In 2003 and 2005 I published two critiques of research that purports to show that Classic Maya cities were built as cosmological models of the universe (these can be downloaded on my webpage).
2003 Can We Read Cosmology in Ancient Maya City Plans? Comment on Ashmore and Sabloff. Latin American Antiquity 14:221-228.
2005 Did the Maya Build Architectural Cosmograms? Latin American Antiquity 16:217-224.
I thought these were pretty strong critiques, and I anticipated a lively debate with Mayanists and others. These papers were deliberately polemic in tone, a device I used to try and elicit response and critique. I think it is likely that there may have been cosmological influence on Maya city planning, but the published arguments were based on poor methods and speculation. I had hoped that these papers might lead to improved methods and more rigorous work in this area.
But apart from one long email and a serious response from Anthony Aveni (see below), I got virtually no response to these papers. They are among my most infrequently-cited papers today. Why is that? I really don't know, but a few possibilities come to mind.
- My arguments were so overwhelming and convincing that no one would even think of taking a contrary perspective now. Yeah, right. As if.
- My arguments were so poor, based on faulty methods, assumptions, and data, that no serious scholar would take them seriously. They are beneath contempt, not worthy of reply by serious scholars. Well, I suppose this is possible, but I think I would have heard at least some indication of this at some point. A friend might have pointed this out to me, or perhaps someone who shares my views might have complained at what a lousy job I did in my critiques of the cosmology interpretations. Or the journal would not have accepted the papers.
- Well, I can't really think of a third alternative. I find this very puzzling.
Aveni, Anthony F. (editor)
2008 Foundations of New World Cultural Astronomy: A Reader with Commentary. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
So these papers are in the strange position of having been reprinted in a reader (usually a sign of good, influential papers), while remaining among my most infrequently cited papers.
I was reminded of this situation by two recent works. First, I was reviewing David Henige's work on pre-European New World demography. Henige mentions critiques that he and others made of the "high-count" school of historical demography, and notes that their various methodological criticisms have never been answered. The high counters keep making old arguments, while ignoring criticisms of their work. As someone who follows this research, I find this frustrating; Henige must find it VERY frustrating.
Henige, David P.
1998 Numbers From Nowhere: The American Indian Contact Population Debate. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
2008 Recent Work and Prospects in American Indian Contact Population. History Compass 6(1):183-206.
And today, I was reminded of these papers again in a book review by David Nicholas on Keith Lilley's new book on the role of cosmology in the design of medieval cities. Nicholas is very critical of Lilley's data and interpretations, and his arguments are very similar to mine. The empirical evidence for using a geometric/cosmological model of Jerusalem to lay out cities is extremely weak (a few possible cases out of hundreds of cities); and even if this argument were granted, such a feature would make almost no difference in the lives of the people who lived in the cities. Needless to say, I fired off an email to Nicholas telling him how brilliant his review is!
Lilley, Keith D.
2009 City and Cosmos: The Medieval World in Urban Form. Reaktion, London.
2010 Review of City and Cosmos by Lilley. H-Urban, H-Net Reviews (online). .
I apologize for rambling at such length about a minor peeve of mine. But the larger issue, which I still find puzzling after more than two decades in the trenches, is the lack of citation and acknowledgment of published papers in archaeology. And I don't think it is just me.