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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Maya seats and Maya seats-of-authority Noble, Sandra Eleanor

Abstract

Interpretation of Maya social organization through material remains has long been a subject of speculation. The gap between data and interpretation inevitably involves the concerns and conditions of the society producing such interpretive discourse, and diverging interests and modes of analysis continue to result in alternative and often conflicting interpretations of ancient Maya society, often involving suppositions of systemic weakness that led to the collapse of its centralized or dynastic authorities in the ninth century. Currently central in such interpretations is the role of inscribed stone seats, erected by "subsidiary" or non-royal members of Maya society in "subsidiary" districts or suburbs of the major Maya polity of Copan. At issue are the problematic interpretations of these seats that have been constructed to support a particular construct of Maya sociopolitical organization and an inherent weakness that would have doomed it to collapse. This thesis explains the premises of this current interpretation and examines the Copan seats from several alternate viewpoints and methodologies. Formulation of a comprehensive dataset of actual Maya seats and representations of seats in sculpture, ceramic, and hieroglyphic contexts demonstrates that the Copan seats fit comfortably within Maya epigraphic, stylistic and iconographic conventions rather than representing a revolutionary challenge to dynastic authority. Through analyses of form and construction, locational context, varieties of decoration, and content of inscriptions, this thesis shows that such hierarchically-privileged seats-of-authority, which are found in residential complexes of very different socio-economic status, not only in Copan but throughout the Maya region in Classic times, better support a model of factional competition than of autocratic dynastic authority. These seats appear to have been designed to construct the social position of their occupants in relation to subordinate members of their own factions, to other faction leaders with whom they were in competition, and to the ruler as both head of the polity and leader of the royal faction. Indeed, discursive notions of the seat and seating were central to ancient Maya concepts of patriarchal authority. Further, since such factional competition may be shown to characterize Maya social organization since Late Pre-Classic times, the inscribed Copan seats provide no insights as to the causes of the so-called "Maya Collapse."

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