DER Documentary

Maya Lords of the Jungle

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From the Odyssey series
by John Angier
Executive Producer, Michael Ambrosino
color, 59 min, 1981




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The great Maya civilization of Central America has long intrigued archaeologists, who have investigated its economic, social, and political bases, and its mysterious collapse around 900 A.D. Until recently, archaeologists theorized that the ancient Maya peoples practiced slash-and-burn agriculture that required great tracts of forest land, and that as population grew the dwindling forest resources could no longer support the civilization. It was thought that a small, centralized, priestly elite was supported by an undifferentiated mass of people in the countryside which surrounded temple complexes.

This film takes another look at older theories and recent archaeological advances, and suggests an interpretation of Maya society in which a flourishing trade in salt was complemented by a form of intensive agriculture based on artificially raised fields on swampy land. This economic base could have sustained the large population while necessitating the more elaborate social hierarchies and political structures that are suggested by recent excavations. A link between the ecological system and political power is found in stone: the water lily, carved on glyphs that symbolized the powers of the king, apparently also played a significant ecological function in the system of swamp-raised agriculture.


About Odyssey series
In an attempt to cut the often esoteric ice of anthropology, PBS released in 1980 the first season of ODYSSEY, a newly-created series of anthropological documentaries, with a second season in 1981. The entire series was produced by Public Broadcasting Associates of Boston, with major funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Polaroid. Michael Ambrosino is the Executive Producer of the series.

Other films in the Odyssey series:
The Ancient Mariners
Ben's Mill
The Chaco Legacy
Dadi's Family
Franz Boas
The Incas
Little Injustices
Maasai Women
Margaret Mead: Taking Note
Myths and the Moundbuilders
N!ai, The Story of a !Kung Woman
Ongka's Big Moka
On the Cowboy Trail
Other People's Garbage
Seeking the First Americans
The Three Worlds of Bali



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