Dissertation Defense: Melissa Burham


Nov 9 2018 - 9:00am

Friday, November 9, 2018
9:00 a.m.
Haury Building, Room 402

Title: Defining Ancient Maya Communities: The Social, Spatial, and Ritual Organization of Outlying Groups at Ceibal, Guatemala

Abstract: Archaeological studies of ancient Maya sociopolitical organization often focus on evidence from civic-ceremonial epicenters, individual households, and regional settlement patterns. However, in complex, urbanized societies, social groups such as neighborhoods and local communities also form at levels between the household, city, and state. These are important spheres of social reproduction and negotiation, and help to unify different segments of the population into larger social, economic, and political systems. This dissertation investigates intermediate-level organization at Ceibal, Guatemala, by focusing on minor temple groups located outside the site epicenter. More specifically, I explore how different interactions, including ritual practices, co-residence, and communal management of vital resources such as water, led to the formation of local communities around minor temples during the Late and Terminal Preclassic (ca. 350 BC-AD 200) periods. My findings reveal that different groups of people built their own temples as they settled permanently in new areas around the site epicenter. City growth was gradual, and involved both top-down and bottom-up social and political processes. For example, similarities among ritual deposits found in the Central Plaza and minor temples suggest that some people in outlying areas, perhaps emergent elites, had access to specialized religious knowledge, and could have cooperated in creating dominant ritual practices. Rituals at the temples and in the Central Plaza provided occasions for participants to share common experiences and negotiate their differences, and simultaneously helped to foster local group identities while integrating Ceibal’s inhabitants into a larger society. The ceremonies undertaken at the temples were so important to local communities that various groups carefully and reverentially buried their temples before depopulating the site around AD 300. Community organization may have changed significantly after outlying groups were reoccupied in the Late Classic period (ca. AD 600-810).

Committee: Daniela Triadan, Takeshi Inomata, and Lars Fogelin

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