Defining Ancient Maya Communities: The Social, Spatial, and Ritual Organization of Outlying Temple Groups at Ceibal, Guatemala
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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EmbargoRelease after 05/02/2020
AbstractWhat was the spatial and social organization of ancient Maya cities, and how were diverse populations socially and politically integrated? This dissertation explores these questions by investigating the formation of local communities around minor temples in outlying areas of Ceibal, Guatemala. Many researchers have suggested that minor temples were important integrative hubs in lowland Maya settlements. I further propose that they were the physical and ideological centers of different local communities, akin to neighborhoods, throughout Ceibal. I define a local community as a supra-household social group comprised of members who share common histories and ties to particular places. Communities may be constituted through co-residence, similar modes of living, and common beliefs and practices, which foster shared identities and differentiate one group from others. At the same time, many communities can arise within—and in turn reinforce—a greater vision of cohesion across a larger society. To assess the relationships between minor temples and the socio-spatial formation of local communities, I investigate: 1) whether different segments of the population settled around each temple, creating discrete residential zones around the city; 2) whether there was a communal source of water within each zone, which would have been an important location for daily interactions and a crucial source of potable water; and 3) if there were variations in material culture across different residential zones, which could relate to social differences. A diachronic evaluation of multiple lines of evidence enables me to explore how these groups formed and changed through time. Data for this study was collected through systematic excavations of five minor temples, nearby residents, and potential aguadas (manmade reservoirs) associated with temples across Ceibal. The results of my analysis suggest that different groups of people constructed their own temple as they moved into outlying areas of the site throughout the Late and Terminal Preclassic periods (ca. 350 BC-AD 175). I found evidence that people routinely gathered at the temples for ceremonies, which may have helped foster group identities. The geospatial analyses of settlement data I performed in ArcGIS and my comparisons of pottery assemblages from different temple groups strongly suggest that local communities formed as discrete socio-spatial units around specific temples. Analysis of pollen in soils collected from the aguadas revealed that these features held water seasonally, and that maize was cultivated nearby. Together, my research suggests that local communities were established through ritual practices carried out at the temples, co-residence, management of communal sources of water, and potentially collective participation in agricultural production. Community patterns may have changed in later times, however, after many of the temples were ritually terminated around sometime between AD 175 and AD 300. In summary, local communities at Ceibal were somewhat autonomous: they controlled their own local resources, carried out their own building programs, and performed many of their own religious ceremonies. Nevertheless, the social relations undertaken at this intermediate level of society were integral to shaping, maintaining and changing the larger sociopolitical order through time.
Degree ProgramGraduate College