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Duality in Mesoamerican Mortuary Practices: The Quick and the Dead

Molly Fierer-Donaldson, Harvard University, Junior Fellow 2010/11

My time at Dumbarton Oaks was spent working on my dissertation, which is a study of royal mortuary contexts from the Classic Period at the Maya site of Copan, Honduras. My approach is to analyze an entire tomb from its architecture through its artifacts to its inhabitant(s) as a single context resulting from decisions made and actions taken by people in the past. These actions result in a ritual that reflects the concerns of the mourners, the identity of the deceased, and is bound by societal views on death. My work takes a comparative look at the result of these rituals, in the form of the royal tombs from Copan, with additional information from other mortuary contexts in order to trace the different permutations of the three components allowing them to be more clearly identified in other burials.

During my time at Dumbarton Oaks I more fully developed my chapters focusing on the non-archaeological data I am using to support my arguments. The library resources allowed me to delve deeply into the ethnographic, ethnohistoric, iconographic, and even epigraphic sources touching on the topics of death and the afterlife. I also undertook an extremely detailed comparison of a series of burials at Copan that contain pieces of a specific suite of objects. The conclusions gained will be included both in my dissertation and at least one article demonstrating how the approach can be used beyond the royal context in which it was developed.

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