The brothers Taaj: civil-religious orders and the politics of expertise in Late Maya statecraft
Rossi, Franco Dellarocca
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In this dissertation, I examine the political organization of Maya states during the Classic period (AD 550-950) through the workings of an institutional order whose practices came to light in excavations at Xultun, Guatemala. Archaeological, artistic, and epigraphic evidence shows that members of this order, called Taaj, lived, worked and instructed others at a household compound called Los Sabios. Members specialized in indigenous Maya sciences and high-level ritual that were instrumental in the organized, astronomically-timed public ceremonies and crafted spectacles by which local sovereigns communicated and maintained political authority. The Taaj order first surfaced on a mural found within a small, central structure of Los Sabios. The artist(s) depicted three male Taaj members and two novices dressed in uniforms and labeled with ranked titles, with a high-ranking Taaj gesturing in ritual toward the enthroned ruling sovereign as the other Taaj look on. The mural also served as a palimpsest for scientific and astronomical calculations painted over and around the figures of the scene. Eventually, residents closed off this mural room and converted it into a mausoleum under which they buried a man dressed in the same uniform as the Taaj depicted on the mural. As household sub-floor burials were typical among the Maya, this discovery affirms that these Taaj resided at Los Sabios. Papermaking tools found throughout the residence suggest the Taaj recorded their scientific and ritual knowledge in barkpaper books. Such tools were also found buried with a woman at Los Sabios, showing her key role in creating books alongside the Taaj, despite her omission from the mural. Taaj has long been overlooked as a title, but my reconsideration of the term as it occurs elsewhere reveals its widespread use as such and indicates these Taaj figures existed throughout Maya area. These discoveries shed unexpected new light on governance and social organization among the Maya. Together, they reveal a political structure in which rulers relied on the expertise and secret knowledge of the Taaj to help sustain local systems of sovereignty as well as forms of class-based inequality that characterized Classic Maya society until the time of its collapse.