Early on from my time in Mérida I was interested in time, its passage, and our perception of it. My documentation strategy sought to explore my own perception and the importance of location, surroundings, and audio queues to the passage of time.

During an exercise in the first few days of the trip, I considered the ways which I tracked time when I was not staring at my wristwatch. I realized that many of the ways relied on sight: the speed with which cars drove by on the streets, or the speed with which the leaves moved on the trees around me all gave me clues to how the time and space around me was operating. These ‘natural’ markers for time that I noticed differ greatly from the strict mechanical march of time that we all abide by every day. We endow clocks and calendars with an incredible amount of power to control the rhythms of our lives, from when we wake up and go to sleep, to when we work and when we rest. These patterns all follow natural processes, but seem to differ from them somewhat awkwardly, resulting in discrepancies like leap years and daylight savings time. That is, though they mimic the natural cycles on Earth, they are too strict and are in fact separate from nature.

Being that we were in Yucatan, a territory of the Maya who had a different calendar from ours, and going to Chichén Itzá, which acted as a type of calendar for them, I found this line of thinking worth pursuing further, and crafted a documentation strategy inspired by the essay: “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” By E.B. Thompson.

This map from represents an early collaborative design between indigenous mappers and their Spanish colonizers. It shows a style of mapping that differs from what first comes to mind when I think of a map, with no discernible north and with spacial relationships that are confusing to me. The main thing I noticed though, are the tiny churches (or other Christian locations) that are dotted throughout the map and reveal the presence of colonial power (Barteet, 29). While I don’t know if early Spanish churches in the Yucatan all had bells that rang regularly, I did experience hourly bell ringing for eight years on the campuses of my high school and college. The ringing is an ever present reminder of the time of day, and the presence of the chapel, or the presence of Christianity. It also provides a frequent common reference point for all the people in an area, that could act to synchronize everyone in that area. I imagine those bells would have stuck out in Maya culture similarly to the way the tiny churches seem out of place on the Maya map. While on this map the Maya perspective seems to overshadow the colonial one, we know that European concepts of calendar and time overtook and obscured those of the people they conquered.

Another lens through which to think about the passage of time is Capitalism. The dominance of the ‘work day,’ ‘9-5’ framework has served to commodify time in a way that is difficult to escape. “The circulation of capital is essentially temporal in that it is an ongoing process, marked by a continuous and progressive temporality” (Stahel, 101). We have also been conditioned to think about time as being money itself. Look no further than the popular US phrase “time is money”. The Maya site of Chichén Itzá has been commodified heavily for tourism profits, and additionally there are many souvenir vendors, hoping to make money off of the outsiders that pay to come and experience Maya culture.

In "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Thompson discusses the co-development of clocks and labor schedules. He discusses the definition of time intervals and how they have changed and evolved over time. For example, in some cultures, and before the proliferation of reliable clocks, lengths of time were commonly referred to by tasks that would be commonly understood, such as how long it takes to roast corn, or “an Ave Maria said aloud” (Thompson, 38). He refers to this type of time notation as task-orientation. Another example he cites of task oriented time keeping, were the bells tied around the necks of livestock. Farmers woke up not to church bells, but to the bells of their animals that wanted to be fed. The shift away from task-orientation, from communities where ‘life’ and ‘work’ are not so strictly demarcated, occurs when labor hierarchies begin and “hands are employed” (Thompson, 61). The employer-employee relationship monetizes time, as the employer must see that the employees are not wasting time, aka money, “Time is now currency: it is not passed, but spent”(Thompson, 61). The further development of clocks, and highly defined and consistent, and shorter segments of time, only solidified this commodification.

Thompson goes on to discuss the effect of church bells, another topic with which my project is concerned, “Strangers and others within sound of the bell on winter nights ‘might be informed of the time of night, and receive some guidance into their right way’” (Thompson, 38). Furthermore, “The bell would also remind men of their passing, and of resurrection and judgement. Sound served better than sight, especially in growing manufacturing districts” (Thompson, 38)

Maya Calendar:

Tzolkʼin - 260 day count
Haabʼ - 365 day count
Calendar Round - 52 Haab’

Long Count - refers to mythological start date
1 day - 1 k’in
20 k’ins - 1 winal or uinal
18 winals - 1 tun
20 tuns - 1 kʼatun
20 k’atuns - 1 bʼakʼtum
20 x 18 x 20 x 20 = 144000 days = 1 b’ak’tun

144000 / 365 = ~400 years

400 year cycles of societal renewal -> new cities, maybe new power structures

Chichén Itzá Strategy

  1. Remove watch, turn phone off
  2. Walk around, making notes of ways in which time passage can be noticed
  3. 2 blindfolded sessions. Camera on tripod focused on me, taking video. Bell in hand, guessing time passage:
    1. Ring bell 5, 1 minutes apart : 10 minutes. Here the goal is trying to recreate mechanical time keeping methods myself - I will be trying to say mississippi in between each number to achieve this
    2. Ring bell unknown amount of times, based on some audio queue that I will identify in the space once I am there. This method tries to recreate the task-oriented time keeping methods that Thompson discusses.
  4. Make note of actual time passed after each session


*****Cow bell for tasks******

*****Regular bell for seconds*****

My site visit began by making general notes about the types of sounds I was hearing regularly around Chichén Itzá. It soon became very clear that most of the sounds, aside from an occasional bird call, had to do with the flow of tourists through the space. Vendor sold many different types of goods, including whistles and drums and other noise makers - and they would often demonstrate those noise makers as a way of attracting passing tourists. Clapping and yelling words like “tequila” to test the echos cause by the pyramid and the ball court also were hard to ignore on the grounds, and these occurred fairly regularly, as all the scheduled tours passed through. I knew that for my bell-ringing documentation, I wanted to track one of these “task oriented” ways of keeping time, and at Chichén Itzá, a place that has become defined in many ways by the tourism industry, I thought it made sense to make my task-oriented time keeping cue one of these sounds of tourism. The jaguar whistle was perhaps the loudest and most annoying sound of these, and so I chose it for my task-oriented method.

When it came time to test my new time-keeping methods, I found a secluded area behind some of the vendors. I was still somewhat close to the pyramid, but not right in the middle of things not get in anyone’s way. I began by trying to mimic a clock while blindfolded: ringing the bell on each minute, for 5 minutes. My experience doing this was very disorientating. I began by counting ‘mississippis’ but soon found that to be very tiring, and confusing, so I resorted to simple counting. Still, I would often lose my place in counting, repeat myself, and then skip ahead an estimated amount to offset the time I lost in my confusion. When I finished what I thought was 5 bell rings - five minutes - I was sure I had probably been counting for around 8 minutes, but to my surprise, the video that only been rolling for 5:20. Pleased with myself I went on to the next exercise. But why was I pleased? Most likely, it was for the same reason that being incorrect in the original listening exercise rattled me: because I was subconsciously measuring myself against the supposed ideal of mechanical time.

Keeping task-oriented time was far more relaxing, as I just sat there waiting to hear a jaguar whistle call. What I realized while sitting there, and what the analysis of the footage reinforces, are the long breaks in between quick bursts of calls. My assumption is that the vendors only blow the whistle when a group of people are passing, and might do it several times to draw attention. In chatting with Eddie, we talked about how the vendors probably think this toy is quite annoying as well, and so they might keep it silent when they can. In this line of thought, it would be helpful to have set up the video camera nearer to one of these vendors to see if there was any timing correlation with passing groups.

These videos are an effort to divorce my experience even more from linear time by overlaying each of my time units over the rest at 50% opacity. The resulting map of ghosts shows how what was supposed to be the same length of time changed depending on the current moment.

My thoughts from processing this documentation concern the type of time keeping that matters at Chichén Itzá. The vendors bring their goods every day, and other than closing or opening time, no specific times really matter inside the compound. What does matter is the rhythm of tourists moving around the different areas.

When I watched my footage of the other trial -> attempting to count to five minutes, ringing the bell on each minute, I realized that I had been so disoriented that I only rang the bell 4 times, and ended the exercise thinking I had done it 5. With this gaff, my original intuition had been correct, my minutes had been quite long, but I ended up doing the exercise for about the right amount of time. I think there are a couple explanations for this. First, I think attempting to count actual seconds was a fool’s errand. It is incredibly difficult, even with sight, let alone blindfolded, to count steadily and keep track of your place. That being said, I was fully aware that I was not counting real seconds, and so I began to play a kind of game in my head where I continued counting as I had been, but made an estimate on top of that counting about how wrong it was, and trying to adjust accordingly. In hindsight, what I really ended up doing was converting mechanical time into task oriented time: I was really just estimating how long it took me to count to sixty.

All this is to say that whether by accident, or because of the place itself, trying to replicate a clock proved an altogether useless strategy for time-keeping at Chichén Itzá. What felt much more appropriate was marking the rhythms of the events. These days, those rhythms all stem from the tourism business. During the tour, we learned that the pyramid itself was designed as a kind of calendar, or time keeping device, for the Maya. Certain features were designed to react certain ways with certain angles of the sun to create shadows of snakes, but the structure itself, and the large motifs on each tier also mimicked the days and months and years of the Mayan calendar. It felt strange that what had once been a sacred place, governed by a strict religious calendar, that also acted as a calendar itself, was now ruled and governed by the flow tourists. Locals made daily journeys to the site not for any religious purpose as they might once have, but instead to sell souvenirs.

(The map I referenced earlier, but superimposed with tourists now instead of just churches.)

In both cases however, I would argue that task-oriented timing seems more relatable and important to understanding the space. How different really are the tourists and the jaguar whistles from livestock and the bells around their necks? Later in his article, Thompson recalls British satirists making fun of irregular work schedules: “The work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness, wherever men were in control of their own working lives. (The pattern persists among some self-employed - artists, writers, small farmers, and perhaps also with students - today, and provokes the question whether it is not a "natural" human work-rhythm” (Thompson, 73). This kind of pattern looks a lot like my map of task-oriented bell ringing.


Andri W. Stahel. 1999. “Time contradictions of capitalism, Capitalism Nature Socialism”, 10:1, 101-132, DOI: 10.1080/10455759909358851

Barteet, Cody. 2013. “Contested Ideologies of Space in Hispanic American Cartographic Practices: From the Abstract to the Real in Spanish and Indigenous Maps of Yucatán.” RACAR: Revue d’art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review 38 (2): 22–39. https://doi.org/10.7202/1020792ar

Thompson, E. P. 1967. “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Past & Present, no. 38: 56-97. Accessed February 6, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/649749.