From the Fields to the Palaces of the Prehistoric Maya: Hono(u)ring the Contributions of the late Peter D. Harrison

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

As a young archaeologist Peter Harrison's main interest was in ancient Egypt, but a trip to Tikal at the age of 19 changed everything. He received his BA and MA in Anthropology from the University of Toronto and his PhD from Pennsylvania in association with the Tikal Project. He spent four years working on the Pennsylvania Tikal Project with a focus on the Central Acropolis. Subsequent fieldwork included the Uaymil Survey Project in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and groundbreaking research on Maya agriculture at Pulltrouser Swamp, Belize. His numerous publications on the Maya span more than fifty years and a wide variety of topics, including Maya palaces, architecture, settlement patterns, agriculture, and hieroglyphs, to name a few, and can be found in the bibliographies of virtually every publication on the prehistoric Maya. Additionally, beyond his intellectual contributions to Maya archaeology, Harrison established a foundation to help fund the work of young scholars. His sudden passing in 2013 has left a void in Maya archaeology, professionally and personally, and in this session we hono(u)r his numerous contributions to our discipline.

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  • Documents (14)

  • Compiling Tikal Report 15 (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only H Loten.

    Two issues arise in compiling Tikal Report 15 posthumously. Between 1960's field-work and current museum policy illustration formats have changed so that drawings previously inked for photo-reduction are now useless. Secondly, Tikal Report 15 presents data collected under Peter Harrison's direction. But all figure items have been redrawn digitally with inescapable interpretation, so a question of authorship cannot be avoided. SAA 2015 abstracts made available in tDAR courtesy of the Society for...

  • Diversity of Wetland Form, Historical Ecology, and Human Use in the Maya Lowlands: The View from the Yalahau Wetlands (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Scott Fedick. Jennifer Chmilar. Daniel Leonard.

    Two major freshwater wetland systems of the eastern Maya Lowlands are the riverine-associated wetlands around the New and Hondo Rivers of northern Belize, and the wetlands of the Yalahau region of northern Quintana Roo, Mexico, which are found in karstic depressions associated with the Holbox fracture zone. Both of these wetland systems are linked directly to the freshwater aquifers of the respective regions. In northern Belize the nature and timing of ancient Maya manipulation of the wetlands...

  • Harrison's View: The Importance of Small Scale Analyses in Maya Archaeology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ryan Mongelluzzo.

    Peter Harrison's work in Maya archaeology was important in many ways. One of the most important, and perhaps overlooked, was the scale of focus at which he often worked. Single features, single rooms, single buildings, and single plazas: all of these are commonly uncovered when digging in Maya site centers. However, due to a lack of artifacts, analyses at these scales are not often conducted. Harrison's work exemplifies that much can be learned from small-scale architectural analyses and in that...

  • "He Entered the Water" … Maya Wetlands and Their Caretakers (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Patricia McAnany.

    An epitaph for the death of Classic Maya rulers, "he entered the water" is an apt descriptor for a Maya archaeologist whose career spanned the royal and the watery. Peter D. Harrison—whose email address contained the word ahau (ruler, using a Colonial orthography)—was a master of scalar contrast. He attended to the small-scale details of a dynastic headquarters within the Tikal Central Acropolis and also theorized grandly about the role of wetlands in Classic Maya society. He became an advocate...

  • Iconographic Portraiture and Political Implications: Peter Harrison’s Contribution to Mayanists’ Understanding of Site Q (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Diane Chase. Arlen Chase.

    As a dirt archaeologist, Peter D. Harrison was both intrigued by and skeptical of hieroglyphic interpretations about the ancient Maya, especially relating to Tikal, Guatemala and its political context. However, at the same time he was particularly interested in site emblem glyphs and their significance, centering first on Tikal and next on Tikal’s political enemies. One of his published contributions to the field was a well-documented paper in which he critiqued the way in which epigraphers had...

  • Into the Unknown: The Uaymil Survey Project 1972 - 1976 (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Robert Fry.

    As his first major project following his dissertation research on the Central Acropolis at Tikal, Peter Harrison chose a challenging topic: a site reconnaissance and survey in the recently accessible territory of south-central Quintana Roo. In this paper I will discuss the genesis of the project, the challenges of fieldwork in this at that time remote region, and the results of this reconnaissance and survey. I will place the project in the context of the often tumultuous debates, and new...

  • Monuments as Artifacts: The Significance of the Hiatus at Tikal, Guatemala (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Hattula Moholy-Nagy.

    The long hiatus of AD 557-692 in the sequence of dates on Tikal's carved stone monuments is widely assumed to indicate a period of decline and troubled times for the city. This assumption, however, is clearly contradicted by archaeological evidence, which demonstrates a high level of material prosperity and cultural innovation during this period. An archaeological approach to the study of stone monuments as items of portable material culture can provide cultural context for recent exciting...

  • Peter Harrison: Remembering a Friend and Colleague (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jim Aimers.

    Peter Harrison introduced himself to me immediately after I presented my first SAA paper in 1991. We shared an interest in architecture, and I was then attending Trent University where he had taught. From that moment until his death Peter was extremely supportive personally and professionally. In this paper I introduce this session with reference to Peter’s support for me and other (then) young archaeologists, both personally and through his Ahau Foundation. I will highlight his work related...

  • Remembrances of Things Past: Peter D. Harrison and Maya Archaeology (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Laura Kosakowsky. David Pendergast.

    After Peter Harrison’s forays at Tikal, Guatemala and in Quintana Roo, Mexico he turned his attentions to archaeological research in Belize in the late 1970’s. Thus began his multi-year project at Pulltrouser Swamp, with his colleague Billie Lee Turner, which resulted in a series of foundational publications on Prehispanic Maya agriculture. In this paper we reflect on Peter’s contributions to Belize archaeology and to the discipline as a whole, as we celebrate his many interests in Maya...

  • The Role Of Environment In The Collapse Of The Ancient Maya (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only B Turner.

    Understanding the socioeconomic demise and depopulation of much of the Maya lowlands from the eighth to tenth centuries has been influenced historically by environmental evidence and human-environment frameworks emanating from beyond archaeology. Climate change was involved as early as 1917, but subsequently muted by the excesses of environmental determinism. The role of environment was subsequently reinstated in the latter parts of the 20th century, especially influenced by compelling evidence...

  • Swamp, settlement, and society: Maya archaeology at Pulltrouser and Cuello in 1979. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Norman Hammond.

    In 1979, the Pulltrouser Swamp project led by Peter Harrison and B.L.Turner II shared a field camp with the Cuello Project. With one group investigating a ridge-top Preclassic Maya community exploiting some wetland resources, and the other studying Maya wetland use and the nature of swamp-edge settlements, there was ample opportunity to compare and contrast fieldwork results. With overlaps in research interests, and some ad hoc sharing of expertise, the synergism was both social and...

  • A Tale of Two Projects: Comparative Findings of the CRAS and Yalahau Projects (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Justine Shaw. Jennifer Mathews.

    The CRAS and Yalahau Projects of Quintana Roo have shared a similar trajectory for many years: although both projects have focused several seasons on individual sites with detailed mapping, excavations, and artifact analysis, the broader goal has been to address large areas of coverage, with relatively few excavations conducted into buildings. Both projects have focused on site location, with the use of local peoples as consultants and guides. Both projects are in regions that are generally...

  • Tikal in Environmental Context: Peter Harrison and Ancient Maya Water Management and Subsistence (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nicholas Dunning. Vernon Scarborough. David Lentz.

    Through the lens of Tikal, Peter Harrison developed an interest in how the ancient Maya thrived in the seasonally arid central Maya Lowlands. Initially this interest stemmed from his investigations of Tikal’s Central Palace and its adjacent reservoir. However, soon his interest spread beyond the elite center to questions of basic subsistence and the potential use of wetlands (bajos) for intensive agriculture. Our work at Tikal, the Bajo de Santa Fe, and smaller bajos benefitted from some of...

  • Vision and Revision in the Use of Residential and Non-Residential Space at Middle Preclassic Maya Sites: A View from Pacbitun, Belize (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Terry Powis.

    Most Maya archaeologists never take advantage of excavating into plazas. The perception might be that there isn’t much information other than recovering artifacts to date successive constructive phases associated with the buildings they are investigating along the edges of the plaza. Over the years, some archaeologists have seen the utility of this approach – one that emphasizes locating early Maya buildings, even entire communities - beneath plaza surfaces in site centers. The amount of data...