Living with the Dead
Mortuary Ritual in Mesoamerica
Scholars have recently achieved new insights into the many ways in which the dead and the living interacted from the Late Preclassic to the Conquest in Mesoamerica. The eight essays in this useful volume were written by well-known scholars who offer cross-disciplinary and synergistic insights into the varied articulations between the dead and those who survived them. From physically opening the tomb of their ancestors and carrying out ancestral heirlooms to periodic feasts, sacrifices, and other lavish ceremonies, heirs revisited death on a regular basis. The activities attributable to the dead, moreover, range from passively defining territorial boundaries to more active exploits, such as “dancing” at weddings and “witnessing” royal accessions. The dead were—and continued to be—a vital part of everyday life in Mesoamerican cultures.
This book results from a symposium organized by the editors for an annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The contributors employ historical sources, comparative art history, anthropology, and sociology, as well as archaeology and anthropology, to uncover surprising commonalities across cultures, including the manner in which the dead were politicized, the perceptions of reciprocity between the dead and the living, and the ways that the dead were used by the living to create, define, and renew social as well as family ties. In exploring larger issues of a “good death” and the transition from death to ancestry, the contributors demonstrate that across Mesoamerica death was almost never accompanied by the extinction of a persona; it was more often the beginning of a social process than a conclusion.
“Living with the Dead is a seminal contribution that advances our understanding of the very active roles that persons who would be considered 'dead' in Western cosmology played in ancient Mesoamerica. The contributors engage cutting-edge social and anthropological theory in their analyses of Mesoamerican case studies that cross-cut space and time. The contributions showcase the value of a cross-disciplinary approach to understanding Mesoamerica, as the archaeological, art historical, and ethnohistoric interpretive paradigms employed by the authors together yield a fuller and more compelling view of the relationships between the living and the dead in ancient Mesoamerica than any one of them alone could accomplish.”—Jason Yaeger, co-editor of Classic Maya Provincial Politics: Xunantunich and Its Hinterlands