Joyce Marcus

University of Michigan


Election Year: 1997
Primary Section: 51, Anthropology
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

My work has focused on ancient New World civilizations, particularly Maya, Zapotec, and coastal Andean States. Three broad themes run through my current research. One theme is the dynamic nature of the first New World states. These "pristine" states seem to have expanded rapidly at the expense of less complex neighboring societies, incorporating them as outer provinces. While early states succeeded in controlling such provinces for a few hundred years. Ultimately those subject regions grew stronger, achieved their independence, and sometimes struck out on their own expansionist course. I am currently working to determine how large a territory could be controlled by an early expansionist state and for how long. In comparing trajectories for various early expansionist states in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and elsewhere, I have found that later states often failed to match the territorial expansion achieved by the earliest state in the same region. A second theme is the development of a scientific framework for the study of these early states' cosmology, ritual, and religion. At present, most "reconstructions" of pre-Columbian cosmology and religion are directed by intuition and speculation. It will be a challenge to make the study of ritual and religion as rigorous as the study of subsistence. I am trying to develop a framework by integrating a variety of data sets, including hieroglyphic texts, ethnohistory, excavation data, linguistics, and comparative ethnography. A third theme is the reconstruction of pre-Columbian political history, using the four major hieroglyphic writing systems of Mesoamerica. This requires rigorous assessment of the degree of fit among archeological data, hieroglyphic texts commissioned by the rulers of pre-Columbian societies, and 16th century Spanish eyewitness accounts. My goal is to establish both the conformities and contradictions in the archeological and textual records, since they reveal the same history through different eyes.

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