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In this article we evaluate ∼48km2 of airborne lidar data collected at a target density of 15 laser shots/m in central Yucatán, Mexico. This area covers parts of the sites of Chichén Itzá and Yaxuná, a kilometer-wide transect between these two sites, and a transect along the first few kilometers of Sacbé 1 from Yaxuná to Cobá. The results of our ground validation and mapping demonstrate that not all sizable archaeological features can be detected in the lidar images due to: (1) the slightly rolling topography interspersed with 1-6 m-high bedrock hummocks, which morphologically mimic house mounds, further complicated by the presence of low foundations; (2) the complex forest structure in central Yucatán, which has particularly dense near-ground understory resulting in a high number of mixed-signal ground and low vegetation returns which reduces the fidelity and accuracy of the bare-earth digital elevation models; and (3) the predominance of low archaeological features difficult to discern from the textural noise of the near-ground vegetation. In this article we explore different visualization techniques to increase the identification of cultural features, but we conclude that, in this portion of the Maya region, lidar should be used as a complement to traditional on-the-ground survey techniques.
Over the past thirty years, Mayanists have increasingly discussed the relationships between large polities. Advances in our understanding of epigraphy have largely driven this increased focus. Yet in areas where the epigraphic record is less understood, as is the case with the northern Maya lowlands, archaeologists have turned to other data to piece together political relationships. These data often consist of architectural and ceramic styles. Models based on such data generally assume that styles of material culture will cluster among social groups that are more closely knit than others (familial or political ties) or will occur in an area after it has been subordinated by a particular polity. One case where such a model has been applied is the site of Yaxuna, which was connected to the metropolis of Coba by a 100 km-long causeway during the Late Classic period. The difference between this case and others is that not only do the two sites share some aspects of material culture during this period, but we can also physically see that the sites were integrated by an actual road. In most cases where stylistic models have been applied, the possible routes connecting sites do not preserve, making the correlation between styles and social interaction more speculative. In this paper, we reevaluate the Yaxuna-Coba case using a modal analysis of the Arena ceramic group shared by Yaxuna and Coba during that time. Our data suggest that one particularly important type (Arena Red) was produced in Yaxuna and exported in a limited range of forms down the causeway toward sites in Quintana Roo. Although several archaeologists have argued that the causeway represents the subordination of Yaxuna by an expanding Late Classic Coba polity, our data suggest that the resulting impact on material culture may be more complex than current models imply. Ceramic economies operating in a very limited fashion within or outside of spheres of political action may have been common among the Maya, although the idea that trade follows flag certainly appears to have existed in this case.
This paper applies structuration theory and semiotics to interpret the results of a recently completed total coverage pedestrian survey to the east of Yaxuna, Yucatan. Data from this survey suggest that a social group centered at the site of Tzacauil vied for political clout in the Late Preclassic period through the construction of a triadic acropolis 3 km from Yaxuna. This group also initiated but did not complete a new experimental construction: a long-distance causeway between the two sites. A central facet of structuration is the instability of social practice. Rules can be altered when transposed to new contexts, while durable resources, such as causeways and acropolis groups, do not ensure the solidity of the coalitions they are meant to represent. Despite an outlay of labor never again seen to the east of Yaxuna, Tzacauil had a rather short occupation. Though they never completed the causeway, the people of Tzacauil did succeed in transforming the conventional understanding of causeways. These events support a semiotic approach since they show that materiality is contingent: it has a potential that people may or may not work to realize.
Differentiating the material patterning between domestic refuse from squatters and ceremonial trash generated from termination rituals has been difficult for Maya archaeologists. Rich floor assemblages, especially from elite contexts, have been interpreted as “decadent” squatter refuse by some researchers and the remains of abandonment rituals by others. The identification and separation of these classes of behavior are essential for interpretations of floor assemblages. In this paper, we examine data from numerous contexts, in order to contextualize the debate over the interpretation of these two models. Ethnoarchaeological, ethnohistoric, and archaeological data indicate that close scrutiny of the context and material composition of such deposits are needed to distinguish these very different classes of behavior.
Since the 1980s, archaeologists have challenged the idea that prehistoric actions were guided primarily by practicality and expedience. Rubbish disposal, a superficially mundane activity, provides a critical case for exploring the depth to which cultural logics penetrate. Ethnoarchaeological research on discard behaviour in Mesoamerican houselots has modelled rubbish disposal as a matter of expedience predictable by factors such as density of settlement and length of occupation. At the Classic period site of Chunchucmil, Yucatan, such models based on practical reason succeed only partly in predicting the distribution of rubbish. Ethnographic and ethnohistorical accounts of rubbish in Mesoamerica suggest that fully understanding its distribution requires attention to cultural logics. At Chunchucmil, ancient Maya cosmology explains the location of dumps within households. Thus, both practical and cultural logics structured discard. The case of Maya subsistence farming suggests that practical logic is subsumed by cultural logic, rather than the two logics conflicting. These findings show how broadly-held beliefs and predispositions are instantiated and reproduced in daily life.
A series of Formative Period causeways (sacbeob) at the Maya site of Yaxuná, Yucatán, Mexico, constituted elements of an early geomantic plan that was renegotiated by the inhabitants of this centre for 1500–2000 years. This plan embodied a series of sacred metaphors including the World Tree and Milky Way. After its initial construction, this widely recognized sacred landscape was reinterpreted using the language of causeways and buildings by people with competing interests. A consideration of how the geomantic plan was differentially modified sheds light on important social transitions throughout the history of the site, as well as the role of landscape and shared memory among the ancient Yucatec Maya of Yaxuná.
Assumptions concerning the late dating of Middle Formative ceramics in
the northern Maya lowlands and similarities between this region and areas
to the south underlie mainstream interpretations that the northern Maya
lowlands was slower to develop cultural complexity. This paper is a
re-evaluation of these assumptions and their impact on interpretations of
Formative interaction. Recent research at Yaxuna, Yucatan, Mexico is
discussed in light of alternative approaches to the study of
sociopolitical interaction among early complex societies.
This paper presents results of excavations from three house lots at
Chunchucmil, a Classic-period site in northwestern Yucatan, Mexico.
Each of the three house lots contains multiple residential structures
organized around patios with temples on the east side of the patio. The
boundaries of the house lots are clearly marked by low walls that
encircle the architecture and non-mounded space. These house lots were
occupied by multiple-family groups that held a common identity.
Inequality existed within these groups insofar as one residence in each
group was larger and better constructed than the others. In discussing
the succession of leadership within these groups, we argue that social
organization resembled the flexible house society model presented by
Claude Lévi-Strauss, as opposed to rule-guided models based
solely on descent or kinship. The practical nature of social
organization is seen in the type of modifications found on the east
structures of these groups.
Models of polity organization in the northern Maya lowlands
are often based on the distribution of ceramic types. These
models do not account for crucial links between the processes
of ceramic production, distribution, use, and discard and
sociopolitical relationships. We discuss several models of ceramic
economy. These models suggest that the distribution of some
serving vessels may encode information concerning sociopolitical
relationships. These models are evaluated in light of stratigraphic
evidence from Yaxuna and Uxmal, in order to elucidate the nature
of polity at Chichen Itza. We argue that the ceramic data are
ambiguous concerning the proposed existence of a large conquest
state centered on the capital.
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