The Living and the Dead

James L. Fitzsimmons

in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780195390933
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Living and the Dead


In ancient Mesoamerica, the dead remained social actors and, as such, they often continued to play significant roles in the lives of everyday people. Unlike contemporary Western views of the dead, where even deceased political figures lack true agency, the dead of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica were ever-present and were believed to be capable of making their influence tangible for the living. In addition to passively defining territorial boundaries and resource rights, for example, the dead could engage in a variety of more active exploits, ranging from “dancing” at weddings to “witnessing” royal accessions. In short, the dead were a vital part of life in Mesoamerica. Hence, the death of an individual in ancient Mesoamerica may be viewed as the beginning of a long process of social rebirth and reinvention. This article discusses ancient Mesoamerican views about the relationships between the living and the dead; the use of physical spaces in which the dead were buried in order to establish social or political positions; human remains and mortuary rituals; and ancestor veneration.

Keywords: ancient Mesoamerica; human remains; mortuary rituals; ancestor veneration

Article.  3930 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Archaeology by Region

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