Throughout history, different cultures have understood time in very different ways. In the modern U.S., we talk about time as a commodity: we spend it, waste it, or use it wisely. For the Maya, time was a physical presence — the sun, a feathered serpent, a drought or war, the moon — with power to impact humans’ lives.
Since 2012, SFI has hosted a series of meetings exploring ancient Maya culture, and two of those meetings have focused specifically on Maya understanding of time. This August 26-28, the Maya Working Group will meet for the fifth time at SFI.
The meeting, “Telling time: Myth, history and everyday life in the ancient Maya world,” will explore topics from the materialization of time and how that influenced politics and religion, to the roles of timekeepers, to the buildings and effigies that helped people celebrate time, to what these structures and art can tell us about the way the Maya thought about the future. David Freidel, a Maya iconographer and Washington University professor who has been organizing the Maya Working Groups at SFI since they began in 2012, says the upcoming working group will produce a book — the second to come out of this working group.
Previous meetings led to an edited anthology on Maya E Groups, which are some of the earliest permanent public structures that were ritual centers and astronomical observatories. That book will be published this summer.
This first, forthcoming book “is a coherent edited volume on a subject,” says Freidel. “This has been very good, even exemplary, of what SFI can do with working groups. In archeology, this is a very big achievement.”
But it’s a project that has taken several years to complete. Freidel hopes for a more efficient timeline this second time around. To achieve that, he’s asked all participants to draft papers meant to be chapters in the book, and to distribute them to the group weeks before the meeting. As the group discusses the submitted papers during the meeting, Freidel wants to draw out the places of overlap between the papers. “I want them to come away from this meeting ready to revise their manuscripts so that they reference each other,” says Freidel.