The Monkey Scribe OnLine

The Maya Society of Minnesota (MSM) for over 35 years has promoted study of the ancient and modern Maya. Our vision is that people have the opportunity to appreciate the Maya and to celebrate and respect their culture and history. Monthly programs and lectures on the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures are supported by annual memberships and are open to the public. The society also cooperates with and supports schools and other arts and cultural organizations in community education programs.  The Maya Society of Minnesota adheres to the Society for American Archaeology Principles of Archaeological Ethics.

Sign up HERE!

Upcoming Events

Volume XXXX, Number 1 - FALL 2017

Program Year 2017-18 features an exceptional series of high quality and informative lectures. Our programming is one of the hidden secrets of the metropolitan area. Please join us in exploring Ancient and Modern Mesoamerica with some of its most accomplished scholars and cultural experts.

September- Stephanie Strauss, PhD Candidate: University of Texas at Austin

On Friday evening, Stephanie Strauss will give us a glimpse of one of the important sites of early Mesoamerica, Tak’alik Ab’aj. The site is noted for its beautiful monumental artworks. The Saturday morning session will be a memorable opportunity to hear about Stephanie’s research related to the earliest [hieroglyphic] writing systems of MesoAmerica. Don’t miss it.

Lecture: Friday, September 22, 2017, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Between Worlds: The Olmec, the Maya, and the Sculpture of Tak'alik Ab'aj

Located at a crossroads between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Maya highlands, the Pacific slope city of Tak'alik Ab'aj boasts an elaborate corpus of monumental sculpture. This oeuvre of public art displays a masterful manipulation of stone, as well as a keen understanding of contemporaneous visual culture traditions. This talk will explore the wide variety of material expression found in the stone sculpture of Tak'alik Ab'aj, from the so-called early Olmec-style monuments, to later Maya-style carvings, to the works of art that both resonate with Tak'alik Ab'aj's neighboring centers and evidence a local style all its own.


Saturday workshop - September 23, 2017, 9:00 am - Noon (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

Monuments on the Edge: Mesoamerica's Sculptural Traditions at the Close of the Formative Era

This workshop is designed to develop visual literacy in the monumental traditions of Late to Terminal Formative Mesoamerica (400 BCE to AD 250). During this era, stone sculptures begin to shift from more three-dimensional forms to flatter, inscribable surfaces -- a nod to the recent development of several complex and competing hieroglyphic writing systems. We will explore the stylistic differences between regional sculptural traditions -- from the Zapotec to the Epi-Olmec to the Maya -- as well as attempt to decipher some of the earliest public inscriptions known from ancient Mesoamerica.


October- Dr. Tomás Barrientos Quezada, Chair of Archaeology: Universidad del Valle de Guatemala

Dr. Tomás Barrientos Quezada will walk us through the rivalries and relationships of the Maya Game of Thrones. The K’aanul Dynasty was the closest the Maya came to empire. Each of the lectures will present different aspects how this played out. Both of these are important programs to the understanding of Tikal and Calakmul and the Late Classic Southern Lowlands.

Lecture: Friday, October 20, 2017, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Drew Science Center 118)

Sak Nikte’ and the Snake Kingdom: A tale of conquests, queens and political resilience of the Classic Maya

Recent archaeological discoveries and epigraphic interpretations at the site of La Corona (Sak Nikte’) in Guatemala, have revealed new data concerning the rise and expansion of the K’aanul Dynasty (Snake Kingdom) during the VI and VII centuries C.E., which has led to some experts to interpret it as the first empire of Classic Maya Civilization. The Snake Kingdom was originally settled in Dzibanche and later on, it moved its capital to the monumental center of Calakmul. During this process, the small center of Sak Nikte’ played an important role as a key ally, becoming the seat of various princesses that married the local kings at La Corona. However, even with the decline of the Snake Kingdom in the mid VIII century C.E., Sak Nikte’ managed to thrive when other allied cities suffered military losses or abandonment processes.

Image: Reconstruction of La Corona in 750 C.E., Drawing by Julian González, courtesy of PACUNAM

Saturday workshop - October 21, 2017, 9:00 am - Noon (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

The Rise and Fall of the K’aanul Dynasty: A Lowland Classic Maya Empire?

This workshop will address in detail all the archaeological and epigraphic data related to the K’aanul Dynasty, since its Late Preclassic origins, to the initial expansion of Dzibanche and final consolidation at Calakmul. These data has been gathered from different sites such as La Corona, El Perú-Waka’, Holmul, Xunantunich, Caracol, Uxul, Cancuen and Tikal, among others, evidencing an unprecedented political expansion and hegemony not seen in any other Classic Maya kingdom before. Data interpretation and discussion will include the following topics: the suggested origins of the K’aanul in El Mirador region; the initial conquests by the Dzibanche rulers; the rivalry between Dzibanche and Calakmul; the role of Yuknoom Ch’een in the major expansion of the K’aanul; and the processes surrounding the decline of the K’aanul after its defeat by Tikal.

Image: La Corona Element 3. Portrait of K’aanul ruler, Yuknoom Ch’en, 635 C.E., Photo by La Corona Archaeological Project

November - Dr. Katherine Miller Wolf, Assistant Professor of Anthropology: Indiana University East

On Friday evening, Dr. Katherine Miller Wolf will leave no bone unturned as she helps us with the forensic science used in understanding the Ancient Maya. On Saturday, Dr. Miller Wolf will explore royal burials of Copan and give us a hands-on experience in the analytical process of investigation of skeletal remains.

Lecture: Friday, November 10, 2017, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Perspectives of Life and Death in Mesoamerica from Skeletal Remains

The human skeleton is a unique component of the archaeological record in that it documents one’s life history. From the skeleton, we can potentially tell where a person was born, what they chose to eat, their general health, if they were ever seriously ill or injured, to whom they were related, their social status, if they were subject to violence or warfare, their profession, and possibly, how they died. All of these facets of a person’s life are found in the chemical, biological, and physical parts of the remains and provide a rare window into the past. As such, the lines of evidence drawn from the human body can inform us about the social, political, and economic structures of the expansive and complex ancient Maya society of Central America (AD 250-900) in ways that can add to what we know from material culture. Yet, one major challenge associated with studying human remains endures. Despite the plethora of information in the skeleton, the tropical jungles of the Maya region quickly deteriorates delicate bones resulting in poor preservation thereby making analysis difficult. As such, innovative analytical techniques have been necessitated and increasingly employed. Most notably, bioarchaeological approaches have combined methods from archaeology, physical anthropology, chemistry, and biology to access new sources of data that add to our understanding of ancient Maya civilization. This talk will highlight some of these techniques as they have been applied to understand the people that once lived in the kingdom of Copan, Honduras and select other sites within Mesoamerica.

Saturday workshop - November 11, 2017, 9:00 am - Noon (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

How to Decipher the Details of Skeletal Remains from Ancient Burials and Tombs

This workshop will highlight several analytical techniques employed to decipher the remains of those entombed in Copan’s Acropolis, including the Margarita, Hunal, and Oropéndola tombs and within the surrounding neighborhoods of the ancient site. Participants will work hands-on with skeletal remains to understand how bioarchaeologists analyze skeletons for age, sex, pathology, habitual behaviors, and body modification.

December - Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Assistant Curator of Native American Art: Minneapolis Institute of Art

Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe will bring her extraordinary research of Navajo Textiles and the social life of weaving in contemporary Navajo communities to this lecture. Her presentation will include threads of the broad impact of Navajo commerce and culture as far north as local 19th century Great plains communities.

Lecture: Friday, December 1, 2017, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Drew Science Center 118)

Blanketing the Plains: Navajo Chief Blankets in Indian Country

In the 19th century, a Navajo creative force swept through the Great Plains communities like no other. This lecture reveals how Hanoolchaadi, or Chief Blankets, became one of the most desired objects of commerce across the Plains, Great Basin, Plateau and throughout the Southwest, and fully integrated into established forms of adornment for many non-Navajo communities.

Image: Lakota woman and child with a First Phase Navajo Chief Blanket among tipis at the camp at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Earl's Court, England, UK, ca. 1892, collection of the Denver Public Library. Nate Salsbury Collection, NS-422. Photo: A.R. Dressers

Volume XXXX, Number 2 - WINTER/SPRING 2018

January- Dr. Manuel Aguilar-Moreno: California State University 

Lecture: Friday, January 26, 2018, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Frida and Diego

Saturday workshop - January 27, 2018, 9:00 am - Noon (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

Ulama, Contemporary Mexican Ballgame

February - Kaylee Spencer: University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Maline Werness-Rude: Ventura College

Lecture: Friday, April 6, 2018, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Critical Steps: Staircases and Design in the Architecture of the Northern Maya Lowlands

Ancient Maya stone architecture tends to follow relatively consistent, predictable patterns. Many structures have a single, clear facade. That this is conceptualized as a literal face is made explicit in a number of instances. Architects at early Classic Tikal emblazoned buildings with multiple facemasks, for instance, while later Puuc, Chenes, and Rio Bec builders made their temple superstructures into massive monsters whose toothy maws engulf the viewer upon entrance. Stairways are integral elements that contribute to the ideas of facing, both literally and metaphorically, and if a second face is defined it must necessarily face towards something. Thus, steps are, in one way or another, critical to the visual identity of the majority of Maya sites. Most scholarly attention focused on ancient Maya staircases considers their hieroglyphic texts and patronage in relation to dynastic agendas and historical chronologies, or as infrastructure that supported elaborate ceremonies and their conspicuous display.

The present work acknowledges the importance of steps in relation to the broad categories of inquiry just described while characterizing common approaches to ancient staircase design in the Northern Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Along with describing some basic staircase design typologies in the Northern Maya Lowlands, we examine how staircases can create visual alignments between buildings even as they facilitate dialogues across groups of structures. Furthermore, we begin to explore how discrete design factors, including differences in stair types, riser heights, vantage points, and other formal qualities impact the viewer’s experience of space and performance. Ultimately such work suggests particular performative aspects of staircase design, not only as it affects participant movement, and external views thereof, but also as it relates to plaza construction and other aspects of urban framing and experiential positioning.

March- Norman Hammond (tentative)

April- Dr. Mary Jane Acuña: Director of the El Tintal Archaeological Project and Research Associate at Washington University in St. Louis

Lecture: Friday, April 6, 2018, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

The archaeology of El Tintal, Petén, Guatemala: a little known, large ancient Maya city

Located in northern Petén, Guatemala, only 23 km from the famous site of El Mirador, El Tintal spreads over approximately 11.6 sq. km., includes over 1,100 structures, and is characterized by a complex hydraulic system. Traditionally referenced as a Preclassic (ca. 800 B.C. – A.D. 150) site, the occupation ran well into the Late Classic Period (A.D. 500 – 800). In this presentation, we will review El Tintal’s cultural and political context from the Preclassic through the Late Classic Periods with results from four years of archaeological research at the site by the El Tintal Archaeological Project.


Saturday workshop - April 7, 2018, 9:00 am - Noon (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

A Preclassic Maya Watery World in Northern Petén, Guatemala

Recent investigations in northern and northwestern Petén are providing more evidence that suggests the region and environment were a lot wetter than previously understood. Using evidence from archaeology, iconography, paleoenvironmental studies, survey, GIS analysis and modeling, we can re-evaluate the early settlements, the human adaptation to the natural landscape, and Preclassic Maya geopolitics.

Images: 3D northwestern perspective of the civic-ceremonial core of El Tintal with the Triadic Group in the back (survey and map by C.R. Chiriboga) / View of Pyramid Catzin rising over the canopy. It is one of three monumental buildings at El Tintal with views extending as far as El Mirador and other sites (Photo by M.J. Acuña).

April - Chief Leonel Chevez (tentative)

Lecture: Friday, April 27, 2018, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 100e)

Questions? Contact the Maya Society at or 952-542-9851 (Tom Olson), 651-221-4576 (Ed Fleming), 612-963-8857 (Molly Tun).