Volume 90, Issue 3 p. 547-567

Kingship in the Late Preclassic Maya Lowlands: The Instruments and Places of Ritual Power

David A. Freidel

David A. Freidel

Southern Methodist University

David A. Freidel is Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275.

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Linda Schele

Linda Schele

University of Texas

Linda SCHELE is Professor, Department of Art History, the University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712.

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First published: September 1988
Citations: 71

Abstract

The Maya of Central America constitute the only truly literate pre-Columbian civilization. Analysis of ancient Maya hieroglyphic texts and accompanying images dating from the Classic period (A.D. 200–900) documents the presence of a central and pervasive institution of governance: ahaw. The material symbol systems of the Lowland Maya of the protoliterate Late Preclassic period (350 B.C.-A.D. 100), as evinced in monumental decorated buildings and in portable art, suggest that these Maya innovated ahaw, the institution of kingship. The authority of ahaw rested upon direct descent and spiritual communion with the ancestors of all Maya, the Ancestral Heroes. Along with noble lineage, ahaw claimed charismatic power through the performance of shamanistic ritual. The Late Preclassic antecedents of the shamanistic parameters of ahaw are discussed in light of Classic and Postclassic ritual expressions.