Department of Anthropology

David S. Stuart: The Ways of Witchcraft

Mon, April 8, 2013 | SAC 5.118

12:00 PM

"The Ways of Witchcraft: Sorcery as Political Ideology among the Ancient Maya"

A talk by David S. Stuart, Art/Art History and Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin

David Stuart's talk offers an innovative look at the political culture of the ancient Maya, focusing on the roles of sorcery and witchcraft in the ideology of statecraft during the so-called Late Classic period (ca. 600-850 CE). Both written texts and courtly art reveal that sorcery played a key part in the duties and practice of rulership, and therefore played a significant role in the expression of power dynamics among rival courts and city-states. Central to these ideas were the beings known as wahy, spook-like demons frequently depicted in Maya art, but long misunderstood as “underworld gods” or “animal souls.” These are best seen as personified diseases or other animated negative forces associated with individual royal stations, and wielded by rulers as expressions of social and political control.

His research focuses on the archaeology, art and epigraphy of Mesoamerica, especially ancient Maya civilization. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Vanderbilt University in 1995, and taught at Harvard University for eleven years before moving to UT Austin, where he now teaches in the Department of Art and Art History. Stuart's early work on the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs led to a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984. In 2011 he was awarded a fellowship by the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation for a proposed book on the origins of ancient Maya script. His many publications include Ten Phonetic Syllables (1987), which laid much of the groundwork for the now-accepted methodology of Maya hieroglyphic decipherment. Stuart co-authored several books, including "Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya" (Thames and Hudson, 2006). His most recent book, written for a popular audience, was "The Order of Days: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Maya" (Random House, 2012), recently published in paperback as a revised edition. Stuart's research and contributions to Maya studies were also featured in the award-winning PBS documentary "Cracking the Maya Code" (NightFire Films, 2008).

Stuart regularly conducts field research at numerous archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, where he specializes on the documentation and decipherment of Maya art and hieroglyphic inscriptions. His research of late focuses on the art and epigraphy at Copan (Honduras), Palenque (Mexico), La Corona, Xultun and San Bartolo (Guatemala). In addition to his role on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, Stuart oversees the university's Mesoamerica Center, which fosters multi-disciplinary studies on ancient American art and culture. He is also Director of Casa Herrera, UT's international academic research center in Antigua, Guatemala, devoted to studies in the art, archaeology and culture of Mesoamerica.

For further information please contact Adriana Dingman at

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