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Processions in the Ancient Americas: Approaches and Perspectives

October 10–11, 2014 | Pre-Columbian Studies Symposium, Susan Toby Evans and Stella Nair, Symposiarchs

Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to announce the annual Pre-Columbian symposium, to be held in the Music Room of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11, 2014. The symposium, organized by Susan Toby Evans and Stella Nair, will run for two full days beginning on Friday morning and concluding late Saturday afternoon.

Throughout the Americas ritual life took place outdoors and connected with the spiritual energy of the natural landscape through the design of the built environment. This symposium will investigate how processions can be studied through the identification, definition, and ritual use of space in Mesoamerica and South America. We will emphasize the beliefs and behaviors guiding the movement of participants in ceremonial processions, which are well known from pre-Columbian art and history. Cross-culturally, both state and local festivals involved people in carefully choreographed sequences of dances and ritual processions, moving through and around plazas in the barrios and out onto sacbes and causeways. In the course of these processions, the celebrants were cued by the combination of the built environment and the vistas beyond. We will explore some of the ways in which ritual behavior was shaped and directed by different approaches and perspectives. 

The symposium opens with three Andean processional ritual studies. We share the rhythms and meanings of ceremonies held today as described and filmed by Zoila Mendoza (University of California, Davis). Turning to the line art on Moche vessels, we hear Juliet Wiersema’s (University of Texas, San Antonio) study of processions depicted there. Stella Nair (University of California, Los Angeles) analyzes Inca plazas and surrounding architecture to discern processional patterns.

On Friday afternoon, a common theme is water worship. Susan Toby Evans (Penn State University) sees Teotihuacan’s massive scope for processions in the context of its hydrology and belief system. At Kaminaljuyu, recent research by Barbara Arroyo (Instituto de Antropología e Historia, Guatemala City) and Lucia Henderson (Metropolitan Museum of Art) reveals extensive water management systems and a corpus of sculpture in processional postures. Marco Curatola (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú) and Jean-Pierre Protzen (University of California at Berkeley) will discuss the oracular cults developing around Lake Titicaca in Inca times. 

On Saturday morning, we see processions of nobles and warriors sculpted into reliefs at Tula, and Elizabeth Jimenez and Robert Cobean (both, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico) interpret new evidence. Traci Ardren (University of Miami) discusses the processional uses of the Maya world’s longest sacbe, between Yaxuna and Cobá.  Johanna Broda (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) explains how the Aztecs used the sacred geography of the Basin of Mexico to orient ritual performance. The afternoon session opens with the evolution of processional behavior in Chiapas during the Formative period, by Tim Sullivan (University of Pittsburgh). Peruvian pilgrimages and processions of the Paracas and Nazca cultures are discussed by Charles Stanish (University of California, Los Angeles) and Henry Tantaleán (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos). Finally, John Janusek (Vanderbilt University) looks at how processional behavior changed over time in the Lake Titicaca Basin, and will examine ancient Mesoamerican and Andean rituals as sacred performances in their built and natural environments.

Space for this event is limited, and registration will be handled on a first come, first served basis. For further information, including preliminary abstracts, please visit our website ( or contact the Pre-Columbian Studies Program at Dumbarton Oaks (


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