Political and Economic Change on the Eve of the Classic Maya Collapse: Building on a "Ceramic Foundation"

Author(s): Arthur Demarest; Paola Torres

Year: 2018


Joe Ball’s research, his ceramic studies, his insistence on material culture as basis for work, and his honesty in critique of poorly grounded interpretation together provide a standard of building culture-history on solid ceramic studies, chronology, and material culture analyses. Many recent interpretations of Classic Maya society have not met that standard. Here we aspire to his bottom-up, material culture approach to interpretation in recent collaborative research in the western Peten and the southern "frontier" of the Classic Maya states. His emphasis on lab-driven research, detailed ceramic analyses and fine-grained chronologies and a "direct" style is shamelessly mimicked here, first to briefly criticize serious flaws in recent studies of economy, dynastic collapse, and other aspects of Classic Maya societies and social change. However, then we build positively on detailed ceramic classification, statistical study, chronology, and compositional analyses to reconstruct economic systems on a more solid, controlled data base. Those "ceramically-grounded" studies have revealed strengths and weaknesses in southern lowland political economies, ingenious attempts to adapt them to a changing Mesoamerican world, and reasons for the failure of those brilliant innovations. The field of ceramic studies remains central to any credible effort at culture-historical reconstruction and theoretical interpretation.

Cite this Record

Political and Economic Change on the Eve of the Classic Maya Collapse: Building on a "Ceramic Foundation". Arthur Demarest, Paola Torres. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444557)

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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): 22293