Ancient Maya Life, Death, and Identities:
A View from Yaxuná, Yucatan, Mexico
Vera Tiesler, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Bioarchaeology and Histology
School of Anthropological Sciences,
Autonomous University of Yucatan, Mérida, Mexico
This talk dives deep into the life and death ways of Yucatecan Maya prior to and during the rise of the ancient city of Chichén Itzá. Obscured by scholarly focus on Central Lowland Maya kingdoms located further to the south, this northern cultural arena is poorly understood on its own terms. Tiesler anchors her explorations of ancient Northern Maya Lowlanders through examinations of the burial population at Yaxuná, another ancient urban center located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula and connected to Chichén Itzá by a causeway. In recent decades, Yaxuná has been the focus of continued intensive research efforts by David Freidel, Travis Stanton, and a number of other archaeologists. The human remains unearthed during excavations provide valuable insight into everyday life, evolving social roles, collective identities, and manners of death experienced by Yucatec Maya. To reveal these mysteries, Tiesler combines several approaches, including bioarchaeology, mortuary archaeology, and artifact-based iconography. Her discussion will address the fate of individuals and neighborhoods, the regional trajectory that resulted in Yaxuná’s rise, and then, ultimately, the city’s abandonment. She will conclude with thoughts on the advent of Chichén Itzá’s political networks and what was perceived as a new cosmic era for the Maya.
Vera Tiesler (Ph.D., National Autonomous University of Mexico, 1999) has been a research professor at the Autonomous University of Yucatan for nearly 20 years. Her academic interest lies in illuminating the human conditions of the Maya and of past society in general. To this end, Tiesler correlates bioarchaeological information with other material and documentation. During her career, she has conducted work on some 250 Maya burials. Her publications discuss living conditions and lifestyle among Maya social classes, social aspects of age and gender, physical appearance and body enhancement, violence, sacrifice, and ancestor veneration.
Dr. Tiesler has recently published her findings from Yaxuná in the book Before Kukulkán: Bioarchaeology of Maya Life, Death, and Identity at Classic Period Yaxuná (University of Arizona Press). Copies will be available for purchase in the museum of gift shop.
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