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Go in Pairs, Intertwined: Soft Technologies and the Role of Plants in Classic Maya Identity

Traci Ardren, University of Miami, Fellow 2018–2019, Spring

I focused primarily on three related lines of research, all of which contribute to my new book project looking at the role of soft technologies in Classic Maya culture. I explored the literature on woven mats and how they became a symbol of royal authority in ancient Mesoamerica, not just in the Maya area. This turned into a much larger topic than I had anticipated, with relevant material from the Olmec to Aztec cultures as well as contemporary ethnographic practices. I concluded that Maya kings drew upon a long tradition of woven plant fiber technology as part of their claim to sovereignty over the forest. Next I turned to paper-making in Maya society, which also blossomed into a pan-Mesoamerican subject with connections to the manufacture and use of bark cloth in societies around the world. I wrote about the potentially widespread use of bark cloth in the Classic period for my SAA presentation and will develop that work further. Finally, in tandem with these topics, I dove deep into the literature on plant agency and environmental humanities, the theoretical framework for my book.