CU Museum of Natural History
Henderson Building, CU Boulder Campus
Boulder, CO 80309
The Lives of Ancient Maya Commoners: How Could We Have Been So Wrong?
Dr. Payson Sheets (University of Colorado Boulder)
Ancient Maya elites have been the focus of research for well over a century, and for good reasons. They developed the New World’s most sophisticated writing system. Their architecture, sculpture, murals, and other items constitute one of the world’s great art styles. They could predict lunar and solar eclipses. Their palaces, temples, and tombs are truly monumental, and because they were built out of stone, they preserved well. It is no wonder that archaeologists have focused on them, and
studiously ignored the commoners who made up the majority of the population. Many scholars have stated that “the elites controlled everything” and therefore assumed the commoners were without agency, just tending the fields to feed everyone and providing labor whenever requested. Because
the commoners lived in “humble” abodes scholars assumed there is little reason to waste efforts to study them. The discovery of the ancient Maya village of Ceren, in El Salvador, has fundamentally revised our understanding of commoners. It will be my pleasure to share our insights on what the site
has taught us.