Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
Although the scholarly investigations of Classic Maya civilization in the lowlands of Guatemala and Yucatan began more than a century ago, similar work in the southeastern Mesoamerican frontier of El Salvador and Honduras began only three or four decades ago. The serious investigation of the social dynamics of intersocietal contact in prehistory began in the past two decades. Although data are not ample for El Salvador and Honduras, they are sufficient to consider the countries as a frontier in prehistory, and explore how that frontier changed. Many theoretical models have been employed, including diffusion, acculturation, conquest, religion, trade, emulation, interaction spheres, frontiers and boundaries, dependency theory, and world system approaches among others.
The frontier model is emphasized in this chapter. Although it is in common usage, I try to avoid the term periphery because of its pejorative connotations. Viewing the area as peripheral to Mesoamerica or the Maya tends to discount autochthonous achievements. Scholars in southeastern Mesoamerica are beginning to separate indigenous traditions in architecture, artifacts, settlement patterns, and society from the effects of external groups. The use of the plural in the title is deliberate, as there are different kinds of frontiers (e.g., political, economic, ethnic, and religious), and frontiers change their location and nature through time.