Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Marcello Canuto presents at blockbuster National Geographic conference in Guatemala

April 23rd, 2013

Associate Professor of Anthropology and M.A.R.I. Director Marcello A. Canuto presented at a conference titled Dialogue of Civilizations sponsored by National Geographic, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Guatemalan government. This was the innaugural conference of a series of conferences planned by National Geographic; next year’s conference will take place in Turkey.

The National Geographic conferences are intended to appeal to a broad audience. In Guatemala, the conference was advertised in local newspapers, comments were tweeted throughout the event, and a live video feed was broadcast out so that all community members could participate. Registration was open to the public and sold out within an hour. Every event featured simultaneous translation into Spanish. On the first day, over 700 people attended. The Minister of Tourism and Mayor of Guatemala City presided at a ceremony in which the conference speakers were all honored as distinguished citizens of Guatemala City. Professor Canuto observed, “I’ve been to many conferences in Guatemala, with 80, 100 participants,” but nothing to compare to this event.

Particularly noteworthy was the wide range of experts flown in from all over the world, who wouldn’t normally meet or attend the same events. The conference focused on five civilizations, described by the conference webpage as the “oldest civilizations of mankind,” China, Egypt, Maya, Mesopotamia, and Indus Valley. As Canuto explains, the intent was to “establish a discussion about the big civilizations of the world.” Ultimately, the five civilizations chosen were tied together by their writing systems. All five civilizations are known for having “pure,” independently developed systems of writing. The conference’s slogan was “The Past as a Window to the Future” and the goal was to learn from the successes and failures of these past great civilizations.

Professor Canuto’s conference talk was titled “The Kaanal Kingdom and the La Corona-Calakmul Alliance: Building a Classic Maya Empire.” The talk was attended by over 500 people. In his conference talk, Professor Canuto discussed the efforts of the Classic Maya kings to create a larger territorial empire by combining and absorbing other city states. As he observes, “Civilizations are complex systems that don’t always succeed.” Successive series of rulers tried to form a broader empire, but ultimately failed to establish a self-maintaining system.

You can learn more about the conference by visiting the link above, and further explore Professor Canuto’s work at the MARI website.

Guatemala + People
Maureen E. Shea
Associate Professor - Spanish & Portuguese