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The Maya and Teotihuacan

The Maya and Teotihuacan
Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction

The contributors to this volume present extensive new evidence from archaeology, iconography, and epigraphy to offer a more nuanced understanding of the interaction between the Early Classic Maya and Teotihuacan.

Series: The Linda Schele Endowment in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies

January 2003
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441 pages | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 70 figures |

Since the 1930s, archaeologists have uncovered startling evidence of interaction between the Early Classic Maya and the great empire of Teotihuacan in Central Mexico. Yet the exact nature of the relationship between these two ancient Mesoamerican civilizations remains to be fully deciphered. Many scholars have assumed that Teotihuacan colonized the Maya region and dominated the political or economic systems of certain key centers—perhaps even giving rise to state-level political organizations. Others argue that Early Classic rulers merely traded with Teotihuacan and skillfully manipulated its imported exotic goods and symbol sets to increase their prestige.

Moving beyond these traditional assumptions, the contributors to this volume present extensive new evidence from archaeology, iconography, and epigraphy to offer a more nuanced understanding of the interaction between the Early Classic Maya and Teotihuacan. Investigating a range of Maya sites, including Kaminaljuyu, Copán, Tikal, Altun Ha, and Oxkintok, they demonstrate that the influence of Teotihuacan on the Maya varied in nature and duration from site to site, requiring a range of models to explain the patterns of interaction. Moreover, they show that the interaction was bidirectional and discuss how the Maya in turn influenced Teotihuacan.


A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

  • Figure List
  • Foreword (Arthur A. Demarest)
  • 1. Introduction: Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction (Geoffrey E. Braswell)
  • 2. Teotihuacan, Militarism, and Pacific Guatemala (Frederick J. Bove and Sonia Medrano Busto)
  • 3. Dating Early Classic Interaction between Kaminaljuyu and Central Mexico (Geoffrey E. Braswell)
  • 4. Understanding Early Classic Interaction between Kaminaljuyu and Central Mexico (Geoffrey E. Braswell)
  • 5. Founding Events and Teotihuacan Connections at Copán, Honduras (Robert J. Sharer)
  • 6. Problematical Deposits and the Problem of Interaction: The Material Culture of Tikal during the Early Classic Period (María Josefa Iglesias Ponce de León)
  • 7. Architectural Aspects of Interaction between Tikal and Teotihuacan during the Early Classic Period (Juan Pedro Laporte)
  • 8. Images of Power and the Power of Images: Early Classic Iconographic Programs of the Carved Monuments of Tikal (James Borowicz)
  • 9. Teotihuacan at Altun Ha: Did It Make a Difference? (David M. Pendergast)
  • 10. Teotihuacan and Oxkintok: New Perspectives from Yucatán (Carmen Varela Torrecilla and Geoffrey E. Braswell)
  • 11. Tetitla and the Maya Presence at Teotihuacan (Karl A. Taube)
  • 12. Teotihuacan and Early Classic Interaction: A Perspective from Outside the Maya Region (George L. Cowgill)
  • 13. The Maya and Teotihuacan (Joyce Marcus)
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Geoffrey E. Braswell is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at SUNY Buffalo.


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Since the remarkable discovery in 1936 of foreign ceramics and talud-tablero architecture (platforms with façades consisting of inward-sloping basal elements stacked with rectangular bodies containing recessed insets) at Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala (Figure 1.1), the nature of interaction between the central Mexican culture of Teotihuacan and the Maya of southern Mexico and Central America has been a fundamental question of Mesoamerican archaeology. During the fifty years that followed, few scholars doubted that the presence of central Mexican-style artifacts and architecture in the Maya region represented an actual migration and colonization of southeastern Mesoamerica by population segments from the great city of Teotihuacan. These "resident Teotihuacanos" formed enclaves in previously existing Maya sites—frequently depicted until the 1970s as empty ceremonial centers—and, in the most extreme models, were responsible for stimulating nearly all aspects of the Late Classic Maya florescence. Specifically, economic determinists argued that state-level political organization emerged in southern Mesoamerica as a direct result of Teotihuacan influence. To a great degree, this conclusion was based on the comparison of the monumentality of Teotihuacan with the less impressive architecture of Kaminaljuyu.

Although there were a few dissenting voices, the Teotihuacan-centric view maintained currency well into the 1980s. In part this was due to the strength of the voices supporting the preeminence of Teotihuacan—voices that not only dominated the North American academy, but also counted in their number some of the loudest, brashest, and truly extraordinary individuals in the colorful history of Mesoamerican archaeology. In the intervening years, many of these voices have fallen silent, have mellowed to a muted basso profundo, or have simply ceased to be relevant.

A second reason that Teotihuacan-dominance models retained precedence until recent years is that the 1960s saw unparalleled developments in our understanding of Teotihuacan and important Classic Maya sites where central Mexican-style art, artifacts, and architecture are found. Three large-scale projects, which focused on regional survey, mapping, and extensive excavation, were conducted at and around the great city itself. The Teotihuacan Valley Project (1960-1964) and its successor, the Basin of Mexico Settlement Survey Project (1966-1975), gave dramatic new insight into 13,000 years of ecological adaptation and human settlement in central Mexico (e.g., Blanton 1972; Parsons 1971, 1974; Sanders 1965, 1970, 1981; Sanders and Price 1968; Sanders et al. 1979; Wolf 1976). Results of these projects were so impressive that aspects of their methodology have served as models for most subsequent surveys in Mesoamerica.

Concurrent with William T. Sanders' survey and test pitting in the Teotihuacan Valley, Ignacio Bernal of Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia excavated and restored most of the major structures along a 2 km stretch of the Street of the Dead, the north-south "avenue" that forms a principal axis of Teotihuacan (e.g., Acosta 1964; Bernal 1963; Sociedad Mexicana de Antropología 1966). At an intermediate scale, the Teotihuacan Mapping Project of René Millon, Bruce Drewitt, and George L. Cowgill created a detailed map of the 20 km2 city, complementing survey with systematic surface sampling and small-scale excavations (e.g., Cowgill 1974; Drewitt 1966; Millon 1964, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1981). These three projects, as well as Laurette Séjourné's (1959, 1966a, 1966b) excavations in several apartment compounds during the years 1955-1964, transformed Teotihuacan from a poorly understood site to one of the best-studied cities in Mesoamerica.

At the same time, great strides were made in southern Mesoamerica. The Tikal Project (1956-1970), directed first by Edwin M. Shook and in later years by William R. Coe, conducted excavations, survey, and restoration on a scale never before seen in Central America. Many important discoveries, particularly of foreign-style ceramics in Burials 10 and 48 and in several so-called problematical deposits (see Chapter 6), and of central Mexican motifs on Stelae 31 and 32 (Chapter 8), pointed directly to a connection with Teotihuacan. Also of great importance was the ambitious Pennsylvania State University Kaminaljuyu Project (1968-1971), directed by William T. Sanders and Joseph W. Michels. Little or no evidence of interaction with Teotihuacan was found in most portions of the site, but additional talud-tablero structures and a few tripod cylinders were found during excavations in the Palangana (see Chapter 3; Cheek 1977a). Theoretical contributions by project members, although not representing a unified voice, provided the first anthropological perspectives on Teotihuacan influence at Kaminaljuyu (see Chapter 4; Sanders and Michels 1977). Additional projects conducted in the 1960s and 1970s at sites in the Maya area, including Altun Ha (Chapter 9), Becan (Ball 1974), and Dzibilchaltun (Andrews 1979,1981:325-326), continued to find evidence—chiefly in the form of talud-tablero architecture, imported or copied central Mexican ceramics, Teotihuacan-inspired iconography, and green obsidian from the Pachuca, Hidalgo, source—of interaction with non-Maya societies in highland and Gulf Coast Mexico. Other projects adopted what David M. Pendergast (Chapter 9) calls "Teotihuacanomania," and reported a central Mexican presence at sites as widely separated as Chichén Itzá and Bilbao (Parsons 1967-1969). Still others designed ambitious projects to find Teotihuacan influence where comparatively little exists (e.g., Hellmuth 1972, 1986). Given that in 1970 Teotihuacan was by far the best-understood Classic-period site in the Mexican highlands, and that evidence for some sort of interaction with central Mexico was either found or perceived at many Maya sites, it is not at all surprising that Teotihuacan was widely viewed as the pristine state of Mesoamerica: a kind of "mother state" that inspired—or even mandated—the evolution of all other state-level political systems from Jalisco to Honduras.

As a result of this research, the 1960s and early 1970s saw the definition of a "Middle American Co-Tradition" (Parsons 1964), a "Middle Classic" period of A.D. 400 to 700 (Parsons 1967-1969; Pasztory 1978b), and a "Middle Horizon" of A.D. 200 to 750 (Wolf 1976). The last, proposed in an attempt to replace the traditional Preclassic/Classic/Postclassic chronological scheme of Mesoamerica with a horizon/intermediate periodization borrowed from Andean studies, was put forward by a small group that included no scholars from Latin America and only one Mayanist (Pasztory 1993:116). Fortunately, the horizon/intermediate scheme now has few adherents and has been scrapped as too cumbersome and inaccurate. Although the concept of a "Teotihuacan horizon style" may have some crude utility, it has been abandoned because it blurs regional distinctions, implies a long-outmoded culture-area concept of evolution, and generally is "out of step" with processual archaeology (Demarest and Foias 1993; Pasztory 1993; Rice 1993) Moreover, the term "Middle Horizon" is neither developmentally neutral nor purely chronological, as its proponents suggested. Finally, improved regional chronologies demonstrate that interaction with Teotihuacan dates to different times at different sites, in some cases was intermittent, and in others was so long in duration as to contradict the very definition of the horizon concept.

In addition to referring to a period of posited Teotihuacan hegemony throughout Mesoamerica, the term "Middle Classic" has also been used to discuss very different processes limited to the central Maya lowlands. During the sixth century, Tikal and other sites in its sphere of political influence ceased to produce carved monuments bearing Maya dates. The period from A.D. 534 to 593, therefore, has been called the Middle Classic Hiatus, and at Tikal itself the interruption seems to have lingered to the end of the seventh century. An interesting twist was put on Teotihuacan-influence models by Gordon R. Willey (1974), who proposed that this hiatus—once thought to be characteristic of all lowland Maya sites—was caused by the withdrawal of Teotihuacan trade relations. In other words, he suggested that the Middle Classic Hiatus was the antithesis of a period of Teotihuacan domination. In Willey's view, the Middle Classic was the beginning of an intermediate period, not a horizon. Nonetheless, recent breakthroughs in the study of hieroglyphic inscriptions strongly indicate that events leading to the downturn in the political fortunes of Tikal during the Middle Classic Hiatus were linked to other Maya sites rather than to Teotihuacan.

Since "Middle Classic" has been used in three distinct ways—one that denotes a period of Teotihuacan influence, one that indicates a period after such interaction, and one that may have nothing at all to do with Teotihuacan—it seems best to avoid this confusing term. For this reason, we have opted in this volume to refer to the late fourth through sixth centuries as the late Early Classic.

Many of those who once considered the polities of the Early Classic Maya to be chiefdoms were archaeologists who worked at Teotihuacan or who used the central Mexican city as a measuring stick. They envisioned archaic states as polities dominated by one primate center, as the Basin of Mexico was during the Classic period. In contrast, Maya populations were more dispersed. Some leading Maya scholars of the day still supported the "empty ceremonial center" view of Maya sites, strengthening the Teotihuacan-centric argument. Because major lowland sites were not considered urban, scholars assumed that Early Classic Maya polities were not states. It is astonishing that today, after more than thirty years of demographic research, there are still some who deny that the Maya had true cities.

It should surprise no one that depictions of Early Classic Maya polities as chiefdoms that developed into states during the Middle Classic only because of the inspiration or military might of Teotihuacan did not sit well with some scholars. As a group, Mayanists were less sanguine about the passive, Teotihuacan-centric view than their counterparts working in highland Mexico. Without doubt, a few saw Teotihuacan-dominance models as unwanted attacks on the unique and brilliant innovations of Maya civilization, just as some of their predecessors had hoped to reject the temporal priority and cultural importance assigned to the Gulf Coast Olmec (see Foreword); it simply could not be that drab, repetitive, and seemingly illiterate Teotihuacan dominated or stimulated Maya genius. But the persuasive arguments against Teotihuacan-dominance models that eventually emerged were based on data rather than sentiment.

Beginning in the late 1970s, archaeologists and art historians turned their gaze to the Preclassic period (c. 2000 B.C. to A.D. 200/425) in a concentrated effort to understand the genesis of Maya civilization. Early pottery found at Cuello, Belize, seemed to suggest that settled village life had developed in the tropical lowlands at a time much earlier than previously thought (e.g., Hammond 1977, 1985). Although subsequent reevaluation of chronometric data failed to support initial claims for the antiquity of settlement (Andrews and Hammond 1990), Cuello has been placed firmly on the map as one of a growing number of Maya sites occupied by 1000 B.C. In the northern Maya lowlands, significant Middle Preclassic occupations were discovered at Komchen and the nearby Mirador Group (e.g., Andrews 1981:315-320; Andrews et al. 1984). David Freidel's (1977, 1978, 1979 Freidel and Schele 1988a) research at Cerros provided critical evidence that the roots of Maya kingship—and hence, of state-level political organization—could be traced back well into the Late Preclassic period. That is, the transition from chiefdom to state in the Maya lowlands seemed to be the seamless result of continuous local processes.

Complementing Freidel's iconographic argument, new discoveries at El Mirador revealed that the largest monumental constructions ever built in the Maya region date to the Late Preclassic period (e.g., Dahlin 1984; Demarest and Fowler 1984; Hansen 1984; Matheny 1980). Subsequent research at Nakbe, located in the El Mirador Basin, indicated that truly monumental construction occurred c. 600 to 400 B.C., near the end of the Middle Preclassic period (e.g., Hansen 1991,19931994) It now seems likely that El Mirador, Nakbe, and Calakmul were complex polities hundreds of years before the emergence of Teotihuacan as a power in central Mexico. Iconography suggesting divine kingship, the erection of carved stelae, massive monumental construction, dramatic alterations of the landscape, large nucleated populations, and perhaps the emergence of truly urban places all support the notion that local processes led to the advent of the state in the central Maya lowlands long before significant contact with Teotihuacan. It may even be that early cities such as Zapotec Monte Albán and Maya Nakbe and El Mirador were models for urbanism in the Basin of Mexico.

Debating Early Classic Interaction

By the mid-1980s, therefore, it was clear that the origin of state-level political organization in the Maya region—which, even by conservative estimates, occurred no later than the advent of the Early Classic period—could not have been a result of Teotihuacan influence. For the most part (but see Chapters 2 and 9), central Mexican-style artifacts, architecture, and symbolism found at Maya sites date to a much later time, particularly the late fourth through sixth centuries A.D. (Figure 1.2).

The recognition that the emergence of states in the Maya lowlands cannot be attributed to central Mexican influence in no way minimizes the importance of interaction with Teotihuacan. Models that proposed Teotihuacan as the Mesoamerican Urstaat clearly are wrong. But the two cultures interacted, and evidence for that interaction is abundant. Moreover, iconographic motifs referring to a Teotihuacan-inspired ideology endured at Late Classic Maya sites long after the collapse of the great city (e.g., Fash and Fash 2000:450-456 Stone 1989; Stuart 2000a:490; Taube 2000a). There is no doubt that Teotihuacan impacted the consciousness of Late Classic Maya elites in ways that melded "the formidable power and memory of that foreign city with their own political symbolism and ideology" (Stuart 2000a:466). These Late Classic elites, then, were conscious actors who selectively adopted foreign imagery and ideas.

The nature and consequences of interaction with Teotihuacan are still very much a subject of debate. David Stuart (2000a:465-466) divides different perspectives into two broad camps: "internalist" and "externalist" models. Externalists, including those who advocated Teotihuacan as the cause of the development of "secondary" states in the Maya area, posit "an overt and disruptive Teotihuacan presence in the Maya lowlands during the late 4th century C.E., associated with military incursions if not political domination" (Stuart 2000a:465). In contrast, internalists propose "that Teotihuacan styles and material remains in the Maya area might better be seen as a local appropriation of prestigious or legitimating symbolism and its associated militaristic ideology.... In this latter view, the evidence of Teotihuacan influence in the Maya area says very little about what actual power relations might have existed between the Mexican highlands and the Maya lowlands" (Stuart 2000a:465).

It should be stressed that neither camp denies that interaction took place. Instead, the principal differences between the two perspectives may be described in terms of (1) the degree of impact that Teotihuacan had on the Maya; (2) the duration of political, social, and economic changes stimulated by interaction; and (3) the extent to which the Maya should be considered passive recipients or active participants in that interaction.

Externalist Perspectives

Most externalist narratives evolved out of research conducted both at Teotihuacan and within the Maya area during the late 1950s and 1960s. Many scholars proposed that Teotihuacan became interested in the Maya area, particularly the Pacific Coast and Guatemalan highlands, because of its rich resources, including cacao, obsidian, rubber, jadeite, and quetzal feathers (e.g., Brown 1977a, 1977b; Cheek 1977a, 1977b; Hellmuth 1975, 1978; Michels 1977; Parsons 1967-1969; Sanders 1977; Santley 1983, 1989). These economic perspectives posit a process wherein occasional contacts with visiting merchants, similar to the Aztec pochteca, gradually led to a permanent presence of Teotihuacan colonists. Why such an incursion of colonists was favored—or even tolerated—by local elites is rarely addressed. Externalist perspectives, therefore, tend to view the Maya as passive recipients of Teotihuacan "influence" and not as actors engaged in interaction for their own benefit. In some narratives, colonization eventually led to conquest and consolidation as a province within a centralized Teotihuacan "empire" (e.g., Ohi 1994b; Sanders and Price 1968), incorporation in a more loosely organized "empire" (Bernal 1966), or the formation of an independent Teotihuacan-centric state (e.g., Sanders 1977). In a different model, local political independence was seen as necessary for the maintenance of stable economic relations (e.g., Brown 1977a, 1977b).

But commerce was not the only factor considered by externalists as motivating interaction. Stephan Borhegyi (1956) suggested that the spread of central Mexican influence to the Maya region was due to the universal appeal of a new Teotihuacan-sponsored religion focused on gods of natural forces instead of the deified ancestors of rulers. In his original formulation, Borhegyi (1951:171;1956) implied that the mechanism by which these ideas gradually spread was diffusion, but his later writings (Borhegyi 1965, 197) heavily favor invasions by small groups of powerful central Mexicans. As Charles Cheek (1977a:160) points out, Borhegyi (1965) at first did not postulate why these invasions took place. In a later article, however, he speculated not only that new economic riches and tribute possibilities must have been a motivating factor, but also that

a simultaneous and perhaps originally peaceful propagation of a "Teotihuacan faith" combined with a missionizing zeal may well have been the initial vision of one single person, that of a "pacifist New World Alexander," the culture hero Quetzalcoatl, the legendary high priest of the God Tlaloc-Quetzalcoatl-Ehecatl. (Borhegyi 1971:84)

Thus, religious proselytizing may have been an important secondary motive that spurred central Mexican invasions of the Maya region.

In an influential contribution, the great Mexican archaeologist Ignacio Bernal (1966) proposed that Teotihuacan was, indeed, the center of an empire. Nonetheless, he pointed out that an empire need not be monolithic and occupy the territory over which it extends "like a wave covering all" (Bernal 1966:107). Instead, Bernal proposed that the Teotihuacan empire was dispersed, with troops and colonists occupying certain key locations. Intermediate territories were either independent or indirectly governed, but even those areas with resident Teotihuacanos were subject to "very superficial" control.

Bernal, therefore, speculated that although most sites were not occupied, "Teotihuacan established military bases in those regions where the local population, always more numerous, absorbed... the elements of Teotihuacan culture" (Bernal 1966:106). Within the Maya area, Bernal (1966:104-105) saw the strongest evidence for these imperial outposts in the Guatemalan highlands and upper Grijalva region (particularly Kaminaljuyu and Mirador, Chiapas; see Chapter 12), and evidence for indirect or occasional "contact" and "encounters" at Copán and other sites in Honduras. Bernal's (1966:106) bridging argument linking the widespread distribution of objects from Teotihuacan with some form of political domination—and hence, empire—is the disputable assertion that Mesoamerican merchants and pilgrims did not stray far from those areas under the control of their home cities.

The pioneering Maya epigrapher Tatiana Proskouriakoff also contributed greatly to externalist models. In a masterly combination of epigraphic and iconographic analyses, she concluded that the death of the Tikal king "Great Paw" (whose name is now read as Chak Tok Ich'aak) on the Maya date 11 Eb' 15 Mak (January 16, A.D. 378) was related to the arrival of conquering strangers bearing central Mexican weapons (Proskouriakoff 1993:4-10). As we shall see, this argument has recently received significant support (Stuart 2000a). Clemency Coggins (1975, 1979), whose astute analyses of Early Classic tombs at Tikal led to the identification of the individuals buried within them, further postulated that "Curl Nose" (now called Yaax Nu'n Ahyiin), the successor to "Great Paw," was a foreigner from Teotihuacan-dominated Kaminaljuyu. Although she saw aspects of Tikal-Teotihuacan interaction as being mediated by Kaminaljuyu, Coggins suggested that delegations from Teotihuacan visited Tikal. A central Mexican-style vessel from Problematical Deposit 50 may even contain the cremated remains of an emissary or merchant from Teotihuacan (Coggins 1979:263; Green and Moholy-Nagy 1966; see also Chapters 6 and 13).

A good deal of the evidence marshaled by both Proskouriakoff (1993) and Coggins derives from Tikal Stela 31 and Uaxactun Stela 5 (Chapter 8). In particular, figures on these monuments are dressed as warriors from central Mexico (Figures 8.3b and 8.4a,c). Richard E. W. Adams (1986, 1990, 1999) argued that Teotihuacan advisors or warriors helped a growing Tikal expand at the expense of its neighbors. He wrote that tripod cylinders (a common pottery form in the Gulf Coast region and at Teotihuacan) that appear as mortuary offerings in Tombs 19 and 23 of Rio Azul, as well as the unusual stature of two interred individuals, indicate that the dead men were "important nobles from central Mexico" (Adams 1986:439). Adams' externalist interpretation is unique because he also considered the benefit of interaction from the perspective of Tikal. In his view, "[t]he reasons for Tikal's successful transition into the Classic period may have derived in part from an astute alliance, perhaps military as well as commercial, with Teotihuacán" (Adams 1986:434).

Internalist Perspectives

A common criticism of the culture historical approach is the old adage that "pots are not people." Neither are architectural or artistic styles. The art historian George Kubler (1973) provided the first significant volley against externalist models that argued for the colonization of Kaminaljuyu by Teotihuacanos. The presence of talud-tablero architecture in the Maya highlands has been interpreted by some scholars as particularly strong evidence for the existence of a Teotihuacan enclave (e.g., Cheek 1977a, 1977b; Sanders 1977). Their argument is not persuasive, but it is true that ceramic vessels are portable—and hence are subject to trade and copying by anyone who comes into contact with them—and architecture is not. Kubler (1973) quite reasonably challenged the notion that talud-tablero platforms should be equated with the ethnicity of the people who lived on or were buried within them. Moreover, he noted that the talud-tablero architecture of Kaminaljuyu differed in some key respects from that of Teotihuacan itself (see Chapter 4). In any event, we now know that the talud-tablero style developed not at Early Classic Teotihuacan, but within the Tlaxcala-Puebla region during the Preclassic period (e.g., Gendrop 1984; Giddens 1995). Given its great antiquity and appearance at Tikal long before any clear sign of interaction with Teotihuacan (Chapter 7), it is hard to know how or from where the talud-tablero was introduced to the Maya region.

The most influential scholar who saw the Maya as active manipulators of foreign symbols was the late Linda Schele. An unpublished but widely cited lecture presented at the symposium organized for The Blood of Kings exhibit proposed that central Mexican iconographic elements seen in late Early Classic art were appropriated by Maya elites and transformed for use within the essentially Maya contexts of bloodletting, sacrifice, and astrologically synchronized warfare (Schele 1986). Her argument, therefore, presented a lowland Maya-centric view rather than a Teotihuacan-oriented perspective rooted in the monopolistic control of certain resources. Not only did she invert the traditional notion that interaction is best explained by understanding the motivations of the dynamic "core" (frequently thought to be Teotihuacan) rather than those of the passive "periphery" (to which the Maya had been banished), but she also gave priority to ideology over economy. This argument appealed to many art historians and archaeologists who were not enamored of the notion that political ideology and cosmology should be dismissed as epiphenomenal. But it contradicted notions of techno-environmental infrastructure and economic determinism championed by North American scholars who worked in the Basin of Mexico.

Schele's perspective was developed in The Forest of Kings (Schele and Freidel 1990), in which she and David Freidel built upon Peter Mathews' (1985) reevaluation of the 11 Eb' 15 Mak event discussed by Proskouriakoff (1993:4-10). Schele and Freidel argued that Tikal waged a new kind of war against neighboring Uaxactun on that date. The innovation of conquest was symbolized in art through the use of elements—including depictions of a foreign rain god (frequently equated with the Aztec Tlaloc), the Mexican year sign, owls, and the atlatl (spear thrower)—derived from central Mexico. Karl Taube (1992c) studied imagery from the Feathered Serpent Pyramid at Teotihuacan and concluded that the War Serpent of the Maya and a particular headdress are derived from this figure. An important aspect of Teotihuacan-Maya interaction, therefore, was the propagation and transformation of a warrior cult throughout southern Mesoamerica.

Soon other arguments were put forward suggesting why Teotihuacan symbols were appropriated by Maya elite. Andrea Stone (1989), in a perceptive study of Late Classic Piedras Negras, proposed that Maya rulers adopted foreign imagery in order to create social distance from their subjects. This "disconnection of the elite" has many ethnographic parallels. Arthur Demarest and Antonia Foias (1993), in what can be described only as a tour de force, argued that interaction with Teotihuacan was stimulated by the need of Maya rulers to procure exotic goods and information from a world much broader than their own domains. The display of such items, participation in cults originating in foreign lands (but perhaps adapted to fit local ideological norms), and use of esoteric symbols all would "tend to enhance power, wealth, and status, by implying contact or even (largely symbolic) political alliance with foreign realms" (Demarest and Foias 1993:172). Demarest and Foias rejected the notion of a Teotihuacan horizon by reemphasizing the fact that Teotihuacan goods and symbols are not the only ones found at Early Classic sites—a theme of many chapters in this volume—and by noting that the impact of interaction was seen not during a short and intense period, but over many centuries. They proposed instead that interaction should be viewed as complex, shifting, and dominated by no single site or culture. The theoretical perspective offered by Demarest and Foias is particularly sophisticated in that they moved beyond the simple externalist-internalist dichotomy. Although they saw internal factors as stimulating interaction between the Maya and their neighbors, they did not deny that such contacts could be transformative. Nevertheless, Demarest and Foias decisively rejected models relying on invasion, colonization, foreign domination, and the passive role played by the Maya in such processes.

Alternative Perspectives

Stuart (2000a) cautions that we should not adopt an "either-or" model of Teotihuacan-Maya interaction. In particular, he suggests that externalist models may best explain late Early Classic processes—the subject of this volume—while internalist models are best suited to Late Classic developments. In addition to a temporal dimension, a central point of our book is that interaction may have been manifested at different sites in distinct ways. The art historian Janet C. Berlo recognized this years ago. She proposed that central Mexican imagery on censers from Pacific and highland Guatemala pertain to a warrior cult that originated at Teotihuacan (Berlo 1983). To Berlo, the propagation of the cult served the needs of a resident colony of soldiers and merchants. But she conceded that at sites like Tikal, "where Teotihuacanos met sophisticated cultures on an equal footing, Teotihuacan artistic and cultural influence [was] absorbed into already living traditions" (Berlo 1984:215). Thus, we should not propose internalist or externalist models without specifying time and place.

Although I have adopted Stuart's framework in the previous discussion, alternative views—particularly ones that posit important results of interaction with Teotihuacan, yet also argue that the Maya were both conscious actors and the equals of their Teotihuacan counterparts—should also be considered. A critical aspect of Early Classic interaction that is not covered by the externalist-internalist dichotomy is the extent to which Teotihuacan was influenced by the Maya (see Chapter 11). That is, an interaction model of the " peer polity" (Renfrew 1986) sort might explain Early Classic elaboration in both the Maya area and central Mexico. Moreover, the degree to which other cultures, particularly those of the Gulf Coast and Oaxaca, impacted or were influenced by the Maya has received far too little attention. An accurate depiction of the lattice of Early Classic interaction will emerge only when the fundamental reciprocity of exchange is acknowledged and when the roles of all participants are known.

The Pendulum of Interpretation

The dichotomy of externalist-internalist models also obscures several aspects of thought on interaction between Teotihuacan and the Maya. First, different perspectives have not coalesced through coincident dialogue; rather, they represent a gradual shift in opinion. Externalist narratives were predominant during the years immediately following research at Teotihuacan, Kaminaljuyu, and Tikal. Most of the readers of our book—like its editor—were born after the three momentous projects conducted at Teotihuacan were completed and after the great discoveries of the Tikal Project had been made. Just as some scholars of the 1960s and 1970s saw aspects of investigations conducted twenty years earlier as worthy of criticism, it is fitting that contemporary scholars should reevaluate theoretical constructs that emerged from research conducted forty years ago. The internalist paradigms that began to crystallize in the 1980s. reflect a swing in the pendulum of thought, and it may even be that the pendulum has already reached its opposite apogee (e.g., Chapter 12; Stuart 2000a).

Second, the externalist-internalist dichotomy fails to reveal an important fact: the motion of the pendulum, for the most part, reflects a latent change in perspective. Relatively few internalists have openly refuted Teotihuacan-influence narratives. As work at Cerros began to be published in the late 1970s, Freidel (1978, 1979) emphasized that kingship coalesced simultaneously throughout the entire Maya lowlands and did not first occur in regions either particularly rich or lacking in specific resources. He did not stress the chronological implication that the emergence of Maya states occurred without the influence of Teotihuacan. That Schele's (1986) presentation is still widely cited suggests that relatively few published works have followed it. The full impact of discoveries at El Mirador and Nakbe—that urbanism and the state may have developed in the El Mirador Basin at a time contemporary with similar developments in Oaxaca—only now are being explored. Although "this effectively demolished the idea that the lowland Maya evolved large, complex societies in response to the rise of the pristine state in Teotihuacan" (Fash and Fash 2000:439), it is an observation that very few have articulated in print. With the exception of Demarest and Foias (1993), no one has explicitly challenged all aspects of Teotihuacan-dominance models. In 1996, when I began to plan this project, I was surprised by how many scholars had shifted to what Stuart now calls internalist positions, yet this important swing of the pendulum seemed to be largely subconscious. The priority of local processes and the realization that the Maya were conscious actors in Early Classic interaction form a metanarrative that permeates current thinking. Nonetheless, this metanarrative does not constitute a unified—or even well-defined—theoretical perspective.

Other than sentimental reasons, alluded to above, what caused the reversal of the pendulum from externalist to internalist positions? To a great degree, it was stimulated by broader developments in archaeological thought.

The Word Influence and Culture-Historical Approaches to Interaction

In a study of Postclassic interaction, Michael Smith and Cynthia Heath-Smith (1980) critically examine the Mixteca-Puebla concept. They particularly oppose use of the term influence because it is an outmoded notion derived from culture history. To them, the depiction of "waves of influence" emanating outward from a productive, dominant core to a stagnant, passive periphery does not adequately explain the complex nature of Mesoamerican interaction. Externalists of the 1960s and 1970s applied these same diffusionist concepts to Teotihuacan-Maya interaction of the Early Classic period. In retrospect, this seems surprising given the low regard in which many archaeologists of the period held culture history.

Interaction, as Demarest and Foias (1993) argue, is multidirectional and involves more participants than a single core and an inert periphery. The implication is that we should seek to explain interaction from both internal and external perspectives. Our models should include all sites and regions in an interaction network and consider agency-based approaches. Interaction is a two-way street, even when one participant is much more powerful than the other. In such cases, resistance often is an important factor in the dialectic of cultural interaction. Indeed, it may even be that cultural innovation occurs most rapidly in boundary or frontier zones where two or more cultures interact (Lightfoot and Martinez 1995)

Migration as an Explanatory Concept and Notions of Ethnicity

Several of the strongest Teotihuacan-centric models posit the existence of enclaves or colonies at certain Maya sites (e.g., Cheek 1977a, 1977b; Michels 1977; Sanders 1977; Santley 1983). The presence at these sites of central Mexican artifacts and locally produced goods with forms or motifs borrowed from Teotihuacan, therefore, was interpreted by some scholars as the result of migration rather than exchange. Migration studies are now reappearing in the forefront of North American archaeological research after a long absence (e.g., Anthony 1990, 1997; Cameron 1995; Snow 1995, 1996). As one leading scholar of this renaissance notes: "Migration was once a lazy person's explanation for culture change, used by archaeologists who could not or chose not to deploy more demanding models and theories" (Anthony 2000:554). The reason that migration was rejected as an explanatory paradigm by most New Archaeologists is that its theoretical foundations, inherited from culture history, were seen to be inadequate (Adams 1968; Adams et al. 1978).

That colonialist Teotihuacan narratives of the 1960s through early 1980s were put forward by members of the Basin of Mexico and Valley of Guatemala teams—all New Archaeologists—is particularly strange. These scholars struggled to force the culture-historical concept of "site-unit intrusion" into an explanatory, processual model. They were only partially successful in creating bridging arguments linking the presence of imported artifacts or copies to physical migration. For example, the talud-tablero was interpreted as the strongest evidence for colonization by a superior Teotihuacan force, in part because it was assumed that the Maya would not build such structures unless coerced (Cheek 1977a, 1977b).

Joseph W. Ball (1983) has sought a more rigorous way to distinguish between the archaeological correlates of migration and diffusion. His chapter in Highland-Lowland Interaction in Mesoamerica: Interdisciplinary Approaches (Miller 1983), the last major collection devoted to Maya-Teotihuacan interaction, is still current. His discussion ties ceramic "identities" (imported pottery) and "homologies" (locally produced copies of foreign pottery) to distinct interaction processes. Ball argues effectively that homologies indicate strong interaction, including the possibility of migration, between two regions. Unfortunately, for reasons explained by Stone (1989) and Demarest and Foias (1993), homologies may also be items commissioned by imitative native elites. Thus their presence does not necessarily demonstrate the arrival of foreign settlers. Nevertheless, Ball's perceptive discussion is valuable, and aspects of his bridging arguments are adopted by authors in this volume.

What sort of contextual evidence for either homologies or identities would support an actual migration by a population segment from Teotihuacan? That is, how may scholars identify central Mexican ethnicity in the archaeological record? Ethnicity, like other forms of identity, is constructed, negotiated, fluid, and situational. It is similar in some respects to Ian Hodder's (1990) notion of style. Ethnicity may or may not have biological aspects. Mortuary customs often are assumed to be one of the most conservative realms of human behavior, but John M. O'Shea (1981) and others have documented that they can be highly variable. Moreover, it should be expected that the burials of elites—who participate in much broader nets of social interaction than commoners—will exhibit a particularly wide range of variability. That is, local elites may emulate the burial practices of their foreign counterparts. In addition, interpretation is complicated by the fact that when a population segment has migrated, its burial patterns are subject to change. "Cemeteries are cultural texts produced by the living for the dead as the living. Matters of social concern are communicated here, so in a changing world they will also be a locus of change" (Burmeister 2000:560).

One archaeological approach to identifying ethnicity (and hence, cases of migration) is based on in-group versus between-group displays of identity. Stefan Burmeister (2000) argues that the internal domain (aspects of the behavior of a migrating group that are generally hidden from members of the host society) is more likely to reflect ethnicity than the public or external domain. Heinrich Härke (2000) sees this suggestion as new, but it has been applied to questions of ethnicity and Teotihuacan enclaves for many years. Michael W. Spence (1992, 1996b) had the distinction of private and public domains of social behavior in mind when he excavated the Oaxaca Barrio at Teotihuacan. The local production of highly conservative, Oaxacastyle utilitarian ceramics and urns, as well as the presence of a jamb containing Zapotec hieroglyphs in the entrance to a tomb—items that normally would not be seen by ethnic Teotihuacanos—in a group that outwardly resembled a typical Teotihuacan apartment compound were factors that led to the identification of the enclave during the early 1960s. Similarly, because local-style utilitarian pottery continued to be produced and used at Kaminaljuyu throughout the Classic period, Alfred V. Kidder et al. (1946) proposed that the "warlike adventurers" from Teotihuacan who established themselves at Kaminaljuyu must have married native women. Kidder et al. (1946), therefore, based their argument on the observation that certain items pertaining to the internal domain of Kaminaljuyu households did not change with the arrival of foreigners. Sanders (1977) adopted this position and pointed to the lack of objects related to Teotihuacan ritual at Kaminaljuyu as evidence for marriage with local women. This is an interesting argument, but the lack of expression of Teotihuacan ethnicity in the internal domain can also be explained by the absence from Kaminaljuyu of both Teotihuacan women and men (Chapter 4).

Although models that consider migration as a process with particular archaeological correlates are being developed, they represent a recent reversal of a long-standing bias. It is not surprising, therefore, that Teotihuacancentric models proposing the existence of far-flung colonies were viewed with skepticism in the 1980s. Moreover, colonialist models adopted a rather old-fashioned and apparently biologically rooted notion of ethnicity. For example, the effects of separation from the homeland on the identity of colonists was not addressed. Migration often entails a change in identity. Elite Teotihuacan-born men who married local women, stopped practicing Teotihuacan household rituals, and raised children of mixed heritage surely would have been deeply transformed by the process of migration. It is not at all clear that their children and grandchildren would have considered themselves to be Teotihuacanos, and if they did, that their identity would have resembled that expressed in the ancestral highland city. Above all, then, colonialist models proposed for Teotihuacan-Maya interaction failed to consider migration as a process with latent results and long-term effects.

The Primacy of Data over Theory

In a characteristically humorous manner, George L. Cowgill (1999a) discusses what he calls "Godzilla theory"—theory that lets no data stand in its way—and the issue of Teotihuacan-Maya interaction. As a student in the mid-1980s, I once heard him describe a particular application of a statistical test to poor data as an example of "trying to pull a plough with a Mercedes." His point was that it was not only overkill—like Godzilla theory—but also an inappropriate tool that would fail to get the work done. Such overly elaborate theoretical constructs have often been applied to data regarding Early Classic interaction between the Maya and Teotihuacan. They tend to tip the balance of data and theory rather heavily in the latter direction. Moreover, some narratives are far too speculative and particularistic to have general explanatory value. Thus, I call them "narratives" and "scenarios" rather than "hypotheses."

Maya archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s has been chided for remaining data-driven and for being a bit parochial and isolationist (see Marcus 1983a). In contrast, Anglophone central Mexican scholarship of the same period often consisted of much theorization supported by few data. There are, of course, exceptions, and work in the Valley of Oaxaca provides a brilliant counterexample (e.g., Flannery and Marcus 1983). Nevertheless, during the 1970s the dialectic between data and theory that is central to scientific research stalled in some corners of Mesoamerican archaeology. New data were used to illustrate strongly held beliefs, but seldom led to the revision of theoretical perspectives. All students of Mesoamerican archaeology will recognize the feeling "I knew what Professor Fulano was going to say even before I read his latest article." As central Mexican-centric positions regarding Teotihuacan-Maya interaction crystallized, they ceased to develop in any meaningful way. Internalist perspectives emerged, in part, as a dynamic reaction against the stasis of externalism.

Over the course of the past thirty years, Mayanists have continued to study Early Classic interaction. Many (particularly since the dramatic epigraphic revolution began to expand and enlarge our field in the 1980s) have become "theory producers." Exciting research conducted during this time has led to the accumulation of a great deal of data. Several of the contributors to our volume adopt positions that give primacy to these new data over old theories. No author proposes or advocates a universal model for understanding the causes and effects of ancient interaction. Our approach, therefore, may seem both particularistic and atheoretical. But given the faults of "Godzilla theory," we have chosen to postpone "high-level" theoretical discussion until the significance of our new data is more clearly understood. Only by setting the horse before the cart can we begin again to develop new models of Teotihuacan-Maya interaction.



“I can say unequivocally that this volume will become a basic and heavily used reference and source of ideas. . . . Geoff Braswell is to be commended for bringing together so solid, comprehensive, pertinent, and balanced a compilation of research and thought on this topic as is represented by this collection.”
Joseph W. Ball, Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology, San Diego State University


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