NOVEMBER MEETING HIGHLIGHTS:
November's meeting of the Pre-Columbian Society was held in conjunction
with the Committee on Latin American and Caribbean Studies at St. John's
The first speaker of the symposium was Dr. David Lentz, of the New York
Botanical Gardens, a paleoethnobotanist who spoke about his work at
Joya de Ceren in El Salvador. This Mid-Classic Maya site is unique in
Meso-America because the layer of ash left by the eruption of Loma Caldera,
in 590 AD, has served to preserve many plant remains. Archaeologists have
been able to reconstruct the exact shapes of organic matter such as a
corncrib, with cobs, a portable fence of sunflower stems, and agave plants
by injecting plaster into the cavities left after their decay. From these
remains, Dr. Lentz has been able to identify beans of differing sizes and
species, chilies, gourds, small fruit seeds, cotton seeds, manioc, avocado,
palms and corn similar to that found in Copan. He has also been able to
identify a type of thatch which has been supplanted by African grasses
introduced by the Spanish.
Mary Ciaramella spoke on depictions of beekeeping found in the
Madrid Codex, and their correspondences with beekeeping customs found in
ethnographic sources. The beehives depicted in the codices are similar in
form to those constructed today, and the rituals portrayed can also be
found in Thompson and in current practices. Ms. Ciaramella feels that the
Maya saw the beehive as a microcosm of their world.
Dr. Willard Gingerich discussed the Templo Mayor, which he sees as
both evidence of the rise of Tenochtitlan and as a symbol of Mexico's
contemporary rise to world prominence. He feels the rise of the Aztec Empire
to be unusual and analagous to the rise of the Soviet Union in that both
evidenced an overwhelming drive to empire which was characterized by the
desire to rewrite history and myths and the acceptance of warfare and
sacrifice for the good of the state.
Dr. Lourdes Suarez Diez presented the results of research done on the
shells and shell art found in cache boxes in the Templo Mayor and their
correspondences with images of Aztec Gods adorned with shells found in the
codices. In the codices, shells appear as stars , as representatives of
sacrifice and as ornaments on many of the Gods. In particular,
Tezcatlipoca and Quetzacoatl-Ehecatl are often shown heavily adorned with
shell pectorals, necklaces and ear ornaments.Interestingly, some of the
Goddesses associated with water are not shown with shells and Dr. Suarez
Diez asks for input on this observation. Many of the ornaments depicted in
the codices are the same as those displayed in the Conchas Precolombinas
exhibition curated by Dr. Suarez Diez and Dr. Marilyn Goldstein.
Justin Kerr addressed "Misconceptions in Iconography and Text in Classic
Maya Pottery". Mr. Kerr feels that many pots, such as the "Princeton Pot"
and the "Blowgunner Pot" depict scenes from the Popul Vuh. In addition, he
feels that the large cylindrical vessels referred to as "Chocolate Pots"
were probably used for storage and presentation of cacao beans rather than
liquid chocolate because no one is ever depicted drinking out of them,
whereas they are seen drinking from a small gourd ( a common practice even
today). The Primary Standard Sequence inscriptions "Fresh, Tree- ripe,
young" would certainly apply more aptly to cacao beans than to an actual
Following the symposium, participants travelled to the Hillwood Art
Museum on the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University to view the
beautiful Conchas Precolombinas Exhibit mentioned above. The Exhibition
will be open until December 24, 1997, and is well worth the trip.
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