Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Reading Early Maya Cities: Interpreting the Role of Writing in Urbanization

March 13th, 2015
4:00 PM

Dinwiddie Hall
Room 103

The Tulane Anthropology Student ASsociation (TASA) presents a talk by Dr. Danny Law of the University of Texas at Austin entitled “Reading Early Maya Cities: Interpreting the Role of Writing in Urbanization.” Dr. Law is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at UT Austin.

Talk abstract:

The development of writing – both its invention as a symbolic system of representation, and its extension to new and increased social, political and economic spheres of use – seems in many places to have had a special relationship to the rise of ancient urban centers. Early Maya cities provide an interesting case study in the relationship of writing to processes of urbanization. The subject matter and presentation of texts in early cities, as well as the apparent trajectory of development of the semiotic system itself, appear to differ from what has been described for early urban centers of Mesopotamia and elsewhere. At the heart this study are essentially empirical questions about writing in early Maya cities: Where do we find texts, who wrote them, and why? However, the answer to these questions is bound up in more complex theoretical ones:what does writing do in society? (Is saying that, ‘It encodes language in graphic form’ an adequate answer?) What social structures need to be in place for writing to be a viable practice? And how might the function of writing in society evolve over time? Thus, while one purpose of this paper is descriptive, simply reporting the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of ancient Maya writing, that descriptive endeavor begs engagement with stickier questions about the nature of ancient cities and writing in general.

The talk is free and open to the public. A short reception will follow.

Sponsored by the Tulane Center for Scholars and the Middle American Research Institute.

For more information please contact TASA (

Mesoamerica + People
Amy George-Hirons
Language Program Director - Spanish & Portuguese