Dancing in the watery past : mythical history and performative architecture in the Palace of Palenque
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This thesis analyzes a series of stucco reliefs that decorate the piers of House D of the Palace of Palenque, a Classic Maya city in modern Chiapas, Mexico. Each of the five extant piers of House D depict pairs of individuals facing each other and engaged in what appears to be ritual performances associated with dance and sacrifice. I rely on an iconographic analysis of the reliefs of House D and on a reading of the architecture in relation to the surrounding built environment in order to reconstruct ancient patterns of viewership. I argue that the reliefs of House D of the Palace present a royal narrative where myth and history are fused, and that this combination is validated through ritual performance. The integration of mythical and historical narratives is transmitted through the ruler's enactment of past events that take place in a watery environment signifying the mythical origins of the city of Palenque. This performative narrative at the same time reproduces and perpetuates the actual ceremonies that took place in and around the building, specifically in the monumental stairway and in the ceremonial plaza that flank the building on its western margin. The dynastic messages embedded in the narrative of the piers, and its incorporation into the performances associated with the building, serve to promote the military accomplishments and the political legitimacy of a new ruling dynasty, initiated by the king of Palenque K'inich Janab Pakal, who is the main figure portrayed on the reliefs.