Pre-Columbian Society of New York Lecture Series

Formed in 2014, the Pre-Columbian Society of New York (PCSNY) provides a platform for archaeologists, art historians, and other scholars studying ancient American cultures to share their insights and work with fellow academics and professionals in the New York area. Additionally, the Society endeavors to promote an increased awareness of pre-Hispanic cultures among students and those who possess a strong avocational interest in the field.

Read more on the Pre-Columbian Society of New York's website.

Please check the events calendar for upcoming lectures in this series.

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Archive

September 16, 2022
Speaker: David Tavárez, Professor of Anthropology, Vassar College
Title: Rethinking Time and Cosmos in Central Mexico: New Insights from a Colonial Zapotec Corpus

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Description: In 1704-05, after one of the most ambitious campaigns against “idolatry” in the colonial Americas, Northern Zapotec communities in Villa Alta (Oaxaca) surrendered 102 calendrical manuals and four ritual song compilations. This presentation, based on the first comprehensive survey of these songs and manuals, presents new insights regarding Mesoamerican cosmology and the 260-day divinatory count. It also examines multiple connections between cosmological beliefs and ritual protocols in this corpus, and sections from two pre-Columbian codices in the Borgia group: Fejérváry-Mayer 1, and Borgia 29-32. This talk surveys a Zapotec cosmological theory that linked the 260-day count with a three-tiered cosmos, analyzes parallels between Borgia images and Zapotec cosmogonic events, notes similarly structured ritual protocols in the Zapotec corpus and the Borgia, and concludes with a colonial ancestor summoning protocol that references imagery found in Classic-Period Zapotec monuments.

April 11, 2022
Speaker: Cameron L. McNeil, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Lehman College
Title: Recovering the Floral Fragrance of Ancient Maya Ritual: Pollen Evidence from Copan, Honduras

Description: Clues to the creation of flower-laden spaces in ancient Maya temples, tombs, and palaces lie on the floors of the best-preserved of these structures. The Copan Acropolis has proved to be a particularly good site for the recovery of well-preserved pollen grains from flowers that adorned ritual spaces. Scholars have described temple spaces as thick with the odor of burned copal, pine, and offerings, but added to this was the fresh and heady fragrance of greenery and blooming buds, imparting a fecund perfume to the areas of ritual supplication. These botanical offerings and adornments were undoubtedly tied to mythical associations, as they are today in modern Maya ritual houses. Analysis of pollen from sediment cores, and macroremains from middens, aided in the interpretation of ritual botanical materials, emphasizing the importance of understanding the complete ecological context of a community in the interpretation of species commonly found in ritual spaces. Few archaeological projects in the Maya area take floor samples for pollen analysis from buried temples and tombs. As this paper will demonstrate, this is a tremendous loss regarding our understanding of ancient Maya ritual practice.

March 8, 2022
Speaker: Simon Martin, Associate Curator and Keeper, Penn Museum and Adjunct
Title: A Society of Kings: Deciphering Classic Maya Politics

Description: The political organization of the Classic Maya has been a topic of debate for almost a century, and over that time scholarly interpretations have differed wildly. This talk sets out the evidence for a resolution to this debate, one that seeks to move beyond basic questions of political structure to open up the richer and deeper ones that lie beyond. That case relies on particular lines of evidence but also on particular theoretical understandings, since we must attempt not simply to describe, but to analyze and explain, how and why the Classic Maya created their highly decentralized political world.

January 26, 2022
Speaker: Daniel Sandweiss, Professor of Anthropology and Quaternary and Climate Studies, Cooperating Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences and Global Policy, University of Maine
Title: New Flavors and Old Responses: El Niño, Disaster, and Resilience on the Coast of Peru

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Description: El Niño is a recurrent perturbation of world class. Although centered in the Pacific Basin, it influences much of global climate, even the northeast US where winters tend to be warmer during canonical events. In the Pacific, the Peruvian coast is one of the regions most negatively affected. Normally a desert, the torrential rains brought by El Niño destroy the irrigations systems on which normal agriculture depends, while warming ocean waters reduce the biomass of what is usually one of the world’s greatest fisheries. We now know that El Niño has multiple flavors, each with its own set of challenges for Peru and elsewhere. These events aren’t new: they have been around for much longer than people have been in the New World, but their frequency and intensity have changed over time. In this talk, I will summarize what we know about El Niño’s presence over the last 15 millennia during which humans have been in Peru. I will also discuss some of the possible effects of El Niño frequency change on cultural development in the region and review the latest studies on how pre-European inhabitants met the challenges of El Niño and prospered over the long run despite them.

November 9, 2021
Speaker: Nawa Sugiyama, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside
Title: The Power and Agency of Corporal Animal Forms: Ritualized Animals from Copan, Honduras

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Description: Throughout Mesoamerica, corporal animal forms (a term encompassing live animals, animal-derived by-products, and artifacts made from animal bodies) were ascribed with proprietary agency. They were important mediators of power, were integral to the social identity of their users, and encapsulated contemporary sociopolitical circumstances. A zooarchaeological and isotopic investigation of three ritual deposits at the Classic Maya center of Copan, Honduras (AD 426-82) demonstrates the processes by which corporal animal forms were prominent actors in the ritual arena through a formal process of commingling and translating animal body parts, in some cases materializing prominent actors of world-creation (Starry Deer-Crocodile), and in others reifying regal power ascribed to felids to the 16th and final ruler of Copan through extravagant ritual sacrifice.

October 12, 2021
Speaker: Kim Richter, Senior Research Specialist, Getty Research Institute
Title: Gobernantes de piedra: A Reinterpretation of Postclassic Huastec Sculptures

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Description: The year 2021 began with surprising archaeological news—a welcome distraction from the doom and gloom of the pandemic: a spectacular Huastec sculpture had been found in the community of Hidalgo Amajac, in the municipality of Álamo Temapache, Veracruz on New Year’s Day. In their field, local farmers unearthed a stone sculpture of a woman with a towering headdress. The find quickly became a news sensation around the world, according to the INAH Veracruz archaeologist, Dr. María Eugenia Maldonado Vite, who was in charge of investigating and reporting the discovery to the INAH authorities in Mexico City. The official INAH Bulletin’s headline described the sculpture as “La primera escultura femenina prehispánica en su tipo es hallada en la Huasteca veracruzana” (The first female Pre-Hispanic sculpture of its kind is found in the Huasteca veracruzana)—a somewhat more sensational title over what Dr. Maldonado Vite had chosen for her factual report. Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, Mexico’s Secretary of Culture, furthermore hailed the sculpture as proof that women actively participated in governance of the Huasteca. This acceptance of interpreting this Huastec female sculpture as a ruler is a significant reversal of how such works have been interpreted until recently: as the goddess Tlazolteotl. It reflects the impact of recent research on the Huasteca. In this lecture, I assess the reception and interpretation of this monument by placing it in the context of the larger corpus of Huastec sculptures and argue that it indeed should be interpreted as representing the Huastec governing elite class.

September 13, 2021
Speaker: Jesper Nielsen, Associate Professor and Head of Studies, Department of Cross Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen
Title: Connecting the Dots: Tracing Teotihuacan's Imperial Presence in Early Classic Mesoamerica

In this talk, Dr. Nielsen will discuss current knowledge of what may have been the largest empire in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican history – controlled from the sprawling capital of Teotihuacan in the central Mexican highlands. For the past 20 years, this has formed one of Dr. Nielsen's own research topics, beginning with an examination of the spread of Teotihuacan iconography into the Maya area in the late 4th century. In the past decade Dr. Nielsen has been involved in work on Teotihuacan-style iconography in other parts of Mesoamerica, in particular the present-day states of Queretaro, Michoacan and Guerrero, and what has become increasingly clear is that Teotihuacan presence has left us with traces of an imperial iconography with a standardized repertoire of motifs related to warfare and conquest. The contours of a more complete image of a vast empire thus begin to emerge. At the same time, new findings at Teotihuacan itself adds to our understanding of how the metropolis attracted people from several of the provinces, revealing a highly complex interaction sphere between the centralized imperial power and some of its most distant enclaves.

April 12, 2021
Speaker: Andrew Finegold, University of Illinois at Chicago
Metonymy in Mesoamerican Art

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Description: In ancient Mesoamerica, images often directly responded to the forms, materials, or functions of their supports, or otherwise implicated their physical and social situatedness. In pointing to their contexts, such images can be understood as indexical according to the system of signs developed by Charles Sanders Peirce, but the close relationship between an image and its material conditions can also be classified as metonymical. Metonymy refers to expressions of contiguity or association; it is an additive form of expression, arising from adjacency in the same way that meaning is created grammatically through the combination of sequential terms in a phrase. In the elaboration of existing grounds with imagery deemed appropriate to them—and especially in the construction of teixiptlameh as embodiments of numinous forces—Mesoamerican artists regularly pursued an additive, associative practice of image making. This talk will argue that metonymy was more than a particularly favored representational trope in Mesoamerica, and that its consistent deployment can be directly linked to the ontology of images within an indigenous worldview.

March 24, 2021
Speaker: Vera Tiesler, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida
Heads, Skulls, and Sacred Scaffolds: New Insights on Late Maya Ritual Practices at Chichén Itzá (and Beyond)

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Description: Although violence has been abundantly recorded in Maya iconography, only the last two decades of scholarship have seen methodological and interpretive strides towards a more nuanced study of ancient sacrificial practices involving humans. Recent revisions of the human mortuary record of Chichén Itzá has allowed the reconstruction of distinct sacrificial sequences. In this talk, Vera Tiesler, Research Professor and Coordinator of Bioarchaeology Laboratory, will review different choreographies of ritual slaughter by way of decapitation and/or heart extraction. Each procedure provides cues regarding the ceremonial devices and reifies ancient Maya concepts of the human body as a cosmic model and conduit. The talk will finalize with a number of thoughts regarding the shifts that led to the massification of ritualized violence and body display past the Maya collapse, as showcased at Chichén Itzá. Yucatán, and four other late Maya urban centers.

March 9, 2021
George Lau, University of East Anglia, Norwich
An Offering Context at Pashash (A.D. 200-600): Camelid Imagery and the Lordly Commitment in the Ancient Andes

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Description: For studying early Andean peoples when camelids became increasingly incorporated into social and political life, there is perhaps no better case than the Recuay culture (ca. AD 1 - 700) of ancient Peru. Recent investigations at the site of Pashash (Ancash) uncovered an offering cache including fired clay camelid objects, in the form of pendants, an effigy vessel and small figurines. The items and the context provide important evidence for new engagements, physical and conceptual, with camelids during the Recuay period. In particular, they were among the earliest expressions of lordly ‘commitment’ to camelids as wealth, and their depiction on portable valuables emphasizes their public ceremonial use in feasts and sacrificial offerings. The camelid items indicate that herded camelids became resources for noble identity and authority in northern Peru, and were increasingly seen as crucial for community well-being and social reproduction.

March 5, 2020
Ellen Hoobler, William B. Ziff, Jr. Associate Curator of the Art of the Americas, Walters Art Museum
Smoothing the Path for Rough Stones: The Formation and Disposition of the Arensburg Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, ca. 1910–1950

From 1911 to 1954, Louise and Walter Arensberg formed one of the most important groupings of pre-Columbian art in the United States—a collection that is almost unknown today. Collecting at the same time as Robert Woods Bliss, the Arensbergs were also enthusiasts of modern art (and close friends of Marcel Duchamp), and the popularity of their modern collection has over time eclipsed the ancient American works they acquired. The couple began collecting pre-Columbian works in New York in the 1910s, dramatically accelerated their acquisitions in Hollywood from the late 1930s through the early 1950s, and donated their treasures to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at their deaths in 1953/54. While for decades, many of their works languished in the PMA’s storerooms, recently they have begun to be exhibited in the museums of Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. This talk will outline the types of objects that the Arensbergs helped popularize, such as playful West Mexican ceramics, elegantly shaped ballgame paraphernalia, and especially rough stone Aztec pieces.

January 30, 2020
Elena Phipps, Lecturer, World Arts and Culture, UCLA; Senior Museum Scholar, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Andean Textile Traditions: Materials, Materiality, and Culture

May 10, 2019
Richard Diehl, Professor Emeritus, University of Alabama
Water in Ancient Mesoamerican Life and Cosmovision

April 4, 2019
Thomas B. F. Cummins, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Art, Harvard University
Chiminigagua’s Luminous and Resplendent World: The Art and Architecture of the Muisca

March 14, 2019
Robert M. Rosenswig, Associate Professor, University at Albany–SUNY
Discovering the Entire Izapa Kingdom with Lidar

December 6, 2018
Jennifer Loughmiller-Cardinal, PhD Candidate, University at Albany–SUNY
How Do You Make an Iguana Tamale?

October 30, 2018
Rex Koontz, Professor of Art History, University of Houston
Classic Central Veracruz Art in Mesoamerican Art History

September 12, 2018
Lisa Trever, Lisa and Bernard Selz Associate Professor in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology, Columbia University
Pre-Columbian Art History in the Age of the Wall

April 12, 2018
Sarahh Scher, Visiting Lecturer, Salem State University
Images in a World without Words: Questioning the Canon in Moche Studies

February 15, 2018
Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson Curator of Ancient American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
From the Heart of the Andes: On the Making of Golden Kingdoms

December 13, 2017
Lawrence Waldron, Assistant Adjunct Professor, City University of New York
The Archipelago and the Arc of Time: Continuities across 2,000 Years of Pre-Columbian Caribbean Art

November 9, 2017
Megan O’Neil, Associate Curator of Art of the Ancient Americas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Touch and Tactility in Ancient Maya Art

October 26, 2017
Terence N. D’Altroy, Loubat Professor of American Archaeology and Director of the Center for Archaeology, Columbia University
Cosmic Order and Inka Rule

September 14, 2017
Andrew D. Turner, Postdoctoral Associate in the Art of the Ancient Americas, Yale University Art Gallery
Migration or Imitation? The Anomalous Appearance of Maya-Style Murals at the Central Mexican Site of Cacaxtla

April 13, 2017
Mary E. Miller, Sterling Professor of History of Art and Senior Director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Yale University
Were They Enslaved? Maya Figurines from Jaina and Beyond

March 9, 2017
Jeffrey Quilter, William and Muriel Seabury Howells Director, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University
Tales of the Moche Kings and Queens: The Lords and Ladies of the Northern Deserts of Peru

December 8, 2016
Caitlin Earley, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Reno
To Have and to Hold: Captive Bodies and Captive Power in Ancient Maya Art

November 10, 2016
Heidi King, Faculty of Humanities and Sciences, The Cooper Union; formerly of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Group of Inka Miniatures in Gold and Silver from the Far South Coast of Peru

October 13, 2016
Barbara Mundy, Professor of Art History, Fordham University
The Fate of the Sacred Book of the Ancient Americas

September 8, 2016
Anna Blume, Professor of the History of Art, Fashion Institute of Technology–SUNY
Ancient Architecture in the Mississippi Valley: Monumentality Seen and Unseen

April 14, 2016
James Doyle, Assistant Curator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Creation Narratives on Ancient Maya Codex-Style Ceramics in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

March 10, 2016
Lois Martin, Independent Scholar
The Coatlicues as Chicomecoatls: Rattlesnakes, Corn & Aztec Science

February 11, 2016
Timothy W. Pugh, Professor of Anthropology, Queens College / The Grad Center–CUNY
An Ancient Grid Plan among the Ancient Maya at Nixtun-Ch’ich’, Peten, Guatemala

November 18, 2015
Justin Kerr, Independent Scholar and creator of the Maya Vase Database
The Many Faces of Hun Ajaw and Yax Balam

October 15, 2015
Amanda Gannaway, Lecturer in Discipline, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Wendell Bennett and the Search for Middle Chimú

September 10, 2015
Eloise Quiñones-Keber, Professor Emerita, The Grad Center–CUNY / Baruch College
Tradition and Invention in the Deity Images of the Florentine Codex