Advantages and Limitations of Using Stable Isotope Analysis to Study Ancient Migration: Strontium, Oxygen, and Carbon Isotope Values from La Corona and El Perú-Waka’

Erin Patterson - Tulane University & Carolyn Freiwald - University of Mississippi

The movement of Classic Maya people, including journeys to and from the sites of La Corona and El Perú, has been recorded in numerous epigraphic texts. These references, along with migration studies at Tikal, Copán, and other smaller communities, suggest that there was a considerable amount of migration among Maya centers. We present the results of strontium, oxygen, and carbon stable isotope analysis of over 70 individuals buried at the sites of La Corona and El Perú-Waka’ in the northwest Petén, Guatemala. Initial analysis reveals little long-distance migration and suggests that most movement occurred among Central Lowland centers, lending support to the history recorded in the epigraphic texts. The sample is significant because of its size, and it includes not only royal individuals but also remains from non-elite and non-burial contexts. We are able to explore the residential life histories of over a dozen individuals. We will show that the use of multiple elements can reveal additional migrants not visible with the analysis of a single element. We will also discuss the challenges and limitations of this type of chemical analysis.

Digitizing the Northern Maya Lowlands’ Colonial Geography

Geoff Wallace - McGill University

The most recent monograph to tackle the historical geography of the colonial-era northern Maya lowlands was Peter Gerhard’s The Southeast Frontier of New Spain, published in 1979. Since then, a few scholars have published representational maps as parts of broader studies, but a more thorough update is past due. In recent years, archaeologists have undertaken ambitious and sophisticated projects to digitally map the pre-colonial Maya world using GIS and remote sensing to better grasp the human and physical landscape, or to locate and catalogue archaeological sites. Historians of the same region, however, have yet to take advantage of even rudimentary iterations of these powerful tools.

This paper is part of a broader dissertation project to represent the northern Maya lowlands’ environmental history and historical geography with the aid of digital maps. Its main aim is to demonstrate the utility of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) driven methodologies for the study of the Spanish colony of Yucatán in the colonial period. It combines extant remote sensing data and archival sources to study the environmental and economic role of indigenous towns in the early colonial period, from approximately 1549 to 1700.

This presentation shows some of the ways in which basic GIS could help historians to better understand and represent the historical geography of colonial Yucatán by spatializing archival data. Five early colonial-era datasets are featured five early colonial-era datasets: a 1549 tribute assessment, the Relaciones Geográficas de Yucatán from 1579, a census from 1601, and a report and census of goods extracted through repartimiento de efectos submitted by the Franciscan missionary order in 1701. The result is a small atlas that shows population densities, demographic change over time, and areas of economic specialization. These datasets and the methods used to analyse them offer a more detailed representation Yucatán’s historical geography than previously possible and open new avenues of inquiry into the colony’s economic, environmental, and social history.

You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee; Consumer Culture at the 19th century Maya refugee site at Tikal, Guatemala

James Meierhoff  - University of Illinois at Chicago

In the mid-nineteenth century Maya refugees fleeing the violence of the Caste War of Yucatan (1857-1901) briefly reoccupied the ancient Maya ruins of Tikal, in Guatemala’s northern most district of Petén. These Yucatec speaking refugees combined with Lacandon Maya, and later Ladinos from Lake Petén-Itza to form a small, multi-ethnic village in the sparsely occupied Petén jungle of northern Guatemala. Even with its apparent remoteness from urban centers, the short-lived nineteenth century village at Tikal appears to have been extremely successful, as it was well provisioned with material goods, including copious amounts of foreign consumer merchandise produced in both British and American markets. The presence of metal, glass, un-slipped local ceramics, and an abundance of exotic refined earthenware pottery, spread out in middens as well as household contexts, demonstrates that this village was participating in local, national, and international economies.  This paper investigates one group of Yucatec Maya refugee’s struggle to forge new social, political, and economic relationships from within the relative safety of the “Last Maya Frontier”, a displaced indigenous diaspora zone that was created and maintained alongside the diasporic settlements of three Eurocentric settler societies (Mexico, Guatemala, and British Honduras- later known as Belize). These three societies viewed and conceptualized the Maya Frontier differently, and the refugees used the frontier to exploit these differences. A relatively short occupation span combined with archaeologically intact house floors makes the historic Tikal village the opportune location to directly explore the exploitation of frontier zones by refugee populations. The examination the multiethnic composition of frontier refugee communities allows the ability to study the processes of ethnogenesis through the lens of materiality on the household level. The easing of cultural and ethnic identity markers at Tikal, as seen by the consumer choices made, may have parallels in modern refugee behavior.

History and Archaeology of Lake Miramar, Chiapas: 2500 years of culture

Ramón Folch González  - Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia

In this paper I will present the results of 3 years of research in the southern part of the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas, Mexico. I have focused on Lake Miramar and its surrounding area where archaeological evidence exists up to the Early and Middle Preclassic periods (1200 – 200 B.C.). Unlike elsewhere in the region where Maya culture dominates, in Miramar it appears that there were a great number of foreigners who left offerings in caves, cliffs and ruins. Evidence shows there is iconography from the Coast of Guatemala, the central depression of Chiapas and the highlands of both Chiapas and Guatemala.

After the conquest of Mexico, the Spaniards set to conquer the rest of Mesoamerica, Chiapas was subdued in 1528, but the Choltí-Lacandon resisted up to 1695. The last battle between Choltí-Lacandon and Spaniards happened in Lake Miramar in 1586. Lake Miramar was also the place where modern Lacandon Jataté group resided until the late sixties. The last five centuries of Lake Miramar are full of unstudied data that can provide crucial answers to some of the modern problems of Maya studies in the region like trade routes, material culture and iconography and interaction between different groups.  

Since this is the first archaeological approach to the region in more than 30 years, important archival work must be done. Explorers have been through the area since the early thirties and information obtained in their works is extremely valuable. This study is a fundamental research to prepare  more ambitious work in the future including excavations and survey.

Building Ancient Cities from the Ground up: Agent-Based Modeling and Lowland Maya Settlement Structure

Beniamino Volta - University of California, San Diego

Understanding how premodern cities functioned is a pressing concern in our increasingly urbanized world. Ancient low-density settlements are especially relevant to current debates about “green” or sustainable urbanism, yet they have received relatively little attention from urban historians. The residential areas of lowland Maya cities tended to have low structure densities, dispersed or loosely clustered layouts, and little evidence of formal planning. Previous research has explained these characteristics as the result of environmental conditions, land-use practices, or weakly centralized political institutions. To date, little work has been done to understand how residential dispersion may have been related to the long-term growth trajectories and sustainability of ancient communities. In this talk I present an agent-based computational model that simulates the emergence of the low-density residential patterns of Maya settlements from the interaction of household-level subsistence decisions, supra-household networks, and the environment. I test the model output against survey data from Uxul and Oxpemul —two regional centers in southern Campeche, Mexico— and discuss its implications for understanding the spatial patterns and demography of these settlements. This study suggests that variations in model dynamics are associated with distinctive spatial signatures that can aid in the interpretation of the archaeological record. By way of conclusion, I address the broader implications of a modeling approach for quantitatively analyzing and comparing low-density settlements.

The ajk'uhuun of La Corona: Court Officials and Regime Administration at a Classic Maya Royal Court.

Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire - Tulane University

Classic Maya royal courts were political institutions of comparable complexity to the royal courts of Western Medieval Europe. Beyond the royal household, they included a set of titled officials with defined roles who regularly assembled at court, representing a protobureaucracy. The seats of royal courts, regal palaces, were elaborate architectural institutions designed to administer complex political economies – featuring buildings and patios to facilitate the exchange of goods and information between the royals and their allies. While polychrome vases and murals famously portray the glamorous facets of these exchanges, they leave aside much of the administrative activities which necessarily framed these.

In this paper, I present architectural, artifactual, and epigraphic datasets which allowed me to identify crucial administrative buildings in the regal palace of La Corona. I propose these structures were the home and workplace of a priestly courtly elite headed by an ajk'uhuun – a courtly title understood as that of a chief priestly scribal figure. These buildings included evidence for scribal activities, the carving of hieroglyphic monuments, and secretive storage space. Additionally, a tightly controlled passageway – for accounting for the goods accumulated and distributed at court – was also part of this administrative complex.

Through a discussion of architecture, artifacts, texts, and images, this paper explores questions related to the structure of Classic Maya royal courts, political economy, and addresses historical figures of La Corona.

Title and Abstract Not Submitted

Mary Miller

Jaime Awe

Marc Zender

Stan Guenter

Mary Kate Kelly

Dorie Reents-Budet

Nicholas Carter

Mark Van Stone

Khristin Landry-Montes

Virginia Miller








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