Lunar Power in Ancient Maya Cities


This is an abstract from the "After Dark: The Nocturnal Urban Landscape & Lightscape of Ancient Cities" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

As the sun set on the horizon, ancient city dwellers would have felt the cooler air, heard cicadas’ songs, and perhaps tasted a late-night snack. Their vision, however, would have suffered the most as dusk turned to night and some form of illumination was necessary to see others, carry on activities, or get to bed. Once the sun fully set, nature provided another source of light: the moon. Although today most people barely check whether the moon’s still up there, ancient Maya closely counted its days, phases, and form. In this paper, we briefly review Maya conceptions of the moon as understood through Classic inscriptions, Postclassic codices, ethnohistoric documents, and ethnographic accounts. Specifically we find that rulers ascended to the throne and dedicated monuments under a growing gibbous moon. We argue that moonlight was linked to authority for Classic Maya kings, both for its illuminating quality and symbolic power. In an urban setting, important rituals would have been conducted during auspicious lunar moments, transforming large open plazas into special ceremonial spaces and fortifying the power of kings.

Cite this Record

Lunar Power in Ancient Maya Cities. Kristin Landau, Christopher Hernandez, Nancy Gonlin. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450639)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.471; min lat: 13.005 ; max long: -87.748; max lat: 17.749 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23044