Based on fieldwork and reflection over a period of almost fifty years, Maya Potters’ Indigenous Knowledge utilizes engagement theory to describe the indigenous knowledge of traditional Maya potters in Ticul, Yucatán, Mexico. In this heavily illustrated narrative account, Dean E. Arnold examines craftspeople’s knowledge and skills, their engagement with their natural and social environments, the raw materials they use for their craft, and their process for making pottery.
Following Lambros Malafouris, Tim Ingold, and Colin Renfrew, Arnold argues that potters’ indigenous knowledge is not just in their minds but extends to their engagement with the environment, raw materials, and the pottery-making process itself and is recursively affected by visual and tactile feedback. Pottery is not just an expression of a mental template but also involves the interaction of cognitive categories, embodied muscular patterns, and the engagement of those categories and skills with the production process. Indigenous knowledge is thus a product of the interaction of mind and material, of mental categories and action, and of cognition and sensory engagement—the interaction of both human and material agency.
Engagement theory has become an important theoretical approach and “indigenous knowledge” (as cultural heritage) is the focus of much current research in anthropology, archaeology, and cultural resource management. While Dean Arnold’s previous work has been significant in ceramic ethnoarchaeology, Maya Potters' Indigenous Knowledge goes further, providing new evidence and opening up different concepts and approaches to understanding practical processes. It will be of interest to a wide variety of researchers in Maya studies, material culture, material sciences, ceramic ecology, and ethnoarchaeology.