Luminosity in the Ancient Maya World

Author(s): Nan Gonlin; Christine C. Dixon

Year: 2017


It is only through light that darkness is visible. The anthropology of luminosity as put forth by Bille and Sørensen (2007) regards light as something to be manipulated, matter which is used in cultural practices. In what ways did the ancient Maya light up the night and illuminate dark places? Evidence for ancient lighting is contained in artifacts and features, epigraphy, iconography, language, ethnohistory, and history, as well as the ethnographic record. Some of the major topics that we will address are how ancient cities were lit at night, variation in lighting from city to countryside, status differences in illumination, and the role of bioluminescent insects in adding glow to the dark. We question whether the modern desire for abundant night lighting is a cultural universal; humans perform without the brightness of day as other senses come to dominate the nightscape. In many circumstances, however, lower lighting is preferable for the performance of a variety of activities that were best conducted under the cover of dark. Apart from the material evidence for lighting, the metaphorical place of light and dark in the Classic Maya worldview will be examined.

Cite this Record

Luminosity in the Ancient Maya World. Nan Gonlin, Christine C. Dixon. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431052)


Spatial Coverage

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

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14426