Ancient Maya Civilization: A Six Part Course with Dr. Erlend Johnson

Ancient Maya Civilization: A Six Part Course with Dr. Erlend Johnson


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Join Maya archaeologist Dr. Erlend Johnson on this deep dive into the Ancient Maya's culture, achievements, and major archaeological sites. 

The Maya – who occupied portions of modern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – are known for creating the most sophisticated writing system of pre-Columbian Americas, sophisticated astronomical systems, impressive pyramids, and beautiful art. 

Each lecture in this series will explore a distinct aspect of this civilization, including the rise in complexity of the first Maya kingdoms, the everyday lives of commoners, Maya cities, political organization, Maya economies, and the collapse and reformation of ancient Maya cities.  Each topic will be accompanied by an in-depth case study from a specific site that illustrates the theme.  

Led by Maya archaeologist Dr. Erlend Johnson, this interactive seminar will give participants a broad background on both the achievements and history of the Ancient Maya civilization. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased knowledge of both cutting-edge research on the Maya world broadly and about potential archaeological sites to visit more specifically. 

Lecture 1 – The Origins of the Maya: El Mirador

The first class will examine the geography of the Maya world and the rise of the first complex Maya centers over 2000 years ago.  Participants will learn cutting-edge theories about how and why the first large-scale Maya temples and cities were built.  These themes will be explored in greater depth with specific reference to the city of El Mirador in northern Guatemala. Despite its early age, El Mirador continues some of the largest pyramids and most impressive infrastructural works in the Maya lowland area.  

Lecture 2 – Maya Commoners’ Everyday Life and Agriculture: Ceren

The vast majority of the Maya were commoners, and their work as farmers and laborers was the economic base, which supported the cultural achievements of the elite.  This lecture will explore Maya agricultural practices, commoner households, and rural life.  These themes will be explored in greater depth through the case study of Ceren in El Salvador.  Ceren is labeled the Pompeii of the New World as a volcanic eruption around AD 600 buried it.  The exceptional preservation of this small village provides unique insights into everyday life among the Maya. 

Lecture 3 – Tropical Cities and Low-Density Urbanism: Tikal

Classic period (AD 200-900) cities reached sizes of up to 75,000 inhabitants and hosted impressive works of infrastructure and architecture.  This lecture will explore the Maya's unique, low-density form of urbanism.  Specifically, we will examine the case study of Tikal in Guatemala, which was one of the Maya world's largest cities. Tikal is of particular note due to its developed market area, system of reservoirs, and set of large defensive walls.  In addition to its impressive temples and palaces, these make it a site anyone interested in the Maya must visit.  

Lecture 4 – Divine Kings, Political Organization of the Maya: The Kaan Kingdom

This lecture will explore the political organization of the Maya during the Classic period (AD 200-900). Maya divine kings were celebrated on the hieroglyphic stela, lived in opulent palaces, and buried in rich tombs. Until recently, many argued that the Maya were organized in city-states. However, new research is uncovering more extensive regional powers, such as the Kaan kingdom centered on the site of Calakmul in southern Mexico.  The Kaan kingdom united a group of allied, lesser kings in surrounding sites against its mortal enemy Tikal. 

Lecture 5 – The Economic Organization of the Maya World: Cancuen

The economic organization of the Maya is much debated, with recent research emphasizing the role of merchants and markets in both long-distance and local exchanges.  This lecture will explore how the Maya economies worked and what goods were exchanged over long distances.  We will examine the site for Cancuen in Guatemala during the second half of the course in greater depth. Cancuen was a strategic river port between the highland source of Jade, one of the Maya's most valuable goods, and many lowland cities. Because of this, it provides unique insights on long-distance Maya exchange.   

Lecture 6 – Collapse and Cultural Reformation: Chichen Itza

During the final lecture, we will explore the collapse of the Classic Maya from A.D. 800-900 when most major cities were abandoned and subsequent cultural reorganizations and reformation in the Postclassic period (A.D. 900-1500).  The Maya collapse was a complex, drawn-out affair that may have included multiple causes. We will look at the site of Chichen Itza in more depth as a case study for this class as Chichen Itza was one of the few sites to survive the collapse and prosper into the Postclassic period.  Chichen Itza survived this regional collapse due to new forms of government, appeals to foreign ideologies, and a location on emerging trade routes.

Erlend Johnson is an anthropological archaeologist interested in Mesoamerican political organization. He earned his P.hD in Anthropology from Tulane University in 2018, where he currently teaches.His research focuses on the integrative strategies of the Copan polity in the Classic period (AD 200-900) and the changing ways that this intrusive, lowland Maya style polity interacted with and integrated surrounding non-Maya populations over the duration of the Classic period. From 2011-2016 He directed the Proyecto Arqueologico Regional Cucuyagua Sensenti (PARCS) as part of his dissertation research. He has previously completed field research and thesis on Taino landscape utilization in the Dominican Republic for his Mphil at Leiden University.

How does it work?

This is a six-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $210 for six lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording after the event.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 7 reviews
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(7)
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A
Anonymous (Porto Alegre, BR)

Guest did not leave comment

T
Trish (Austin, US)
Thoughtful, smart, and engaging

Dr. Johnson is engaging, smart, and careful. He didn't just give his judgment on issues (although his judgment is deeply informed), but gave the larger context of the various scholarly disagreements. And he made those disagreements interesting!

C
Charlotte (Sunnyvale, US)
Enjoying every minute

While we haven't quite finished the series, I can say that it has been amazing. Dr. Johnson specializes in the Maya, and it is reflected in the depth of his presentations. I have always been fascinated by Maya civilization, but hearing from an expert in the field is a revelation. I can't recommend it enough for those who want to go deeper into this ancient civilization.

A
Anonymous (Porto Alegre, BR)

Guest did not leave comment

A
Anonymous (Porto Alegre, BR)

Guest did not leave comment

Customer Reviews

Based on 7 reviews
100%
(7)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
A
Anonymous (Porto Alegre, BR)

Guest did not leave comment

T
Trish (Austin, US)
Thoughtful, smart, and engaging

Dr. Johnson is engaging, smart, and careful. He didn't just give his judgment on issues (although his judgment is deeply informed), but gave the larger context of the various scholarly disagreements. And he made those disagreements interesting!

C
Charlotte (Sunnyvale, US)
Enjoying every minute

While we haven't quite finished the series, I can say that it has been amazing. Dr. Johnson specializes in the Maya, and it is reflected in the depth of his presentations. I have always been fascinated by Maya civilization, but hearing from an expert in the field is a revelation. I can't recommend it enough for those who want to go deeper into this ancient civilization.

A
Anonymous (Porto Alegre, BR)

Guest did not leave comment

A
Anonymous (Porto Alegre, BR)

Guest did not leave comment