Light in Darkness: Illuminating the Classic Maya World

Friday, October 30, 2020 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

UCF History is pleased to co-organize AIA Central Florida Public Webinar's presention of "Light in Darkness: Illuminating the Classic Maya World" featuring Dr. Nancy Gonlin.

Dr. Nancy Gonlin is a Mesoamerican archaeologist who studies ancient Maya commoners and their daily and nightly lives. Gonlin earned a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and is a senior associate professor at Bellevue College. Dr. Gonlin is author and editor of multiple academic volumes on the Maya including Archaeology of the Night: Life After Dark in the Ancient World (with April Nowell) and Commoner Ritual and Ideology in Ancient Mesoamerica (with Jon C. Lohse) among many others. Gonlin is the associate editor of Ancient Mesoamerica and the editor of the Journal of Archaeology and Education

Presentation Summary

“Long before the advent of electricity, ancient peoples dating back to the Paleolithic Era created devices to illuminate the darkness, but how they did so and what the meanings of light and darkness were vary from culture to culture. The anthropology of luminosity, as put forth by Mikkel Bille and Tim Flor Sørensen (2007), regards light as something to be manipulated, a matter that is used in cultural practices. In this lecture, the productivity of considering the role of light and darkness, day and night, among the Late Classic (600-900 CE) Maya of the American tropics is considered. In what ways did the ancient Maya light up the night and illuminate dark places?

The answer to these questions lie in numerous sources: the abundant archaeological record, from the remains of palaces to humble houses; the hieroglyphs in which the ancient Maya wrote about their world, including night and darkness; the rich iconography that has persisted on pottery, stone carvings, and other media that depict dark doings; ethnohistoric observations of chroniclers and priests from more historic times; comparative materials from ethnographically-studied contemporary Maya groups; and from modern-day Maya peoples themselves. Some of the major topics that can be addressed are whether ancient cities were lit at night, variation in lighting from city to countryside, status differences in illumination, and the role of bioluminescent insects in adding glow to the dark. The murkiness of the night was cut through by only those who could afford it, as lychnological studies reveal – the distribution of artifacts and features particular to lighting was not equitable from house to house.

 Numerous material remains are considered anew from a nocturnal viewpoint: e.g., mundane ceramic vessels, glowing bugs, and the sacbe at Joya de Cerén, El Salvador. Is the modern desire for abundant nocturnal lighting a cultural universal? Humans accomplish much without the brightness of day as other senses come to dominate the nightscape. In many circumstances, however, lower lighting is preferable for the performance of a variety of activities that were best conducted under the cover of darkness. Apart from the material evidence for lighting, the metaphorical place of light and dark in the Classic Maya worldview is examined. It is only through light that darkness is visible.” 

Free and open to the public.

Register here: 

Upon registration, you will be emailed the online webinar access information (Zoom) the week of the event. 

Read More




History Department


CAH Events




history Anthropology