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Living Time, Performing Memory: Maya Ceremonies of Foundation and Renewal


Living Time, Performing Memory: Maya Ceremonies of Foundation and Renewal is concerned with how Maya notions of cyclical time were practiced, looking specifically at how the past, present, and future coexisted in particular moments. Ceremonies of renewal that took place at certain foldings of time, such as period endings and royal accessions, were crucial occasions when the proper rituals had to be re-enacted in order for the world to continue. Rulers and elites not only performed these rituals, but also left objects that functioned as memory markers to recall actions of the past into the present. This project looks at primary sources in the form of carved stelae, reliefs, painted ceramics, murals, and the built environment from the Preclassic to the Postclassic Maya period. The sites of Palenque and Copán serve as case studies for how rulers performed and recorded their embodied remembrances of time-renewal ceremonies. Small portable objects offer insight as to additional characters who participated in these rituals, which enriches the traditional focus on the role of the ruler.

Through the case studies and a close analysis of the primary materials, this study expands on the notion of cyclical time in Maya culture as was previously understood to one that includes a vision and practice of a coexistence of times, or what I call timefulness. Rulers and elite created these moments of timefulness through elaborate ceremonies in order to renew time and thus, guarantee their future. These ideas of reaching for the past in a way that propels Maya people towards the future, and not as a sense of nostalgia, challenges current Western ideas that place modern-day Maya as always stuck in the past. Thus, this project enlightens our understanding of ancient Maya philosophies and practices as well as how these ideas endure amongst their contemporary descendants.

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