Walls, Ditches and Spoil: Methodological Issues in the Study of Pre-Columbian Fortifications

Author(s): Christopher Hernandez

Year: 2017


A critical facet of studying past warfare is the analysis of fortifications. Fortifications are often visible on the surface, making these archaeological features identifiable through surface reconnaissance. Moreover, test pits and trench excavations into gated areas or across various sections of fortifications can be used to establish the martial functions of these archaeological features. Yet, the study of past warfare and fortifications often stumbles in the interpretive stage. How do we know a feature is a fortification? Cross-cultural models provide an important framework for archaeologists to identify fortifications across time and space. Nevertheless, general principles derived from cross-cultural studies must be complimented by the specifics of the cultural context(s) under study. By combining cross-cultural models with ethnographic, ethnohistoric and archaeological data from the Maya area, I examine potential fortifications at the site of Tzunun, Chiapas, Mexico. Tzunun is a settlement that contains potential fortifications in the form of free-standing walls, retaining walls, a trench and mounds of earth. My analysis highlights that fortifications deserve greater attention, not merely as indicators of warfare, but as complex archaeological features—similar to households, markets or temples—that had a variety of functions.

Cite this Record

Walls, Ditches and Spoil: Methodological Issues in the Study of Pre-Columbian Fortifications. Christopher Hernandez. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429860)

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Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

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

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15998