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A preliminary revised life history of Punta Laguna, Yucatan, Mexico: A persistent place

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2023

Sarah Kurnick*
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA
David Rogoff
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Penn Museum, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Iliana Ancona Aragón
Affiliation:
Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), Centro INAH Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, México
*
Corresponding author: Sarah Kurnick, email: sarah.kurnick@colorado.edu
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Abstract

This article presents a preliminary, revised life history of Punta Laguna, Yucatan, Mexico, and considers in detail the site's relationship to nearby communities. More specifically, this article presents the results of a type-variety analysis of the cumulative palimpsest of ceramics excavated at the site between 2017 and 2022. Unlike initial studies conducted in the 1980s, the current study suggests that Maya peoples occupied Punta Laguna continuously or recurringly from 600/300 b.c. through a.d. 1500/1550. Punta Laguna is therefore usefully understood as a persistent place. By offering a composite life history of Punta Laguna, this article aims to augment current understandings of the complex social, political, and economic landscape of the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula. It also considers the utility of archaeological studies of persistent places to scholarship on urban sustainability and suggests that research investigating the connections between early occupation and site longevity may prove a fruitful avenue of study. Finally, this article argues that investigations of persistent places may provide a counterweight to the more common focus on collapse and thereby offer a more comprehensive understanding of the Maya past—one that emphasizes the vitality of the Maya present.

Resumen

Resumen

Este artículo presenta una inicial revisión de la historia de vida en Punta Laguna, Yucatán, México, y considera la relación del sitio con comunidades cercanas. Más específicamente, este artículo presenta los resultados de un análisis de tipo-variedad del acumulado palimpsesto de cerámica excavado del sitio entre 2017 y 2022. Diferente a otros estudios conducidos en los 1980s, este estudio sugiere que los antiguos Mayas ocuparon Punta Laguna continuamente desde 600/300 a.C. a 1500/1550 d.C. Sostenemos que Punta Laguna es más útilmente entendido como un lugar persistente. Ofreciendo una historia revisada de Punta Laguna, este artículo propone aumentar el entendimiento del complejo escenario social, político, y económico de la península oriental de Yucatán. El artículo también reconsidera la utilidad de estudios arqueológicos de lugares persistentes a los estudios de sostenibilidad urbano y sugiere que estudios investigando las conexiones entre ocupaciones tempranas y la longevidad de sitios pueden ser caminos beneficiosos. Finalmente, sostenemos que las investigaciones de lugares persistentes pueden ser un contrapeso al enfoque más común de derrumbe, y ofrece un entendimiento más comprensivo del pasado Maya, uno que acentúa la vitalidad del presente Maya.

Type
Research Article
Creative Commons
Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press

Introduction

Places are powerful. As scholars have long noted, places—which both shape and are shaped by human actions (Lefebvre Reference Lefebvre and Nicholson-Smith1991)—are intimately connected with social identities (e.g., Bender Reference Bender1999), political authority (e.g., Smith Reference Smith2003), and collective memories (e.g., Van Dyke and Alcock Reference Dyke, Ruth and Alcock2003). More recently, scholars have argued that places are themselves vital essences and agentive forces (e.g., Jennings and Swenson Reference Jennings and Swenson2018). To understand the power of places, several have advocated studying their life histories (Ashmore Reference Ashmore2002). Why do particular places endure, and how have their meanings changed over time? And how, if at all, can the archaeological study of places impact the contemporary world?

This article presents a preliminary, revised life history of one specific place: Punta Laguna, Yucatan, Mexico. After considering the concepts of life histories and persistent places, the article briefly summarizes the archaeological site of Punta Laguna and recent excavations by the Punta Laguna Archaeology Project (PLAP). It then presents the results of a type-variety analysis (Smith et al. Reference Smith, Willey and Gifford1960) of all ceramics excavated at the site between 2017 and 2022, and considers in detail the site's occupation history and relationship to nearby communities. Initial studies in the 1980s suggested that Punta Laguna was occupied primarily, if not entirely, during the Postclassic period (Cortés de Brasdefer Reference Cortés de Brasdefer1988), or that it was occupied from the Late Preclassic to the Postclassic period but with substantial hiatuses (Benavides Castillo and Zapata Peraza Reference Benavides Castillo, Lorelei and Peraza1991). More extensive excavations and analyses suggest instead that Maya peoples occupied Punta Laguna continuously or recurringly from 600/300 b.c. through a.d. 1500/1550. Punta Laguna may therefore be usefully understood as a persistent place (Schlanger Reference Schlanger, Rossignol and Wandsnider1992).

The goals of this article are threefold: It aims to augment the current understanding of the complex social, political, and economic landscape of the eastern Yucatan Peninsula between 600/300 b.c. and a.d. 1500/1550. It considers the relationship between archaeological studies of persistent places and recent scholarship on urban sustainability, and it suggests that research investigating the connections between early occupation and site longevity may prove a fruitful avenue of study. Finally, it argues that studies of Maya persistent places may provide a counterweight to more common considerations of collapse and thereby offer a more comprehensive understanding of the Maya past—one that emphasizes the vitality of the Maya present.

Life histories and persistent places

Over the last several decades, archaeologists have investigated the life histories of places (e.g., Alexander Reference Alexander2012a; Joyce Reference Joyce, Bowser and Zedeño2009; Mitchell Reference Mitchell, Scheiber and Clark2008). They have, in other words, examined “evidence for human recognition, use, and modification of a particular position, locality or area over the full time span of its existence” (Ashmore Reference Ashmore2002:1178). A life history approach affirms that past places continue to exist in the present and “articulates ancient spaces and places with their social roles today” (Ashmore Reference Ashmore2002:1180). A life history approach also examines the tensions between the “longevity of places and the mutability of their meanings” (Ashmore Reference Ashmore2002:1179). Although places may endure, the meanings associated with those places are often unstable. Multiple meanings may exist simultaneously or replace one another, and they may change over time and with different inhabitants.

To construct life histories of places, archaeologists often rely on material objects, particularly ceramics likely produced during specific time periods. Yet, as Geoff Bailey (Reference Bailey2007:209) has argued, the “notion that a material object can represent a moment in time is self-contradictory.” As he explains, “material objects by definition have duration, a duration that extends from at least as early as the time when they were first created to the current moment of observation” (Bailey Reference Bailey2007:209). Furthermore, such durable, material objects often form cumulative palimpsests: palimpsests in which the “successive episodes of deposition, or layers of activity, remain superimposed one upon the other . . . but are so re-worked and mixed together that it is difficult or impossible to separate them out into their original constitutions” (Bailey Reference Bailey2007:204).

For these reasons, life histories of places are not necessarily linear, but can also be constellations or composites (Gordillo Reference Gordillo2014; Halperin Reference Halperin2017; Kurnick Reference Kurnick2019a). In his consideration of temporal constellations, Walter Benjamin (Reference Benjamin and Redmond1974), for example, argued that time periods exist concurrently instead of progressing sequentially, and that temporal moments are composed of variable impositions and erasures of physical remnants of different time periods. Laurent Olivier (Reference Olivier2004:205), to take a second example, has similarly noted that places have “always been a composite . . . made up of elements originating in the past but continuing to exist in the present.”

Several archaeologists adopting a life history approach have suggested that certain locales are usefully understood as persistent places: “places that were used repeatedly during long-term occupations of regions” (Schlanger Reference Schlanger, Rossignol and Wandsnider1992:97; see also Koons et al. Reference Koons, Mitchell, Hernandez-Bravo, Hitte, Logan and Baxter2021; Thompson Reference Thompson, Thomas and Sanger2010; Olszewski and al-Nahar Reference Olszewski and al-Nahar2016). A persistent place may “have unique qualities that make it particularly suited for certain activities . . . be marked by certain features that serve to focus reoccupations . . . [or] form on a landscape through a long process of occupation and revisitation . . . dependent on the presence of cultural materials” (Schlanger Reference Schlanger, Rossignol and Wandsnider1992:97). Consequently, natural resources, such as stone outcrops and water sources; cultural features, such as houses and temples; and cultural materials, such as burials and caches, may all contribute to the persistence of places.

Originally proposed 30 years ago, the concept of persistent places is gaining renewed importance in the twenty-first century. In some instances, historical ecological studies of landscapes have led to considerations of cultural keystones and other similar locations (Fish et al. Reference Fish, Fish, DeBlasis, Gaspar, Thompson and Waggoner2013; Glover et al. Reference Glover, Rissolo, Beddows, Jaijel, Smith and Goodman-Tchernov2022; Lepofsky et al. Reference Lepofsky, Armstrong and Greening2017; Maher Reference Maher2019). In other instances, scholars (e.g., LeFebvre et al. Reference LeFebvre, Erlandson and Fitzpatrick2022; Scarborough and Isendahl Reference Scarborough and Isendahl2020; Smith Reference Smith2010; Turner et al. Reference Turner, Kinnaird, Koparal, Lekakis and Sevara2020) have argued that archaeological studies of persistent places can contribute to contemporary studies of urban sustainability. Because the “entire modern economic-political order is only a few centuries old,” Michael Smith and colleagues, for instance, have called for the “development of a new interdisciplinary research effort to establish scientific understanding of settlement and settlement system persistence” (Smith et al. Reference Smith, Lobo and Peeples2021:1). Such scholars have also suggested that studies of persistence are important counterbalances to the overwhelming popular—and, the authors would argue, academic—focus on collapse (e.g., Diamond Reference Diamond2011; Mott Reference Mott2012; Webster Reference Webster2002). As Smith and colleagues (Reference Smith, Lobo and Peeples2021:3–4) note, “while the popular imagination obsesses about societal collapse, the empirical record shows the limitations of this emphasis.”

This article considers one specific location, Punta Laguna, and argues that it is usefully understood as a persistent place. To do so, it creates a composite life history based on the cumulative palimpsest of ceramics excavated at the site between 2017 and 2022.

Punta Laguna and the Punta Laguna Archaeology Project

Punta Laguna is located in the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, about 20 km northeast of Coba (Figure 1). The contemporary village consists of approximately 150 residents, who manage a cooperative ecotourism venture. Tourists can walk with local guides on trails through the reserve to search for spider monkeys; canoe and ride a zip line across the lagoon; and buy crafts such as needlework and jewelry from local artisans. Visitors can also participate in a Maya purification ceremony, led by a village shaman, and conducted entirely in Yucatec Mayan. This ceremony takes place around a traditional wooden altar and includes burning copal incense and drinking nonalcoholic balché from a gourd. Punta Laguna is a rare example of an ecotourist attraction that is created by—and that tangibly benefits—Indigenous peoples (Kurnick Reference Kurnick2019b; see also Aguilar Cordero et al. Reference Cordero, de Jesús, Alonzo Parra, Rosado and Gómez2012; Bonilla Moheno and García-Frapolli Reference Bonilla Moheno and García-Frapolli2012; García-Frapolli et al. Reference García-Frapolli, Ayala-Orozco, Bonilla-Moheno, Espadas-Manrique and Ramos-Fernández2007, Reference García-Frapolli, Toledo and Alier2008, Reference García-Frapolli, Bonilla-Moheno, Ramos-Fernández, Porter-Bolland, Ruiz-Mallén, Camacho-Benavides and McCandless2013).

Figure 1. Map of the Yucatan Peninsula showing the location of all sites mentioned in the text. Map by Kurnick.

The archaeological site of Punta Laguna, located almost entirely within the nature reserve, covers approximately 200 ha of land immediately surrounding a three-basin lagoon (Figure 2). The site includes a cenote containing an ancient mortuary deposit of at least 120 individuals (Martos López Reference Martos López2008; Rojas Sandoval Reference Rojas Sandoval2007, Reference Rojas Sandoval2008, Reference Rojas Sandoval2010; Rojas Sandoval et al. Reference Rojas Sandoval, Gonzales Gonzales, Mata, Benavente, Vicente, Leshikar-Denton and Erreguerena2008); two small, plain, Postclassic-period stelae; a series of caves; and more than 200 mounds (Kurnick and Rogoff Reference Kurnick and Rogoff2020). These mounds range in height from just above ground level to approximately 6 m, and they include both house mounds and civic-ceremonial structures built in the megalithic architectural style characteristic of the Late Preclassic period (Mathews Reference Mathews2001); the Peten style prominent at Coba during the Late Classic period (Con Uribe and Martínez Muriel Reference Con and Muriel2002; Satterthwaite Reference Satterthwaite1945; Shaw Reference Shaw, Shaw and Mathews2005:149); and in the “East Coast” style characteristic of the Postclassic period (Figure 3; Andrews and Andrews Reference Andrews and Andrews1975; Lorenzen Reference Lorenzen2003; Toscano Hernandez Reference Toscano Hernandez1994). Population estimates for Punta Laguna are currently unknown, and the nature of the relationship between Punta Laguna and Coba is under investigation.

Figure 2. The archaeological site of Punta Laguna. See Figures 4, 5, and 6 for enlarged views of the areas within the boxes. Map by Rogoff.

Figure 3. Photographs of different architectural styles present at Punta Laguna: (a) Naranja, built in the megalithic style; (b) Coco 1, built in the Peten style; (c) Aguacate, built in the East Coast style. Photographs by Kurnick.

In the 1980s, Fernando Cortés de Brasdefer (Reference Cortés de Brasdefer1988) visited and described the site core of Punta Laguna, and Antonio Benavides Castillo and Renee Zapata Peraza (Reference Benavides Castillo, Lorelei and Peraza1991) mapped part of the site and conducted surface collections. In their published overview of the site, however, they did not specify the number or provenience of the sherds they collected (Benavides Castillo and Zapata Peraza Reference Benavides Castillo, Lorelei and Peraza1991:46). In the early 2000s, Carmen Rojas Sandoval (Reference Rojas Sandoval2007; Reference Rojas Sandoval2008; Reference Rojas Sandoval2010; Martos López 2008) excavated the site's cenote and, since 2014, the Punta Laguna Archaeology Project (PLAP) has conducted fieldwork at the site (Kurnick Reference Kurnick2019a; Reference Kurnick2019b; Reference Kurnick2020; Reference Kurnick2023; Kurnick and Rogoff Reference Kurnick and Rogoff2020).

Thus far, the PLAP has carried out a systematic site survey and produced site maps (Kurnick and Rogoff Reference Kurnick and Rogoff2020). Although lidar is now commonly employed to map Maya sites, project members chose instead to survey on foot and spend substantial time working with and remunerating local community members (Kurnick Reference Kurnick2019b, Reference Kurnick2020; Kurnick and Rogoff Reference Kurnick and Rogoff2020). Between 2017 and 2022, the PLAP also conducted excavations in association with 20 mounds: 311, 337, 341, 362, 376, 443, 446, 450, Coco 1, Durazno, Fresa, Guava, Habanero, Iguana, Jalapeño, Naranja, Manzana, Sandia, Toronja, and Uva (Figures 4, 5, and 6). As is conventional in Maya archaeology, project members designated all mounds with nonsense names (e.g., Coe and Haviland Reference Coe and Haviland1982:47–49). Those in the site core are named after plants and animals, and all others have numerical designations. The PLAP targeted these 20 mounds, in part, to better understand the function and occupation history of a variety of different types of architectural features located around the lagoon. This nonrandom sample includes only approximately 10 percent of the mounds so far mapped at Punta Laguna. Nevertheless, analysis of associated ceramics already suggests a different chronology of occupation than originally proposed for the site.

Figure 4. Enlarged view of the north side of the lagoon showing the location of mounds 443, 446, and 450. Image by Rogoff.

Figure 5. Enlarged view of the east and southeast side of the lagoon, showing the location of Sandia, Toronja, Uva, mound 341, Coco 1, Durazno, Fresa, Guava, Habanero, Iguana, Jalapeño, Manzana, and Naranja, as well as the site's cenote. Image by Rogoff.

Figure 6. Enlarged view of the south side of the lagoon, showing the location of mounds 362, 337, 376, and 311. Image by Rogoff.

Located to the north of the lagoon (Figure 4), mounds 443 and 446 form the central and southwestern components of a triadic architectural arrangement. Project members excavated in the fill and in the area behind each mound, and in the area in front of 443. Mound 450 is a small, low, individual mound that lacks any obvious architectural features. Excavations were carried out in the fill of the mound and in the areas just to its northeast and southwest.

Located to the east of the lagoon, near the site's cenote, Sandia, Toronja, and Uva comprise part of a larger architectural group that includes an approximately 6 m tall mound with the remains of a miniature masonry shrine on top (Figure 5). Project members excavated in the fill of the three named mounds, in the area to the north of Sandia, and in the plaza between Sandia and Uva. Mound 341, Coco 1, Durazno, Fresa, Guava, Habanero, Iguana, Jalapeño, Manzana, and Naranja are located to the southeast of the lagoon. Mound 341 is a low, irregularly shaped platform with the basal walls of two rooms. Project members excavated in the fill of the mound, and in the areas to its north, south, and west. Coco 1 and Durazno are both approximately 4 m tall mounds with miniature masonry shrines on top. The Coco 1 shrine was destroyed in a recent hurricane, and excavations were placed in the area where the shrine used to be. The Durazno mound supports both a miniature masonry shrine and a small, plain stela measuring 125 cm tall x 55 cm wide. Shallow, horizontal excavations were conducted in the areas adjacent to the shrine and stele. Fresa is an approximately 1 m high mound that also supports a miniature masonry shrine. Project members excavated in the areas in front and behind this mound.

Guava is a low, rectangular platform with no visible architectural features, and project members excavated in the areas to its north, south, and west. Habanero, an intrasite sacbe (causeway), measures approximately 72 m long x 10 m wide, with a height varying between 30 and 50 cm. Project members conducted excavations in the fill of this feature, on both the northern and southern ends. Iguana and Jalapeño are both approximately 1.5 m tall mounds with staircases on one side. A plain stela, measuring 118 cm tall x 54 cm wide, sits on top of Iguana. Excavation units were placed both in front of and behind these mounds. Manzana and Naranja are relatively small, square mounds, measuring approximately 1 m in height. Neither has obvious architectural features. Project members excavated in the fill of Manzana and in the areas to its northwest and southeast, as well as in areas to the north, east, and west of Naranja.

Finally, mounds 311, 337, 362, and 376 are located to the south of the lagoon (Figure 6). Mound 311 is a platform supporting the basal walls of two features. Project members excavated in the fill of the mound, both inside and outside these features. Mounds 337 and 376 are adjacent to one another. The former is a larger platform with the basal walls of two architectural features. The latter is a smaller platform with the basal walls of one feature. Project members placed excavation units inside each room, near the center and behind each of these two platforms. Mound 362 is a low platform with the basal walls of five rooms. Excavations were conducted inside each room, near the center of the platform, and off its west and north sides.

The life history of Punta Laguna

These excavations produced 17,633 ceramic artifacts. Fifty of these were objects such as spindle whorls and net sinkers, and 295 were highly eroded, and therefore unidentifiable, sherds. The remaining 17,288 ceramic sherds were analyzed using the type variety approach (Table 1) (Smith et al. Reference Smith, Willey and Gifford1960). This approach, which involves identifying and comparing several characteristics of ceramics—including the physical composition of their paste, the Munsell color of their slip, and their method of manufacture and decoration—has been the most common method for establishing ceramic sequences at Maya archaeological sites for over half a century. To identify the ceramic materials from Punta Laguna, ceramicist Iliana Ancona Aragón used data from publications about ceramic sequences at archaeological sites in the eastern Yucatan Peninsula and the extensive physical ceramic collections housed at the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH; National Institute of Anthropology and History) Yucatan office in Merida, Mexico.

Table 1. Ceramics excavated at Punta Laguna between 2017 and 2022.

Archaeologists working in different parts of the Maya world debate precise dates for major time periods, such as the Late Classic period or the Postclassic period. This article uses the dates established by Fernando Robles (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990) for the greater Coba region. It should be noted, however, that these dates are based on stratigraphic contexts and comparisons with materials recovered at other sites in the Maya area, and not on absolute radiocarbon dates from Coba (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990:25).

The Middle Preclassic period (600–300 b.c.)

The earliest ceramics recovered from Punta Laguna were produced during the Middle Preclassic period (600–300 b.c.). These 102 sherds, approximately 0.59 percent of the total number of identifiable sherds found at the site thus far, belong to five different ceramic groups: Achiotes, Chunhinta, Dzudzuquil, Joventud, and Pital (Figure 7). Sherds from the first four of these groups are similar to the Early Nabanche ceramics present at sites in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, including Komchen and Dzibilchaltun (see Ceballos Gallareta and Robles Castellanos Reference Ceballos Gallareta and Castellanos2012). A single sherd from the Pital group—part of the Mamom ceramic sphere that predominated in the central and southern lowlands during this time (see Willey et al. Reference Willey, Culbert and Adams1967)—suggests possible connections with more distant parts of the Maya world.

Figure 7. Ceramics produced during the Middle Preclassic period: (a–b) Joventud red: Nolo; (c) Dzudzuquil cream to buff: Dzudzuquil; (d) Achiotes unslipped: Unspecified; (e) Sapote striated: Rastro. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Project members found sherds produced during the Middle Preclassic period in association with 11 of the 20 mounds: 311, 337, 341, 362, 446, 450, Guava, Manzana, Naranja, Sandía, and Toronja. Nevertheless, 42 out of these 102 sherds were found in the plaza between Sandía and Toronja. Archaeologists have recovered ceramics produced during the Middle Preclassic period at several nearby sites (see Rissolo et al. Reference Rissolo, Ochoa Rodríguez, Ball, Mathews and Shaw2005). Yaxuna, Muyil, Vista Alegre, and several other sites in the Yalahau region, were first settled at this time (Glover Reference Glover2012:274; Glover et al. Reference Glover, Rissolo, Ball and Amador2011:70; Suhler et al. Reference Suhler, Ardren and Johnstone1998:172; Tucker Reference Tucker2022:222–226; Witschey Reference Witschey1993:156–157, Reference Witschey, Shaw and Mathews2005:137–138), as were several sites in the Cochuah region, including Yo'okop (Johnstone Reference Johnstone, Mathews and Shaw2005; Shaw Reference Shaw and Shaw2015). Furthermore, Ek Balam was a “sizeable community with an expanding hinterland” (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998:107).

The Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic period (300 b.c.a.d. 300/350)

Project members excavated a substantially greater quantity of ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic period (300 b.c.a.d. 300/350); 6,086 sherds, 35.1 percent of the total number of identifiable sherds found at the site thus far, belong to the Achiotes, Carolina, Dzilam, Flor, Huachinango, Iberia, Polvero, Saban, Sierra, Xanaba, and Zotz groups (Figures 8, 9, 10). Sherds from the Saban and Sierra groups are the most common, together comprising 80.36 percent of the sherds produced during this period. Notably, at Punta Laguna, as at other nearby sites including Muyil (Witschey Reference Witschey1993, Reference Witschey, Shaw and Mathews2005), it has not been possible to distinguish between ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic, Terminal Preclassic, Protoclassic, and beginning of the Early Classic period. Many of the major ceramic groups continue throughout this approximately 600 year period (see Glover and Stanton Reference Glover and Stanton2010 for more information about the Late Preclassic to Early Classic transition in the northern Maya lowlands).

Figure 8. Ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic periods. (a–d) Tancah coarse ware: Tancah; (f) Mateo red on cream: Unspecified; (g) Accordion incised: Unspecified. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 9. Ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic periods: (a–c) Sierra red: Clear slip; (d) Laguna Verde incised: Unspecified; (e–f) Celarian notched: Celarain. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 10. Ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic periods: (a) Dzilam green incised: Dzilam; (b) Iberia orange: unspecified; (c) group undesignated, Protoclassic red and orange with incised designs; (d–e) Huachinango bichrome incised: Huachinango; (f) Carolina bichrome incised: Carolina. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

These sherds form part of a well-documented regional tradition, and they are similar to ceramics found at Coba (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990), Ek Balam (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998), Yaxuna (Suhler et al. Reference Suhler, Ardren and Johnstone1998), Muyil (Witschey Reference Witschey1993, Reference Witschey, Shaw and Mathews2005), Yo'okop (Johnstone Reference Johnstone, Mathews and Shaw2005), and sites in the Yalahau region (Glover Reference Glover2012; Glover and Esteban Amador Reference Glover, Amador, Shaw and Mathews2005). Ceramics belonging to the Huachinango group, to take one example, may have been produced near Ek Balam (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998:111; Bond Reference Bond1996; Bond Freeman Reference Bond Freeman2007:283; Glover and Stanton Reference Glover and Stanton2010:66). Some sherds, however, do suggest longer-distance contacts. Within the Sierra group, two varieties have been identified. The most abundant, found at Coba (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990:57–61) and sites throughout the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, has clear slip. The other variety, designated as unspecified, has a well-adhered waxy finish similar to ceramics that form part of the Chicanel ceramic sphere in the southern lowlands (see Willey et al. Reference Willey, Culbert and Adams1967). Project members further recovered sherds from the Flor group, also part of the Chicanel sphere. But, because these sherds had a reddish tone to their paste and a darker slip, they may have been a local version of Flor ceramics produced within the Yucatan Peninsula.

Project members found significant numbers of sherds produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic period in association with each of the 20 mounds. Ceramics from three mounds on the north side of the lagoon—450, 446, and 443—and one on the south side of the lagoon, 337, suggest that these mounds were each constructed and ultimately abandoned during this time. Almost all (98.5 percent) of the 69 sherds associated with Mound 450 were produced during this period and belong to the Sierra, Saban, or Huachinango groups. Similarly, almost all (97.8 percent) of the 282 sherds associated with Mounds 446 and 443—which form part of a triadic architectural arrangement—were produced during this period and belong to the Sierra, Saban, Huachinango, Carolina, or Zotz groups. Finally, almost all (91.7 percent) of the 328 sherds associated with Mound 337 were produced during this period and belong to the Sierra, Saban, Huachinango, Flor, or Dzilam groups.

During this time, several nearby sites experienced growth. Yaxuna, for example, was increasing in power and prestige and, “during the Late Preclassic, the site appears to have been a typical regal-ritual center in the southern lowland tradition, including architectural forms such as triadic acropolis groups” (Glover and Stanton Reference Glover and Stanton2010:68; Suhler et al. Reference Suhler, Ardren and Johnstone1998). Similarly, sites in the Yalahau region underwent a “dramatic increase in population along with an accompanying increase in monumental architecture” (Fedick and Mathews Reference Fedick, Mathews, Shaw and Mathews2005; Gallareta Negrón and Taube Reference Gallareta Negrón, Taube, Shaw and Mathews2005; Glover Reference Glover2012:279), and sites in the Cochuah region “experienced a dramatic increase in the number and size of sites” (Shaw Reference Shaw and Shaw2015:10). Ek Balam (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998) and Muyil (Witschey Reference Witschey1993) also grew substantially, and new sites—most notably Coba—were founded (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990). It should be noted, however, due to most excavations at Cobá being associated with large, monumental architecture, there may be an earlier, yet uncovered, occupation phase at the site.

The Early Classic period (a.d. 300/350–550/600)

Project members excavated 1,977 ceramic sherds produced during the Early Classic period (a.d. 300/350–550/600). These sherds, 11.44 percent of the total identifiable sherds found at the site so far, belong primarily to the Becoob variety of the Saban group, as well as to the Cetelac and Tituc groups (Figures 11 and 12). Project members also recovered small numbers of sherds belonging to the Aguila, Balanza, Sombra, and Timucuy and Triunfo groups. Like ceramics from previous periods, the Early Classic ceramics at Punta Laguna were primarily produced locally. Only a few sherds, such as those belonging to the Timucuy group, suggest longer-distance exchange, and in this case, with the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula (Brady et al. Reference Brady, Ball, Bishop, Pring, Hammond and Housley1998; Jiménez et al. Reference Jiménez, Magnoni, Mansell, Freeman and Hutson2017:87; Smith Reference Smith1971).

Figure 11. Ceramics produced in the Early Classic period: (a–d) Saban unslipped: Becoob; (e–f) Cetelac fiber tempered: Cetelac. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 12. Ceramics produced during the Early Classic period: (a) Tituc orange polychrome: Tituc; (b–c) Sombra coarse ware: Sombra. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Of the 20 mounds thus far excavated at Punta Laguna, only seven—311, 362, 376, Sandia, Toronja, Uva, and 341—have significant numbers of sherds produced during the Early Classic period, and no purely Early Classic contexts have been identified. The site may have experienced a period of stress during this time, perhaps associated with Coba's rise as a regional power (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990:91). At Punta Laguna, ceramics produced during the Early Classic period occurred with the greatest frequency along the south side of the lagoon and near the site's cenote.

During this time, the occupation histories of sites in the eastern Yucatan Peninsula diverged. As noted above, Coba prospered and began its transformation into a regional power

(Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990:91), and Muyil continued to expand in size and population, though slowly (Witschey Reference Witschey1993, Reference Witschey, Shaw and Mathews2005). Yaxuna, on the other hand, experienced a population decline, and one associated with the “reduction and reorientation of monumental construction” (Glover and Stanton Reference Glover and Stanton2010:70; Loya González and Stanton Reference Loya González and Stanton2013:28). Glover and Stanton (Reference Glover and Stanton2010:69) suggest that this demographic shift may have been associated with changes in ideology that emphasized the “cult of kingly ancestors” and “elite mortuary monuments.” Population declined in the Cochuah region at this time (Shaw Reference Shaw and Shaw2015:11), and most sites in the Yalahau region were all but abandoned (Glover Reference Glover2012; Glover and Esteban Amador Reference Glover, Amador, Shaw and Mathews2005). Glover (Reference Glover2012:290) suggests two possible explanations for this demographic decline. On the one hand, individuals living in the Yalahau region may have been enticed to migrate to Coba. On the other hand, climatic factors may have made continued occupation of the Yalahau region difficult. Lake cores from Punta Laguna suggest a drying period around a.d. 250 (Hodell et al. Reference Hodell, Brenner, Curtis and Guilderson2001; Hodell et al. Reference Hodell, Brenner and Curtis2007), and rising sea levels and water tables may have resulted in flooding (Fedick Reference Fedick2014; Leonard et al. Reference Leonard, Sedov, Solleiro-Rebolledo, Fedick and Diaz2019). As Glover (Reference Glover2012:290) notes, this “climatic change may have wreaked havoc on the hydrology of the region's wetlands” and its water management systems.

The Late and Terminal Classic period (a.d. 550/600–1100/1200)

Project members excavated a large quantity and diversity of ceramics produced during the Late Classic period (a.d. 550/600–1100/1200); 5,587 sherds—32.32 percent of the total number of identifiable sherds found at the site thus far—belonging to the Arena, Batres, Chablekal, Chimbote, Dzitas, Dzitya, Encanto, K'inich, Maxcanu, Muna, Petkanche, Saxche, Teabo, Ticul, and Vista Alegre groups (Figures 13 and 14) (see Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos, Merino Carrión and Cook2006 for an overview of Late Classic–period ceramics in the northern Yucatan Peninsula). Notably, Robles Castellanos (Reference Robles Castellanos1990) distinguished two Late to Terminal Classic period ceramic complexes at Cobá: the Palmas complex (A.D. 550/600–700/730) and the Oro complex (A.D. 700/730–1100/1200). Nevertheless, several ceramic groups are common to both complexes and at Punta Laguna, which lacks clear-cut stratigraphy, it is not currently possible to distinguish between ceramics produced during these two time periods. Vista Alegre, Batres Red, and Arena Red sherds occur with the greatest frequency at Punta Laguna, comprising 30.6 percent, 27.5 percent, and 11.47 percent of the Late Classic ceramics, respectively. Vista Alegre ceramics have been found throughout the eastern Yucatan Peninsula, including at coastal sites such as Muyil (Witschey Reference Witschey1993), Xelha (de la Cruz Canché Manzanero Reference de la Cruz Canché Manzanero1992:119–126), and Xcaret (Ochoa Rodríguez Reference Mott2004:164–167). Batres Red ceramics are particularly common at Coba (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990) and may have been produced there (see Loya González and Stanton Reference Loya González and Stanton2013:39). These ceramics, however, are noticeably infrequent at some nearby sites, including Muyil (Witschey Reference Witschey1993), Ek Balam (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998), and Yo'okop (Johnstone Reference Johnstone, Mathews and Shaw2005:162; Shaw Reference Shaw, Shaw and Mathews2005:150). Arena Red ceramics were likely produced at Yaxuna, between approximately a.d. 600 and 700. These ceramics have been found in significant numbers at Coba (Loya González and Stanton Reference Loya González and Stanton2013) and at coastal sites, including Xelha (de la Cruz Canché Manzanero Reference de la Cruz Canché Manzanero1992:129).

Figure 13. Ceramics produced during the Late Classic period: (a–b) Batres red: Batres; (c–d) Lakin impressed composite: Lakin; (e) Encanto striated: Sacná; (f) Arena red: Arena. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 14. Ceramics produced during the Late Classic period: (a) Muna slate ware: Muna; (b) Akil impressed: Akil; (c) Teabo red: Teabo; (d) Ticul thin slate ware: Ticul; (e) Vista Alegre striated: Unspecified; Vista Alegre striated: Vista Alegre. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

At Punta Laguna, project members recovered significant numbers of sherds produced during the Late Classic period in association with 16 of the 20 mounds so far excavated—all mounds except 450, 446, 443, and 337. Notably, during the Palmas phase, Coba no longer produced its own polychromes but instead imported them from the Peten, Belize, and Rio Bec area (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990:258). Late Classic polychromes are also rare at Punta Laguna. The only polychromes found so far form part of the Petkanche, Chimbote, and Saxche groups, and comprise only 0.36 percent of the identifiable sherds produced during this period.

The Late Classic period was a time of growth throughout much, though not all, of the region. Muyil grew rapidly during this time (Witschey Reference Witschey1993, Reference Witschey, Shaw and Mathews2005) and Ek Balam “dominate[d] the landscape as the capital of a densely populated regional polity” (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998:118). Coba experienced a significant increase in size, population, and construction activity. There, Maya peoples built a profusion of new public and residential structures, as well as sacbeob (causeways), including a 100 km long causeway connecting Coba and Yaxuna (Loya González and Stanton Reference Loya González and Stanton2013; Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990:131, 177). Stelae from Coba, with inscribed hieroglyphic dates ranging from a.d. 613 to 780, further suggest that the site reached its political apex at this time (Loya González and Stanton Reference Loya González and Stanton2013:28; see also Guenter Reference Guenter and Stanton2014; Stuart Reference Stuart2010). In the Yalahau region, by contrast, sites other than Vista Alegre (see Glover et al. Reference Glover, Rissolo, Mathews and Ford2011, Reference Glover, Hruby, Rissolo, Ball, Glascock and Steven Shackley2018; Tucker Reference Tucker2022) remained largely abandoned—“little material evidence exists in support of an occupation of any size in the region” (Glover Reference Glover2012:279).

At Yaxuna, there is little evidence of monumental construction during the Late Classic period, though the site experienced a resurgence during the Terminal Classic period: Then, “population levels increased dramatically” and “many previously abandoned monumental structures were renovated” (Loya González and Stanton Reference Loya González and Stanton2013:28). Similarly, the Cochuah region, which remained largely uninhabited during the Late Classic period, witnessed “an abrupt reversal . . . with a strong population evidenced at every site” (Shaw Reference Shaw, Shaw and Mathews2005, Reference Shaw and Shaw2015:12). Indeed, Yo'okop experienced a Terminal Classic “population boom and invested in extensive sacbe networks” (Shaw Reference Shaw and Shaw2015:13) and, at Ichmul, the Terminal Classic “seems to be when construction activity was most intense, and when the monumental buildings . . . and five sacbeob . . . were built (Flores Colin Reference Flores Colin and Shaw2015:196).

The Postclassic period (a.d. 1100/1200–1500/1550)

Project members excavated 3,536 sherds produced during the Postclassic period (a.d. 1100/1200–1500/1550). These sherds comprise 20.45 percent of the total identifiable sherds found at the site so far. Almost all (96.87 percent) of the ceramics produced during the Postclassic period belong to the Navula group, although sherds from the Mama and Payil groups are also present (Figure 15). Within the Navula group, 2,859 sherds—80.85 percent of the total number of sherds produced during the Postclassic period—were fragments of Chen Mul Modeled vessels. Navula ceramics also included cajetes, and ollas; Mama ceramics include cajetes and ollas; and Payil ceramics consist exclusively of ollas with complex, incised designs.

Figure 15. Ceramics produced during the Postclassic period: (a) Chen Mul modeled: Chen Mul; (b) Palmul incised: Palmul. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Of the 20 mounds so far excavated at Punta Laguna, eight have evidence of use during the Postclassic period: Coco 1, Durazno, Fresa, Habanero, Guava, Iguana, Jalapeno, and Manzana. Only Jalapeño has evidence of residential occupation. There, project members recovered utilitarian ceramics as well as ceramic net weights, heavily used obsidian blades, and spindle whorls suggestive of Postclassic fishing net manufacture (Kurnick and Rogoff Reference Kurnick and Rogoff2021). So far, all ceramics produced during the Postclassic period have been found either to the southeast of the lagoon or near the site's cenote.

Some nearby sites experienced a contraction during the Postclassic period (see Andrews et al. Reference Andrews, Andrews and Castellanos2003 for a discussion of the Late Classic to Postclassic transition in the northern Yucatan Peninsula). Coba decreased in size and population, although inhabitants continued to build new structures, including those in the Pinturas group (Robles Castellanos Reference Robles Castellanos1990:219). Similarly, “Ek Balam's Postclassic occupation is modest when compared to that of the Classic period” though there is “evidence of continued use of some earlier buildings . . . and limited new construction” (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998:116). At Yaxuna, activity during this period appears to have been entirely ceremonial as no Postclassic residences have yet been found (Loya González and Stanton Reference Loya González and Stanton2013; Suhler et al. Reference Suhler, Ardren and Johnstone1998). Similarly, the Cochuah region was largely depopulated, with only “minor ritual architecture” present at some sites, and most notably at Yo'okop” (Shaw Reference Shaw, Shaw and Mathews2005, Reference Shaw and Shaw2015:14).

Nevertheless, other sites in the region prospered. Muyil reached its greatest size and population (Witschey Reference Witschey1993, Reference Witschey, Shaw and Mathews2005), coastal sites such as Xcaret (Ochoa Rodríguez Reference Ochoa Rodríguez2004) and Xelha (de la Cruz Canché Manzanero Reference de la Cruz Canché Manzanero1992) flourished, and individuals resettled in the Yalahau region, including at San Angel where there are murals dating to the Postclassic period (Glover Reference Glover2012; see also Amador Berdugo Reference Amador Berdugo2005; Fedick and Mathews Reference Fedick, Mathews, Shaw and Mathews2005; Gallareta Negrón and Taube Reference Gallareta Negrón, Taube, Shaw and Mathews2005; Glover and Esteban Amador Reference Glover, Amador, Shaw and Mathews2005; Lorenzen Reference Lorenzen1999). But, as at other sites in the region, “when present, Postclassic architectural modifications [in the Yalahau region] were generally modest and consisted of the construction of altars and shrines” (Glover Reference Glover2012:281).

The Colonial and Contemporary period (a.d. 1500/1550–today)

Maya history did not stop at the end of the Postclassic period; it continues to the present (e.g., Morgan and Fryer Reference Morgan and Fryer2022). At Punta Laguna, project members have not excavated any ceramics produced during the Colonial period. In 1964, however, Maya chicleros (gum tappers) from the town of Chemax founded the contemporary village of Punta Laguna. Among other actions, they re-erected the two small, plain, Postclassic stelae at the site, both of which had fallen over in the intervening 500 years. Perhaps not surprisingly, project members have recovered recently produced artifacts—such as coins with dates from the 1970s—from the site's surface.

Ek Balam, Xcaret, and Xelha all have strong evidence of Colonial-period occupation (see Peraza Lope et al. Reference Peraza Lope, Alvarado, Masson and Hare2021 for a discussion of early Colonial–period ceramics in the Yucatan Peninsula). Ek Balam includes a Franciscan chapel and friary complex, and archaeologists have recovered imported Spanish ceramics as well as locally produced postcontact pottery (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998:117). Xcaret, which remained an important port during the Colonial period, includes chapels and Colonial-period ceramics (Andrews Reference Andrews1993; Andrews and Andrews Reference Andrews and Andrews1975; Con Uribe and Jordán D. Reference Con Uribe and Jordan D.1992; Ochoa Rodríguez Reference Ochoa Rodríguez2004:168–171). And, Xelha includes ceramics dating from the arrival the Spanish in 1527 through the middle of the sixteenth century (de la Cruz Canché Manzanero Reference de la Cruz Canché Manzanero1992:210–216). Other sizeable communities, including Kantunilkin, Conil (Andrews Reference Andrews2002), and Ichmul (Flores Colin Reference Flores Colin and Shaw2015) were occupied during the Colonial period. Furthermore, several places, including Tihosuco (Diserens Morgan and Leventhal Reference Diserens Morgan and Leventhal2020; Leventhal et al. Reference Leventhal, Espinosa, Pat and Cahun2014) and Ichmul (Flores Colin Reference Flores Colin and Shaw2015), were important locations during more recent historical events, such as the Caste War (e.g., Alexander Reference Alexander and Braswell2012b; Badillo Sánchez Reference Badillo Sánchez, Morgan and Fryer2022; Sánchez Reference Sánchez2023).

Punta Laguna as a persistent place

The preceding ceramic analysis is necessarily imperfect. As noted above, it is based on a relatively small sample size: Excavations conducted between 2017 and 2022 yielded only 17,633 ceramic artifacts, 17,288 of which were suitable for type-variety analysis. Furthermore, there is little stratigraphic integrity—or stratigraphy—at Punta Laguna. As at other sites in the region, ceramic artifacts produced during different time periods were found together in the same contexts—something not surprising given the proximity of bedrock to the surface. Nevertheless, this ceramic analysis, particularly when understood in terms of a composite life history, suggests several insights.

Preliminary studies conducted in the 1980s came to different conclusions about Punta Laguna's occupation history. Some (Cortés de Brasdefer Reference Cortés de Brasdefer1988:108) argued that the “ceramics date for the most part from the Postclassic and only rarely from the Classic period.” Others argued that Punta Laguna's occupation history extended from the Late Preclassic to the Postclassic period, but with hiatuses: “Los tepalcates evidencian una secuencia cronológica que se inicia en el Preclásico Tardío y finaliza en el siglo XV, aunque no se observó una completa continuidad en cuanto a los complejos cerámicos [The sherds show a chronological sequence that begins in the Late Preclassic and ends in the 15th century, although a complete continuity in ceramic complexes was not observed]” (Benavides Castillo and Zapata Peraza Reference Benavides Castillo, Lorelei and Peraza1991:46; translation by Sarah Kurnick). More extensive excavations and analyses have questioned these preliminary findings. There no longer exist significant gaps in Punta Laguna's occupation history prior to the sixteenth century. Rather, ceramics suggest that Maya peoples’ presence at Punta Laguna has been continuous or recurring—with ebbs and flows—from approximately 600/300 b.c. through a.d. 1500/1550. Oral histories and nonceramic artifacts suggest that the area has been inhabited, without interruption, from the 1960s to the present.

Not all locales in the region have similar occupation histories. Several nearby sites were not occupied until later in Maya history. Xelha, for example, has no evidence of occupation prior to the Late Preclassic or beginning of the Early Classic period (de la Cruz Canché Manzanero Reference de la Cruz Canché Manzanero1992:22), and Xcaret was not occupied until the Early Classic period (Ochoa Rodríguez Reference Ochoa Rodríguez2004:44). Other nearby sites were occupied, abandoned for significant periods of time, and then reoccupied. At San Angel, for instance, as at many sites in the Yalahau region, there is evidence of occupation during the Late Preclassic and Early Classic periods, as well as during the Postclassic period, but a “virtual lack of Late Classic remains” (Fedick and Mathews Reference Fedick, Mathews, Shaw and Mathews2005; Gallareta Negrón and Taube Reference Gallareta Negrón, Taube, Shaw and Mathews2005:110).

Maya peoples did, however, occupy certain places continuously or recurrently from the Middle Preclassic through the Postclassic periods. Muyil (Witschey Reference Witschey1993, Reference Witschey, Shaw and Mathews2005), Ek Balam (Bey III et al. Reference Bey III, Bond, Ringle, Hanson, Houck and Lope1998:101), and Yaxuna (Suhler et al. Reference Suhler, Ardren and Johnstone1998:167) offer prominent examples, with Ek Balam being occupied well into the Colonial period. Maya peoples have also reoccupied each of these locales in the 20th century (e.g., Taylor Reference Taylor2018). Such persistence is notable given the climatic, political, and social changes in the region. Paleolimnological studies throughout the peninsula (e.g., Brenner et al. Reference Brenner, Rosenmeier, Hodell and Curtis2002; Hodell et al. Reference Hodell, Brenner and Curtis2005; Torrescano-Valle and Islebe Reference Torrescano-Valle and Islebe2015), and specifically analyses of oxygen isotope data from a sediment core from the Punta Laguna lagoon (Curtis et al. Reference Curtis, Hodell and Brenner1996; Hodell et al. Reference Hodell, Brenner and Curtis2007), demonstrate that precipitation in the region was highly variable between 600 b.c. and a.d. 1550. Ceramic, architectural, and iconographic evidence suggests that the political landscape was also in flux, and documents the emergence and decline of several prominent centers, including Coba, Chichen Itza, and Mayapan. Alterations in trade routes, religious practices, and kinds and degrees of inequality further suggest a continually changing social landscape.

The PLAP is actively investigating why certain locales, including Punta Laguna, were/are persistent places. Upcoming research will examine several factors that may have contributed to occupational longevity, including climatic and environmental considerations, relationships with other communities, and unique historical circumstances. Preliminarily, natural resources—and particularly sources of water—appear to be important although insufficient by themselves. Persistent places in the region are located near cenotes, although not all cenotes—of which there are many thousands (Fedick Reference Fedick2014:73; Schmitter-Soto et al. Reference Schmitter-Soto, Comín and Escobar-Briones2002)—are the site of persistent places.

Other factors, and particularly early occupation, also appear to have been important, although insufficient by themselves. In a comparison of site longevity within the Yautepec Valley of Mexico, Smith (Reference Smith2010:244) found that the “earliest urban centres, founded in Late Formative times, lasted considerably longer than any others.” Some, although not all, communities in the Yucatan Peninsula with early occupation persisted for long periods of time. Although Maya peoples first settled at several sites in the Yalahau region during the Middle Preclassic period, for example, they abandoned those sites for several hundred years during the Late Classic period (Glover Reference Glover2012).

Smith (Reference Smith2010) suggests that the first-settled communities in a region may be long lasting because their residents occupied the areas with the best soils. Cultural factors may also have been important. In Living with the Ancestors, McAnany (Reference McAnany2013:96–99) proposed the principle of first occupancy—something Blackmore (Reference Blackmore2011:88) usefully glosses as the “idea that founders retain and define a historically established status invested in the memory of their access, and re-inscribed via the ritual and social acts associated with ancestor commemoration.” It may be that the first occupied sites in a region, like the first occupied houses at a site, retained greater cultural influence through their long history and memory of veneration.

Conclusions

This article has presented a preliminary, revised life history of Punta Laguna. Using a type-variety analysis of ceramics excavated at the site between 2017 and 2022, it has offered a composite life history and suggested—in contrast to earlier publications—that Maya peoples occupied Punta Laguna continuously or recurringly from 600/300 b.c. through a.d. 1500/1550. Punta Laguna may therefore be usefully understood as a persistent place (Schlanger Reference Schlanger, Rossignol and Wandsnider1992). Although this place has endured, the meanings associated with it have undoubtedly changed over time. In the Postclassic period, Punta Laguna was a residential community as well as the site of extensive ceremonial activities, particularly incense burning in association with stelae and miniature masonry shrines (Kurnick and Rogoff Reference Kurnick and Rogoff2022). Today, although still a residential community, Punta Laguna is a spider monkey reserve and an ecotourist attraction.

Scholars have argued that archaeological studies of persistent places can contribute to contemporary studies of urban sustainability (e.g., LeFebvre et al. Reference LeFebvre, Erlandson and Fitzpatrick2022; Scarborough and Isendahl Reference Scarborough and Isendahl2020; Smith Reference Smith2010; Smith et al. Reference Smith, Lobo and Peeples2021; Turner et al. Reference Turner, Kinnaird, Koparal, Lekakis and Sevara2020). Some have suggested that archaeologists can ascertain how past peoples responded—either successfully or unsuccessfully—to crises, including overpopulation and climate change (e.g., Heitz et al. Reference Heitz, Laabs, Hinz, Hafner, Erdkamp, Manning and Verboven2021). Others have suggested that, by comparing regional occupation histories, archaeologists can ascertain those factors common to persistent places in various parts of the world. As Smith (Reference Smith2010:246) argues, “research in the longevity of ancient cities may be one of the most useful contributions archaeology can make to the general understanding of urban sustainability.” Specifically, research focused on understanding the connections between longevity and early occupation may prove a fruitful avenue of study.

Archaeological discussions of persistent places also offer a counterweight to popular and academic preoccupations with collapse (e.g., Diamond Reference Diamond2011; Mott Reference Mott2012; Webster Reference Webster2002). For over half a century, journalists and archaeologists have unevenly focused their attention on the dramatic transformations in the southern Maya Lowlands during the Terminal Classic period (Heitz et al. Reference Heitz, Laabs, Hinz, Hafner, Erdkamp, Manning and Verboven2021:130–134; Middleton Reference Middleton2012). Although producing a substantial amount of data and publications, this focus has also been problematic. As others have noted, collapse is a nebulous and often poorly defined concept; consequently, research on collapse is “less analytic and more driven by a priori assumptions and narratives that are then projected onto the past” (Heitz et al. Reference Heitz, Laabs, Hinz, Hafner, Erdkamp, Manning and Verboven2021:134). Indeed, the notion of collapse—perhaps stemming from the “millenarianism . . . deeply rooted and ubiquitous in Western civilization” (Restall and Solari Reference Restall and Solari2011, Reference Restall and Solari2021)—is often invoked to understand social transformations, even when “alternative interpretations emphasizing resilience, transformation and reorganization are equally if not more plausible” (Strunz et al. Reference Strunz, Marselle and Schröter2019:1717; see also McAnany and Yoffee Reference McAnany and Yoffee2010).

Furthermore, narratives of Maya history focused almost exclusively on collapse can negatively impact contemporary Maya peoples. McAnany (Reference McAnany2016) has encouraged archaeologists to confront haunting questions about Maya cultural heritage, including one asked by a young girl from the Yucatec Maya town of San José: “Why did all the Maya have to die?” (McAnany Reference McAnany2016:3). Part of confronting such questions involves reflection on heritage distancing—“the alienation of contemporary inhabitants of a landscape from the tangible remains or intangible practices of the past” (McAnany and Parks Reference McAnany and Parks2012:80). As McAnany has argued, “a popular discourse of Classic Maya ‘extinction’ in the southern lowlands of the Maya region has created a rupture between the deep past and the present” (McAnany and Parks Reference McAnany and Parks2012:80). Emphasizing persistent places may consequently offer both a more nuanced understanding of the Maya past, as well as one that emphasizes the vitality of the Maya present.

Acknowledgments

All the work in this article has been approved by Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) and by members of the Punta Laguna Community. The authors would like to thank Arthur Joyce, Sylviane Boucher, Nicholas Puente, and members of the Punta Laguna community, including Serapio Canul Tep and Mariano Canul Aban. The authors would also like to thank several anonymous reviewers for their sound suggestions and astute advice. Any errors are our own.

Funding

Archaeological research at Punta Laguna has been funded by the National Science Foundation (Award No. 1725340) and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Competing interests

The authors declare none.

Data availability statement

The authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article.

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Figure 0

Figure 1. Map of the Yucatan Peninsula showing the location of all sites mentioned in the text. Map by Kurnick.

Figure 1

Figure 2. The archaeological site of Punta Laguna. See Figures 4, 5, and 6 for enlarged views of the areas within the boxes. Map by Rogoff.

Figure 2

Figure 3. Photographs of different architectural styles present at Punta Laguna: (a) Naranja, built in the megalithic style; (b) Coco 1, built in the Peten style; (c) Aguacate, built in the East Coast style. Photographs by Kurnick.

Figure 3

Figure 4. Enlarged view of the north side of the lagoon showing the location of mounds 443, 446, and 450. Image by Rogoff.

Figure 4

Figure 5. Enlarged view of the east and southeast side of the lagoon, showing the location of Sandia, Toronja, Uva, mound 341, Coco 1, Durazno, Fresa, Guava, Habanero, Iguana, Jalapeño, Manzana, and Naranja, as well as the site's cenote. Image by Rogoff.

Figure 5

Figure 6. Enlarged view of the south side of the lagoon, showing the location of mounds 362, 337, 376, and 311. Image by Rogoff.

Figure 6

Table 1. Ceramics excavated at Punta Laguna between 2017 and 2022.

Figure 7

Figure 7. Ceramics produced during the Middle Preclassic period: (a–b) Joventud red: Nolo; (c) Dzudzuquil cream to buff: Dzudzuquil; (d) Achiotes unslipped: Unspecified; (e) Sapote striated: Rastro. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 8

Figure 8. Ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic periods. (a–d) Tancah coarse ware: Tancah; (f) Mateo red on cream: Unspecified; (g) Accordion incised: Unspecified. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 9

Figure 9. Ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic periods: (a–c) Sierra red: Clear slip; (d) Laguna Verde incised: Unspecified; (e–f) Celarian notched: Celarain. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 10

Figure 10. Ceramics produced during the Late Preclassic and beginning of the Early Classic periods: (a) Dzilam green incised: Dzilam; (b) Iberia orange: unspecified; (c) group undesignated, Protoclassic red and orange with incised designs; (d–e) Huachinango bichrome incised: Huachinango; (f) Carolina bichrome incised: Carolina. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 11

Figure 11. Ceramics produced in the Early Classic period: (a–d) Saban unslipped: Becoob; (e–f) Cetelac fiber tempered: Cetelac. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 12

Figure 12. Ceramics produced during the Early Classic period: (a) Tituc orange polychrome: Tituc; (b–c) Sombra coarse ware: Sombra. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 13

Figure 13. Ceramics produced during the Late Classic period: (a–b) Batres red: Batres; (c–d) Lakin impressed composite: Lakin; (e) Encanto striated: Sacná; (f) Arena red: Arena. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 14

Figure 14. Ceramics produced during the Late Classic period: (a) Muna slate ware: Muna; (b) Akil impressed: Akil; (c) Teabo red: Teabo; (d) Ticul thin slate ware: Ticul; (e) Vista Alegre striated: Unspecified; Vista Alegre striated: Vista Alegre. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.

Figure 15

Figure 15. Ceramics produced during the Postclassic period: (a) Chen Mul modeled: Chen Mul; (b) Palmul incised: Palmul. Drawings by Aurea Hernandez.