Lowland Maya Territories: Local Dynamics in Regional Landscapes

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 80th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (2015)

Postclassic Maya territories are considered by many to have been stable, but internally variable political units, retaining their integrity through time despite their incorporation into larger multi-polity networks. Given their temporal stability, territories were social and economic entities that transcended geopolitics alone. As cultural constructions, territories played an important part in structuring and shaping politics, identities, economics, and ritual practices. During the Classic and Preclassic periods, we suggest that territories were in flux, reacting and changing to both internal and external stimuli. This dynamism is exemplified by shifting political capitals, settlement patterns and migration patterns through time within regional landscapes. In this session, we examine the ways archaeologists investigate the dynamics of Maya territories including macro-analyses of regional surveys, aerial remote sensing, ceramic spheres, art and architectural styles, migration patterns, settlement patterns and hierarchies, as well as micro-analyses of site dynamics such as architectural histories, household demographics, and exchange relations. The papers in this session illustrate the importance of multi-scalar and multi-evidential perspectives to understand the boundaries and organizations of territories, how the locus of political power changed through time, and what factors contributed to their perseverance or assimilation.

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  • Documents (14)

  • Between earth and sky: the social and political construction of ancient lowland Maya territories (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lisa LeCount. Lisa J. LeCount. David W. Mixter.

    This paper introduces the Lowland Maya Territories: Local Dynamics in Regional Landscapes symposium that critiques the current model of territories as stable geo-political entities. We use data from the Actuncan Archaeological Project and other upper Belize River valley projects to suggest that territories were in flux, reacting and changing to social and political relationships. Territorial dynamism is driven by at least two processes: the social construction of place and the political...

  • Crossing Ancient and Modern Borders: Territoriality in the Three Rivers Region (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Thomas Garrison. Brett Houk.

    The lowland jungle environment of the Maya area presents numerous challenges to archaeologists in the study of ancient territoriality. Incomplete settlement survey data and fragmentary textual records hinder attempts to formulate comprehensive hypotheses comparable to those put forth for complex societies in other areas of the world. The Three Rivers Region of northeast Guatemala and northwest Belize is one area where some advancements may be made. Large portions of the region have been surveyed...

  • El Tintal in the Late Classic and Territorial Implications (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Mary Jane Acuña.

    The archaeological site of El Tintal, known primarily as a large and important Late Preclassic ancient Maya city in northern Petén, Guatemala, also had a significant occupation during the Late Classic Period. Preliminary observations and an initial season of explorations at El Tintal indicate that this later occupation was quite substantial, yet unlike the southern lowland pattern of recording history on stone monuments, not a single carved stela that dates to the Classic Period has been...

  • Holy lords and holy lands: territory in Classic Maya inscriptions (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alexandre Tokovinine.

    One of the significant challenges in dealing with indigenous classification systems is establishing continuities and discontinuities between Pre-Contact, Colonial, and Modern situations. The present paper addresses this question with respect to the concept of territory among the Ancient Maya, specifically, the speakers of Ch’olan and Yukatekan languages. It considers the corpus of Classic period inscriptions from the Southern Maya Lowlands as well as sixteenth and seventeenth century documents...

  • Incorporation and Independence in the Preclassic Western Maya Lowlands: Integrating Local and Regional Traditions at Rancho Búfalo, Chiapas, Mexico (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jeffrey Dobereiner.

    In this paper, I explore tensions between territorial integration and local resilience at Rancho Búfalo, Chiapas, a five hectare Preclassic center that was geographically intermediate to the cultural territories of the Olmec, Lowland Maya, and Pacific Coast. This site's residents' employed a localized approach to extra-local architectural packages, ceramic spheres and burial traditions, that complicates traditional narratives of ethnic and political incorporation in Preclassic Southern...

  • The Land of the Windy Water Lords: Secondary Centers in the Motul de San Jose Polity, Guatemala (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Antonia Foias. Kitty Emery.

    Motul de San José dominated a swath of the northern shore of Lake Peten Itza in central Peten, Guatemala, during the Late Classic. Its Ik’ Emblem Glyph has now been translated as "Windy Water," an apt name for this zone. Excavations at two small sites in the periphery of Motul de San José, Kante’t’u’ul (approx. 3km northwest) and Chachacklu’um (approx. 5km east) aimed to investigate the relations between these secondary centers and their political overlords at Motul de San José. Settlement...

  • A Multiproxy Investigation of Maya Socio-political Territories: A Case Study from the Yalahau Region, northern Quintana Roo, Mexico (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Andrew Vaughan. Dan Leonard. Jeffrey Glover.

    The Yalahau region in northern Quintana Roo, Mexico constitutes a unique physiographic landscape in the Maya area. The region is characterized by abundant freshwater wetlands, known locally as sabanas, which stand in marked contrast to the dry karstic plain of the northern Maya lowlands. The paper combines the results derived from surveys of the region’s settlements and its wetlands along with remote sensing data (in particular LANDSAT and LIDAR platforms) to highlight how multiple...

  • Not That Stable, Not That Durable, But Very Dynamic: Political Geography and Geopolitical Dynamics in the Río Champotón Drainage, Campeche, Mexico (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jerald Ek.

    The nature, plasticity, and durability of states as geographical and territorial entities has been a topic of longstanding debate in the study of Classic Maya political geography. One of the central tenets of Joyce Marcus’ highly influential ‘Dynamic Model’ is a view of states as comprised of relatively durable small-scale polities that were sometimes incorporated into more volatile larger scale hegemonic states. However, recent research in Central Campeche suggests that local and regional...

  • Preclassic Maya Territories and Boundaries (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Doyle.

    Many Classic period (ca. AD 250-900) polities owe the location of their royal courts to decisions made by settlers in the Preclassic period (ca. 1000 BC – AD 250). This presentation evaluates the basic question of whether there is evidence of territories or political boundaries in the Preclassic Maya Lowlands. In the past, I have argued that Middle Preclassic residents constructed monumental E-Group architecture at specific places on the landscape as a conscious creation of distance between...

  • Preclassic Roots of Well-Trodden Routes in the Central Maya Lowlands of Belize (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marieka Brouwer Burg. Eleanor Harrison-Buck. Astrid Runggaldier.

    Traditional approaches to ancient Maya territories focus on site hierarchies, which are defined by a capital with monumental architecture and an elite body that controls a hinterland population. In the central lowlands, E-Groups are among the earliest monumental architecture found and are almost always associated with sites that later develop into large Classic Maya capitals, such as Tikal and Naranjo. Thus, scholars suggest that E-Groups are in some way connected to early forms of Maya...

  • Shifting Allegiances at Yaxuna during the Early to Late Classic: Territory and the Loss of Independent Rule (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Jonathan Pagliaro. Travis Stanton.

    The site of Yaxuna, Yucatan, Mexico was an independent Maya city from the Formative to Early Classic periods. While the size of its territory during the early periods is unknown due to the lack of regional data on other large early cities in Central Yucatan, the Early Classic dynasty at Yaxuna was violently and abruptly vanquished towards the end of this period. At this time, a 100 kilometer causeway was also constructed connecting Yaxuna to the large metropolis of Coba, which was at its...

  • Territorial Boundaries and the Northwestern Peten: the View from Jaguar Hill (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Fitzsimmons.

    What actually constitutes Classic Maya political units? One way to address this question would be to examine ancient Maya conceptions of territory. Certainly, many major Maya sites had emblem glyphs, and these did provide—for those who could read—the sense of a geographic place controlled by a ‘holy lord.’ The real issue for understanding territory, however, is not an emblem glyph but what a Maya kingdom was to the people within it: how territorial boundaries were perceived by different...

  • Territorial Organization in the Upper Belize River Valley: Multi-Scalar Settlement Patterns at Baking Pot (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Julie Hoggarth. Jaime Awe. Richard George. Rafael Guerra. Claire Ebert.

    Evidence suggests that the influence of regional polities in the Upper Belize River Valley shifted through time, with political centers ascending and declining in power. Archaeological research by the Belize Valley Archaeological Reconnaissance (BVAR) project utilizes a regional approach to understand the political development and disintegration of three major centers: Cahal Pech, Baking Pot, and Lower Dover. This paper uses a multi-scalar settlement approach to understanding territorial...

  • With Turkeys on Spears and Maize on Arrows: Defining and Defending the Province of Chetumal (2015)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Maxine Oland. Debra Walker.

    Chetumal Bay had political and economic importance for local Maya populations for more than 2000 years. When the Spaniards entered the region in the 16th century, they settled near its political capital and attempted to incorporate it into a larger colonial world system, only to be met with wide-scale resistance. This paper examines the shifting dynamics of the Chetumal Bay territory, from the Preclassic through Postclassic-Colonial Periods, with perspectives drawn from Cerros and Progresso...