayas de Tierras Altas

Opening Lecture (Monday, 17 Movember)

Harri Kettunen (University of Helsinki) & Alfonso Lacadena (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

The opening lecture serves as a brief introduction to Maya hieroglyphic writing as well as provides participants with the latest developments and discoveries in epigraphy.

How to read Maya Hieroglyphs?
Tutors: Ramzy Barrois (Ecole du Louvre), Eva Jobbova (University College London) & Jakub Spotak (Comenius University Bratislava)

Thanks to the incredible imagination and ingenuity of Maya scribes, Maya hieroglyphic writing is one of the most complex writing systems in the world; it is visually fascinating, grammatically sophisticated, but creative and playful at the same time. Its decipherment took more than two hundred years, and in fact still continues to this day. It allows reading the history of the ancient Maya in they own words, and has also completely changed our view of many aspects of their culture.

This workshop offers an intensive introduction to the study of Maya hieroglyphs. It includes short lectures about the basic principles of reading the script, mathematics and calendrical information. The majority of time will be dedicated to working on Maya texts, when the participants will be deciphering Maya hieroglyphs on their own with the assistance of tutors. We will look at snapshots of the lives of royal court members from different sites, discovering their interactions and the society they lived in through texts coming from the center of Maya area (present day Guatemala and Mexico).

No previous knowledge of Maya culture or their writing system is required, and while the workshop in general will be run in English, explanations can be also provided individually in French, Slovak, Czech and Spanish.

After this three day workshop, participants will be able to understand the basic structure of Maya texts, recognize and read calendrical information, and know where to look for verbs and nominal phrases, such as names and titles of Maya kings and queens.

This is an intermediate workshop open to those who have basic knowledge of Maya writing: some calendrical knowledge and the ability to structure hieroglyphic inscriptions and understand their syntactic components are prerequisites to fruitful participation on this workshop level. This intermediate workshops will be taught in English.

Godly Stories and Earthly Matters: Hieroglyphic Narratives on Gods and Men
Tutors: Christian Prager & Elisabeth Wagner (University of Bonn)

The workshop constitutes two parts of which the first will concentrate on reading and understanding hieroglyphic narratives from the Codices Dresden, Paris and Madrid with a special focus on God B or Chak, the Rain God, and God C or K’uh. The second part focuses on the relation of humans and gods as recorded on various monuments commissioned during the reign of K’inich Ahkul Mo’ Nab, the godly king of Palenque. In this workshop emphasis will be put on hands-on work with inscriptions distributed as study material among participants to be divided in work groups while presentations provided by the tutors will be kept limited and short. Guided by the tutors, the individual work groups will concentrate on the analyses of the hieroglyphic narratives. From the accounts of single inscriptions, we advance the idea of comparing different sources to get a comprehensive overview of Classic Maya discourse on gods and men. Participants will obtain further insights into Classic and Postclassic Maya religious belief systems and will deepen their knowledge of the Maya writing system.

Methods in Maya Hieroglyphic Studies
Tutors: Harri Kettunen (University of Helsinki) & Alfonso Lacadena (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

The objective of this workshop is to discuss the methods involved in Maya epigraphy with a special focus on examining the graphic and lexical origins of Maya writing, especially as relates to the topic of this year’s conference. Besides the Maya script, the workshop explores writing systems in the greater Mesoamerican cultural sphere, along with studying the topic in the framework of world’s writing systems in general. The participants will be examining the lexical origins and visual characteristics of a range of signs and connecting them to their potential real-life counterparts. Analyses will be carried out by examining relevant dictionaries and other linguistic resources, along with iconographic source materials. The sessions also include lectures on various topics related to the theme of the workshop.

Participants are asked to bring laptops along to the workshop, if possible, in order to obtain the reference materials in digital format (ca. 3GB) at the onset of the workshop. It is not necessary for each participant to have a laptop (or any other type of an electronic reader) as long as there is at least one available for each group. The outcome of the workshop is a more profound understanding of the Maya writing system and, more importantly, tools to carry on epigraphic endeavors in the future.

We are offering a Special Workshop this year that is open to participants on all levels. Some prior knowledge about Mesoamerican art and writing will be useful, but is not a prerequisite.

U Uich Ku: Tracking Maya Deities in the Codices and Ethnohistorical Sources
Tutors: John F. Chuchiak IV (Missouri State University) & Guido Krempel (University of Bonn)

This special workshop offers a basic introduction to the interdisciplinary study and use of information concerning Maya deities in the prehispanic Maya codices and in the late Post-Classic and colonial Maya ethnohistorical sources.

The workshop will include short presentations and lectures about the basic ethnohistorical and epigraphic sources available for the study of Maya deities. The major colonial sources of information concerned with Maya deities will be thoroughly examined and the tutors demonstrate how to work with these various types of sources in order to unravel the mysteries of the Maya deities, their diagnostic elements in imagery and writing, distinct aspects, and their importance for the Maya.

The workshop will also examine the nature of colonial “graphic pluralism” or the Maya preservation of information about the cults of their deities through the continued use of the Maya hieroglyphic script, and the concurrent adaptation of Latin letter based alphabetic literacy.

A final aspect of the workshop includes the creation of individual working groups that, with the guidance of the tutors, will each individually concentrate on the analysis of various individual selected Maya deities – their depictions in imagery and writing – by means of utilizing the interdisciplinary materials presented in the workshop.

By comparing and utilizing the different types of sources presented, workshop participants will gain a basic understanding of Maya deities and better appreciate the value of the use of interdisciplinary methods in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Postclassic and Colonial Maya religious belief systems concerning Maya deities and their images.

No previous knowledge of Maya culture or their writing system is required. While the workshop in general will be run in English, explanations can be also provided individually in German and Spanish.


Dr. Milan Kováč of the Comenius University in Bratislava