National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Ellen E. Bell

Affiliation: California State University Stanislaus

Dr. Ellen Bell is a Professor of Anthropology at California State University Stanislaus. She hold a degree in Anthropology from Kenyon College (B.A., summa cum laude), and received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include Mesoamerican Archaeology, Maya epigraphy and iconography, the archaeology of gender, political organization and economy, and the Anthropology of religion and ritual. She has conducted fieldwork in Honduras and Belize for over 30 years, and has received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Fulbright grant to pursue her research. She is one of the speakers for the AIA’s Norton Lectureship for the 2023-2024 National Lecture Program.


Political intrigues are nothing new, but the tools people in power use to communicate their messages have changed dramatically through time. Objects are persuasive communicators of social relationships, personal identities, and political ties. As such, they are powerful tools in narratives of personal identity, political legitimacy, and social power. This active, agentive role is nowhere more visible than in the narratives materialized in the monumental constructions and ritual deposits used by Classic period (AD 250-900) Maya rulers to instantiate and legitimate their rule.

This lecture explores the ways in which the richly furnished and elaborately decorated burial complex of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, the founder of the Classic period ruling dynasty at the Maya center of Copan, Honduras, supported the newly installed king’s claim to power and helped his successors rule the center for the next 400 years. This exploration draws on tunneling excavations and multidisciplinary research undertaken by the University of Pennsylvania Museum from 1989 to 2002 and recently completed comparative analyses to probe the intricacies of Early Classic Maya kingship.

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