Hilltops and States in the Usumacinta River Basin

Author(s): Whittaker Schroder

Year: 2016


The ordering of space has been a focus of state-building initiatives since the formation of the earliest centralized polities. Landscape archaeologists are especially well situated to contribute to discussions regarding how states succeed and fail to control diverse populations in topographically complex areas. During the Late Classic period, the Middle Usumacinta Basin supported numerous regional polities, including Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan, that vied for supremacy over terrain broken by hills, valleys, and rivers that at times aided and challenged their efforts. The role of peripheral populations in this political landscape raises questions as to the influence of more localized political dynamics to the macro-political struggles of the Maya area. A comparison of hilltop sites, geographically and topographically peripheral to the Piedras Negras polity, reveals that in some cases hilltops were crucial to state monitoring of the political landscape, while elsewhere, hilltop settlements may reflect the acts of refugees "voting with their feet" to evade being governed. Recent survey and preliminary excavations at the site of El Infiernito, in particular, have raised many of the theoretical issues archaeologists face working in hilltop environments. Through settlement patterns, GIS analysis, and further excavation, El Infiernito is expected to address such challenges.

Cite this Record

Hilltops and States in the Usumacinta River Basin. Whittaker Schroder. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403951)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;