Synopses of Lectures

These are the main lectures I give to the Arts Society.

1. The Magnificent Maya – Fact & Fantasy

The Maya created one of the most sophisticated civilizations in the ancient world. Their achievements in the arts and sciences, along with their complex social, political and economic systems, make them one of the most remarkable culture groups in the pre-Columbian Americas. These people brought us an intricate calendar system, complex hieroglyphic writing, some of the largest pyramids in the world, a form of ballgame that was like no other and most importantly chocolate! This lecture will discuss the major achievements of the Maya as well as pointing out the common misunderstandings we have of this remarkable civilization.

2. The Splendour of Colours: Painted Vessels of the Maya

The ancient Maya of Central America created the most exquisite painted vessels. The scenes from these vessels give us a fascinating insight into the ancient life of the people. Aside from their beauty as objects of art, they aid both the archaeologist and art historian in understanding the context of the Maya universe, from palace scenes and sporting events, to mythology and tales of the underworld. In the absence of the wheel, the techniques of ceramic making will be discussed as well as their different styles and themes, thus confirming their place amongst the great painting traditions of the world.

3. The Lords of Creation – Kingship in Maya Art

Art, inscriptions and architecture were commissioned by Maya kings from Central America to memorialise themselves and ensure their place in history. This lecture will look at images that describe the transformation of a human being into a king, the wielder of sacred authority and the rituals that were carried out to re-establish their connections with the cycles of time and their ancestors. The purpose of art itself was to document the bloodlines of kings and so various examples will be given, including the spectacular murals of San Bartolo, Guatemala, where the presenter carried out her research.

4. Reading Maya Art

The Maya from Central America was one of only 5 cultures in the world to independently develop a fully-fledged writing system. Of all the world’s early scripts, the Maya script is quite possibly the most beautiful. Maya hieroglyphs are more than just a writing system, they are an art form – in fact, the Maya use the same word for both writer and painter. This lecture will look at the artistry of Maya writing, their painted paper books (codices), the history of decipherment, as well as the most intricate and complicated calendar system in the entire ancient world.

5. Clothing and Personal Adornment: Identity and Meaning in the Maya World

Using archaeological evidence from painted ceramics, murals and sculpture, the richness of adornments will be explored, from the exquisite, feathered headdresses and jewellery made of jade and shell, focusing on the techniques behind such pieces of art. In the absence of the wheel, the method and process of weaving will be discussed, and in particular the continuing tradition of huipiles worn by Maya woman today. These stunning cotton blouses with the most intricate of designs are distinct to the community they are from and act as a form of identity.

6. The Painted Maya World: The Murals of Bonampak and San Bartolo

Although the Maya world was a painted one, little is preserved from the humid rainforest in which they lived. However, two murals have been recovered which represent not only outstanding examples of a painting tradition – rich and complex in every respect, but a wealth of information regarding ancient Maya society; religion, cosmology, kingship and courtly life. The lecture will focus on these murals: Bonampak, Mexico (8th century AD) and San Bartolo, Guatemala (1st century BC), the latter being where the presenter carried out her research. Materials used, technique, iconography and the artists behind the work will be discussed.

7. The Origins of Chocolate

Can you imagine a world in which chocolate does not exist? We have the ancient Maya of Central America to thank for this wonderful substance. The Maya were the first culture to harvest the cacao bean for making their chocolate drinks, which became the ‘champagne’ of Central America. This lecture will discuss the origins of cacao, how it was harvested and used, noting its place in Maya culture.  Diane will also talk about how the cacao bean became a form of currency later by the Aztecs and finally how chocolate arrived in Europe.

8. Politics of the Past

The past and its remains are continually altered and reinterpreted, as we in the present continually interact with them.  Ancient buildings, sculptures and burials have been manipulated by different sectors of society, such as ruling and minority groups, the media and archaeologists, which leads to the important question of who owns the past and its remains?  In trying to provide answers the presenter will address the issues of looting and the antiquities trade, museums and the return of cultural property and archaeological excavation and repatriation of human remains.

9. How did they do that? Archaeological Mysteries Explained

Have you ever wondered how ancient societies were able to build such awe-inspiring monumental architecture often without the use of metal tools, the wheel or pack animals? The mystery of how the materials were transported and transformed into great pyramids, monuments and temples will be explained and the resourcefulness, ingenuity and skill of the ancient cultures will be discussed. The presenter will also explore the popular pseudoscientific interpretations seen in popular culture and media and explain the reasoning behind why particular ‘myths’ in archaeology remain so popular.

10. Social Memory and Identity in the Reuse of Ancient Monuments

The ruins of ancient settlements are dramatic and dominant features of the landscape today and abandoned architecture and monuments were also significant features of the landscape in the ancient past.  How did people interact with remnants of architecture and monuments built during earlier times?  Social memory could be used in directly connecting to ancestors in a remembered past to create a sense of individual or community identity, or to legitimate authority. The lecture will discuss how meaningful information about the economic, social, political and ritual organisation of an ancient society can be gleaned by investigating the reuse of buildings, monuments, tombs and artefacts.

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