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The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal: Cosmos, Court, and Kingship in a Puuc Palace Complex

Jeff Karl Kowalski, Northern Illinois University, Fellow 2012–2013, Spring

My work at Dumbarton Oaks formed part of an ongoing project to identify and interpret aspects of the form, function(s), and meaning(s) the Maya palace complex known as the Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal. This involved comparative studies of the types of activities that occurred within Maya palaces, with emphasis on William Ringle’s recent discussion of Nunnery Quadrangle as a group of royal council halls and courtyard. An examination of how more cosmological or “supernatural” references in the quadrangle’s plan and iconography are related to more historical aspects of its functions and imagery resulted in an interpretive model focused on the following themes: origins and creation; ancestral sources of authority and power; recent events in ritualized frameworks. I explored the creation-related significance of feathered serpent imagery and of God N/Pawahtun, both found on the West Structure. Ancestral authority may be embodied by crossed torches motifs that refer to foundation events, and by mosaic masks on the East Structure. The significance of captive and warrior figures on the North and West Structures was explored, identifying them as inculcations of a desired elite male martial identity, its anathematized counterpart (defeated captive), and as visual reference to and memory of spectacular performances and tribute presentations within this royal courtyard. Warrior torchbearers refer to specialized captive sacrifice designed to promote agricultural fertility and held either in conjunction with royal accession rituals or cyclical period ending festivals. During my stay I submitted a paper for publication, and presented preliminary project findings at two meetings.