Anthropology, Department of


First Advisor

Heather Richards-Rissetto

Second Advisor

LuAnn Wandsnider

Third Advisor

Wayne Babchuk

Date of this Version

Fall 12-5-2020


Peterson, A. S. 2020. When Leaders Surrender Their Divine Lineage: The Loss of Cosmic Connection Between Maya Local Lords and Their Supernatural Deities. (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Nebraska, Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Anthropology, Under the Supervision of Professor Heather Richards-Rissetto. Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2020

Copyright © 2020 Amy Sue Peterson

Any comments or questions may be sent to the author at


The Maya who lived during the Classic Period (200 CE to 900 CE) went through many changes in their daily lives. In the Late Classic Period (600 to 900 CE), social, political and economic stressors caused even more change to their routines, leading to the “collapse” around 800-900 CE. Current hypotheses for this collapse included warfare, environmental factors, human degradation of landscapes, as well as internal and external influences. I hypothesize that in the Early Classic (200 to 600 CE), rulership of local communities by Maya lords, or ajawob, related mainly to their connection to a pantheon of supernatural deities, which led to the ajawob being considered as divine beings. However, this divinity changed over time as the ajawob went from performing rituals and duties on behalf of the people to seeking to increase their power, not through a connection to deities but rather through connections to deeply established, powerful lineages. To examine this hypothesis, I use geospatial analysis to trace ajaw names through time in order to indentify changes in use of terms, titles and names based on location. Additionally, I delve into terms used during the Classic period in the hieroglyphic records, specifically how the terms k’uhul ixik and k’uhul ajaw­—terms that were applied only after death—went out of vogue in exchange for k’ujul (location) ajaw, a title that was self-applied in almost every application.

Advisor: Heather Richards-Rissetto