Department of Anthropology | Spotlight

Black magic helps anthropology major land book deal

Graduate student Jeremy Coltman to co-edit book on Mesoamerican religion

“Witchcraft and Sorcery in Ancient and Contemporary Mesoamerica,” a session co-organized by Jeremy Coltman for the 2012 Society for American Archaeology (SAA) Meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, resulted in a book deal with the University Press of Colorado for the ambitious anthropology graduate student.

Pictured: Jeremy Coltman.
Anthropology student Jeremy Coltman is working as an intern at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum for the summer.

Coltman will co-edit the volume with co-organizer John Pohl, an expert on the Mixtec people of Mexico and professor of art history at UCLA. Coltman will also contribute an article to the volume, which features renowned scholars in the field of Mesoamerican studies.

As referenced in the abstract summary, “Recent research suggests that maleficent magic was a significant component of the ideologies of complex Mesoamerican societies particularly at the state level.” It proposed: “While serious caution is required in regards to approach, we endeavor to examine this behavior not as irrational and steeped in superstition but rather highly rational and rooted in significant social and cultural values. While there is a clear internal logic, could sorcery and witchcraft reveal even more?”

“This is by no means a new topic for our field, but it is certainly one that is easily put on the backburner given the complex nature of the topic,” Coltman explained. “What is particularly ground breaking about what we’re doing is bringing the papers on this topic into one comprehensive volume featuring multiple approaches from some of the best Mesoamericanists out there.”

Coltman was one of more than 3,000 professional and student archaeologists who attended the five-day meeting at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. With more than 2,000 sessions, topics ranged from “Bioarchaeological Analyses in South America” to “Zooarchaeology of Coastal Mesolithic.” The SAA is dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas.

Concurrently, Coltman has been consulted for an article regarding a similar subject for American Archaeology Magazine, to be published late summer or early fall. Also, he has been invited to organize, moderate and speak on “Conjuring the Image: Illusion and the Suspension of Disbelief Among the Ancient Maya” at the Smithsonian Institution on Sept. 8. Coltman will join world famous Mayanist Michael D. Coe of Yale University at the seminar, themed “The Wild Otherworld of Ancient Maya Art and Ritual.”

Pictured: Jeremy Coltman in Belize.
Jeremy Coltman digging for archaeological artifacts in Belize.

However, before heading to Washington, D.C., in the fall, he is currently in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working as a summer intern with Harvard University’s David Carrasco through the CSU-funded Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Fellowship program.

“Internationally-known Aztec scholar David Carrasco invited me to do my internship as a guest of the Moses Mesoamerican Archive, Peabody Museum, at Harvard,” said Coltman, who earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Cal State San Bernardino as a student of Aztec expert Frances Berdan. “My research will delve into the religion of late-postclassic Central Mexico, particularly that of the Aztec, but also on the people inhabiting the periphery of the empire.”

He will focus on cosmology, world view and iconography, with more specific attention to a particular group of supernaturals known as the “Tzitzimime.”

“These are a poorly understood and quite frightening looking group of supernaturals that threatened to destroy the world during the appearance of a solar eclipse, or if new fire could not be drilled at the end of the 52-year cycle,” remarked Coltman.

Coltman’s interest in the ancient Maya was cultivated through his archaeological fieldwork in Belize with CSULA’s Professor James Brady, excavating and exploring the “Midnight Terror Cave” where the ancient Mayans were sacrificed and ancestral worship was conducted. He and Brady recently co-authored a paper titled “Have We learned Nothing Since Seler? A Critical Reassessment of Bats in Classic Maya Iconography.”

A Los Angeles resident, Coltman shared: “It is hard for me to imagine myself doing anything else but this. I want to become a university professor and teach my own graduate seminars. At the very least, I hope to inspire my students and help foster that passion for all things Mesoamerica. Great teaching could become quite infectious.”

Another anthropology honor: Cal State L.A.’s graduate student Mario Giron-Ábrego was recently announced as one of 30 new Americans—immigrants and children of immigrants from 20 different countries—to receive the prestigious Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship. Each fellow receives up to $90,000 in tuition and maintenance support for two years of graduate study in the United States in any field of study. Giron-Ábrego, who specializes in the study of Maya hieroglyphs, will use the award to complete his M.A. in anthropology at Cal State L.A. and begin to work toward a Ph.D. in archaeology.

For more about Giron-Ábrego: /univ/ppa/newsrel/hearst2011-mario.htm. For a list of the 2012 Soros Fellows:

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