Accepted paper:

A future for physical anthropology of the ancient Maya?


Lori Wright (Texas A&M University)

Paper short abstract:

I review progress in study of ancient Maya skeletons over the last 25 years regarding health, diet, mobility and mortuary behavior. Growth is seen in the larger number of dedicated bioarchaeologists of the Maya, new analytic methods and research topics despite ongoing archaeological challenges.

Paper long abstract:

Having fought the battle of bioarchaeology in the Maya area for over 25 years, I will examine progress made in the field over this quarter century with an eye to the future. Poor skeletal preservation continues to hinder studies of ancient Maya health, as do inadequate excavation and conservation/curatorial practices. Epigraphic decipherment has revealed ever more detailed narratives of elite lives, and has encouraged a return to skeletal life history or osteobiographic approaches. While on firmer footing today, such studies also risk over-interpretation. Global financial woes have hindered the large scale settlement studies needed to recover representative skeletal series and thus populational studies of health. Skeletal research has markedly improved the interpretation of "unusual" mortuary deposits, although an interpretation of sacrifice remains quite enticing to many researchers. Isotopic studies have largely characterized the range of dietary variability across the lowlands, though work on mortuary correlates of social status continues to be simplistic in most projects, often due to disjunction between the archaeologists and paleodietary researchers. Isotope work on mobility is growing, albeit constrained by inadequate isotopic mapping. It is easy to point out problems in most all of our work, however, that many bioarchaeologists now focus solely on Maya remains has helped us to improve our interpretations, has integrated us more fully into the world of Mayanists, and leaves me somewhat hopeful for our future. Now, its time we talk with the living Maya.

panel P052
The future with/of Maya anthropology