Juan Carlos Melendez
My project focuses on the craft production of power objects, specifically ancient Maya greenstone mosaic masks (GMM) and cylinders (GMC), from a technological perspective, in order to explore the ways that master Maya craftspeople materialized power. I expect to identify micro-traces of manufacture through microscopic (i.e., SEM) observations of select sectors on hundreds of tesserae that form 16 GMM and 2 GMC.
Both the GMM and GMC included in this study have been discovered within the last 50 years at five archaeological sites in the Maya area. With the exception of the three GMM found in a cache dated between A.D. 150 and 300, and associated to Structure 86 of Tak’alik Ab’aj — an ancient settlement located on the Pacific Coast — the remaining GMM and GMC were found in the Central Maya Lowlands. The GMM from Tikal (Burial 19, n=2), El Zotz (Burial 9, n=2), and El Tintal (Burial 1, n=1) date to between A.D. 300 and 400, while a third GMM recovered from Tikal (Burial 160, n=1) dates to between A.D. 480 and 550. The remaining 7 GMM have been discovered at El Perú-Waka’ (Burial 37, n=1; Burial 8, n=3; Burial 38, n=1; Burial 39, n=1; Burial 61, n=1) and date to the Late Classic Period (A.D. 550-800). The two unique GMC, dated between A.D. 692 and 735, were discovered in Tikal: one it is an offering found in Burial 116, whereas the other in Burial 196.
The identified micro-traces recorded on the micrographs will be compared to each other, and also contrasted to micrographs previously obtained from experimental tests (e.g., cuts, polishing, abrasions, perforations, etc.) applied to greenstone, where raw materials known in pre-Hispanic times were used to emulate ancient tools (e.g., obsidian blades, chert flakes, jadeite polishers, etc.) The lapidary research team of the Templo Mayor Museum of Mexico carried out the experiments and compiled the reference collection of micrographs.
Due to the limited collection of GMM and GMC discovered to date with a secure archaeological context, I argue that a specialized system of production to manufacture these objects was developed by a restricted group of artisans, probably attached to the elite.
Similar patterns of manufacture (i.e., micro-traces) could indicate that either the tesserae were produced using only one technological tradition, perhaps linked to a centralized sphere of production or whereby a specialized technological tradition was transmitted and contemporaneously developed by different political entities. On the other hand, different patterns of manufacture could suggest multiple sources of production.
I expect to elucidate technological traditions developed by ancient Maya craftsmen to create insignias of power, specifically GMM, from a regional perspective, and also during a time period where both local and non-local hegemonic entities, as well as minor centers, interacted in a dynamic economic and political environment.