Program & Lecture Schedule

Be sure to download the full itinerary & schedule for speaking times, lecture abstracts, workshop information, and much more.



An Introduction to the Inscriptions of Northern Yucatán
Thursday 9am - 12pm

Marc Zender — Tulane University

In keeping with this year's conference theme, this workshop introduces participants to the distinctive inscriptions of Northern Yucatán, including Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and several cities of the Puuc zone. The focus is on the unique features of the inscriptions from this area—including the so-called ‘Short Count’ calendar, ‘Puuc dates’, the emergence of Yukatekan as a written language, and the deceptively ‘anonymous’ texts of Chichen Itza—highlighting both similarities with and differences from the comparatively better known inscriptions of the southern lowlands. The intention of the workshop is to prepare participants to better understand and to enjoy the conference proceedings, and to lay the foundation for more advanced discussion of the inscriptions of Ek Balam in a follow-up workshop.


The Inscriptions of Ek Balam
Sunday 9am - 12Pm

Stanley Guenter — American Foreign Academic Research

The site of Ek Balam has produced a corpus of amazing hieroglyphic inscriptions dating to the crucial Late-to-Terminal Classic transition and have provided many crucial insights into this important period in the ancient Maya history of northern Yucatan. In this workshop participants will interact with epigraphers in a discussion of a number of the most important texts from Ek Balam. No prior knowledge is required and a set of inscriptions will be provided to all participants. The workshop will be led by Drs. Stanley Guenter and Marc Zender. 


Building Household Quality of Life and Social Cohesion at Ucanha, Yucatan, Mexico, during the Terminal Preclassic to Early Classic Transition
Friday 9:30am - 10:00am

Barry Kidder — University of Kentucky

Often overshadowed by the splendor of massive monumentality to the south, Late Preclassic life in the Northern Maya Lowlands is a period of material and social experimentation, a balancing act between emerging social differentiation and an ideology of communal integration. During the latter half of this period, the site of Ucanha in Yucatán was physically integrated into a micropolity via an 18-km long roadway and experienced the creation of integrative civic spaces, a population apogee, and an influx of ceramic heterogeneity. Unlike the more rigid and historically-ingrained materialization of social differentiation seen in the Late Classic, the material avenues of distinction during this time were more fluid; institutions were fledgling; small cities formed. At Ucanha, followers donated labor to build a monumental landscape, and incipient rulers provided an array of aesthetically pleasing ceramics and social events that helped forge collective trust. Ceramic distributions and the widespread use of megalithic architecture indicate a high quality of life for households. A built landscape that references a place of creation and stucco friezes and architecture attest to emergent claims of hereditary rulership and community prosperity. Geochemical analyses and artifactual evidence from Ucanha’s central plaza indicate this area was more-widely accessed but then became more restricted to the general public. Likewise, by the first few centuries into the Early Classic, the distribution of “fancy” ceramics became more circumscribed indicating economic changes that favored gifting elites rather than provisioning the populace, and architecture associated with elite rulership was interred and households were abandoned. Thus, around the time of broader integration, political institutions provided for all; yet, around the Early Classic, elites turned from an inclusive, community strategy towards a more exclusionary strategy of reinforcing an elite identity. As a result, moral authority was violated and leaders lost the support of their constituents, ruling institutions collapsed, and populations declined.


Monumental Rulers: Architecture as an Extension of the Body 
Friday 10:00am - 10:45am

Meghan Rubenstein - Colorado College

The Late to Terminal Classic Puuc region is defined by its shared architectural style, in particular the facades elaborately sculpted with geometric and zoomorphic motifs. Yet at the building level, architects and patrons frequently manipulated the iconography, rearranging and adding variation to standardized elements. The most distinctive structures went a step further, incorporating historical information in the form of hieroglyphic writing and/or images of rulers and other elite individuals. This presentation will explore historical imagery on Puuc architecture by considering where and how the human figure is integrated into these permanent, monumental buildings. In addition, this practice will be examined within a greater Mesoamerican context, allowing speculation on the relationship between the human body, in particular the royal body, and architecture. I will argue that by combining the two, the ruler was symbolically magnified and the building transformed into an extension of the self on the landscape. This talk focuses on an understudied aspect of Puuc iconography while contributing to theoretical dialogues on architectural agency.


Exploring Coastal Landscapes and the Maritime Maya of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
Friday 11:00am - 12:00pm

Jeffrey B. Glover — Georgia State University

Coastal communities in the Maya Lowlands played a myriad of roles in the ebb and flow of political, economic, and social formations over the past 3000 years, yet these roles have remained along the periphery of Maya studies. While often small in size when compared to their inland neighbors, Maya coastal sites were integral to the early development of complex polities in the Formative period, provided refuge following the Classic Maya “collapse” in the 9th century A.D., and were home to cosmopolitan residents engaged in long-distance trade on the eve of Spanish contact. Both social and environmental factors conditioned human-coastal relations, as dynamic markets, political forces, and ecosystems required constant negotiation. By correlating multiple facets of the changing paleoenvironment with broader social and economic changes, the Proyecto Costa Escondida (PCE) research team is beginning to reveal the challenges faced, and opportunities pursued, by these coastal peoples.  In this talk, I introduce the sites where we work, discuss the interdisciplinary research methods, and then focus on two time periods – the transition from the Terminal Preclassic/ Formative to Early Classic period, which reveals the resilience of coastal communities in the face of environmental and social change, and the Terminal Classic period; a time period when market-based economies reached their peak in the Maya area fueled in large part by the goods being moved along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.


Revisiting Three Classic Maya Portrait Glyphs

Friday 1:00pm - 2:00Pm

Marc Zender — Tulane University

As argued in a recent paper (Zender 2014), there is now strong evidence for the consistent visual separation of three common portrait glyphs that have frequently been confused in the scholarly literature. These are: (1) the Foliated Maize God (carrying the readings IXIIM, JUUN, and na); (2) the Tonsured Maize God (AJAN, WAXAK); and (3) the Female portrait glyph (IX). Although visually similar, and sharing several important diagnostic traits common to the depiction of young and beautiful/handsome beings, contextual analysis nonetheless reveals consistent graphic distinctions separating these signs. They never substitute for one another, and they have distinct reading values. Beyond the epigraphic and linguistic implications of these observations, they also require the reassessment of previous iconographic work on the Maya pantheon, particularly with respect to the roster of maize god(s) and lunar deities, several of which have been misidentified as either female or androgynous on the basis of the same visual confusions which have long confounded the analysis of their portrait glyphs. A cautious reappraisal reveals that the generic ‘female’ goddess of the Postclassic Maya codices is not to be equated with either the Moon Goddess or the Goddess Chak Chel (later Ix Chel), and that both male and female lunar deities had were overt maize associations in all time periods, although only the male Moon God was associated with the calendrical lunar cycle.

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Sleuthing the Past: Unravelling the Political Implications and Significance of recent discoveries at Xunantunich, Belize
Friday 2:00pm - 3:00pm

Jaime J. Awe — Northern Arizona University

In 2016, the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance Project made several significant discoveries at the site of Xunantunich.  Besides a large royal tomb, and caches of eccentric flints, the new finds included two hieroglyphic panels that implicate four Classic period Maya kingdoms, among them that of the Snake-head kings. In this presentation, I describe the discoveries made at the site, and I demonstrate how the application of multi-disciplinary scientific approaches can assist us to more accurately unravel the past. The discoveries also serve to demonstrate that, in spite of being the focus of explorations for more than a century, Xunantunich continues to provide us with intriguing new information on the significant roles played by Belize valley polities in the socio-political landscape of the Late Classic Maya lowlands.  


Understanding peripheral communities and economic life around Ichmul de Morley: collective action and cultural affiliation of the community of Santa Cruz during Classic times in the northern Maya lowlands
Friday 3:30pm - 4:00pm

Alejandra Alonso - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico and Greg Smith - Northwest College

During the systematic survey recently conducted around the civic area of the ancient polityof Ichmul de Morley, in the northern Maya lowlands, a small and dense community was identified . The settlement is located around 3 km south of the central civic area of Ichmul de Morley. . Ichmul de Morley appears to have had an expansive growth during the Late and Terminal Classic periods that might have encouraged local development of nearby communities to which it was associated. We would like to identify the degree of sociopolitical integration at Santa Cruz within the landscape dominated by the political economy of Chichen Itza, easily the largest city in the vicinity. Santa Cruz seems to have been a community where economic activities were diversified and perhaps organized into specialized workshops, a pattern seen at other neighboring sites such as Xuenkal. The analysis of materials recovered through systematic surface collections may represent a good sample to identify aspects of production and multicrafting based on the type, function, and abundance of imported foreign items such as shell, chert, and obsidian artifacts. Future excavations at Santa Cruz aimed at differentiating residential and productive areas may increase our understanding of the varied economic strategies of communities affiliated to secondary centers such as Ichmul de Morley.


Long-Term Power on a Long-Distance Causeway: Ucí, Yucatan, Mexico.
Friday 4:00pm - 5:00Pm

Scott R. Hutson — University of Kentucky

About 2000 years ago, Yucatecans built an 18km long causeway linking Ucí on the west with Cansahcab on the east and other towns in between. Beginning in 2008, the Ucí-Cansahcab Regional Integration Project (UCRIP) has explored economic, political and ritual processes at several sites along the causeway. The goal has been to understand how the causeway integrated thousands of people. How did life change once towns and farmsteads got linked to each other by a long stone road? My colleagues Iliana Ancona Aragón, Barry Kidder, Céline Lamb, Shannon Plank, Daniel Vallejo Cáliz, Jacob Welch, and I have found that Ucí was the primary site in this region up until the Postclassic period, when regional authority shifted to Motul, capital of the ethnohistorically attested Cehpech kingdom, 3km to the south. Ucí presided over several ritual, political and economic innovations during the period in which the causeway was constructed (the Late Preclassic) yet exciting finds from Ucanha, located 13km to the east, show that Ucí did not dominate its hinterlands. Ucí underwent major (though poorly understood) transformations at the beginning of the Classic period but re-emerged as a powerful center in the Late Classic. The Postclassic landscape along the causeway was very different from before, though with some remarkable instances of continuity and memory, in one case harkening back to the Late Preclassic.   


Early monumentality in the Yaxhom Valley, Yucatán. 
Saturday 9:00am - 9:30am

Melissa Galván Bernal - Tulane University & Bill Ringle - Davidson College

Recent investigations in the Yaxhom Valley, located in the Puuc Region of Yucatán, have revealed an occupation spanning from the early Middle Preclassic to the Late Classic period. LiDAR supported survey and excavations at different sites within the valley reveal an especially intense and complex occupation driven by highly productive soils and attested to by an unusually dense network of monumental construction in different communities. In this paper, I present new archaeological findings from the sites of Yaxhom and Muluchtzekel. This research indicates that monumental construction began as early as the Middle Preclassic period and that these architectural spaces were the foci for some of the first public gatherings in the Puuc region. Though sites of different sizes have been identified, there does not appear to be any clear hierarchy of settlement organization. Our findings also offer an opportunity to explore the early social and political networks of the Yaxhom Valley to other sites in the Puuc region and to the remainder of the Northern Maya Lowlands.


Ritual Politics of the Middle Preclassic Maya: Exploring Spatial and Material Dimensions of Inequality at Paso del Macho, Yucatan
Saturday 9:30am - 10:00pm

Evan Parker - Tulane University

Complex ritual deposits dating to the Middle Preclassic period are rarely encountered in Yucatan, and typically have only been recovered from disturbed contexts. Excavations along the center axes in the plaza of the Middle Preclassic village of Paso del Macho in the Puuc region of Yucatan have yielded a series of offerings spanning from the early Middle Preclassic to the cusp of the Late Preclassic. Three different floor sequences were each associated with several offerings. The most notable of these offerings was an unslipped bowl that contained 18 carved and polished Middle Preclassic jades. Similar in form to the Chacsinkin jades, this offering is the largest assemblage of Middle Preclassic jades found in-context in the Maya lowlands and bears strong resemblance to caches from Ceibal, Cahal Pech, and Cival. In addition to caches, Paso del Macho also features monumental ballcourt, most notably a ballcourt. Based on material characteristics, the timing of the deposition, and their location, these items are associated with cosmogenesis, the Middle Preclassic fertility complex, and the formation of early cooperative social compacts for the agricultural pioneers of the Puuc. As inalienable objects that never lost their social histories or associations, these objects also served as repositories of power and prisms that refracted inequality through generations.


A Not So Simple Path: Settlement Research along the Yaxuna-Coba Causeway
Saturday 10:00am - 11:00am

Travis Stanton - University of California Riverside

Recent research by the Proyecto de Interacción Política del Centro de Yucatán has begun to more seriously investigate the massive causeway connecting the Classic Maya cities of Yaxuná (Yucatán) and Cobá (Quintana Roo). Dating to around the seventh century A.D., this causeway is one of the largest constructions in the northern Maya lowlands and its construction coincides with the spike in hieroglyphic dates at Cobá. These monuments make mention of the kalomte title, suggesting that the causeway was a consequence of a substantial state development at that site. Lidar survey between Yaxuná and Cobá indicates that the causeway is not nearly as straight as researchers once believed, deviating from a direct course between Yaxuná and Cobá on numerous occasions. One possibility for explaining these deviations is that the causeway was constructed to link previously settled communities in eastern Yucatán. In this paper, the implications of the settlement data gleaned from the lidar survey and preliminary ground-truthing are discussed. This discussion includes a consideration of roads in the formation of urban environments and how settlement density is impacted by distance from the urban core.


The Return of the Toltecs: Another Look at Chichen Itza and its Relationship to Central Mexico in the Light of Recent Chronological Clarifications
Saturday 11:00am - 12:00pm

Stanley Guenter - American Foreign Academic Research

One of the most debated subjects in Mesoamerican archaeology has been the question of Chichen Itza’s dating and its relationship with the Central Mexican site of Tula, Hidalgo, capital of the Toltecs. The Toltecs were celebrated by the later Aztecs as rulers of a great civilization and empire that dominated Central Mexico and archaeologists in the 20th century argued that archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence from Yucatan suggested that the Toltecs under the leadership of the legendary ruler Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl conquered Chichen Itza in the 10th century and ruled over it in the Early Postclassic period, ca. A.D. 900-1200. In the 1980s and 1990s a series of publications redated much of the architecture at Chichen Itza to the Late and Terminal Classic periods and disconnected the site from Tula or even argued that the relationship between the two sites was the opposite of earlier interpretations, with Central Mexico being heavily influenced or perhaps even dominated by the Maya of Chichen, with the Toltecs being much smaller players or possibly being little more than later fictions of the Aztecs. Recent excavations at Chichen Itza have produced a new and much better chronology for the architecture at the site and remarkably, this new chronology is almost identical to the proposals made in the 1950s, though the excavators have taken pains to say that their findings should be taken to mean that they support the old “Toltec Conquest” hypothesis so dominant in the mid-20th century. This presentation will look at this new chronology from Chichen Itza in more detail and compare it with other evidence that suggests that the original interpretation of the conquest of Chichen Itza by Toltecs from Central Mexico needs to be put back on the table and considered afresh. 

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Lords of the Rings: Annular Structures and Burnt Lime Production in the Puuc Region

Saturday 1:00pm - 1:45pm

Ken Seligson - University of Southern California

This paper presents the results of the recent investigation of a series of annular, or ring, structures in the Puuc Region of the Northern Yucatán. Systematic excavations of a series of ring structures indicate that they were used as pit-kilns to produce burnt lime during the Terminal Classic Period (ca. 700-950 AD). Burnt lime has been crucial for architectural, dietary, and other purposes in Maya society since at least as far back as 1100 BCE, and yet its ephemeral nature has limited archaeological studies of its production. The recent application of new surveying and remote sensing techniques in the Puuc, combined with the identification of the ring structures as lime pit-kilns, now allows for an unprecedented investigation of the significant role that the burnt lime industry liked played in the local socio-economy. Spatial analyses of the distribution of these pit-kilns at sites such as Kiuic and Huntichmul in relation to other archaeological and environmental features indicate that the Pre-Columbian lime industry in the Puuc was largely decentralized. Some household groups likely incorporated limestone extraction and processing into broader multi-crafting subsistence strategies. Additionally, experimental work during this investigation demonstrated the greater fuel efficiency of the pit-kiln technology compared with aboveground pyre-firing techniques in use during the Colonial Period and more recently.


Mapping in the Bolonchen district with LiDAR technology
Saturday 1:45pm - 2:30pm

Rossana May Ciau - Kaxil Kiuic A.C., Tomás Gallareta Negrón - INAH Yucatán, & William Ringle - Davidson College

The relative good estate of preservation of the archaeological remains in the Puuc Hills is related with a low population density derived from the lack of permanent sources of water on the surface. Such low Historical occupation sharply contrasts with prehispanic high density in terms of number of house mounds and settlement sizes. Wind deposition after the abandonment of the settlements on the flat valleys of the Bolonchen district at the end of the Terminal Classic Period (800-1000 AD) is relatively light, letting relatively low archaeological features such as house foundations, basal platforms, chultuns, and causeways, being visible in the processed images. LiDAR Mapping allows archaeologists to visualize settlement size and composition including several patterns in group plans and architecture, as well as the relative importance of the industry of construction in the ancient Maya communities, in the form of different types of quarries, sascaberas, and kilns for the production of lime and mortar.


“All Palaces are Temporary Palaces”: The changing nature of palatial architecture in the Late/Terminal Classic of the Puuc region of Yucatan.
Saturday 3:00pm - 4:00pm

George J Bey III - Millsaps College

Beautifully built but somewhat modest palaces were constructed at several centers in the Puuc region between A.D.600-800. Many of them grew out of even earlier constructions, in particular developing from council houses and associated structures dating to the earlier Late Classic. These palaces were not only modest in overall size, but also in the scale of public space, rooms, doorways, and even stone masonry. Stucco decorations and modest use of mosaic facades characterized the palaces of these Late Classic lords.

A marked change in the Puuc region, around A.D. 800, was the repurposing of these early palaces and the construction of comparatively massive architectural assemblages representing their Late/Terminal Classic versions. In addition to having larger footprints, these newer palaces featured bigger and finer architectural characteristics than their predecessors, 

The difference between early and late Puuc style architecture has long been noted (Andrews etc). The analytic emphasis however has largely been on stylistic, rather than cultural change. This paper reviews our understanding of the evidence for palace transformation from the early to late Late Classic. Additionally, it focuses on the possible changes in cultural norms and values in Puuc Maya society reflected in these changes. Although different Puuc sites are considered, the presentation leans heavily on data from the early palaces at Kiuic and Labna. These efforts provide not only architectural evidence, but also contextualize it in terms of chronology and activities. This allows us to consider how the architecture of early palaces functioned and how this might inform what occurred with the grandiose palaces of the Late/Terminal Classic. In sum, we explore what forces drove and sustained change in the architecture of early and late palaces, and how this might be related to the changing nature of Late/Terminal Classic political power in the Puuc region.


What Lies Beneath: Searching for the Ancient Maya in the 21st Century
Saturday 4:00pm - 5:00Pm

Bill Ringle - Davidson College

LiDAR, short for light detecting and ranging, is a type of remote sensing that allows accurate mapping of the ground surface even in heavily forested areas. What would formerly have taken decades to survey can now be covered in a few days. The LiDAR revolution in Maya archaeology has provided an unprecedented amount of information on ancient Maya settlement throughout the highlands and lowlands, promising answers to some of the fundamental questions concerning ancient Maya demography. 

This talk presents an overview of a 2017 LiDAR mission flown over the Puuc Hills, to date the largest sample from the northern lowlands in one of its most densely settled regions. Two seasons have since been dedicated to ground-verification of the imagery among the roughly 75 sites within our sample region. This talk will concentrate on results from the Valle de Yaxhom in the northern Puuc and what they tell us about population levels, land use, political organization, and communication routes.