24. July 2023

CALL FOR PAPERS - Monumentality in Southern Central America: Complexity, Inequality, Dependency? Perspectives on Human and Other-than-human Relationships Call for Papers: Collaborative Conference by the University of Bonn and Leiden University

Collaborative Conference by the University of Bonn and Leiden University

Monumentality is a widely used term in archaeology, both as a descriptive category for objects and structures that stand out in landscapes, and as an interpretative category, used to theorize on the ways in which societies are organized. However, the understanding on what constitutes 'monumental' varies considerably. Large architectural structures may be the focus, whose planning, creation, and maintenance requires sophisticated technical and logistical skills and are enabled by the considerable economic resources, or sometimes referred to as XXL phenomenon (Bunke et la 2016, Gass et al 2016). Alternatively, monumentality may be understood as being generated by the very relationships between humans and the involved materials and the subsequent meaning these relationships produce (Osborne 2014, Pauketat 2014). Also, the appearance of monumentality in certain societies has been theorized to represent evidence of social stratification, as part of a society is able to mobilize others, accumulate surplus, and create lasting landscape markers which exceed narrowly-viewed practical needs (Pollock 1999, Trigger 1990). Alternatively, it has been argued that monumentality can be born out of unintended consequences (Joyce 2004) or as a result of community building processes (Notroff 2015).

Monumentality in pre-Columbian southern Central America is rarely discussed (but see Frost and Quilter 2012). Those existing studies align with the thermodynamic approach, proposed by Trigger more than 30 years ago, and arguing it to be resulting from social stratification. Some additional case studies have, more recently, observed that monumentality in Central America may be the result of communal practices (Joyce 2004, Geurds and Auziņa in press). All of this stands in contrast to studies from Eastern Mesoamerica as in, for example, the Classic Maya Lowlands where monumentality is often seen in the context of architectural taxonomies and as a theatrical backdrop to communal events, alongside being the domestic context of elites.

In this workshop, we aim to explore southern Central American monumentality as a process of community-building among human and other-than-human actors. Large scale transformations of landscape and monumentality expressed through enduring materials, such as stone, creates and represents communities' resilient relationships with their surrounding world (Bradley 2000). When seen as a result of human–nature relationships, monumentality is not primarily interpreted as a result of social stratification or inequality among human societies. Rather, it can be seen as an attempt to anchor and express dependency relationships with the surrounding (meta-)physical world. This workshop aims to bring together established and early career scholars (including PhD researchers) who are working with case studies (sites, objects, phenomena) in southern Central America which invite the notion of monumentality. We suggest monumentality to be able to encompass both built structures (e.g., mounds and mound complexes); elaborate work in ground stone (e.g., statues, stone discs, metates); landscape modifications; or even natural objects with ascribed value of monumentality, such as rock art. Case material will center on contributions from present-day Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, we also want to enter into dialogue with the case material from the Maya Lowlands from Guatemala and Belize, to seek out comparison and identify contrasting applications of what constitutes the monumental. In addition to these case studies, we invite contributions working with large archaeological datasets in southern Central America and conceptual reflections on monumentality in the area. Participants are invited to confront the concept of monumentality with their case studies and question the relationships between monumentality and forms of social organization, particularly complexity and inequality in society.


Estimated timeline:

20 August 2023: Deadline for abstracts (200-300 words).
01 September 2023: Decision about approved abstracts.
30 October 2023: Approved participants are asked to submit an extended abstract (approx. 1000 words) to be shared with other participants of the workshop. Extended abstracts should address the notion of monumentality and how the discussed case study reflects to it.
08-09 November 2023: Conference in Bonn.
August of 2024: Submitting papers for an edited volume.
First part of 2025: Edited volume published.


Organizing Team:

Dita Auziņa, University of Bonn, Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS)
Alexander Geurds, Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology
Nikolai Grube, University Bonn, Departement of Antropology of Americas and BCDSS


• This conference is aimed to start a discussion which will be continued as an SAA symposium for  the Annual Meeting in 2024.
• A selection of the presented conference papers will be bundled and published as an edited volume.
• Participant travel and accommodation costs will be covered by the conference organizers.
• The format is shaped to maximize dialogue and exchange of ideas, alongside the presentation of case materials. Participants will be asked to prepare a 30 to 40-minute presentation, leaving between 20 to 30 minutes for plenary discussion.

Dita Auziņa

Bonn Centre for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS), University of Bonn

Wird geladen