P. (Paul) van den Akker

  • PhD candidate

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2727
E-Mail: p.van.den.akker@arch.leidenuniv.nl
Faculty / Department: Faculteit Archeologie, Archaeological Heritage, Heritage of Indigenous Peoples
Office Address: Van Steenis gebouw
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden


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Paul van den Akker received his Research Master degree in September 2013 at the University of Leiden. He graduated at the faculty of archaeology on the topic of Calendars, Rituals, and the Ethnographer. In this master thesis he analyzed the changing anthropological attitudes towards the perception of time in the Maya region over the past century as well as the cultural practices related to time perception.

Back to the present: a post-colonial approach to the concept of time in the present and past Maya culture

Time - the central concept for structuring and organizing social life in contemporary and past Maya culture - is the focus of this research: How can the comparison between the contemporary concept of time in Highland Guatemala Maya communities and the iconographic depictions in the precolonial Maya codices contribute to a new understanding of the enduring processes of cultural interaction in a colonial context?

Internationally organized excavations in the Maya area have, over time, produced loads of data from which theories about the ancient Maya culture have been developed. In the light of post-colonial research, however, it is important to recognize the cultural continuity of the Maya culture and, therefore, in order to proceed to the next step of understanding the precolonial Maya culture we need to go back to the present-day culture. It is argued here that anthropology can provide new interpretations of the so far poorly understood contents of the religious Maya manuscripts as well as provide insights in the intercultural interaction over time.

This study combines thirteen months of anthropological fieldwork with an in-depth study of the past colonial interaction between the Maya and Spaniards in order to come a better understanding of the processes of change. These new understandings of interaction may help to develop new approaches to interpret the pre-Colonial Maya codices.  This approach is relatively unconventional as, due to the strong specialization and polarization of disciplines in Maya research, archaeologists and anthropologists have not often collaborated closely and anthropological fieldwork as primary source for interpretations has often been overlooked. In this study, emphasis is put on the role of time in relation to calendar systems, rituals, and sacred space.

The above described research is urgent as the Maya Peoples of Central America continue to live in socially oppressed living conditions today due to internal and external colonization. One of the objectives of this research is to break with the traditional Western interpretation of the precolonial Maya culture and to enable the Maya peoples to identify with their heritage. Such re-identification with their heritage might serve as an empowering tool in the current struggle for equality and justice. Second, by documenting the contemporary knowledge and by studying the precolonial Maya culture, this research aims to contribute to the preservation of knowledge and the revaluation of the Maya past.

Last Modified: 01-02-2016