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date: 24 March 2023

Public Architecture in Ancient Mesoamericalocked

Public Architecture in Ancient Mesoamericalocked

  • Takeshi InomataTakeshi InomataUniversity of Arizona


The study of temple-pyramids and other public buildings has long been an important focus in Mesoamerican archaeology. Scholars generally use the term public architecture to refer to structures for use, visitations, and gatherings beyond individual households, but the term public needs to be examined more critically. Public buildings are tied to the formation and transformation of the public sphere, a social field shaped in specific historical contexts that enables and restrains the political action of people.

Traditional studies commonly viewed public buildings as reflections of society, political organization, or worldviews. Investigations before the 1960s often focused on the descriptions of public buildings or used them to define cultural areas and traditions. The rise of processual archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s encouraged researchers to examine social processes through the analysis of buildings. Some scholars assumed that the size of public buildings and the labor investments in their constructions reflected the levels of political centralization. At the same time, the symbolic aspect of buildings continued to be an important theme in Mesoamerican archaeology. The underlying assumption was that public buildings, through their shapes and orientations, or associated images and texts, represented worldviews or cosmologies.

While these approaches continue to be common, various Mesoamerican archaeologists have begun to examine the recursive processes in which buildings shaped, and were shaped by, society. In this framework, some scholars focus on people’s actions and perceptions, whereas others view buildings as active agents in social processes. Sensory perceptions, particularly visibility, are examined as critical media, through which the recursive relations between buildings and people unfolded. Construction events are also viewed as critical processes, in which collective identities and social relations are created, negotiated, and transformed. The meanings of buildings still represent an important focus, but instead of searching for fixed, homogeneous meanings, the new theoretical perspectives have urged scholars to analyze how diverse groups negotiated multiple meanings. In the early 21st century, public buildings at archaeological sites continue to be a subject of negotiation among diverse groups, including the governments, descendant communities, archaeologists, developers, and the general public.


  • Archaeology

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