Wartime Impacts on Maya Culture Heritage

Head shot of Alyssa Henss

Name: Alyssa Henss
Major: Archeology
Advisor: Olivia Navarro-Farr
Second Reader: Siavash Samei

Research Supported by the Copeland Fund

A major feature of colonization of the Americas is the myth of complete pacification. In the Yucatán Peninsula, this idea was spread to enhance the influence of colonial powers. However, this notion and power was challenged by the Maya during the Caste War through resistance against the Spanish Yucatecos. At the center of this movement was the Cult of the Talking Cross, a resistance movement that fused Christianity and traditional Maya beliefs and practices that revitalized Maya culture heritage and brought numerous people together in their effort to seek reform and access to agricultural land. In the century since the time of the conflict, between 1901 and 2023, despite the best efforts of the Yucatec Maya people today, the larger tourism industry has simplified symbols of Maya culture heritage for the palatability of tourists in the historically colonial western region of the Yucatán Peninsula. My project involves the analysis of the archaeological roots of the spirituality surrounding the Talking Cross from the early 1850s to 1901 paired with a consideration of how this narrative of resistance is presented and effects tourism-driven discourses seen across the peninsula today. Utilizing archaeological, primary, and secondary textual sources, I argue that the utilization of Indigenous ideals during the Maya Caste War unified the Maya people of the Yucatán Peninsula and reshaped understandings of cultural heritage. I further argue that some of these ideals are present and vividly accounted for along the less tourist frequented sites on the peninsula, particularly in areas where the resistance to Spanish Yucatecos was strongest. My goal is to highlight past and present Indigenous perspectives on the Caste War.

I was drawn to this project topic because I have always been interested in learning more about the untold stories of archaeology. I believe that the conclusions of this project highlight a growing trend of exploitation in the tourism industry and the complications it has created for the field. Moving forward I think it will be essential for archeologists to understand this issue in greater detail so we can help to mitigate its effects equitably.

View Alyssa’s I.S. Website

Posted in Comments Enabled, Independent Study, Symposium 2023 on April 11, 2023.

3 responses to “Wartime Impacts on Maya Culture Heritage”

  1. Anabelle Andersen says:

    What an interesting topic, Alyssa. So happy to see you doing well and hope all the best for you in these final weeks at Wooster and beyond.

  2. Matt Henss says:

    This is a great research project
    Great work!

  3. Sandra fields says:

    Hi Alyssa,
    This is wonderful. Great job!