Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 579–610 | Cite as

Envisioning Artifacts: a Classic Maya View of the Archaeological Record

  • Sarah E. Jackson


This paper explores a Classic Maya (ca. AD 250–900) “material vision”—that is, a locally determined and culturally specific way of understanding the material world, its salient qualities, and associated meanings—based on evidence found in hieroglyphic texts from across the Maya world. Understanding Classic Maya ways of seeing the material world is an important undertaking as part of exploring alignments and misalignments between ancient indigenous and modern archaeological understandings of what today we view as “artifacts.” This topic is explored in the article through two related inquiries: first, I look at “artifacts” (i.e., materials that qualify as such, in an archaeological material vision) recorded in the hieroglyphic record, yielding thematic understandings of objects related to form and function, wholeness versus brokenness, and the relational potential of objects. Second, I use ten hieroglyphic property qualifiers that indicate Maya material perceptions and categories to gain explicit insight into some organizing principles within a Maya way of visualizing the material world. Throughout the article, I ask: can we envision archaeological objects using Maya conceptions, and how does this way of seeing align or misalign with archaeological material engagements?


Classic Maya Hieroglyphic texts Materiality Indigenous ontology 



The initial stages of this research were made possible by a Taft Center Fellowship at the Taft Research Center, University of Cincinnati; I am very grateful for their important support of my work. Conversations with multiple colleagues helped to improve and clarify my arguments: particular thanks and appreciation go to Linda Brown, Stephanie Sadre-Orafai, and Vern Scarborough. Thank you, too, to David Stuart and Diane Griffiths Peck for permission to reproduce their beautiful drawings, and to Matthew Peattie for his kind help with figures. I am especially grateful to Stephen Houston, Scott Hutson, and an anonymous reviewer for providing detailed and perceptive feedback on an earlier version, which has significantly strengthened this article and its arguments. Any omissions or errors are my own.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

With this statement, I certify that I have followed accepted principles of ethical and professional conduct in conducting this research and preparing this manuscript, and declare that I have no conflicts of interest. This research did not involve human participants, nor animal subjects.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CincinnatiCincinnatiUSA

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