Events 2016-2017

2016–2017 Lecture Series

Volume XXXX, Number 1 – FALL 2017

September- Stephanie Strauss, PhD Candidate: University of Texas at Austin

On Friday evening, Stephanie Strauss will give us a glimpse of one of the important sites of early Mesoamerica, Tak’alik Ab’aj. The site is noted for its beautiful monumental artworks. The Saturday morning session will be a memorable opportunity to hear about Stephanie’s research related to the earliest [hieroglyphic] writing systems of MesoAmerica. Don’t miss it.

Lecture: Friday, September 22, 2017, 7:00 pm 

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Between Worlds: The Olmec, the Maya, and the Sculpture of Tak’alik Ab’aj

Located at a crossroads between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Maya highlands, the Pacific slope city of Tak’alik Ab’aj boasts an elaborate corpus of monumental sculpture. This oeuvre of public art displays a masterful manipulation of stone, as well as a keen understanding of contemporaneous visual culture traditions. This talk will explore the wide variety of material expression found in the stone sculpture of Tak’alik Ab’aj, from the so-called early Olmec-style monuments, to later Maya-style carvings, to the works of art that both resonate with Tak’alik Ab’aj’s neighboring centers and evidence a local style all its own. 

Saturday workshop – September 23, 2017, 9:00 am – Noon 

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

Monuments on the Edge: Mesoamerica’s Sculptural Traditions at the Close of the Formative Era

This workshop is designed to develop visual literacy in the monumental traditions of Late to Terminal Formative Mesoamerica (400 BCE to AD 250). During this era, stone sculptures begin to shift from more three-dimensional forms to flatter, inscribable surfaces — a nod to the recent development of several complex and competing hieroglyphic writing systems. We will explore the stylistic differences between regional sculptural traditions — from the Zapotec to the Epi-Olmec to the Maya — as well as attempt to decipher some of the earliest public inscriptions known from ancient Mesoamerica. 

October- Dr. Tomás Barrientos Quezada, Chair of Archaeology: Universidad del Valle de Guatemala

Dr. Tomás Barrientos Quezada will walk us through the rivalries and relationships of the Maya Game of Thrones. The K’aanul Dynasty was the closest the Maya came to empire. Each of the lectures will present different aspects how this played out. Both of these are important programs to the understanding of Tikal and Calakmul and the Late Classic Southern Lowlands.

Lecture: Friday, October 20, 2017, 7:00 pm 

(Hamline: Drew Science Center 118)

Sak Nikte’ and the Snake Kingdom: A tale of conquests, queens and political resilience of the Classic Maya

Recent archaeological discoveries and epigraphic interpretations at the site of La Corona (Sak Nikte’) in Guatemala, have revealed new data concerning the rise and expansion of the K’aanul Dynasty (Snake Kingdom) during the VI and VII centuries C.E., which has led to some experts to interpret it as the first empire of Classic Maya Civilization. The Snake Kingdom was originally settled in Dzibanche and later on, it moved its capital to the monumental center of Calakmul. During this process, the small center of Sak Nikte’ played an important role as a key ally, becoming the seat of various princesses that married the local kings at La Corona. However, even with the decline of the Snake Kingdom in the mid VIII century C.E., Sak Nikte’ managed to thrive when other allied cities suffered military losses or abandonment processes.
Image: Reconstruction of La Corona in 750 C.E., Drawing by Julian González, courtesy of PACUNAM

Saturday workshop – October 21, 2017, 9:00 am – Noon 

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

The Rise and Fall of the K’aanul Dynasty: A Lowland Classic Maya Empire?

This workshop will address in detail all the archaeological and epigraphic data related to the K’aanul Dynasty, since its Late Preclassic origins, to the initial expansion of Dzibanche and final consolidation at Calakmul. These data has been gathered from different sites such as La Corona, El Perú-Waka’, Holmul, Xunantunich, Caracol, Uxul, Cancuen and Tikal, among others, evidencing an unprecedented political expansion and hegemony not seen in any other Classic Maya kingdom before. Data interpretation and discussion will include the following topics: the suggested origins of the K’aanul in El Mirador region; the initial conquests by the Dzibanche rulers; the rivalry between Dzibanche and Calakmul; the role of Yuknoom Ch’een in the major expansion of the K’aanul; and the processes surrounding the decline of the K’aanul after its defeat by Tikal.
Image: La Corona Element 3. Portrait of K’aanul ruler, Yuknoom Ch’en, 635 C.E., Photo by La Corona Archaeological Project Recommended study aterials:

Additional information: 

November – Dr. Katherine Miller Wolf, Assistant Professor of Anthropology: Indiana University East

On Friday evening, Dr. Katherine Miller Wolf will leave no bone unturned as she helps us with the forensic science used in understanding the Ancient Maya. On Saturday, Dr. Miller Wolf will explore royal burials of Copan and give us a hands-on experience in the analytical process of investigation of skeletal remains.

Friday, November 10, 2017

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e) **NOTE: The auction and lecture will take place at Hamline (the dinner will be re-scheduled for Spring).

Silent Auction (5:45 pm) – Giddens Learning Center Gallery

If you have any items you wish to donate please contact MaBell Herrera (651-295-7406) or Meche Olson (952-542-9851) or simply bring the items before 5:45 pm on the day of the lecture. Thanks!!!

Lecture (7:00 pm) 

Perspectives of Life and Death in Mesoamerica from Skeletal Remains

The human skeleton is a unique component of the archaeological record in that it documents one’s life history. From the skeleton, we can potentially tell where a person was born, what they chose to eat, their general health, if they were ever seriously ill or injured, to whom they were related, their social status, if they were subject to violence or warfare, their profession, and possibly, how they died. All of these facets of a person’s life are found in the chemical, biological, and physical parts of the remains and provide a rare window into the past. As such, the lines of evidence drawn from the human body can inform us about the social, political, and economic structures of the expansive and complex ancient Maya society of Central America (AD 250-900) in ways that can add to what we know from material culture. Yet, one major challenge associated with studying human remains endures. Despite the plethora of information in the skeleton, the tropical jungles of the Maya region quickly deteriorates delicate bones resulting in poor preservation thereby making analysis difficult. As such, innovative analytical techniques have been necessitated and increasingly employed. Most notably, bioarchaeological approaches have combined methods from archaeology, physical anthropology, chemistry, and biology to access new sources of data that add to our understanding of ancient Maya civilization. This talk will highlight some of these techniques as they have been applied to understand the people that once lived in the kingdom of Copan, Honduras and select other sites within Mesoamerica.

Saturday workshop – November 11, 2017, 9:00 am – Noon 

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

How to Decipher the Details of Skeletal Remains from Ancient Burials and Tombs

This workshop will highlight several analytical techniques employed to decipher the remains of those entombed in Copan’s Acropolis, including the Margarita, Hunal, and Oropéndola tombs and within the surrounding neighborhoods of the ancient site. Participants will work hands-on with skeletal remains to understand how bioarchaeologists analyze skeletons for age, sex, pathology, habitual behaviors, and body modification.

December – Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Assistant Curator of Native American Art: Minneapolis Institute of Art

Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe will bring her extraordinary research of Navajo Textiles and the social life of weaving in contemporary Navajo communities to this lecture. Her presentation will include threads of the broad impact of Navajo commerce and culture as far north as local 19th century Great plains communities.

Lecture: Friday, December 1, 2017, 7:00 pm

(Hamline: Drew Science Center 118)

Blanketing the Plains: Navajo Chief Blankets in Indian Country

In the 19th century, a Navajo creative force swept through the Great Plains communities like no other. This lecture reveals how Hanoolchaadi, or Chief Blankets, became one of the most desired objects of commerce across the Plains, Great Basin, Plateau and throughout the Southwest, and fully integrated into established forms of adornment for many non-Navajo communities.
Image: Lakota woman and child with a First Phase Navajo Chief Blanket among tipis at the camp at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Earl’s Court, England, UK, ca. 1892, collection of the Denver Public Library. Nate Salsbury Collection, NS-422. Photo: A.R. Dressers

Volume XXXIX, Number 2 – WINTER/SPRING 2017

February – J. Heath Anderson, Assistant Professor, MSU-Mankato

Twitter: @jheathanderson

Friday Lecture – February 24, 2017, 7:30 pm

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Sorcerers, Charlatans, and War: Tollan and Chichén Itzá in Regional Context

The decline and collapse of Teotihuacan touched off a cascade of political readjustments that reverberated throughout central Mexico and Mesoamerica.  As the great city’s power waned, charismatic potentates seized the moment, opportunistically vying for greatness through conquest, dislocating populations throughout central Mexico and beyond.  Through the manipulation of esoteric magic and ritual, often featuring the Feathered Serpent cult, they sought to manipulate their local populace and enthrall migrant groups to fuel elite competition for power.  This was the crucible in which Tollan (Tula) and Chichén Itzá were formed.  This lecture reviews the politics of power on display in the iconography of both centers in the broader context of regional discord, migration, and uncertainty.

A biographical note:

March – Dr. Karl Taube, University of California, Riverside

Dr Taube is an exceptional scholar of American Mesoamerica, archaeology, epigraphy and ethnohistory. The corpus of his academic work demonstrates brilliance, breadth of inquiry, as well as depth of mastery. Besides that, he is a good speaker.

Lecture: Friday, March 31, 2017, 7:30 pm

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Bloodsport: The Ballgame and Boxing in Ancient Mesoamerica

One of the most frequently noted aspects of the rubber ballgame in Mesoamerica is the close relation to human sacrifice, especially in terms of decapitation. However, there tends to be little discussion of the underlying motivations and meanings of this ritual act. In this study, I will discuss how human sacrifice and the ballgame relates to agricultural fertility and abundance, including the ritual flooding of ball courts to denote them as deep, watery sources of fertility and growth. I trace this to the early Olmec (ca. 1200-500 b.c.) who offered rubber balls to the sacred spring at El Manatí and portrayed the feline Olmec rain god as a ballplayer. The Olmec also related their feline rain deity to ritual boxing, a very widespread but little studied sport in ancient Mesoamerica. The early Zapotec site of Dainz features many monumental reliefs of ritual boxers wearing jaguar helmet masks, at times with the facial features of Cocijo, their aspect of the rain god. The Zapotec had held stone manoplas, or “stone knuckles” often used in boxing often portray jaguar faces. The boxing complex appears in Classic Maya art, including vessel scenes as remarkable corpus of figures from Luba’antun, Belize. In addition, in recent research, I have found this boxing complex to as far east as the Ulua Valley of Honduras, with clear relations to the major nearby site of Copán. Finally, I will discuss that the tradition of ritual boxing continues to this day in highland Guerrero, where young men dressed as jaguars engage in combat atop mountains, with their falling blood compared to fertile rain.

Saturday workshop – April 1, 2017, 9:00 am – Noon

(Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)


One of the most striking events known for the pre-Hispanic in Maya is the florescence of the great city of Chichen Itza in northern Yucatan during the time of the Classic Maya collapse. Aside from the grandeur of its monumental architecture and sculpture, Chichen Itza is also renowned for its celebration of foreign, highland Mexican traditions, both in terms of architecture and iconography. Although for many years, the site of Tula, Hidalgo, has been identified as the source of much of the foreign influence, this continues to be a subject of vigorous debate. In this presentation I will readdress this topic with special focus on the iconography of Chichen Itza as well as the presence of foreign, non-Maya texts. It will be noted that although many themes and motifs do indicate substantial contact with Tula, this influence went both ways, with many Maya traits appearing at Tula as well. In addition, recent investigations at the Initial Series Group at Chichen Itza has revealed a remarkable corpus of scenes portraying a duck-billed deity that probably constitutes an Early Postclassic form of the wind god and as such, can be considered as an ancestral form of Ehecatl. Rather than being of Central Mexican origin, this duck billed god can readily traced in southeastern Mesoamerica to the early Maya, the Olmec, and even earlier. Moreover, the Initial Series Group has the most developed monumental program dedicated to the production of cacao in ancient Mesoamerica.

April- Dr. Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E Pearson Curator of Ancient American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Joanne Pillsbury is the Pearson Curator of Ancient American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Previously associate director of the Getty Research Institute, and prior to that, director of Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, she has also taught at the University of Maryland and the University of East Anglia. She has been the editor, co-editor, or author of numerous books and articles on ancient American art and architecture, and the history of archaeology and collecting.

Lecture: Friday, April 28, 2017, 6:00 pm

(University of St. Thomas: O’Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium) 

Palace into Temple: Architecture at Chan Chan, Peru 

The city of Chan Chan, located on Peru’s north coast, was one of the largest pre-Hispanic cities in the New World. Capital of the empire of Chimor, it was the seat of one of the largest and most complex states of the Andean region prior to the rise of the Inca in the fifteenth century. At the core of the city are ten monumental structures richly ornamented with adobe reliefs. The study of these compounds presents us with distinct challenges, but also great opportunities for examining how some of the most spectacular buildings of the ancient Americas were conceived of and used over time.