Ancient Maya and Contemporary Tzotzil Cosmology: A Comment on Some Methodological Problems


Evon Z. Vogt


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American Antiquity

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Recent ethnographic work among the Tzotzil Indians in Highland Chiapas has revealed the presence of cosmological concepts and patterns of behavior that may have an important historical relationship to the ancient Lowland Maya. While these data offer exciting possibilities for inferences concerning the ancient Maya, we need to proceed with caution and to take account of a number of critical methodological problems before we project these patterns back into the prehistoric past. We know that all cultural systems are in a constant state of change; hence we should not assume that we are finding any exact survivals from the past, but rather hope that the trends of change in the Tzotzil area have been consistent enough to make inferences possible and productive. We also know that there is a great deal of variation among Tzotzil municipios (and even within municipios), so that statements about “Tzotzil cosmological concepts” need to be treated with caution. Finally, the hypotheses I have advanced in previous papers — such as the possible relationship between sacred mountains in contemporary Zinacantan and pyramids in ancient Maya archaeological sites, or the possibility that some system of rotation in priestly roles was functioning in the ancient Maya ceremonial centers — should be treated strictly as hypotheses and not converted into statements or propositions as Holland did in his recent paper.

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