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Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica

Edited by Nancy Gonlin and Jon C. Lohse

Publication Year: 2007

"The best treatment of the subject matter to date."—Marcello A. Canuto, Yale University

Were most commoners in ancient Mesoamerica poor? In a material sense, yes, probably so. Were they poor in their beliefs and culture? Certainly not, as Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica demonstrates. This volume explores the ritual life of Mesoamerica's common citizens, inside and outside of the domestic sphere, from Formative through Postclassic periods. Building from the premise that ritual and ideological expression inhered at all levels of society in Mesoamerica, the contributors demonstrate that ideology did not emanate solely from exalted individuals and that commoner ritual expression was not limited to household contexts. Taking an empirical approach to this under-studied and under-theorized area, contributors use material evidence to discover how commoner status conditioned the expression of ideas and values. Revealing complex social hierarchies that varied across time and region, this volume offers theoretical approaches to commoner ideology, religious practice, and sociopolitical organization and builds a framework for future study of the correlation of ritual and ideological expression with social position for Mesoamericanists and archaeologists worldwide.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Series: Mesoamerican Worlds Series


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. xvii-xl

This volume begins with the premise that the ritual and ideological lives of commoners in the Mesoamerican past were rich and vibrant but remain seriously undertheorized by archaeologists and moderately underrepresented in the evidence often targeted by data recovery. Using frameworks such as household and landscape archaeologies, community studies, and...

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1: Commoner Ritual, Commoner Ideology

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pp. 1-32

The purpose of this volume is to elucidate the roles of commoners in ancient Mesoamerica as active ideological agents who participated in numerous ways in religious expression and ritual practice. The lacunae in understanding these roles is somewhat understandable given that ritual...

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2: Tradition and Transformation

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pp. 33-54

Fifty years ago Robert Redfield divided the educated elite and the illiterate peasants into two categories when he wrote of the “great tradition of the reflective few, and [the] . . . little tradition of the largely unreflective many” (1956:41–42). Although he perhaps envisioned more of a continuum than...

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3: Commoner Ritual at Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

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pp. 55-82

Prehispanic societies were integrated by different means. No one can doubt that ritual was one of the main integrative mechanisms, because it “links generations, unites men from different descent groups, unites women from different families, [and] connects the living to their ancestors...

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4: Ritual and Ideology Among Classic Maya Rural Commoners at Cop

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pp. 83-122

The most visible remains of Central America’s and Mexico’s Classic Maya (a.d. 250–900) culture are the stone temples towering amidst jungle overgrowth, grand palaces, tombs laden with exotic objects, elaborate sculptures, and hieroglyphs, all of which in some way relate to ancient ideologies...

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5: Smoke, Soot, and Censers

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pp. 123-142

Across time and space in Mesoamerica, household ritual behavior has been viewed as an important facet of everyday life. Research, however, has primarily focused on elite ritual behavior, with little attention paid to ritual behavior of commoner households. This chapter examines household level...

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6: Commoner Rituals, Resistance, and the Classic-to-Postclassic Transition in Ancient Mesoamerica

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pp. 143-184

Early Colonial period documents in Mesoamerica provide many examples of expressions of resistance and rebellion by indigenous peoples against Spanish colonial authorities (Jones 1989; Restall 1997; Terraciano 2001). Yet within these documents there are occasional references to the discontent...

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7: Shrines, Offerings, and Postclassic Continuity in Zapotec Religion

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pp. 185-212

One of the most drastic changes in prehispanic Mesoamerica occurred around a.d. 800 with the demographic and political decline of a number of the great Classic period centers: Teotihuacan in Central Mexico; Tikal, Palenque, and many others in the Maya area; and Monte Alb

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8: Altar Egos

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pp. 213-250

Domestic ritual is a defining practice in social reproduction. It can provide significant points of contrast for distinguishing social identities, such as ethnicity, gender, class, and religion—defining the “us” as opposed to the “them.” It can take different forms, including religious and secular...

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9: A Socioeconomic Interpretation of Figurine Assemblages from Late Postclassic Morelos, Mexico

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pp. 251-280

The tradition of producing, trading, and consuming ceramic figurines was of great significance in the religion of Central Mexican Postclassic cultures. Figurines with images depicting women, men, plants, animals, temples, and deities have been found in public arenas (e.g., temples) but more notably...

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10: Steps to a Holistic Household Archaeology

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pp. 281-294

Mesoamerica offers the archaeologist interested in commoner ritual and ideology a rich prehistory, a written record of ancient practices, an ethnohistorical record of contact times, and some modern groups who have maintained strong continuities with their past. This book’s treatment of...


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pp. 295-296


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pp. 297-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780870819209
E-ISBN-10: 0870819208
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870818455
Print-ISBN-10: 0870818457

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 42 b/w photos, 26 drawings, 14 maps, 10 tbls
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Mesoamerican Worlds Series
Series Editor Byline: Davíd Carrasco, Harvard University, and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, El Colegio Nacional, Mexico, Series General Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 610329699
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica

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Subject Headings

  • Indians of Mexico -- Social life and customs.
  • Indians of Central America -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Indians of Central America -- Religion.
  • Indians of Central America -- Social life and customs.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Religion.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Rites and ceremonies.
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