B Arch Univ of Toronto, M Arch Univ of Toronto, PhD (Architecture and Archaeology) U. Penn. (Tikal Project)
Went into archaeology after a brief period of architectural practice. Did fieldwork at Tikal, Altun Ha, and Lamanai. On faculty at the School of "Architecture, Carleton University (Ottawa) up to July 2000. Now retired.
Recent Publications: The Architecture of the Pre-Colonial Cultures Outside Europe: The Americas. in Sir Bannister Fletcher's A History of Architecture, 20th Ed. Butterworth's, London, 1996. Tikal Report 23A: Miscellaneous Investigations in Central Tikal, University of Pennsylvania, 2002.
Paper given at the 2001 Chac Mool conference, Calgary: The Machine in the Ceremonial Centre.
A current research project concerns the Venus Table in the Dresden Codex. I am interested in this because I feel that it embodies ideas that affected monumental architecture.
On the left is an image of page 24 in the Dresden Codex. This page begins the Venus Table, which is completed on the five pages that follow it, numbered 46 - 50 (the pages were numbered before the Table was recognized). The ancient Maya, like all ancient people, applied anthropomorphic thinking to natural phenomena including astronomical bodies such as the planet Venus. That is, they considered that the planet exerted its own will power, intentions and desires just as humans do.
The planet, though, was regarded as more powerful than humans, able to intervene in human affairs. At certain times it may have been considered the most powerful force in the cosmos. The very elaborate divinational calendar that the Maya had developed gave them a tool they could use to manage the power of Venus, or at least to avoid its harmful effects. The columns of numbers we see on page 24 are calculation tables for determining where any particular calendar day, with its divinational implications, would fall in the five -year Venus Round (the time it takes for Venus to return to the same apparent place in the sky). The arithmetical workings of this table are well understood thanks to the work of numerous scholars including Michael Closs, one of our Research Members.
Once a day was located in the Table its position would show how a number of different factors (listed in pages 46 - 50) would bear on the basic prognostications associated with that calendar day and then, with this knowedge, a person could plan to take some action, or not, according to the nature of the prediction. The Table is a technical manual to be consulted for divinational purposes. It is not at all symbolic. This is where I make my connection to temple architecture. Assuming it was the priestly class who both wrote the books and designed the temples, my hypothesis is that they both worked essentially the same way. That is, the temples too might have had a non-symbolic significance that was aimed at managing supernatural forces. Testing out this thesis is one of my current preoccupations.
The standard assumption is that monumental architecture served primarily symbolic purposes, while, of course, also providing suitable settings for elaborate ritual performances, including, no doubt, human sacrifice. I am investigating the possibility that the architecture itself served a direct, practical function, expected to assist in producing material results such as better crops, better health, success in trade, war, and in any particular enterprise. Testing this proposition is giving me a hard time.
A recent paper is a chapter for a book on Tikal archaeology resulting from an American School of Research Advanced Seminar. My contribution examines monumentality using the North Acropolis as a case study.
Tikal North Acropolis in early first century AD
model made using FormZ
Home | Mesoamerica | Forum | Society | Current Research