Semiotic analyses of Maya lithic caches: anthropologies of technology, symbolism, and religion
Zachary Hruby (Northern Kentucky University)
Paper short abstract:
Caches are interesting for their rich array of materials and enigmatic symbolic meanings. Objects of jade, shell, animals, obsidian and flint were laid in symbolically charged ways. Semiotic analyses provide a comprehensive understanding of the multivalency of ritual deposits.
Paper long abstract:
Caches, or non-burial ritual deposits, in Maya archaeology have been a topic of interest for many decades because of their incredible array of material items and seemingly impenetrable symbolic meanings. These deposits, which often consist of jade, imported shells, animal sacrifices, and especially elaborately chipped obsidian and flint "eccentrics", were laid in undoubtedly religious ways. While a focus on the objects and their spatial orientation is important, I propose that special attention to the iconicity of the items and their raw materials, in conjunction with the technologies that were used to create them, will provide an avenue for deeper understanding of these multivalent deposits. A semiotic analysis allows for a more comprehensive approach to grasping multivalency and perhaps the intentions of those who engaged with and created these goods. Jade, shell, flint, and obsidian were the most prominent materials in Classic Maya caches, but not simply because they were valuable as long distance trade items and functional materials; they were icons of the very structure of ancient Maya world view and mythology. These materials signified world directions and creation myths, but also the human role in constructing that mythological history. Finally, the technologies used to create cache goods endowed another level of meaning associated with those who crafted these items, and the items themselves. Piercean semiotics provides an avenue to disentangle possible meanings of these caches to owners, producers, and onlookers via the triadic relationship between sign, object, and interpretant.
The future with/of Maya anthropology