“This work has done an exceptional job of providing both context and theories about the meaning and use of the Middle Preclassic figurines from the site of Nixtun-Ch'ich' on the western shore of Lake Petén Itzá, Guatemala. As is typical of all of Rice’s work, the attention to detail and meticulous methodology are incomparable, and this volume fills a gap in our expanding knowledge of the Preclassic Maya.”
—Laura Kosakowsky, University of Arizona
Anthropomorphizing the Cosmos explores the sociocultural significance of more than three hundred Middle Preclassic Maya figurines uncovered at the site of Nixtun-Ch'ich' on Lake Petén Itzá in northern Guatemala. In this careful, holistic, and detailed analysis of the Petén lakes figurines—hand-modeled, terracotta anthropomorphic fragments, animal figures, and musical instruments such as whistles and ocarinas—Prudence M. Rice engages with a broad swath of theory and comparative data on Maya ritual practice.
Presenting original data, Anthropomorphizing the Cosmos offers insight into the synchronous appearance of fired-clay figurines with the emergence of societal complexity in and beyond Mesoamerica. Rice situates these Preclassic Maya figurines in the broader context of Mesoamerican human figural representation, identifies possible connections between anthropomorphic figurine heads and the origins of calendrics and other writing in Mesoamerica, and examines the role of anthropomorphic figurines and zoomorphic musical instruments in Preclassic Maya ritual. The volume shows how community rituals involving the figurines helped to mitigate the uncertainties of societal transitions, including the beginnings of settled agricultural life, the emergence of social differentiation and inequalities, and the centralization of political power and decision-making in the Petén lowlands.
Literature on Maya ritual, cosmology, and specialized artifacts has traditionally focused on the Classic period, with little research centering on the very beginnings of Maya sociopolitical organization and ideological beliefs in the Middle Preclassic. Anthropomorphizing the Cosmos is a welcome contribution to the understanding of the earliest Maya and will be significant to Mayanists and Mesoamericanists as well as nonspecialists with interest in these early figurines.