The power and ideology of artistic creation: Elite craft specialists in Classic Maya society

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There is increasing evidence that in Classic Maya society some of the finest objects were produced by artists who were elites. Excavations at the rapidly abandoned center of Aguateca, Guatemala, in particular, have provided clear archaeological evidence of craft production by elites. These data present a unique test case for refining the archaeological theory of craft specialization. For the Classic Maya, the manufacture of art objects was an act of creation loaded with symbolic meaning. Skilled crafting, along with the privileged knowledge encoded in the products, formed an important part of the high culture that served to distinguish the elite from the rest of society. The cultural and symbolic capital resulting from artistic creation also had critical meaning and consequences for competition among elites. Such a system of craft specialization needs to be understood in its social and cultural contexts, with particular emphasis on the power relations and ideologies surrounding production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-349
Number of pages29
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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