9th European Maya Conference

Maya Ethnicity. The Construction of Ethnic Identity from the Preclassic to Modern Times

7 – 12 December 2004

The Institut für Altamerikanistik und Ethnologie (IAE) of the University of Bonn was hosting the 9th European Maya Conference from 7 – 12 December 2004. The conference combined to events: the EMC Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop (7 – 9 December) at the IAE and the EMC Symposium (Friday – Sunday, 10 – 12 December) at the Universitäts-Club.
The theme of the 9th European Maya Conference was dedicated to Maya Ethnicity in time-spatial perspective. Ethnicity and identity construction are key issues to the discipline of anthropology. The conference served to discuss the question of what defines ethnic identity in Maya culture by trying to identify the forms of its construction, its consequences and the functions various levels of identity may have or may have had in Maya culture throughout time.

You can download the complete program of the conference and also the abstracts of the papers presented:


The papers presented at the conference were the following:

Santiago Bastos
Área de Estudios Étnicos,
FLACSO Guatemala
Ser maya en el siglo XXI: construcción y difusión de una identidad política
Geoffrey E. Braswell
University of California, San Diego
The Construction of Identity in Highland Guatemala: Ethnogenesis in the Postclassic Network Society
John F. Chuchiak IV
Southwest Missouri State University
AH OTOCHNALOB YETEL AH CHUN KAXOB: Indios de Campana, Indios Idolatras, and The Colonial Re-Construction of Maya Ethnic Identity, 1590-1700
Allen J. Christenson
Brigham Young University
You Are What You Speak: Maya as the Language of Maize
Pierre Robert Colas
University of Bonn
Personal Names: One Aspect of an Ethnic Boundary among the Classic Maya
Jan de Vos
CIESAS, San Cristobal de las Casas, México
La construcción de identidad étnica en la Selva Lacandona durante la época colonial
Jerald D. Ek
State University of New York at Albany
Domestic Shrines, Ancestor Veneration, and the Ritual Production of Group Identity
Wolfgang Gabbert
University of Hannover
Indians, Maya, and Mayeros: Ethnicity and social categorization in Yucatán, Mexico – A Diachronic Perspective
Lolmay Pedro García Matzar
OKMA, Antigua Guatemala
La identidad maya contemporánea
Elizabeth Graham
University College London
Ethnicity and Society in Transition
Nikolai Grube
University of Bonn
Identity and Boundaries in Classic Maya Society
Armin Hinz
University of Hamburg
Generating Identities: Presence and Representations of Social Actors in Cultural Performances of the Cruzoob-Maya in Quintana Roo Discussion
Stephen Houston
Brown University
The Strategies of Local Religion among the Classic Maya
Kerry Hull
Reitaku University
Resourcing the Present, Citing the Past: Adaptive Strategies in the Definition of Ch’orti’ Maya Identity
Ulrich Köhler
University of Freiburg
Identidades étnicas entre los Tzotziles de los Altos de Chiapas. Sus puntos de referencia en contextos cambiantes
Bodil Liljefors Persson
Malmö University
“Con Maya uinice”: Maya and the Other – (re-)constructing Maya Ethnic Identity in Yucatec Maya (Con-)Texts
Simon Martin
University of Pennsylvania Museum
Identity and Distinction in the Classic Maya Polity
Patricia A. McAnany
Boston University
Habitus and Hierarchy: the Double Helix of Preclassic Maya Ethnities
Jesper Nielsen
University of Copenhagen
The Coming of the Torch – Teotihuacan Iconography in Early Classic Tikal and the Concept of Toma de Posesión
Johan Normark
Göteborg University
Ethnicity or serial action? Issues relating to a possible Chichén Itzá presence at Ichmul and Nohcacab in the Cochuah region
Berthold Riese
University of Bonn
Ethnicity, the Maya, and Anthropology
Jon Schackt
University of Tromsø
Q’eqchi’ Ladinos and “White Indians”: Cultural Identities in Northern Guatemala
Robert J. Sharer & Loa P. Traxler
University of Pennsylvania Museum
The Foundations of Ethnic Diversity in the Southeastern Maya Area
Alexandre Tokovinine
Harvard University
Signification Domains and Expressions of Identity in Maya Writing
Elisabeth Wagner
University of Bonn
Ranked Spaces, Ranked Identities: A View from Late Classic Copan on Local Hierarchies, Community Boundaries, and the Question of an Emic Notion of the Maya Cultural Sphere
Estella Weiss-Krejci
University of Oporto
Identifying Ethnic Affiliation in the Maya Mortuary Record
Søren Wichmann
MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
Writing with an Accent: Phonology as a Marker of Ethnic Identity

Beginners Workshop

Pierre Robert Colas, Annette Kern, Geneviève Le Fort, Christian Prager, Stefanie Teufel, Alexandre Tokovinine

The Beginners Workshop is open to all participants with no prior or little knowledge of Maya writing.
This workshop does not have a regional or thematic focus but concentrates exclusively on teaching “newcomers” in a structured and didactic way how to read Classic Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Every participant will be provided with a special beginners booklet – in addition to the official EMC workbook – that contains several inscriptions from various Classic sites. The selected texts exemplify the basic grammatical structure of Classic Maya writing. Participants will learn how to read hieroglyphic inscriptions by being introduced to the language and syntax underlying these hieroglyphic texts. As such, the course is designed to teach beginners with no prior knowledge or beginners with very little knowledge, who wish to improve upon their reading ability of Classic Maya inscriptions.
The Beginners Workshop will comprise several workshop groups. The tutors will give step-to-step guidance in how to analyse the syntax of Maya inscriptions in form of general lectures to the entire Beginners Workshop.
The general tuition in this workshop will be in English, but individual tuition will also be available in Spanish, French, and German.

Intermediate Workshops

Christophe Helmke & Harri Kettunen

Caracol is the largest archaeological site in Belize. The content of the glyphic inscriptions and the discoveries made as part of archaeological investigations testify to the site’s pre-eminence as a regional power. Epigraphic research of the site’s glyphic texts was initiated by Linton Satterthwaite and followed-up by Carl Beetz and Stephen Houston. Most recently the research of Project Epigrapher Nikolai Grube has cast new light on the corpus and allows us to better grasp the details of dynastic history and socio-political interactions.
This Workshop is designed to redress the relative lack of representation of Belizean sites and is aimed particularly at entry-level intermediates. Consequently, focus is placed on the texts dating to Caracol’s late revival period, as these are the ones that are rendered with greatest clarity and because they have been most adequately recorded in recent years.
Some general background in Maya calendrics and glyphs is preferred. Alternatively this workshop may serve as an apt refresher course. We are happy to accommodate more advanced intermediates to study foregoing Middle Classic texts, with the caveat that most texts have not been adequately rendered in drawn form. Focus will be placed on structural, syntactical, and calendrical analyses, as well as the identification of agents, their names, titles, and deeds.

 Albert Davletshin & Alexander Safronov

This workshop will be dedicated to the Classic Maya history and political geography. Its main objective is to illustrate the way in which political relations are reflected in the Classic Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions. Inscriptions have been chosen from the following sites in the Upper Usumasinta Valley: Bonampak-Lacanhá, Piedras Negras, and Yaxchilán.
Participation in this workshop requires a background knowledge in the Maya calendar and initial skills in structural analysis of hieroglyphic inscriptions. Participants will be given guidance to extend their knowledge on the Classic Maya calendar, relationship glyphs, hieroglyphic titles, place-names, etc. Some time will be spent to work with maps, in which participants will trace information contained in the inscriptions.

Sven Gronemeyer

Tortuguero is situated beneath the northernmost slopes of the highlands of Chiapas at the base of a high limestone cliff. Its history is only known from a small corpus of finely crafted inscriptions and features a very short dynastic history. Tortuguero still played a major role in the sociopolitical sphere of the Western Maya Lowlands. The pivot of this history is its most famous ruler, Bahlam Ajaw. During his reign, important campaigns were undertaken to gain power. The apparent showdown was the war against the city of Comalcalco. This workshop will analyse the internal history of Tortuguero as well as its sociopolitical relations to other centres, primarily Comalcalco and Palenque. The three sites share the same emblem glyph, which provides clearly a key to understanding the history of the region.
To reconstruct the history of Tortuguero, the corpus of the site, Tortuguero, itself will be used as the primary source of information; it will accompanied by selected texts from other neighbouring sites that complement the historical accounts.

Erik Boot

A large number of painted Classic Maya ceramics belong to the master pieces of world art. The complex polychrome or codex-style iconography and the associated hieroglyphic texts are continuously being studied since Michael Coe’s seminal 1973 study “The Maya Scribe and His World”. The visual narratives on these ceramics are pivotal in our understanding of Classic Maya sociocultural and religious representation; the hieroglyphic texts, especially the Primary Standard Sequence, have been instrumental in the decipherment of Classic Maya writing in general. Many important details, both in text and image, still await discovery.
Among the topics, two in relation to the theme of the symposium “Maya Ethnicity”, that can be researched this year are:
– Iconography: Style of Dress and Adornment as Indicators of Ethnicity
During the last years many different localized ceramic traditions have been identified; in their associated visual narratives there are important differences to be found in style of dress and adornment. Among the characteristics that define ethnicity, style of dress and adornment are of great importance.
– Epigraphy: Deciphering the Primary Standard Sequence
In recent studies on specific epigraphic details, the hieroglyphic collocations contained in the Primary Standard Sequence have been instrumental. It is now recognized that there are very specific differences in the versions of the Primary Standard Sequence as employed within different regions and sub-regions of the Maya area. These differences may reflect differences in language. Among the characteristics that define ethnicity, language is of the utmost importance.
– Image and Text: Lords, Sites, and Their Wayob’/Co-essences
A very good entry into the basic workings of hieroglyphic texts on ceramics and their interaction with the iconography are those ceramics that depict and describe the so-called wayob’ or co-essences. There is a still growing body of wayob’ associated with specific lords as well as sites.
– The San Bartolo Murals and the Representation of the Classic Maya Maize God
The discovery of the Late Preclassic murals at San Bartolo was (and is) sensational. One of the now famous murals depicts an important visual narrative featuring the Maize God. Many Classic ceramics illustrate the Maize God in a limited but yet diverse set of narratives that can be linked to the theme of this important mural.
– At the Court of the Sajal: Local Leadership, the Presentation of Captives, and the Collection of Tribute
The paramount leader among the Late Classic Maya was referred to as k’uhul ajaw “divine king”. Several important k’uhul ajawob’ associated themselves with a lower level and local leader known as sajal. The title sajal still eludes a good translation, although its decipherment is firmly established as sa-ja-la. Several important Late Classic visual narratives on ceramics (and lintels) illustrate the court of the sajal in which there is a clear association with the presentation (i.e. display) of captives and the collection (i.e. display) of tribute. Important hieroglyphic texts accompany these court scenes on ceramics. Who were these sajalob’ and what was there position and function? The examples of this topic extend to the monumental inscriptions at sites as La Pasadita, Laxtunich, Palenque, Piedras Negras, Site R, and Yaxchilán.

Advanced Workshops

Elisabeth Wagner

As part of the Mesoamerican cultural sphere, the ancient Maya interacted with various other culture areas of Mesoamerica throughout their history. These contacts also left their imprint in ancient Maya art and architecture.
Originally non-Mayan features were adopted and incorporated into Mayan art and writing in various ways. The most prominent example is the direct contact of the Maya with the Central Mexican Metropolis of Teotihuacan during the Early Classic.
After the fall of Teotihuacan, certain parts of its symbol system and iconography lived forth in Late Classic Maya art. Maya art from the Terminal Classic and Early Post-Classic shows evidence of influence from the Mexican Gulf Coast area. During the Post-Classic, the Mixteca-Puebla style is particularly evident in architecture and mural painting of sites in the Guatemalan Highlands and the East Coast of Yucatan. Among the topics that can be worked on in relation with the theme of this year’s European Maya Conference, are the following: How does the non-Mayan manifest itself in Mayan art? What elements and symbols were adopted? What are the socio-political and religious contexts of using of non-Mayan elements in Mayan art? What do non-Mayan elements tell about the nature of interaction between the Maya and non-Mayan groups?