Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Writing History in Formative Mesoamerica

Writing History in Formative Mesoamerica
Connecting History and Social Stratification in Four Ancient Scripts

Andrea DiMuzio

This paper examines one potential function of early writing in Formative Mesoamerica in relation to the developing stratification of the period. Reviewing the work of Joyce Marcus, Stephen Houston, Donald Brown, and others suggests that early writing may have functioned to legitimize developing elites by creating history. If writing generates authority and authenticity, writing history could justify stratification while creating social cohesion. Moreover, history can be broken down into a variety of types from critical history to legendary history, with a range of focus from military to biography to genealogy. Different types and foci of history could be used by elites to achieve different goals.

A list of texts was compiled and divided into four scripts: Cascajal, Mayan, Zapotec, and Isthmian. Interpretations for each text were taken from previous literature on Mesoamerican writing and iconography, and were based on known glyphs, context and iconography allowing an assessment of content. A comparison of the scripts illustrates variation in the specific uses of writing, but similar interest in recording general historical information. Whether the focus is on ascending kings or military victories, the effect was to create a cohesive social group, while still elevating elites, at a time of great social change. Through the authority of writing, and the manipulation of fact, history was created in support of the elites.

Currently, the sample of texts is small, and generally undeciphered, as a result these findings are preliminary. Additional samples and greater decipherment will bolster the reliability of the data. Furthermore, additional archeological investigations into Brown’s theory on hierarchy and history would assist in applying his work to developing writing. Additional studies on the affect of history on identity building would also develop these findings.

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April 23, 2010 - Posted by | abstract

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