Forms and Meanings of Human Fire Exposure among the Northern Lowland Maya

Author(s): Vera Tiesler

Year: 2015


This paper explores some of the forms, occasions, and meanings of human fire exposure among the Northern Lowland Maya during the Classic period. Conceptual points of departure are native concepts of heat, smoke and fire, together with their transformative powers in human beings, ritual enactment, and physicality. These notions provide blueprints for the spectrum of treatments documented in the area’s mortuary record, spanning veneration, profanation and/or sacrifice. Combining forensic anthropology with archaeothanatology, and advocating sequenced pathway reconstructions, I first untangle and pattern broader, evolving trends in heat uses in the area’s material register, which include peri and postmortem exposure by boiling, smoking, roasting, charring, and cremation of fresh corpses vs. decomposing vs. fully skeletonized bodies. The regional survey shows not only the elites but also the broader commoner sectors to have engaged extensively in heat treatments of their dead already by the first millenium AD. Selected case studies from big-site cores —concretely, Yaxuná, Dzibanché, and Calkmul— grant a deeper understanding of the broader ritual charts that involved heat exposure by and for nobility.

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Cite this Record

Forms and Meanings of Human Fire Exposure among the Northern Lowland Maya. Vera Tiesler. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395569)


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Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;