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Labor, Population Movement, and Food in Sixteenth-Century Ek Balam, Yucatán

  • Susan D. deFrance (a1) and Craig A. Hanson (a2)

Abstract

Spanish colonization of the Yucatán Peninsula altered traditional patterns of subsistence after Spaniards imposed labor demands and controlled the movement of indigenous Maya. Spaniards established an encomienda and Franciscan visita at Ek Balam in the northern lowlands of the peninsula during the mid-sixteenth century. Complementary forces of doctrina and encomienda fostered the religious, political, and economic subjugation of the Maya. An analysis of zooarchaeological material from an Early Hispanic period feature at the archaeological site of Ek Balam indicates that Spanish restrictions of population movement and restructuring of indigenous labor altered pre-Hispanic patterns of faunal use. Under Spanish hegemony, Maya residents raised small-sized animals of Eurasian origin, especially pigs and chickens, while maintaining the indigenous dog as a primary food source. The animals used at Ek Balam could have been either raised or hunted locally; there is no indication that animals were obtained through either trade or exchange. The pattern of faunal use by indigenous people at Ek Balam differs from Early Hispanic sites in the southern Maya lowlands and elsewhere in the circum-Caribbean. This contrast demonstrates that tropical environmental variability, population density, and Spanish control tactics affected subsistence behavior and the incorporation of introduced fauna in the indigenous diet.

Resumen

La colonización de la Península de Yucatán alteró el patrón tradicional de subsistencia después que los españoles impusieron demandas laborales y control del movimiento de los indígenas mayas. Los españoles fundaron una encomienda y la visita Franciscana en Ek Balam en el norte de las tierras bajas de la península durante la mitad del siglo dieciséis. Igualmente, la fuerza de la doctrina y la encomienda alentaron la subyugación religiosa, política y económica de los mayas. El análisis de material zoo-arqueológico proveniente de una excavación del periodo hispánico temprano del sitio arqueológico de Ek Balam indica que las restricciones españolas al libre movimiento de la población y la reestructuración de la mano de obra indígena alteraron patrones prehispánicos del uso de fauna. Bajo la hegemonía española, los residentes mayas criaban pequeños animales de origen euroasiático, especialmente cerdos y gallinas, mientras mantenían al perro como fuente primaria de alimentación. Los animales usados en Ek Balam podrían haber sido criados o cazados localmente; pero no hay rastros que los animales fueran obtenidos a través de compra o cambio. Los patrones de uso de fauna por la gente indígena de Ek Balam difieren de otros sitios del horizonte hispánico en el sur de las tierras bajas mayas y otros sitios en el circum-caribeño. Este contraste demuestra que la variación ambiental tropical, la densidad de la población, y las tácticas de control español afectaron el comportamiento de subsistencia y la incorporación de fauna introducida en la dieta indígena.

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Labor, Population Movement, and Food in Sixteenth-Century Ek Balam, Yucatán

  • Susan D. deFrance (a1) and Craig A. Hanson (a2)

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