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SCULPTURAL TRADITIONALISM AND INNOVATION IN THE CLASSIC MAYA KINGDOM OF SAK TZ'I', MEXICO

Published: 1 September 2021

Abstract: In this article we analyze the content and form of 58 stone monuments at the archaeological site of Lacanjá Tzeltal, Chiapas, Mexico, which recent research confirms was a capital of the Classic Maya polity Sak Tz'i' (“White Dog”). Sak Tz'i' kings carried the title ajaw (“lord”) rather than the epithet k'uhul ajaw (“holy lord”) claimed by regional powers, implying that Sak Tz'i' was a lesser kingdom in terms of political authority. Lacanjá Tzeltal's corpus of sculptured stone, however, is explicitly divergent and indicates the community's marked cultural autonomy from other western Maya kingdoms. The sculptures demonstrate similarities with their neighbors in terms of form and iconographic and hieroglyphic content, underscoring Lacanjá Tzeltal artisans’ participation in the region's broader culture of monumental production. Nevertheless, sculptural experimentations demonstrate not only that lesser courts like Lacanjá Tzeltal were centers of innovation, but that the lords of Sak Tz'i' may have fostered such cultural distinction to underscore their independent political character. This study has broader implications for understanding interactions between major and secondary polities, artistic innovation, and the development of community identity in the Classic Maya world.
Keywords: Sak Tz'i / sculptured / Maya / ajaw / Mexico / Classic / Tzeltal / Lacanjá

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