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The Maya peoples: An ancient civilisation, its present and future



The Maya, a complex of diverse related communities, encompass a group of 32 contemporary languages which are indigenous to southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. The heirs of this ancient civilisation are, admittedly, not just the remnants of past glories, but important actors in contemporary politics, arts and scholarship within the nation-states that emerged after Spanish and British colonial rule ended in the region.

In this course, we will explore the most significant elements of cultural continuity which characterise the contemporary Maya, as well as the most recent developments, questions and contributions that this diverse group of peoples present to the world. Special focus will be given to the Maya people of the Yucatán, to whom the lecturer belongs.

Important notions that will be examined are: the supposed “collapse” of Maya cities in the 10th-11th centuries AD, the trans-cultural nature and intercultural synergies of Maya resistance and accommodation to external influences, the long continuity of Maya environmental science, calendric knowledge and literary genres, the significance of contemporary Maya political mobilisation and intellectual production in Mexico (Neo-Zapatista uprising), Belize (collective land rights struggles) and Guatemala (Pan-Mayanism and resurgence), among other topics of interest.

The lecture series will include a session on the basic grammar and vocabulary of Yucatec Maya’s, which are useful for an exploration of Maya intercultural communication practices.

Course objectives

  • To re-examine the most common myths and misconceptions about the Maya civilization (its supposed “Collapse”, the importance of “human sacrifice”, their “sudden” disappearance, etc.);

  • To recognise the complex histories and dynamic principles that explain the continuity of Maya heritage (languages, as well as political and cultural practice) in a vast and diverse region;

  • To learn the basics of Yucatec Maya’s grammar structure and significant vocabulary;

  • To identify current developments made by Maya peoples, communities and intellectuals which respond to contemporary global concerns;

  • To be able to critically evaluate data;

  • To convincingly present and defend academic analyses in presentations, in writing, orally and in visual form (poster).


Course schedule details can be found in the BA3 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Literature;

  • Seminars;

  • Film screenings followed by discussion;

  • Weekly assignments;

  • Paper of 2,500 words;

  • Poster presentation.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 5×2 hours of lectures;

  • 4 hours of seminars;

  • 4 hours of film screenings;

  • 250 pages of literature;

  • Assignments and paper.

Assessment method

  • Assignments (25%);

  • Poster design and presentation (25%);

  • Final paper (50%).

A retake is only possible for the final paper, provided that the assignments and poster have been submitted and the presentation has been given.

All exam dates (exams, re-sits, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the BA3 examination schedule.

Reading list

  • Webster, D. L. (2002). The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse. Thames and Hudson, London;

  • Tedlock, D. (2011). 2000 years of Mayan literature. University of California Press, Berkeley;

  • Restall, M. (1998). Maya Conquistador. Beacon Press, Boston;

  • Faust, B. (2001). "Maya environmental successes and failures in the Yucatan Peninsula", in: Environmental Science & Policy 4(4): 153-169;

  • Bricker, V. R. (1981). The Indian Christ, the Indian King: The Historical Substrate of Maya Myth and Ritual. University of Texas Press, Austin;

  • Kistler, S. A. (2010). "Discovering Aj Pop B’atz’: Collaborative Ethnography and the Exploration of Q’eqchi’ Personhood", in: The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 411–433;

  • Pitarch, Speed & Leyva-Solano (2008). Human Rights in the Maya Region: Global Politics, Cultural Contentions, and Moral Engagements. Duke University Press, Durham;

  • Montejo, V. D. (2005). Maya Intellectual Renaissance: Identity, Representation, and Leadership. University of Texas Press, Houston.


  • Himpele & Castaneda (1997). Incidents of Travel in Chichen Itza. Documentary Educational Resources (DER), Watertown, MA, 1 hour 30 minutes;

  • Lopez, P. D. (2009). La Pequeña Semilla en el Asfalto. Escuela de Cine y Video Indígena, Mundos Inéditos A.C, Instituto Mexicano de la Cinematogrfía, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, 1 hour 20 minutes.


Registration for the course or the exam is not required.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Registration ‘Contractonderwijs’

All information (costs, registration, entry requirements, etc.) for those who are interested in taking this course as a Contractstudent is on the Contractonderwijs Archeologie webpage (in Dutch).


For more information about his course, please contact G.D.J. Llanes Ortiz.


Compulsory attendance.