Summer is sizzling! Check out the new and upcoming releases from The University of Texas Press. Great books to make summer a breeze!
In The Fate of Earthly Things, Molly Bassett draws on ethnographic fieldwork, linguistic analyses, visual culture, and ritual studies to explore what ritual practices such as human sacrifice and the manufacture of deity embodiments (including humans who became gods), material effigies, and sacred bundles meant to the Aztecs. She analyzes the Aztec belief that wearing the flayed skin of a sacrificial victim during a sacred rite could transform a priest into an embodiment of a god or goddess, as well as how figurines and sacred bundles could become localized embodiments of gods. Without arguing for unbroken continuity between the Aztecs and modern speakers of Nahuatl, Bassett also describes contemporary rituals in which indigenous Mexicans who preserve costumbres (traditions) incorporate totiotzin (gods) made from paper into their daily lives. This research allows us to understand a religious imagination that found life in death and believed that deity embodiments became animate through the ritual binding of blood, skin, and bone.
Presenting the first cohesive, art historical study of the entire painting corpus, The Murals of Cacaxtla demonstrates that these magnificent works of art constitute a sustained and local painting tradition, treasured by generations of patrons and painters. Exhaustive chapters on each of the mural programs make it possible to see how the Cacaxtla painting tradition developed over time, responding to political and artistic challenges. Lavishly illustrated, The Murals of Cacaxtla illuminates the agency of ancient artists and the dynamics of artistic synthesis in a Mesoamerican context, offering a valuable counterpoint to studies of colonial and modern art operating at the intersection of cultural traditions.
Drawing on period representations of the city in sculptures, texts, and maps, The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City builds a convincing case that this global capital remained, through the sixteenth century, very much an Amerindian city. Barbara E. Mundy foregrounds the role the city’s indigenous peoples, the Nahua, played in shaping Mexico City through the construction of permanent architecture and engagement in ceremonial actions. She demonstrates that the Aztec ruling elites, who retained power even after the conquest, were instrumental in building and then rebuilding the city. Mundy shows how the Nahua entered into mutually advantageous alliances with the Franciscans to maintain the city's sacred nodes. She also focuses on the practical and symbolic role of the city’s extraordinary waterworks—the product of a massive ecological manipulation begun in the fifteenth century—to reveal how the Nahua struggled to maintain control of water resources in early Mexico City.
As Moteuczoma’s fame transcends Aztec visual and oral culture, Hajovsky brings together a vast body of evidence, including Nahuatl language and poetry, indigenous pictorial manuscripts and written narratives, and archaeological and sculptural artifacts. The kaleidoscopic assortment of sources casts Moteuczoma as a divine king who, while inheriting the fame of past rulers, saw his own reputation become entwined with imperial politics, ideological narratives, and eternal gods. Hajovsky also reflects on posthumous narratives about Moteuczoma, which created a very different sense of his fame as a conquered subject. These contrasting aspects of fame offer important new insights into the politics of personhood and portraiture across Aztec and colonial-period sources.
Scherer’s study of burials along the Usumacinta River at the Mexican-Guatemalan border and in the Central Petén region of Guatemala—areas that include Piedras Negras, El Kinel, Tecolote, El Zotz, and Yaxha—reveals commonalities and differences among royal, elite, and commoner mortuary practices. By analyzing skeletons containing dental and cranial modifications, as well as the adornments of interred bodies, Scherer probes Classic Maya conceptions of body, wellness, and the afterlife.
Taking a unique interdisciplinary approach, the author examines how Classic Maya deathways can expand our understanding of this society’s beliefs and traditions, making Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya an important step forward in Mesoamerican archeology.
Ardren argues that the interacting factors of gender, age, familial and community memories, and the experience of living in an urban setting were some of the key aspects of Maya identities. She demonstrates that domestic and civic spaces were shaped by gender-specific behaviors to communicate and reinforce gendered ideals. Ardren discusses how child burials disclose a sustained pattern of reverence for the potential of childhood and the power of certain children to mediate ancestral power. She shows how small shrines built a century after Yaxuna was largely abandoned indicate that its remaining residents used memory to reenvision their city during a time of cultural reinvention. And Ardren explains how Chunchucmil’s physical layout of houses, plazas, and surrounding environment denotes that its occupants shared an urban identity centered in the movement of trade goods and economic exchange. Viewing this evidence through the lens of the social imaginary and other recent social theory, Ardren demonstrates that material culture and its circulations are an integral part of the discourse about social identity and group membership.