European libraries and museums hold a small corpus of – still quite enigmatic – ancient screenfold manuscripts from the Aztecs, Mixtecs, Mayas and other indigenous cultures in Mexico and neighbouring Central America. The central structuring principle of these pictographic and hieroglyphic texts is the prehispanic calendar, which was not only the dominant framework for historiography and astronomical observations, but was also used for divination, medical treatment, ritual performance, community organisation and moral codes. The comments from authors writing shortly after the Spanish conquest (A.D. 1521) are crucial, but give a generalised, incomplete and biased picture. A wealth of additional and very relevant information is still to be found in the on-going use of this calendar by “daykeepers” (specialists in traditional healing and other rituals) in contemporary indigenous communities in the region. So far, however, little attention has been paid to this fascinating cultural continuity, which is very rapidly disappearing.
This research project, then, has three interrelated aims.
1) To document the endangered knowledge, ideas, practices and oral literature related to the indigenous calendar, still in use in Mexico and Guatemala, through simultaneous ethnographic fieldwork in seven indigenous regions: PhD cands, PI, field assistants, documentary-video team.
2) Connect the resulting data and insights to the historical information in order to extract an in-depth interpretation and reading of the ancient manuscripts, which in turn will lead to a better grasp of the symbolic meaning and social function of time in Mesoamerican thought and culture: PhD cands, PI.
3) Produce a comparative and theoretical analysis of the role of perceptions and conceptualisations of time in the construction of memory and identity, and of how this role is affected by (and influences) long-term and intensive cultural interaction (colonization – modernization - globalization): Postdoc, PI.
Call for proposal
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