Contextualizing Maya History and Archaeology Part II: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Forest of Kings

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

The publication of Forest of Kings by Linda Schele and David Freidel in 1990 was a landmark in Maya archaeology. It was the first book to synthesize the explosion of epigraphic and iconographic studies that began in conjunction with the first Palenque Mesa Redonda meetings and fuse it with archaeological research. Using data from a series of important sites as well as vignettes, Schele and Freidel created a broad narrative of ancient Maya society that had a wide ranging impact on the field for its innovative and sometimes controversial interpretations. Further, Forest of Kings was published in a format that was not only accessible to the scientific community, but to the general public, which had a tremendous influence on how the ancient Maya as an idea was consumed by the lay community. This session is a reflection on the impact the book had on the field and how far we have come since its publication. The participants are a mix of scholars who were participants in the debates and/or worked at some of the sites discussed in the book, students of Schele and Freidel, and younger generation scholars who are working with some of the same questions.

Geographic Keywords
MesoamericaCentral America

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  • Documents (8)

  • Closing the Portal at Itzmal Ch’en: Termination Rituals at Mayapan (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marilyn Masson. Carlos Peraza Lope. Wilberth Cruz Alvarado. Pedro Delgado Ku. Timothy Hare.

    The ceremonious destruction and abandonment of the Itzmal Ch’en group at Mayapán is symptomatic of ritual violence that marked this city’s near collapse at least 50 years before its final abandonment around 1448 A.D. This new evidence revises Contact Period accounts about the demise of this city, the last regional capital of the Maya realm prior to European arrival, and it also reveals the city’s resilient (if brief) recovery. In the tradition of the interdisciplinary approach of the Forest of...

  • Don Pablo, Cha Chaak Ceremonies, and Archaeological Interpretation (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Traci Ardren.

    Don Pablo Canul, a Yucatec Maya h’men living in the village of Yaxunah, appears in vignettes throughout A Forest of Kings. Participation in ceremonies led by Don Pablo was a regular component of the Yaxuna Archaeological Research Project under the direction of David Freidel, and these experiences provided a strong and vibrant example of 20th century Maya culture in Forest of Kings. Many archaeological projects in Yucatan have collaborated with or employed the services of Maya h’men since the...

  • Ideology and Power at Copán, Honduras (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Dorie Reents-Budet.

    The ideology of place was central to the structures of power that directed the socio-political trajectories of the myriad polities that comprised the Classic Maya landscape. Nowhere was this more vital than at Copán, Honduras. In their book Forest of Kings, Linda Schele and David Freidel highlighted the ideological underpinnings of Copán's dramatic architecture and sculpture. They defined an interpretive history based on the inter-weaving of archaeological, art historical, and epigraphic data to...

  • Macaw Mountain and Ancient Peoples of Southeast Mesoamerica (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Wendy Ashmore.

    In A Forest of Kings, Linda Schele and David Freidel captivated readers with substance and inference about multiple Maya cities and their inhabitants. For Copan, they focused on long- and short-term developments culminating in the death of its last effective king, Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat, whose death effectively coincided with the end of both dynastic rule and social cohesion at Macaw Mountain, Copan. Extraordinary finds and ideas have come to light since that 1990 publication, things those...

  • Regional Maya Politics in the Late and Terminal Classic Northern Lowlands (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Travis Stanton.

    Linda Schele and David Freidel devoted a chapter of Forest of Kings to understanding the political relationships among Chichen Itza, Coba, and the Puuc cities during the Late and Terminal Classic periods. Much of their discussion was based on the iconography of Chichen Itza, although some was focused on the preliminary research that Freidel had initiated at Yaxuna by the time the book was published. In this paper I discuss more recent archaeological data from all three sites with a focus on...

  • Revisiting Bird Jaguar and the Sajal of the Yaxchilan Kingdom (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charles Golden. Andrew Scherer.

    In "A Forest of Kings," Linda Schele and David Freidel painted a vivid picture of the lives and relationships of kings, queens and courtiers expressed in images and texts from the Yaxchilan kingdom during the 7th and 8th centuries AD. In the 25 years since that volume’s publication, refinements in epigraphic readings and archaeological research in the rural hinterlands surrounding Yaxchilan and neighboring capitals have greatly enriched our understanding of the political world of the Western...

  • Revisiting the Archaeology of Palenque: 25 Years after "The Children of the First Mother" (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Damien Marken.

    As the site of many of the epigraphic breakthroughs that fully brought the Classic Maya into realm of history, Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico holds an important place in Maya studies. In the Forest of Kings, Linda Schele and David Freidel brought together one of the first truly comprehensive descriptions of the history of a Classic period royal family. Perhaps more significantly, they put forth a narrative of dynastic legitimization through writing and monumental construction that has endured and...

  • Seventh Century Star Wars: Reassessing the Role of Warfare in Shaping Classic Period Maya Society in the Southern Lowlands (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Arlen Chase. Diane Chase.

    At the time that Forest of Kings was written, Mayanists were unsure of how impactful Maya warfare actually was. Did it serve symbolic and ritual purposes like the Aztec flower-wars? Or, was Maya warfare actually waged for territorial gain? Forest of Kings was one of the first books to situate Maya conflict as warfare for territorial control. But, the depth and nature of this control as well as the way in which warfare articulated with and affected broader Maya society could not be answered in...