Research highlights from The Mesoamerica Center

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October 10, 2017
Boundary End research participants

Throughout the 2016-2017 academic year, faculty and student members of the Mesoamerica Center were actively sharing their research at conferences near and far, working on current projects on the UT campus, and gathering new perspectives and data from field locations throughout Mesoamerica. Here are some of the highlights!


Three of our graduate students presented original research at the 7th Annual South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica, which took place at the University of Texas at Tyler in November, along with presentations by our Mesoamerica Center colleagues from across campus:

  • Sara Eshleman, Colin Doyle, Samantha Krause, Timothy Beach, and Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach from the Department of Geography and the Environment at UT Austin, with other non-UT colleagues, “Feasibility of ancient Maya canoe travel along the Rio Hondo”

  • Sara Eshleman, Samantha Krause, Timothy Beach, and Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach from the Department of Geography and the Environment, and Fred Valdez from the Department of Anthropology, with other non-UT colleagues, “Que Linda Vista! The first glance at LiDAR from Northwestern Belize”

  • Elliot Lopez-Finn, Department of Art and Art History, “Luxury and Anxiety in the Aztec Empire: The Question of Cacao”

  • Catherine Popovici, Department of Art and Art History, “Contested Power in Mayapán: The Sala de los Símbolos Solares Mural Cycle”

  • Stephanie Strauss, Department of Art and Art History, “More than Maya: A Reassessment of Mesoamerica’s Hieroglyphic Systems as Global Tradition”

Shortly after the Maya Meetings in January, David Stuart, Astrid Runggaldier, Edwin Roman and Elliot Lopez-Finn traveled to Mexico for the International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan, held on site at the impressive ancient urban center. The gathering of international scholars brought together the most up-to-date understanding of what made this city so powerful in ancient times.

At the College Art Association’s Annual Meeting held in New York City last February, Stephanie Strauss presented “The Materiality of Inscription: Sculptural Surfaces in Epi-Olmec Art” in the session for Emerging Scholars of Latin American Art. It was a busy year for Stephanie, who was also invited to present at the Maya at the Lago conference last April in NC, with a talk entitled "Verbosity in Ancient Mesoamerica: Comparing the Epi-Olmec and Maya Hieroglyphic Traditions.”

At the end of March and beginning of April, the Society for American Archaeology's 82nd Annual Meetings were held in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Two presentations highlighted Mesoamerican research from UT Austin’s Department of Art and Art History:

  • Julia Guernsey and Michael Love, “Hand-Modeled Preclassic Figurines and Early Expression of Concepts of Replication” in the symposium Molding Matter: Technologies of Reproduction in the Precolumbian Americas, organized by Mallory Matsumoto and Stephen Houston

  • Stephanie Strauss, “Thirty Years after La Mojarra: Epi-Olmec Writing Revisited” in a symposium chaired by Eugenia Robinson entitled Maya Highland and Pacific Coast Archaeology: New Data, Debates, and Directions.


The summer always means travel and field research for The Mesoamerica Center, and we started with a research meeting of San Bartolo Project members at the Boundary End Archaeology Research Center in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. Boundary End provided an extraordinary place to focus on work and also escape for occasional hikes and bonfires during our discussions on the current findings of the Mural Fragments Project and plans for upcoming publications and exhibits.

International travel took David Stuart to Basel in Switzerland, where the original 8th cent. AD wooden lintel from Tikal’s Temple IV is housed today, at the Basel Museum der Kulturen. The trip was to meet with an international group of colleagues for the conference entitled “Egyptian and Maya Writing: Comparing Hieroglyphic Domains,” part of the project “Iconic Criticism” on the power and meaning of images, hosted by the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) at the University of Basel.

International travel to Latin America took Astrid Runggaldier to the small village of Crooked Tree in Belize, where she joined other colleagues of the Belize River East Archaeology (BREA) Project to run the research lab and process materials from surrounding excavations at sites and wetland features. Project updates were presented by director Eleanor Harrison-Buck, from the University of New Hampshire, at the 2017 Belize Archaeology Symposium: “Investigating Ancient Maya Settlement and Wetland Features around Crooked Tree, Belize: Excavations and Aerial Mapping with Drones.”


Among the research highlights, we'd like to mention some of the publications that went to print in 2016-2017 and are now available!

A new issue of Ancient America, now a collaboration between Boundary End Center and The Mesoamerica Center, is dedicated to “The Fall of the Great Celestial Bird: A Master Myth in Early Classic Central Mexico,” and authored by Jesper Nielsen and Christopher Helmke. It is available for purchase online at….

Several other publications by members of The Mesoamerica Center are below:

Julia Guernsey

  • 2016 Water, Maize, Salt, and Canoes: Iconography, Economics, and Commodities at Late Preclassic Izapa. Latin American Antiquity 27 (3): 340-356.

  • 2017 Review of Alfredo López Austín’s The Myth of Quetzalcoatl: Religion, Rulership, and History in the Nahua World (University Press of Colorado). Bulletin of Latin American Research 36 (3): 370-371.

Astrid Runggaldier

  • 2016 (with Norman Hammond) Maya States: The Theoretical Background in Historical Overview. In The Origins of Maya States, edited by Loa Traxler and Robert Sharer, pp. 33-57. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

David Stuart

  • 2016 (with Marcello Canuto, Tomás Barrientos) Memoria social escrita en piedra: Cambios y reconfiguraciones del discurso politico en las Tierras Bajas durante el periodo Clásico. In XXVIII Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueologicas en Guatemala. Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, Guatemala City.

  • 2017 The Gods of Heaven and Earth: Evidence of Ancient Maya Categories of Deities. In Del Saber Ha echo su Razón de Ser...: Homenaje a Alfredo López Austin, edited by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and Ángela Ochoa, pp. 247-268. 2 vols. INAH, UNAM, Ciudad de México.

  • 2017 (with Danny Law) Classic Mayan: An Overview of Language in Ancient Hieroglyphic Script. In The Mayan Languages, edited by Judith Aissen, Nora C. England and Roberto Zavala Maldonado, pp. 128-172. Routledge Language Family Series. Routledge, New York.

  • 2017 (with William Saturno, Franco Rossi, and Heather Hurst) A Maya Curia Regis: Evidence for a Hierarchical Specialist Order at Xultun, Guatemala. Ancient Mesoamerica 1-18 (online).

Lastly, David Stuart completed the manuscript for a new publication on the iconic Aztec Calendar Stone (see corresponding newsletter article in this issue). It has been a productive year of Mesoamerican research!