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

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

This symposium celebrates the 25th anniversary of the publication Forest of Kings by Linda Schele and David Freidel. This book was a landmark in Maya archaeology in several respects. 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. The symposium is divided into two sessions. Papers presented in Part I focus on several themes including Maya ideology and cosmology, rise of complexity, and the central Maya lowlands in the Classic period. This symposium is a reflection on the impact the book had on the field and how far we have come since its publication.

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MesoamericaCentral America

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  • Documents (11)

  • Branching Out: Cerro Maya as a Strategic Link in a Preclassic Maya Exchange Network (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Debra Walker.

    Ours is the first generation of Maya archaeologists to be fully rooted in Maya history. Thanks to our mentors, and especially cooperation between epigraphers and archaeologists, we have come to know the faces, names and life stories of important figures in our own New World history, epics that rival those of the Old World. The telling of these stories is a work in progress, however, our mentors, Linda Schele and David Freidel, provided a courageous and insightful first effort at embodying the...

  • The Coming of Kings in the Belize River Valley (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only M. Kathryn Brown. Jason Yaeger.

    Twenty five years have passed since Linda Schele and David Friedel presented their thoughts on the origins and establishment of the institution of kingship in their book "A Forest of Kings." Their historical reconstruction of Cerros illustrates the steps taken by early rulers to establish and institutionalize a hierarchical social system. Through the empirical data from Cerros, they artfully illuminate how the construction and display of symbols of royal power on monumental buildings coupled...

  • Empire at Chichen Itza Revisited (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Annabeth Headrick.

    In the chapter on Chichen Itza within the Forest of Kings, Schele and Freidel masterfully redirected a half century of research that had largely pressed the foreignness of the site. Instead, they revealed the city’s Maya impulses and explored how Classic period strategies of conquest warfare transformed to integrate a type of inclusive diversity. Their suggestions of Chichen’s willingness to incorporate their enemies into a grander regional system redefined Epiclassic conversations over Maya or...

  • The Evolution of Anthropomorphic Imagery at Cahal Pech, Belize and its Implications for the Rise of Kingship in the Middle Preclassic Maya Lowlands. (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jaime Awe.

    In a series of articles published in the 1980’s, and in the subsequent volume "A Forest of Kings", David Freidel, and Linda Schele and Freidel demonstrated that the institution of kingship had been firmly established in the Maya lowlands by the Late Preclassic period. Twenty five years later, ongoing research in Belize and the Peten now suggests that this level of cultural complexity may have actually arisen by the Middle Preclassic period. One line of evidence that strongly supports this...

  • A Forest of Queens: The Legacy of Royal Calakmul Women at El Perú-Waka’s Central Civic-Ceremonial Temple (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Olivia Navarro-Farr. Francisco Castaneda. Griselda Perez. Juan Carlos Perez.

    In 2012 archaeologists discovered Waka’s main civic-ceremonial temple was enshrined by numerous offerings as well as the construction of a monumental hearth and the placement of various fragments of carved stelae adorning the final platform phase. These fragments included previously unknown Stela 43 mentioning an ancestress and royal woman of Calakmul origin, Lady Ikoom. Excavations in the interior of the fronting platform revealed the tomb of Waka’s renowned Late Classic queen, Lady K’abel,...

  • From "Star Wars" to Attack of the Kaan (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marcello Canuto.

    Over the past 25 years, epigraphic research on the Classic Maya has demonstrated that political alliances and warfare were not only widespread but also structured in such a manner to suggest a greater degree of political centralization than originally contemplated. Texts carved on ancient monuments suggest that lowland Maya society of the Classic period (AD 250-850) was characterized by a rivalry between two major capital cities, Calakmul and Tikal, who sought to dominate the Maya lowlands....

  • From A Forest of Kings to the Forests of Petén: The Mirador Group at El Perú-Waka’ (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Michelle Rich.

    More than 10 years of research at El Perú-Waka’, carried out under the co-direction of David Freidel and several Guatemalan collaborators, has resulted in a wealth of information about this ancient city and the role its rulers and residents played in the Classic Maya world. Enhanced through his work with Linda Schele, Freidel’s persistent focus on the interplay between ancient history and archaeology—on stelae, buildings, and people—has shaped research at Waka’, located in Guatemala’s Laguna del...

  • Middle Formative Origins of the Early Classic Period Stela Cult (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Frank Reilly. David Freidel.

    Stela are standing stones, incised or carved with iconographic or hieroglyphic information. Stelae vary in size from the portable to monumental stones. Some of the earliest examples of stelae were erected at the middle formative period site of La Venta. Undoubtedly, these La Venta stela, like their Maya counterparts, are linked to concepts of rulership and sacred cycles of time. A close iconographic analysis supports an interpretation that finds the origin of these early stela firmly rooted in...

  • On the Fall of Copan, Teotihuacan, and the Origins of the Fate of 8 Ahau (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stanley Guenter.

    "A Forest of Kings" was groundbreaking for its integration of epigraphy, archaeology, and ethnohistory. In their book, Schele and Freidel discussed the Early Classic Teotihuacan-Maya cultural and political interaction as well as the fall of Copan, and the larger issue of the collapse of Classic Maya cities, and even the fall of Postclassic Mayapan. In this presentation I wish to expand on and integrate these disparate themes in an effort to answer the question of why the Colonial era Maya...

  • The rise and fall of Maya kingdoms in the Holmul region (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Francisco Estrada-Belli.

    Research in the Holmul region of northeastern Peten has focused on Cival as its major political center during the Middle and Late Preclassic period since its rediscovery in 2001. The goals of this research continue to be inspired by several ideas expressed in Forest of Kings in 1990. Mainly, the rise of kingship in the Late Preclassic period, the interpretation of giant 'mask' sculptures on the facade of pyramids as backdrop for royal rituals as well as the interpretation of ritual caches. ...

  • Situating the narrative style and legacy of A Forest of Kings (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kathryn Reese-Taylor. Julia Guernsey.

    In this paper, we situate A Forest of Kings, which combined archaeological and art historical data, within the genre of ethnographic fiction. We consider its waxing and waning throughout time as a popular narrative form and its legacy that continues to this day. A Forest of Kings was conceived and written at a significant moment within the history of ethnographic fiction. While it is strongly grounded in the reflexive and representational practices of the late 1980s and early 90s, A Forest of...