William R. Coe Nov. 28, 1926 - Nov. 23, 2009 Maya Archaeologist University of Pennsylvania
The Maya World
Processual “New” Archaeology
In contrast to the Culture-Historical approach to archaeology- where it was thought that any information derived from artifacts about past people and ways of life are lost once the item becomes a part of the archaeological record. It was believed that they could only describe, catalogue, and create timelines based on artifacts.
Goals : answer questions about humans and human society.
Concerns : natural environment, ecosystems, human & civil rights, statistics. Focus on mechanism of culture change & culture process.
Rigorous use of scientific method ; figure out how the people who used the artifacts lived.
Culture materialsim : explains culture in terms of technological/ environmental constraints.
Cultural evolutionism : they can understand past cultural systems through the remains they left behind.
A huge trench was dug through the North Acropolis, revealing a millennium of construction phases, and stratigraphically plotting the history of the Great Plaza.
A crew tunneled through Temple I and located rich graves/ crypts with inventories of jade, painted vases, shell work, bone and other artifacts.
Left: Central Acropolis in the midst of massive backdirt from a prior excavation
Archaeology of the North Acropolis
Left: an earlier substructure partially exposed and selected for preservation
Right: Bedrock beneath the No. Acropolis was reached in 1963, after years of trenching.
Selected quotes of a Review of Tikal Report 14, by William Fash
“ this work provides a balance to the investigations done on other aspects of ancient Tikal, such as settlement patterns and systems, ecology and subsistence, trade, and many others.”
“ Perhaps the most striking thing about the report is the amazing quantity and quality of the information that was recovered, and reconstructed, from what is in reality a relatively small excavated sample.”
“ tunnels can provide effective, indeed conclusive, information about the growth, form, and function of the architectural units whose understanding is critical to our elucidation of the nature of culture change and historical action in the ancient Maya world.”
“ I was, for the most part, convinced that the broad outlines of construction sequencing proposed by Coe represented the best presently derivable solutions to what were at time virtually intractable problems... Coe has done a masterful job of tying together an enormously disparate and complex set of field records into a cohesive, compelling whole.”
“ TR 14 represents not an end unto itself, but the beginning of many new studies at Tikal and elsewhere. This report belongs in the library of scholars truly interested in the ancient Maya.”
Survey & Excavation of Greater Tikal
Archaeologists cut four survey lines ( brechas ) at right angles from the Great Plaza, extending into the jungle 12 km.
The survey included hundreds of “house-mounds”, smaller structures either alone or in aggregates, hardly noticeable but lifted enough to catch the eye of surveyors.
In one village Coe describes, housed workmen and their families. Prior to excavation, only four structures were recorded, but more became visible as dirt was lifted away.
Realized that the “house-mounds” were highly variable in size, shape and complexity.
Could provide insight to Maya social organization and an idea for a total population of Tikal. The latter continued to be a indeterminate.
Experiments with crop production, storage longevity in tropical climates, and botanical investigations addressed issues previously ignored by archaeologists such as subsistence, agriculture, and environmental impact.