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Architecture as Animate Landscape: Circular Shrines in the Ancient Maya Lowlands



ABSTRACT  In this study, I develop a theory of landscape archaeology that incorporates the concept of “animism” as a cognitive approach. Current trends in anthropology are placing greater emphasis on indigenous perspectives, and in recent decades animism has seen a resurgence in anthropological theory. As a means of relating in (not to) one's world, animism is a mode of thought that has direct bearing on landscape archaeology. Yet, Americanist archaeologists have been slow to incorporate this concept as a component of landscape theory. I consider animism and Nurit Bird-David's (1999) theory of “relatedness” and how such perspectives might be expressed archaeologically in Mesoamerica. I examine the distribution of marine shells and cave formations that appear incorporated as architectural elements on ancient Maya circular shrine architecture. More than just “symbols” of sacred geography, I suggest these materials represent living entities that animate shrines through their ongoing relationships with human and other-than-human agents in the world. [Maya architecture, animism, relational ontology, landscape archaeology, agency]


RESUMEN  En este estudio presento una teoría de la arqueología del paisaje que incorpora el animismo como enfoque cognitivo. Éste ha resurgido en la teoría antropológica debido al mayor énfasis en las perspectivas indígenas. A pesar de su relación directa con la arqueología del paisaje, los arqueólogos americanistas han tardado en incorporar este concepto dentro de la teoría del paisaje. Examino el animismo y la teoría de Nurit Bird-David (1999) de la “relación,” y sus expresiones arqueológicas en Mesoamérica. Analizo la distribución de conchas marinas y cuevas incorporadas como elementos arquitectónicos de los templos circulares Mayas. Más que “símbolos” de la geografía sagrada, propongo estos elementos como seres que dan vida a los santuarios a través de su continua relación con agentes humanos y no-humanos.

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