At the edge of the Maya world : power, politics, and identity in monuments from the Comitán Valley, Chiapas, Mexico
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In the Comitán Valley of Chiapas, Mexico, several large Maya centers flourished in the Late Classic (600-900 CE) and Early Postclassic (900-1250 CE) periods. These centers left behind monumental architecture, elaborate burials, and over fifty inscribed stone monuments. This project represents the first comprehensive study of those monuments, combining art historical analysis with archaeological data to reconstruct the history of sites in this area. This analysis reveals that ancient Maya centers in the Comitán Valley participated in widespread Maya customs of artistic representation, but they did so using local styles and iconographic motifs. The resulting artistic programs are innovative and profoundly local, and they provide a point of access into concepts of identity in different Maya centers. The monuments of Tenam Puente, for example, revolve around militarism, while the sculptures of Chinkultic emphasize ritual and history, pointing to the role of the site as the dynastic center of the eastern Comitán Valley. The sculptures of the Comitán Valley offer unique insight into the history of the region, but they also provide a new perspective on the creation of regional iconography, the role of frontier sites in Maya politics, and the diversity of ancient Maya art. The eclectic artistic programs of sites in the Comitán Valley are the result of the active appropriation and reformulation of broad artistic concepts. Analysis of this corpus reveals political affiliations and evidence of warfare, suggesting that frontier centers like those in the Comitán Valley were involved in the complex sociopolitical dynamics of the western Maya area. When many other centers were abandoned at the end of the Classic period, moreover, sites of the Comitán Valley continued to thrive; the breakage and re-use of monuments in this era sheds light on the changing role of Maya sculpture in the Postclassic period. Finally, the sculptures of the Comitán Valley point to the diversity of ancient Maya art. From the appropriation of Central Mexican motifs to the curation of ancestor figures associated with caves, sites in this area exhibit a variety of approaches to the creation and display of sculpture.