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A Fresh Take on the ChichenTula Connection

G E O R G E L. C O W G I L L

Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz. 85287-2402, U.S.A. 31



Twin City Tales: A Hermeneutical Reassessment of Tula and ChichLn ItzLi. By Lindsay Jones. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1996. 500 pp. Tula, in highland Central Mexico, and Chichen Itza, nearly 1,300 kilometers east in the lowlands of Yucatan, resemble one another in many respects considerably more than either resembles any other site. Both have some features derived from other sources, but these do not overshadow what they share. Archaeologists, ethnohistorians, and art historians have struggled over what to make of this for more than a century. In Twin City Tales Jones brings to the problem the perspectives, methods, and preoccupations of a historian of religions. In view of our difficulties in dealing with the Chichen-Tula connection, we should welcome a fresh take from any source. Jones has worked hard, and his book should be read by anyone interested in the TulaChichen problem or the history of studies of preconquest Mesoamerica. Unfortunately, Jones's writing is excessively verbose and repetitious, making it hard for the wearied reader to focus on main points. The book would be far better if cut by half. Moreover, 1,587 chapter-end notes occupy over a quarter of the text. Many are citations of sources by a grotesquely cumbersome method; others are points important enough to have been included in the main text, minor elaborations that could have been omitted, or disjointed bibliographic mini-essays that might have been merged into one. In spite of a long bibliography and an impressive index, some publications cited only in notes do not appear in either. Spelling performance is mixed. Jones gets some tough ones right, such as Kirchhoff and numerous Maya and Nahua polysyllables, but there are many typos and some consistent errors-"Stewart" for Steward, "Bodwitch" for Bowditch, "MacNeisch" for MacNeish, and RenC Millon without the accent. Jones makes good assessments of influential figures, notably Morley, Tozzer, and Eric Thompson. They imagined a Lowland Maya utopia of gentle meditative
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astronomer-priests, ruined by brutal "Toltec" milita rists from Central Mexico of deplorable taste and worse morals. This value-laden polarity is no longer tenable. Evidence for dynastic struggles and frequent war among the Classic Maya is overwhelming, and the issue of moral superiority is moot at best. Aesthetic issues are not so easily dismissed; Jones has not convinced me that "Toltec" art is as good as earlier Maya styles. Jones makes errors in relating his story to the wider history of archaeological thought, though they are not fatal to his central arguments. He recognizes the influence of Kluckhohn and Taylor but sees Willey and Phillips (1958) as the foundational text for New Archaeology and neglects Binford's role. All Mesoamerican work in a materialist vein is lumped with New Archaeology, and much of it is attributed to Childe and "Stewart" and labeled marxist; this is likely to displease both cultural materialists and the few North American archaeologists who really consider themselves marxists. He seems unaware of "postprocessualism," although his approach has much in common with it. He cites few publications later than 1987, but several key critiques of New Archaeology had been published by then. His reading of Mesoamerican literature outside of Chichen and Tula is uneven but generally careful as far as it goes. He comprehends my paper on the Teotihuacan Ciudadela (Cowgill 1983) better than most archaeologists have. Jones does not persuade me of the special power of a hermeneutic approach. Obviously we cannot interpret anything except in terms of our prior experience, knowledge, and interests, but, beyond this insight, how do we proceed? What intellectual tools does hermeneutics offer? Jones quotes Heidegger, Gadamer, and Husserl, but I found these passages unconvincing and stylistically off-putting, and I couldn't see how they actually helped. It is useful to try to engage ruins in a sort of "dialog" and to try to imagine the intentions of the humans who designed them and how humans and material objects interacted in subsequent events, but no amount of rhetoric can alter the fact that this supposed dialog is desperately one-sided. Jones's major original contribution is a framework of types of ritual-architectural priorities. These fall under three main headings and eleven subheadings: orienta tion (theinstigation of ritual-architectural events), with subheadings called homology (a miniaturized replica of the universe], convention (conforms to abstract principles or standardized rules), and astronomy (aligned to celestial phenomena); commemoration (the content of ritual-architectural events), whose subheadings are divinity (commemorates or houses a deity or divine presence], sacred history (commemorates an important

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mythical episode), politics (commemorates or legiti mates a political or social system), and the dead (commemorates revered ancestors); and ritual context (the presentation of ritual-architectural events), subheaded theater (a stage for ritual performance), contemplation (objects of meditation or devotion), propitiation (intended to please, appease, or petition the sacred), and sanctuary (a refuge of perfection or purity). This is not the only way priorities might be organized, and Jones recognizes that any architectural complex usually mangood use of it in ifests several. However, he makes " structuring his comparisons of Chichen and Tula. It is potentially valuable for anyone interested in the materialization of ideology (e.g., DeMarrais, Castillo, and Earle 1996). Jones uses a further key concept that is highly problematic. The gist is that ritual-architectural events tend to begin with an instigatory aspect or "front" component that draws in or "allures" persons who were initially uninterested or even unwilling participants, especially through emphasizing features that people find traditional and reassuring. But, once drawn in, the participant is confronted by a "back" component that is startlingly new, possibly repellent, and often transformative. I agree that this concept applies to some situations, including some missionization strategies and many religious revivals, but I don't think it applies generally. It is useful to borrow from Kuhn and think of intervals of "normal religion" punctuated by religious revolutions. Most religious-architectural events are "normal religion," where emphasis is on the familiar and expectable, and this is likely to be especially true of state-sponsored religious events. Moreover, radical or startling aspects are hard to materialize in durable forms; what was surprising the first time is much less so subsequently, and the novelty wears off long before the buildings wear out. Above all, I am highly skeptical of Jones's use of this concept to characterize supposed differences between Tula and ChichCn. He argues that visitors to and citizens of Tula were presented with motifs and architectural forms that served as a "front" comDonent to "allure" them by allusions to Teotihuacan, to their diverse other roots, and to ubiquitous popular religion; then they were hit by an insistent "back" component intended to sell a supposedly new concept of political hegemony underwritten primarily by military force (p. 333). However, many of the motifs and forms that were Dart of the "back" at Tula became Dart of the "front" a threat of at ChichCn, where they were not martial superiority but instead a message of unity, reconciliation, and synthesis. This is ingenious, but I see no basis for it other than Jones's preconceptions. I see no reason to think that Tula was unusually diverse ethnically or that it was commercially unenterprising, nor does Tula look unusually militaristic, especially in the light of what we now know of Teotihuacan's earlier emphasis on war. For all the rhetoric about dialog and treating the ruins as subjects rather than objects, Jones does no better than the rest of us in avoiding interpretations strongly shaped by preconceptions.

What really happened at ChichCn? Jones claims that he isn't trying to deal with this question, yet his interpretations are shot through with assumptions about what happened. Here he loses the critical acumen that informs his treatment of earlier generations of scholars. He is sensibly skeptical of Kubler's view that Tula was the recipient of innovations developed in Yucatan, but he is too uncritical of other highly problematic recent work, especially tendencies to deny any significant extra-Maya politically influential presence at Chichen. This is understandable as a reaction to Morley, Tozzer, and Thompson, but it can be an overreaction as unsound as what it replaces. Jones accepts the view that Maya-speaking (probably Chontal) trader-fighters in eastern Tabasco and southwestern Campeche gained power and influence in the 8oos, after the collapse of Teotihuacan and Monte Alban. There is abundant iconographic evidence for this (e.g., Kowalski [1989] points to evidence in the southern Maya lowlands and some upland parts of Chiapas and Guatemala, as well as Yucathn). These Tabasco-Campeche Maya were probably significantly influenced by people of central Mexico, and they may be a source of Nahua loanwords and surnames in some Maya-speaking groups, as well as iconographic features. These look to me like influences that were incorporated into predominantly local Maya traditions. Tabasco-Campeche is also a plausible source for Maya features that show up at perhaps about the same time (dating is still insecure) at central highland sites such as Cacaxtla and Xochicalco. Jones then sees these same people as the source of Tula-like features at Chichkn. I find this implausible; it requires us to think that Tabasco-Campeche Maya considered their interests in Yucatan best served by importing numerous features distinctive of central Mexico. Why should they select the remote city of Tula? It is more likely that by about goo (this date is also uncertain but is consistent with recent radiocarbon dates) Tula had established a respectably large state in central Mexico that was organized along broadly "corporate" lines inherited from Teotihuacan (as proposed by Blanton et al. 1996). Both the iconography and the layout of "Toltec" Chichen suggest the introduction of a corporate political organization that contrasted with more individualistic Maya political forms. How did this come about? Tabasco-Campeche Maya may have been involved, but a significant direct influence from Tula seems probable-more likely imposed by a faction that broke close ties with Tula than as a planned imperial outpost. It is time to restore the Tula-Chichen connection, but with presuppositions and value judgments very different from those of Morley, Tozzer, and Thompson.

References Cited

1996. A dual-

processual theory for the evolution of Mesoamerican civilization. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 37:1-14.

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c o W G I L L , G E O R G E L. 1983. "Rulership and the Ciudadela: Po- book is part of Panourgia's consciousness of the ambilitical inferences from Teotihuacan architecture," in Civiliza guity of the role of a native Greek studying her own tion i n the ancient Americas: Essays i n honor of Gordon R. family in Athens as an anthropologist and therefore also Willey. Edited by Richard M. Leventhal and Alan L. Kolata, of the reader's part in the heteroglossic exercise. She pp. 313-43. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
DE MARRAIS, ELIZABETH, LUIS JAIME CASTILLO, A N D T I M O T H Y E A R L E . 1996. Ideology, materialization, and power Strategies. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 37: 15-3 I. K O W A L S K I , J E F F K A R L . 1989. "Who am I among the Itza?

Links between northern Yucatan and the western Maya lowlands and highlands," in Mesoamerica after the decline of Teotihuacan: A.D. 700-goo. Edited by Richard A. Diehl and Janet Catherine Berlo, pp. 173-85. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Death as Theory and Ethnography


Department of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University, Durham, N.C. 27708, U.S.A. 27 XI 96 Fragments of Death: Fables of Identity, an
Athenian Anthropography. By Neni Panourgia.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, I 99 5
Panourgia's Fragments of Death is intricate in conception and intricate in execution. It encompasses theory on the nature of ethnography and on the special positioning of a "native" ethnographer; indeed, Panourgih makes a plea for the value of the lens of indigenous ethnographers. It is an evocation of Athens as a city: its history, its identities, and its setting for a particular family's experiences with death. It comments on death as a human experience and Athenian cultural constructions for helping humans to cope with the pain of the unthinkable, including mortuary rituals in relation to Greek Orthodox practice and theology. Panourgia has constructed a scholarly book with rich comparative, historical, and theoretical commentary. The commentary informs the narrative, but it is placed separate from it at the end of each chapter. These expansions are referred to as parerga, works alongside; they are neither inside nor outside the main work. In the description of the death of her beloved grandfather and the surrounding emotions and events that constitutes the middle section of the book she divides each page in half. In the top half she narrates events and their ambience; in the bottom half she places the parerga-supplements explaining how widespread the events and emotions are (are they cultural?) and giving comparative material from other parts of Greece and elsewhere. The treatment is reminiscent of Marjorie Shostak's (1981)separation of Nisa's autobiographical accounts of events and her own comments on how they relate to common cultural forms. Panourgia suggests that all the parerga (not very different from extended footnotes) may be read as a unit first, after reading the text, or along with the main narrative. Her concern about how her audience will read the

writes that the book is not an ethnography of death but an "exploration of the possibilities and legitimacy of the position of the analyst who accepts the duplicity of her role both as an analyst and as 'subject' in the context of an anthropological study on human death" (p. 31). She is not describing an "ethnos" but exploring "the ethos that governs death as a social praxis and its discourse within the framework of modern Athens and her multitude of identities" (p. 3I ) . Panourgia believes that the study of death offers a unique opportunity for a self-reflexive anthropology, that is, the exploration of the anthropologist's duplicitous role as both analyst and subject and the exploration of the realm of existence in which human beings (our euphemistic "subjects") become "parts of the condition of intersubjectivity that unites them with the anthropologist" (p. 30). Panourgih has succeeded in writing a sensitive, wonderfully nuanced book about herself in relation to her family, her family's history, their experience of many deaths and near deaths, conceptions of good deaths and bad deaths, and their reactions and comments. She deals with palimpsests of memories of death, of spaces for the dead (graveyards in this world, ideas of heaven and hell [but not purgatory in Greece]),external signs of impending death (howling dogs, dreams, hooting owls), and how the living try to keep the dead with them. The last sentence of her book sums ur, her achievement: "a reflection not only on the navigation of the living through a life that can only lead to death, but even more, on the possibility that the difficulty of incorporating death itself (much like ethnography and anthropology) into everyday life might be the total and com~leta ect of resistance to its finalitv." Panourgih accomplishes more than she knows. Apart from her theoretical interests in self, other, and double roles, for me what is important is what her nativeness has enabled her to discover and present. Her family connections have permitted her to gather wide-ranging information on the operations, structure, and functions (to use old-fashioned words) of a family. She describes canons of inclusion and exclusion from family identity and property. She delineates points of cooperation as well as events that trigger long-lasting feuds. She consistently relates deviations from prescribed rules but perhaps does not comment enough about the existence of those rules. Panoureiii's situation enables her to see " men in relation to death and funeral rituals. The remarkably large number of studies on Greek death ritual, including one by a Greek from Mani (Seremetakis 19911, have often stressed the important function of women in maintaining the family and community's relation to the dead, but much less has been written about men. Panourgia does not comment on men's roles. She appears to lack interest in gender issues. Perhaps because she explicitly does not want to write an ethnography of death, she misses an opportunity to comment on the ample anthropological writing on death in Greece