ERC grant for Maarten Jansen

The European Research Council has awarded an Advanced Grant to
Prof. dr. Maarten E.R.G.N. Jansen for the research project

Time in Intercultural Context:
The Indigenous Calendars of Mexico and Guatemala

European libraries and museums hold a small corpus of – still quite enigmatic – ancient screenfold manuscripts from the Aztecs, Mixtecs, Mayas and other indigenous cultures in Mexico and neighbouring Central America. The central structuring principle of these pictographic and hieroglyphic texts is the prehispanic calendar, which was not only the dominant framework for historiography and astronomical observations, but was also used for divination, medical treatment, ritual performance, community organisation and moral codes. The comments from authors writing shortly after the Spanish conquest (A.D. 1521) are crucial, but give a generalised, incomplete and biased picture.

Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, p. 1 (Mexican pictographic book, Liverpool). The calendar count of 260 days encircles the four directions and the 9 Deities of the Nights, with symbolic references to the four directions (trees, birds) and harvest predictions. The East-West axis is represented by an altar with the rising sun and a white being carrying the moon (in the upper and lower segment respectively).

A wealth of additional and very relevant information is still to be found in the on-going use of this calendar by “daykeepers” (specialists in traditional healing and other rituals) in contemporary indigenous communities in the region. So far, however, little attention has been paid to this fascinating cultural continuity, which is rapidly disappearing.

This research project has three interrelated aims.
1) Documentation of the endangered knowledge, ideas, practices and oral literature related to the indigenous calendar, still in use in Mexico and Guatemala, through simultaneous ethnographic fieldwork in different indigenous regions.
2) Connection of the resulting data and insights with the archaeological and historical information in order to extract an in-depth interpretation and reading of the ancient manuscripts, which in turn will lead to a better grasp of the symbolic meaning and social function of time in Mesoamerican thought and culture.
3) A comparative and theoretical analysis of the role of perceptions and conceptualisations of time in the construction of memory and identity, and of how this role is affected by (and influences) long-term and intensive cultural interaction (colonization – modernization - globalization).




Codex Dresden, pp. 49-50 (Maya hieroglyphic book, Dresden): part of a Venus Almanac, which registers the periods of visibility and invisibility of the planet (in 584-day periods) during 104 years, adding divinatory comments about the Deities who rule these segments of time and their effects on society.

Last Modified: 23-11-2011