Gestures Across a Continent: Hands, Communication and Meaning in the Ancient Americas

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Gestures constitute a fundamental part of human behaviour and are rich evidence of a culture’s ideology, identity, beliefs, and practices. Although gestures are visually and materially evident in the archaeological record, an approach to gesture that considers different traces of bodily actions and which compares gestures across cultural regions in the Americas, has been notably absent. This session addresses this concern by exploring the symbolism and significance of gestures in ancient and contemporary indigenous cultures of North, South and Central America for the purposes of better understanding the role of hands in communication and meaning in both space and time. By emphasising cross-cultural and comparative perspectives, this session will be pivotal in facilitating a dialogue about gestures between research fields and disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, art history and linguistics. Topics will include representations of hands in art; embodied gestures and material culture; interpersonal behaviours (including gestures accompanying speech and Sign Languages); and the performance of gestures in ritual practices. As a whole, this session highlights the importance of gestures for comprehending the symbolism and significance of communication and meaning in the ancient New World and contributes to wider discussions of bodily communication in societies both past and present.

Other Keywords
andesMayaArtTextilesArchaeologyCavesIdentityCaribbeanVisual CultureHands

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-6 of 6)

  • Documents (6)

  • Divine Hands: The Teotihuacan Great Goddess (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elizabeth Baquedano. Tessa Robinson.

    Teotihuacan was the painted city. A key iconographic motif in the murals of residential compounds, such as Tetitla, is the Great Goddess, often shown in the act of hand-scattering. A variety of substances such as grain, liquids, and precious, green stones are pictured falling from the Goddess' open palm. The extensive corpus of representations of the goddess' hand-scattering identifies the hand, and in particular the female hand, as a locus for divinity. The suggestion that the agency of the...

  • Gesture, Identity, and Meaning in Southeastern Mesoamerica (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kathryn Hudson. John Henderson.

    Hand imagery carried conventionalized meanings across ancient Mesoamerica and represented an embodied semantics that was central to ancient constructions of meaning. Precolumbian ceramic imagery from northwestern Honduras reflects of this generalization and features a set of highly stylized compositions that conveyed an array of specific meanings. Figures and, by extension, the gestures made by them feature prominently in this corpus, but little attention has been paid to how these motifs...

  • Hand in Hand: the Physical and Symbolic Representation of Social Bonding in the Prehistoric American Southwest. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Claire Halley.

    A key theme of archaeological research in the American Southwest has been understanding the diverse ways people came together to form communities. This paper examines the physical and symbolic practice of forming social bonds through the practice of hand-holding in communal performance. Iconographic representations of hand-holding figures (on ceramic vessels and rock art) from the prehistoric period (A.D. 500 – 900) will be presented. These images provide an exceptional opportunity to explore...

  • Their world at hand: Entering the language of gesture in Classic Maya art (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amy Maitland Gardner.

    Our hands shape and express the social and material worlds in which we live by creating and measuring things around us and communicating our thoughts, feelings and ideas. In Classic Maya iconography, hands are represented in a variety of shapes and forms, which offers a unique glimpse into ancient Maya gestural practices. This paper journeys through the actions and representations of hands in the ancient Maya world, exploring the dynamic and dialogic relationships between bodily gestures and...

  • The use of fingers and hands in mark-making in caves in the indigenous Caribbean (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alice Samson. Jago Cooper.

    The focus of this paper is on the actions of human fingers, hands, and bodies in the emergence and creation of the extraordinary subterranean cavescapes of Isla de Mona in the pre-Columbian and early colonial Caribbean. The interiors of around 30 of the island’s 200 caves have been extensively modified by scraping substances off, and applying substances to cave walls, leaving marks, extractive patches, meanders, and designs on hundreds of square metres of cave surfaces. These activities were...

  • A view from the weaver’s fingertips: gesture and complexity in the South Central Andes (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Denise Arnold.

    This paper traces the gradual acquisition of increasingly complex mental and haptic operations as a girl learns to weave in the Andes. She starts early with fingertip ‘synaesthetic’ knowledge of fleece thickness and quality as she prepares raw materials and spins them, and the mental-visual knowledge of counting herd animals in her pasturing duties. She passes on to the visual recognition of selection and counting patterns in simple crossed-warp weaves, in belt straps, and then to the...