“Concrete Memories: Fragments of the Past in the Classic Maya Present (500-1000 AD)” – Rosemary A. Joyce
This week’s readings all focused on the key issues of archaeologies of space and place, more specifically on the topic of memory and history. I have decided to focus on Rosemary A. Joyce’s article as she focused on the Classic Maya culture and how the material world is used as a standard for the construction of memory and history. Through looking at the physical objects that were conserved, rediscovered, transformed, and passed on, these materials act as a sign of commemoration or remembrance as they focus on the main concept of time.
I found this week’s readings difficult to understand and draw themes from at some points throughout the text as the concept of memory is hard to grasp since it is always changing and never concrete.
Before diving right into how memory has affected the portrayal of material culture of the Maya throughout time, the article begins by introducing the “model of memory” and describing how memory actually works and its ability in effecting individuals to recall and recognize certain information (Joyce, 2003). The author focuses on the term social memory heavily throughout the article as she describes how the materiality of everyday life contributes to the construction of social memory (Joyce, 2003). She states,
“memory cannot be considered exclusively an individual faculty, for individuals remember in their capacity as group members. Their interests, their stages in the life cycle, and the social experiences they have lived, shape their memories…not only are memories acquired through society, they are recalled, recognized, and located socially (Joyce, 2003, p. 108).”
From what I understood, she describes social memory as a way we define ourselves, our identity, but not only from the perspective of ourselves, but from the perspective of others whose groups we had belong to throughout our history. The events that an individual lives through and the social interactions they experience shape the ways they encode, store and retrieve certain information from their past. This quote showed importance as it described the Maya culture in which over time these individuals formed their memories collectively through their material objects, as being members of a group.
While reading this article, the term palimpsest appeared in my head. Palimpsest, which in a sense refers to the building up of history, constantly being changed and added to with new information, can be related to memory. As time passes on and new experiences are created, memory is constantly being changed, built up, and added to. Layer upon layer, as events in history as being added to, similarly are the memories that we are experiencing as they are building up over time in our minds.
Furthermore, Joyce explains the concept of frequency and formality of movement through space as a characteristic that aided in the everyday memory formation of the Classic Maya (Joyce, 2003). Instead of simply looking at the artifact or ritual alone, the author encourages its readers to transform the way we look at the material remains from these societies (Joyce, 2003). Obviously, the more a task is repeated, the more it moves and is established into our memory. As the Maya worked on everyday tasks such as simple jobs around the home, or walked on a daily basis to ritual areas or other external locations, these tasks were strengthened in their memory since they were constantly being repeated (Joyce, 2003).
In conclusion, I found this article fascinating yet ambiguous. I enjoy how the author used various examples, such as the Ear Spool in explaining the material culture of the Maya, however even after reading this article three times, I still feel like she could have added more. In the end, I feel I was not able to grasp the full concept she was trying to pursue.