restricted access 15: Walter W. Taylor and the Study of Maya Iconography
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227 What do we know of the costumes of Maya ceremonial personages? . . . Nor are we able to know which type of sandal, for instance, is found with which type of headdress or what type of accoutrement is found in what sort of depiction upon what sort of monument. . . . [T]he descriptions . . . cannot be used to “reconstruct” the habiliments of Maya personages or used to make inferences as to the role or cultural significance of the figures that wear them. Taylor (1948: 53–54) Today, there are numerous studies that could be cited in answer to this challenge. At the time Taylor wrote, his comment was an accurate reflection of the state of affairs in Maya studies. Curiously, he failed to cite one example of precisely the kind of study he called for: his own paper, published in 1941 in American Antiquity, “The Ceremonial Bar and Associated Features of Maya Ornamental Art.” This volume of the journal is probably best known today as the forum for Julian Steward’s presentation,“The Direct Historical Approach to Archaeology,” an explication of one of the fundamental arguments for the application of ethnographic analogy (Steward 1942). Included in the same volume were two contributions to the study of Classic Maya civilization, one by Walter Taylor, the other Walter W. Taylor and the Study of Maya Iconography Chapter fifteen Rosemary A. Joyce Rosemary A. Joyce 228 by E. Wyllys Andrews IV. Whereas Taylor’s paper received almost no mention by subsequent Maya scholars and was totally ignored by contemporary mainstream Mayanists, Andrews’s work entered the canon and is still cited today. The contrast in content and treatment of these two essays by contemporary and later scholars is a vivid illustration of the influence of historical forces, timing, and an accepted paradigm on the fate of research. It also provides a basis to reconsider the relationship Taylor had to Maya archaeology of the time and to explore the perennial question of the roots of his strong negative assessment of it. Both Andrews (1942) and Taylor (1941a) discussed monumental art of the Maya Classic period (ca. AD 250–800). In this they stayed well within the dominant model of study of high culture and celebration of this period as the peak of Maya cultural history. Both authors produced work based on data from the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s intensive program in Maya archaeology. As contemporaries in the doctoral program at Harvard University, both worked within the frameworks delineated by Alfred M. Tozzer, the senior specialist in Mesoamerican archaeology with whom they studied. Andrews’s article was about a fragmentary hieroglyphic text with six preserved glyph blocks, Stela 38 from Piedras Negras, a Maya site on the MexicoGuatemala border. The preserved text was entirely calendric, recording a date in the fifty-two-year Calendar Round employed by the Maya. He noted that this date, 8 Muluc 2 Zip, marked the anniversary of two cycles of twenty periods of 360 days (katuns) elapsed from the Long Count date of, 4 Muluc 7 Zac, prominently recorded elsewhere at Piedras Negras (Andrews 1942: 367). He compared this base date and the commemoration of its katun anniversaries to the date 6 Caban 10 Mol at Copan and the date 12 Caban 5 Kayab at Quirigua, Maya sites on the Guatemala-Honduras border. According to the then-reigning model, Maya inscriptions were astronomical and calendrical and generally commemorated the end of even cycles. Dates that did not mark the end of an even number of cyclic periods of time, like those Andrews cited, were considered to represent factors for the adjustment of the astronomical calendars, called “determinant dates” (Thompson 1950: 204–206, 317–318). In Andrews’s (1942: 368) words, “once the long-range calculations had been perfected to the satisfaction of the astronomers of the day, it is easy to see how the necessary minor corrections could be made by merely noting the time which had elapsed since these major determinant dates.” This date and others like it are now known to be historical, their anniversaries noted for political purposes, not for the convenience of astronomers. Nonetheless,Andrews’s contribution in deciphering the date has survived the test of time and become a standard citation in Maya literature. Andrews addressed a topic that was an accepted object of study, the chronological placement of the inscription, and worked within an interpretive framework that assumed that Maya inscriptions were concerned only with time and calendric manipulations. 229 Walter...


Subject Headings

  • Taylor, Walter W. (Walter Willard).
  • Archaeology -- United States -- History.
  • Archaeologists -- United States -- Biography.
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