Maya Potters’ Indigenous Knowledge

Cognition, Engagement, and Practice

by Dean E. Arnold

[Maya Potters’ Indigenous Knowledge] adds significantly to an important body of work.”

—David Frankel, La Trobe University

“A very refreshing look at the nature of Maya pottery production. . . . it will open the eyes of many researchers to the depth of indigenous knowledge on pottery production and to a new way of thinking about the relationship between the potter and his/her raw materials.”

—Michael Deal, Memorial University

“Studies like this are very important indeed. Arnold’s research is aimed at bridging the gap between static archaeological phenomena and the dynamic social, cultural, and cognitive aspects of behavior. The end result is a bridging argument or middle-range research that sometimes is the only way to understand the complex relationship between the fragments of matter that make up the archaeological record and the human behavior behind this material record.”

—Eduardo Williams, El Colegio de Michoacán

"[Arnold] is the world's most prolific and accomplished scholar of ceramic ethnoarchaeology. . . . Most useful to those deeply involved in the ethnographic study of craft production and to archaeologists focused on ceramics."

“There is much food for thought in this new book that archaeologists should consider in evaluating their own data. . . .The result of this volume is that Arnold has created a new way of thinking. . . .This is a cogent, thought-provoking book with compelling data and persuasive arguments, and belongs on any anthropologist's bookshelf. ”
—SAS Bulletin

Based on fieldwork and reflection over a period of almost fifty years, Maya Potters’ Indigenous Knowledge utilizes engagement theory to describe the indigenous knowledge of traditional Maya potters in Ticul, Yucatán, Mexico. In this heavily illustrated narrative account, Dean E. Arnold examines craftspeople’s knowledge and skills, their engagement with their natural and social environments, the raw materials they use for their craft, and their process for making pottery.

Following Lambros Malafouris, Tim Ingold, and Colin Renfrew, Arnold argues that potters’ indigenous knowledge is not just in their minds but extends to their engagement with the environment, raw materials, and the pottery-making process itself and is recursively affected by visual and tactile feedback. Pottery is not just an expression of a mental template but also involves the interaction of cognitive categories, embodied muscular patterns, and the engagement of those categories and skills with the production process. Indigenous knowledge is thus a product of the interaction of mind and material, of mental categories and action, and of cognition and sensory engagement—the interaction of both human and material agency.

Engagement theory has become an important theoretical approach and “indigenous knowledge” (as cultural heritage) is the focus of much current research in anthropology, archaeology, and cultural resource management. While Dean Arnold’s previous work has been significant in ceramic ethnoarchaeology, Maya Potters' Indigenous Knowledge goes further, providing new evidence and opening up different concepts and approaches to understanding practical processes. It will be of interest to a wide variety of researchers in Maya studies, material culture, material sciences, ceramic ecology, and ethnoarchaeology.


Dean E. Arnold is adjunct curator of anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and professor emeritus of anthropology at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has taught anthropology for forty-three years; done field work in Peru, Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, and the Southwest; and published four books, including the seminal Ceramic Theory and Cultural Process, and more than sixty articles about potters, pottery, and pottery production and related subjects (such as Maya Blue). Arnold was a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico and Peru, a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall at University of Cambridge in 1985, and a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Archaeology there in 1985, 1992, and 2000. He received the Society for American Archaeology’s Award for Excellence in Ceramic Studies in 1996. In 2003, he received the Charles R. Jenkins Award for Distinguished Achievement from the National Executive Council of Lambda Alpha (the National Collegiate Honor Society for Anthropology). He received the Wheaton College Senior Faculty Scholarship Achievement Award in 2001 and the Wheaton College Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Service to Alma Mater in 2008.

Imprint: University Press of Colorado

Book Details

  • Hardcover Price: $78.00
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-60732-655-7
  • Ebook Price: $63.00
  • 30-day ebook rental price: $31.50
  • EISBN: 978-1-60732-656-4
  • Publication Month: February
  • Publication Year: 2018
  • Pages: 294
  • Illustrations: 93 black and white photographs and tables
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: by Dean E. Arnold
  • ECommerce Code: 978-1-60732-655-7