Community Identity and Social Practice during the Terminal Classic Period at Actuncan, Belize


This research examines the relationship between the ways in which urban families engaged local landscapes and the development of shared identities at the prehispanic Maya city of Actuncan, Belize. Such shared identities would have created deep historical ties to specific urbanized spaces, which enabled and constrained political expansion during the Terminal Classic period (ca. A.D. 800–900), a time when the city experienced rapid population growth as surrounding centers declined. This research contributes to the understanding of urban processes of growth and decay in this region, and how they are linked to the behaviors of social factions in settlements.

For communities, group identity can provide a sense of connection to place that integrates people at various social levels, provide an individual with social memories and meanings that can be applied to understanding and interpreting material life, and foster a common sense of self and awareness. Daily activities and their engagement with the material world entangle social meanings, values, and relationships. Further, spaces in which people reside and perform these tasks often affect the meanings and values associated with the activities themselves. The combination of shared practices and the spaces in which they occur is ultimately what helps to create and maintain group identity.

To investigate household relationships, this research considers the nature and location of activity patterns in and around three commoner houses to infer shared practices and the shared identities that those activities both enabled and constrained. Importantly, this research investigates not only the architectural areas that each house comprises, but also the open areas surrounding them. The goal of this research is to determine similarities and differences in the use of space throughout the sample area. Were open spaces used in similar ways to residential groups? Did Terminal Classic residents of the Northern Settlement conduct similar activities in all of the residential groups? Alternatively, were these groups locations for different types of practices?

To explore activity patterns, multiple methods were employed, including subsurface testing, soil chemical residue analysis, and macro– and microartifact analysis, to produce overlapping datasets of the sample area. Systematic testing using postholes was used to understand open spaces between architecture in addition to the architectural space itself. Through posthole sampling, macroartifacts, microartifacts, and soil samples were obtained for further examination. The aim of artifact analysis was to examine artifact diversity and density within the residential groups as well as between them to aid in the identification of activity loci. Additionally, soil chemical residue analysis was employed to investigate activities. Similarities and differences between artifact and chemical patterning can provide insight into shared practices. By creating multiple lines of evidence from independent datasets, inferences about activities can be more strongly supported. The artifact and chemical data were examined spatially using geostatistics as well as with quantitative assessment. The results suggest that Terminal Classic residents of Actuncan were extensively utilizing not only the formal patio spaces of residential groups but also the interstitial spaces in between. Additionally, I argue that one group appears to have been a locus for affiliative ritual practices in connection with ancestor veneration.

Cite this Record

Community Identity and Social Practice during the Terminal Classic Period at Actuncan, Belize. ( tDAR id: 398972) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8W95BMT


Ceramic Chipped Stone

Site Name

Investigation Types
Data Recovery / Excavation

Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: 800 to 900 (A.D. Terminal Classic)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -89.151; min lat: 17.062 ; max long: -88.932; max lat: 17.204 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Principal Investigator(s): Kara Fulton

Resources Inside this Project (Viewing 1-2 of 2)


  1. Dissertation - Community Identity and Social Practice during the Terminal Classic Period at Actuncan, Belize (2015)


  1. Raw Artifact & Chemical Data - Community Identity and Social Practice during the Terminal Classic Period at Actuncan, Belize (2015)