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.

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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.

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)

Controversial History of Chocolate in Mexico

The purpose of this talk is to provide an overview of the history of chocolate in Mexico from the pre-columbian times to the present. I will speak about a few cases of the role played by the cacao or chocolate in the colonial society of Mexico. The cases will show us the continuities of some of the attributions and meanings of the appreciated commodity that Latin America, and particularly Mexico, gave to the world as part of a complex process of transculturation. The first case deals with the image of a monkey hanging from a cacao tree in a paradisiacal garden. It was painted in about 1550 in one of the walls of the cloister of the Augustinian Monastery of Malinalco, by indigenous tlacuilos directed by the monks.  The second case of study is the analysis of a manuscript entitled Acerca del Chocolate, which is a treatise that discusses whether the chocolate breaks the ecclesiastical fast. It is attributed to an anonymous Spanish Carmelite theologian friar writing in Rome, Italy about the issue, in response to the inquiry of either a Monsignor or a Bishop living in Mexico, approximately in 1730. The manuscript was formerly owned by Mexican historian Federico Gómez de Orozco, and is kept as Manuscript 426 (MSS 426) in the Library of the University of California, San Diego. The third case is the analysis of the meaning of a dramatic sculpture located in a side chapel of the Cathedral of Mexico City, known as “The Christ of the Cacao.” Finally, the fourth case is an incident that happened in the Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas, in which the consumption of cacao led to murder.

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

Ulama: A Survival of the Mesoamerican Game

Ulama, the distinctively Mesoamerican ballgame, has a history dating back 3500 years. The game was such an integral part of the society, that nearly 2000 ballcourts have been reported in the territory extending from the American Southwest to El Salvador. The institution was complex and carried diverse meanings and functions, such as: portal to the Underworld, the setting for reenactments of cosmic battles between celestial bodies, fertility rituals, warfare ceremonies, political affirmation of kingship, setting for human sacrifices, etc. The central importance of the ballgame is attested to by the fact that is clearly portrayed in the art of the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, Toltec and Aztec and was an important element in a pan-Mesoamerican cosmovision. The Spanish immediately recognized that the ballgame was a great deal more significant than merely recreation and so vigorously suppressed its playing. Interestingly, a modern form of the ancient game, known as Ulama, has survived in a small number of remote communities outside of the city of Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico.  Between 2003 and 2010, I led a multi-disciplinary investigation about Ulama that involved 8 Cal State L.A. students. The study focused on the history, folklore, and the social significance and cultural context of the game. This lecture presents some of the results of our research project.

Workshop: Making Ulama Rubber Balls

Immediately after the lecture, we will have a hands on activity to do experimental rubber balls similar to the ones of Ulama (active participation in the workshop is limited to 20-25 persons). 

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

Lecture: Friday, February 16, 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- Dr. Adam Kaeding, Archaeology Manager, 106 Group

Lecture: Friday, March 16, 2018, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Drew Science 118)

Colonial Maya Negotiation: Cultural Survival and Adaptation on the Yucatán Frontier

The Spanish conquest of the Maya provides one of the classic scenes of colonialism. This epic event has long been depicted with stories of intrepid missionaries and fearless conquistadors dedicated to the arduous yet noble task of carving civilization out of the savage jungles and its unenlightened residents. More recently, people have presented this story from the opposite perspective; featuring the fierce resistance launched by a proud, complex, and advanced civilization against the invasion of a rapacious army of marauders lusting for gold. While elements of both versions are rooted in historical fact and evident in the archaeological record, neither perspective sufficiently tells the story of the colonial period Maya. Realities of the colonial period– including the widespread, sincere, and sometimes rapid adoption of certain Spanish traits and customs; as well as the survival, proliferation, and adaptation of ancient Maya practices and traditions – insist that the process was far more nuanced. Using archaeological and historical examples from an understudied frontier region of the Yucatán Peninsula, this talk introduces how a system of negotiation highlighting daily interactions between individuals of both Maya and Spanish descent functioned as a critical element of colonial life for centuries.

Saturday workshop - March 17, 2018, 9:00 am - Noon (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

History and Archaeology: A Complimentary Approach

Standard archaeological signatures of colonialism in Yucatán are often ephemeral, especially outside of colonial population centers like Merida and Valladolid. Likewise, frontier areas are often underrepresented in historical records. A decades-long military conflict that consumed the region starting in 1847 resulted in a scarred and reshaped landscape as well as the intentional destruction of vast collections of written documents. Finally, partly due to the lasting effects of that conflict, archaeological researchers long avoided the area, focusing instead on coastal sites to the north, east, and west, or the jungle sites to the south. This workshop will explore some of the ways that historical and archaeological evidence are used to bolster each other in order to populate the historical landscape much more fully than either field can do alone.

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: Drew Science 118)

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

Lecture: Friday, April 27, 2018, 7:00 pm (Hamline: Drew Science 118)

Lenca Cosmovison: Aku and the Lords and Ladies Sky Holders

The Lenca lands today include the modern republics of Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and small enclaves in Costa Rica such as Sarapike , and in Panama - Veraguas, where one kingdom called Managuara. The Lenca have a long history that according to caves and symbolism, dates back to paleolithic times. They have evolved in culture and governance that started in mythical times and continues today. It is the only hereditary chiefdom in Central America. The Chief will deliver a master class to unpack what he refers to as "Managuara the Great".  He will make reference to the sacred Macaw or Guara, who in the beginning nested above Managuara, instructing the royal clan on how to organize the kingdom, the measurements of its land, the distribution of land and power through the council called Guancasco.

Saturday workshop - April 28, 2018, 9:00 am - Noon (Hamline: Giddens Learning Center 6s, the Anthro Lab)

Contemporary Lenca Cultural and Political Dialogue

The Lenca chief is a regular contributer to cultural and political dialogue with the Lencas globally and Latin American governments needing an indigenous opinion on relevant issues. He also is a strong advocate for human rights, social cohesion and environmental protection. From exile in Australia he coordinates his initiatives for lencas by lencas. He is currently completing his specialization in internacional security and Terrorism studies. As a Chief of Noble descend, he enjoys the high esteem of a large number of lenca decendants and scholars. In the past years, Chief Chevez contributed to the evolution of constitutional reform in El Salvador, leading to the recognition of indigenous people in El Salvador for the first time since 1821. As cultural icon of unity, the Lenca Chief act as a neutral change agent for his fragmented people and multiple contemporary states inside his ancestral lands.

Tentative PY 18-19 Program Series

September  -  Caitlin Earley Maya Captures/Chiapas
October -  David Stuart/40th Anniversary
November - Thomas Garrison Xultun/El Zotz/Lidar
December - Rafael Cobos Yucatan (John Harris Memorial Lecture)
January - Steven Kosiba S.A. topic
February - Ed Fleming Midwest topic
March -  Molly Tun S.A. topic
April -  Norman Hammond (tentative)
May -   Matthew Robb Teotihuacan

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