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Building Ritual Landscapes: The Hieroglyphic Stairway at the Classic Maya Center of El Palmar, Campeche, Mexico

Kenichiro Tsukamoto, University of Arizona, Junior Fellow 2012/13

My dissertation research at Dumbarton Oaks examined the dynamic nature of power negotiations embedded in the building of a hieroglyphic stairway and its associated ritual practices at the Classic Maya regional center of El Palmar. The library holds an important collection of site reports and books and with great support of the librarians, this enabled me to conduct comparative analyses of ritual practices including termination rituals that are documented at different sites in the American Southwest, Mesoamerica, and the Andes. In the library I could compare El Palmar’s inscriptions with those of hieroglyphic stairways documented at other major Maya sites. The result suggest that unlike other sites, the spatial setting of El Palmar’s stairway outside the civic-ceremonial core was designed not so much for the legitimization of centralized authority, but rather for the ritual performance of second-tier elites who negotiated and displayed their political power at regional centers..

The academic environment created by staff, fellows, and visiting scholars at Dumbarton Oaks provided an invaluable experience that resulted in drafts of three chapters for my dissertation, a coedited volume with Takeshi Inomata, two coauthored articles, and one conference paper. Daily interaction and conversations during lunch time, research reports, and formal and informal gatherings inspired me to refine my research.  Pre-Columbian scholars, fellows and staff of Byzantine and Garden and Landscape studies helped to expand my theoretical perspectives in the study of ritual and landscape. Finally, I am grateful for the wonderful museum curators who made the collections accessible for my comparative studies.

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