“Offers a unique and important perspective on Classic Maya society through the lens of innovation. Eberl’s work is richly grounded in a multidisciplinary approach that weaves archaeological data with epigraphy, iconography, and comparative social theory.”—Andrew K. Scherer, author of Mortuary Landscapes of the Classic Maya: Rituals of Body and Soul
“The first sustained account of innovation and creativity among the ancient Maya.”—Scott R. Hutson, author of The Ancient Urban Maya: Neighborhoods, Inequality, and Built Form
Drawing on archaeological findings from the Maya lowlands, War Owl Falling: Innovation, Creativity, and Culture Change in Ancient Maya Society shows how innovation and creativity led to social change in ancient societies. Markus Eberl discusses the ways eighth-century Maya (and Maya commoners in particular) reinvented objects and signs that were associated with nobility, including scepters, ceramic vessels, ballgame equipment, and the symbol of the owl. These innovations, he argues, reflect assertions of independence and a redistribution of power that contributed to the Maya collapse in the Late Classic period.
Eberl emphasizes that decision-making—the ability to imagine alternate worlds and to act on that vision—plays a large role in changing social structure over time. Contextualizing these decisions in his “Garden of Forking Paths” model, Eberl shows how innovators were those individuals who imagined an array of possible futures and negotiated power to reach desirable outcomes. He dissects the social underpinning of Maya creativity by illustrating their situated method of learning via observation and imitation, stressing that societal constraints or opportunities dictated whether members’ ideas were realized. Pinpointing where and when Maya inventions emerged, how individuals adopted them and why, War Owl Falling connects technological and social change in a novel way.
Markus Eberl, associate professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, is the author of Community and Difference: Change in Late Classic Maya Villages of the Petexbatun Region and Muerte, entierro y ascencio´n: Ritos funerarios entre los antiguos mayas.