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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Women's Work: Images of Production and Reproduction in Pre-Hispanic Southern Central America


What interests prompted the production of human images in the indigenous cultures of Central America? This question is explored here by counterposing three diverse yet interconnected traditions of human representation: those of the Classic Lowland Maya, the Honduran Ulua-Polychrome makers, and the Lower Central American cultures of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Disjunctions in the contexts of use and disposal of human images demonstrate different selective gender stereotypes in these three traditions and indicate that the contrast between the household and the public arena is of varying concern. When these images are placed in local developmental chronologies it becomes apparent that the production of public representations of stereotyped male and female actions that are disjunctive (varying in media or in the contrasts selected for emphasis) is associated with episodes of intensification of social stratification. The production of human representations in these societies may be a means through which the negotiation of men's and women's social status took place during times of change.

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