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Rulers from the West: Teotihuacan in Maya History and Politics

Dumbarton Oaks and via Zoom
December 1, 2022
06:00 PM to 07:00 PM
David Stuart discusses recent advances in understanding the complex relationship between the Classic period center of Teotihuacan in Central Mexico and the Maya region through image and text.

For decades the nature of the relationship between Teotihuacan and the Maya was a dominant yet difficult question in Mesoamerican archaeology. Before the 1980s, archaeological work in the Maya area pointed to a deep connection between the regions, but, without any written history, there lacked any good explanatory models for it. Today we know far more. The decipherment of Maya historical texts now gives a very detailed picture of actors and events of the late 4th and early 5th centuries, when Teotihuacan established its powerful center of political influence at Tikal, overseeing many aspects of Maya political life. This talk will provide the latest understanding of this complex relationship, emphasizing how Maya sources can be also used to open windows onto Teotihuacan’s own history and politics, including details of its long-lived ruler “Spearthrower Owl” (”Eagle Striker”) who oversaw the key Maya intrusions into the Peten. By looking at close family connections among the various actors, we can also trace how these “Lords of the West” left a long-lasting legacy in the memory and political symbolism of later Maya dynasties, even beyond the Classic period.

David Stuart is the David and Linda Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University in 1995. He taught at Harvard before arriving at the University of Texas at Austin in 2004, where he now teaches in the Department of Art and Art History. His interests in the traditional cultures of Mesoamerica are wide-ranging, but his primary research focuses on the archaeology and epigraphy of ancient Maya civilization. For the past three decades he has been very active in the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing, with his major research centering on the art and epigraphy at Copan, Palenque, La Corona, and San Bartolo. More recently he has been active in the study of Aztec art and hieroglyphs. Stuart's early work on the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs led to a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984. In 2012 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a UNESCO Lifetime Achievement Award. His books include Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya (2008), The Order of Days: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Maya (2012), and just released, King and Cosmos: A New Interpretation of the Aztec Calendar Stone (2021).

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Details of the Marcador sculpture, Tikal, Guatemala, with Spearthrower Owl’s name. Photo and drawing: David Stuart.