Houses in a Landscape

Memory and Everyday Life in Mesoamerica

Houses in a Landscape

Material Worlds

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 48 photos, 8 tables, 7 maps Published: April 2010

Author: Julia A. Hendon

Anthropology, Geography, Latin American Studies > Central America

In Houses in a Landscape, Julia A. Hendon examines the connections between social identity and social memory using archaeological research on indigenous societies that existed more than one thousand years ago in what is now Honduras. While these societies left behind monumental buildings, the remains of their dead, remnants of their daily life, intricate works of art, and fine examples of craftsmanship such as pottery and stone tools, they left only a small body of written records. Despite this paucity of written information, Hendon contends that an archaeological study of memory in such societies is possible and worthwhile. It is possible because memory is not just a faculty of the individual mind operating in isolation, but a social process embedded in the materiality of human existence. Intimately bound up in the relations people develop with one another and with the world around them through what they do, where and how they do it, and with whom or what, memory leaves material traces.

Hendon conducted research on three contemporaneous Native American civilizations that flourished from the seventh century through the eleventh CE: the Maya kingdom of Copan, the hilltop center of Cerro Palenque, and the dispersed settlement of the Cuyumapa valley. She analyzes domestic life in these societies, from cooking to crafting, as well as public and private ritual events including the ballgame. Combining her findings with a rich body of theory from anthropology, history, and geography, she explores how objects—the things people build, make, use, exchange, and discard—help people remember. In so doing, she demonstrates how everyday life becomes part of the social processes of remembering and forgetting, and how “memory communities” assert connections between the past and the present.


“It is a distinct pleasure to read a book about the pre-Hispanic Maya that does not focus on political history, monumentality, epigraphy, or cosmology. These facets of the Maya world were important, of course, especially with respect to the questions of social memory raised by Julia Hendon in this book. But obviously they were no more important than the everyday experience of the multitudes of people in Mesoamerica. And it is the realm of the quotidian that Hendon relates to social memory in Houses in a Landscape…. There is much to recommend in this book, and both professional archaeologists and students will find in it particularly good examples of the practical applicability of contemporary theories in archaeology.” — Timothy Pauketat, American Anthropologist

“While clearly written, this volume is definitely geared towards a specialised audience ... [and] it would be well suited for graduate or upper division student reading in courses on Mesoamerican archaeology. ... The book does a great job of forcing the archaeologist to rethink the spaces they excavate and to examine how her ideas fit within their own domestic research contexts. It is also significant in that it argues that non-elite spaces such as domestic households are rich environments for understanding the ancient Maya – in many ways, more so than any elaborate tomb or palace, in that it provides insight into how the overwhelming majority of the population lived.” — Jennifer Mathews, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“[Hendon’s] nuanced analysis is brilliantly crafted, culturally intimate, and immensely provocative. Hendon’s playing field spans a range of objects, features, and monuments that elicit newfound insights into the seeming intangibles of memory in Maya thought and culture. Ultimately, the author delivers the promise and prospect for interpreting community memory, daily life, and the dynamics of intergroup relations via the thoughtful, introspective consideration of objects recovered from cultural landscapes in archaeology. Highly recommended.” — R. G. Mendoza, Choice

“I encourage scholars of the Maya and construction of memory to read Hendon’s attractive and well-presented volume. . . . Overall, Houses in a Landscape is likely to fuel scholarly debate and inspire archaeological projects to test its conclusions for many years to come.” — Stephen L. Whittington, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“A brilliant work, Houses in a Landscape sets a new standard for the social archaeology of the Maya and related cultures. It is theoretically sophisticated, meticulously researched, and beautifully written, and it extends the existing literature on memory and archaeology in significant ways. ” — Robert W. Preucel, author of Archaeological Semiotics

“This is an invigorating, original, and intellectually rewarding book, notable for the breadth and critical rigor of Julia A. Hendon’s theoretical discussions, and the originality of her insights to ancient Honduran societies. It will be of interest not only to archaeologists but also to social theorists more broadly.” — Wendy Ashmore, coeditor of Household and Community in the Mesoamerican Past


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Julia A. Hendon is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Gettysburg College. She is the co-editor of Mesoamerican Archaeology: Theory and Practice.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Tables xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Thinking About Memory 1

1. Communities of Practice in Honduras in the Seventh Century through the Eleventh 33

2. The Enchantment and Humility of Objects 63

3. The Semiotic House: Everyday Life and Domestic Space 91

4. Embodied Forms of Knowing 123

5. Relational Identities and Material Domains 149

6. Special Events at Home 181

7. Ballcourts and Houses: Shared Patterns of Monumentality and Domesticity 203

Conclusion: Communities of Memory and Local Histories 227

Notes 239

Bibliography 243

Index 283
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Winner, 2015 Linda S. Cordell Book Award in Archaeology (presented by the School for Advanced Research)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4704-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4693-7
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