January 12, 2008: Charles Golden, PhD Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brandeis University,
                                    Precolumbian Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library
"Seeing is Controlling: Vistas and Politics in the Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan Kingdoms"
            Throughout the Classic period, the rulers of the Maya kingdoms of Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan vied with one another for political domination of the middle Usumacinta River valley. This was a contest waged not only in the urban centers of Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan, but across the landscape and in the borderlands between the two kingdoms. In this competition the natural form of the land – a rugged terrain of steep hills, cliffs, sink holes, swamps and lakes – was not merely a passive canvas for the expansion of dynastic authority; instead, movement through and vistas across this landscape helped to shape the form of political action even as they were  themselves  transformed.  In his presentation, Dr Golden discussed the results of recent archaeological investigations of the landscape between Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan, and particularly explored how these vistas offered by the natural and man-made landscapes of the political capitals shaped the practice of ruling dynasties and royal courts, as well as forming local notions of political space that were extended out across the entire polity. Vistas of these urban landscapes and the surrounding countryside participated in the construction and expression of political relationships linking rulers to their subordinate nobles, and in so doing played a significant role in defining architectural arrangements, the composition of dynastic monuments, the distribution of these monuments, and the distribution of political centers across the classic period landscape. In investigation, it was observed that the location of Yaxchilan and its subordinate sites, as well as the actually physical topography allowed for almost line of sight views between Yaxchilan and its vassal cities. Piedras Negras, on the other hand, is in a narrowed valley, very well protected, and cannot  see, nor be seen from any of its dependencies.
            Charles Golden graduated with an AB in History and Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. He is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University, and currently a  Precolumbian Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library.  Since 1993, he has conducted archaeological research in Mesoamerica, working at sites in Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. From 1997 to 2000 he conducted doctoral research at the Classic Maya capital of Piedras Negras, Guatemala, located in the Sierra del Lacandón National Park. After completing his dissertation on the results of excavations in the royal palace of Piedras Negras, Charles, together with colleagues Andrew Scherer, and René Muñoz, began the Sierra del Lacandón Regional Archaeology project in 2003. This ongoing research is a regional survey intended to develop a better understanding of the ancient settlement between Piedras Negras and its great Classic period rival Yaxchilan. The North American and Guatemalan researchers of the SLRAP work in close collaboration with the Defensores de la Naturaleza, which administers the Sierra del Lacandón, to contribute to the protection of the Sierra del Lacandón through the completion of an inventory of the national park’s cultural patrimony, participation in the development of archaeo-touristic infrastructure, and the development of community interest projects.

back to home page