Maya Carvings Tell of 2 Superpowers. At the NYT.

Fascinating. The article notes that the full story is coming out in the next ish of National Geographic, which probably means lotsa cool pix too.

I studied the heck outta mesoamerican culture and history (what was known at the time) at the end of college, around ’89 or so; back then they were just beginning to conclude that the collapse of the Maya economy which largely ended the imperial culture that built the great pyramids was the result of some terrible interregnum of war.

I remember writing a paper hypothesizing that whatever intensified the conflicts between the various city-states (warfare was embedded in most of the mesoamerican culture’s religious practices, which required high-ranking captives for various purposes, among them sacrifice), the intensification had resulted in the implementation of a “total war” footing, in which the food-growing populace, apparently not always required to participate in wafare because combat was a restricted perogative of the aristocracy, was mobilized and used to attack and destroy the food producing resources of an enemy state.

I was just speculating after some of the first lay-press publications of findings associated with Caracol and Dos Pilas, if memory serves.

See, here’s the thing I’m not sure about. Historically, the people that make war get to write about it, and they kinda neglect the people who provide the real body of the forces employed. Thus, it’s Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and Hannibal crossing the Alps and Alexander in India.

We know that Caesar and Hannibal and Alexander had many thousands of people with them, so it’s OK to leave them out, in shorthand. I wonder if my assumption in that old paper, that poor people were added to the war in a racheting up of the warfare’s intensity, might not be based in part on taking the Mayan kings’ words about themselves and their conflicts at face value.

I don’t know for sure; but I do know that since I was in school, Central American pot and hut archaeology has increased partly because certain governments, such as Guatemala’s, have ceased to actively discourage it.

In my understanding of the situation, that is because the Guatemalan government of the 1980s saw hut archaeology as an activity with dangerous revolutionary undertones. Don’t want to educate the peasants about how well off they were before Columbus, no sir. And we sure don’t want to uncover archeological evidence of either warfare in which farmers led the way or of rebellions in which they changed the kings. No sir.