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The Nature of an Ancient Maya City

Resources, Interaction, and Power at Blue Creek, Belize

Written by Thomas H. Guderjan

Publication Year: 2007

For two millennia, the site now known as Blue Creek in northwestern Belize was a Maya community that became an economic and political center that included some 15,000-20,000 people at its height. Fairly well protected from human destruction, the site offers the full range of city components including monumental ceremonial structures, elite and non-elite residences, ditched agricultural fields, and residential clusters just outside the core. Since 1992, a multi-disciplinary, multi-national research team has intensively investigated Blue Creek in an integrated study of the dynamic structure and functional inter-relationships among the parts of a single Maya city. Documented in coverage by National Geographic, Archaeology magazine, and a documentary film aired on the Discovery Channel, Blue Creek is recognized as a unique site offering the full range of undisturbed architectural construction to reveal the mosaic that was the ancient city. Moving beyond the debate of what constitutes a city, Guderjan’s long-term research reveals what daily Maya life was like.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book is only a partial outcome of many years of fieldwork, and there are vastly too many people who deserve thanks for their efforts at Blue Creek for me to scratch the surface. Since 1992, more than a thousand students and volunteers have participated in our program. Project staff members alone number in the dozens. However, there are some very special people who have contributed to this work....

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-18

The primary purpose of this book is to examine the spatial and structural organization of the ancient Maya city of Blue Creek in northwestern Belize. These are archaeologically observable variables that directly refl ect the nature of power, legitimacy, and authority. Other questions of importance include, What were the...

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2. Public Architecture, Ritual, and Temporal Dynamics

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pp. 19-48

In this chapter I summarize the public architecture and related residences in Blue Creek’s core area in order to document the temporal dynamics of power and politics as expressed by its builders.1 The “core area” of a Maya site is the public, “downtown” sector or the central precinct with large, open public plazas flanked by large buildings that functioned as religious and administrative...

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3. The Spatial Arrangement of a Maya City

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pp. 49-68

In the previous chapter, I summarized what we know of Blue Creek’s site core. However, like the downtown district of a modern city, Blue Creek’s site core housed only a small percentage of the population. Years ago, Mayanists viewed the ancient social system as a naively simplistic dichotomy between elites and commoners. Further,...

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4. Diversity of Power and Authority in a Maya City

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pp. 69-90

Archaeologists have viewed status and power among the ancient Maya as a function of leadership within lineages.1 One of the more powerful models is that of the segmentary state, in which lineage heads hold authority over members of their lineage. In this chapter, I argue that such lineages...

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5. Agriculture as Blue Creek’s Economic Base

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pp. 91-101

Blue Creek, though modestly sized, was a wealthy community that had access to an unusually high degree of exotic goods. The people of the community displayed their wealth through monumental architecture and the many times that they disposed of valuable exotic goods in burials and caches. Underlying this wealth were...

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6. The Importance of Trade and Commerce at Blue Creek

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pp. 102-118

In this chapter, I examine Blue Creek’s wealth and how it was obtained. In previous chapters, I have argued that Blue Creek based its economy upon the community’s access to high-quality and large-scale agricultural lands. However, the presence of this agricultural resource, alone, is not adequate to explain how Blue Creek acquired...

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7. Power and Authority at Blue Creek

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pp. 119-128

In the previous chapters, I have summarized the public, residential, and agricultural components of Blue Creek and have dealt with some issues of trade and wealth. My intent has been to provide a case study of a single Maya city and some insight into its inner workings. However, I have only peripherally addressed one of the central issues in Maya archaeology, namely the nature of power in Maya society...

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8. Addressing Some Large and Small Issues

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pp. 129-134

When I introduce my students to Maya archaeology, I like to frame my course around the “BIG issues.” What are our debates within the field and how can we design research to address these issues? The model that I have developed for understanding the Maya of Blue Creek is based upon the paradigms or principles that I believe must have operated...


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pp. 135-146

References Cited

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pp. 147-166


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pp. 167-169

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354268

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 426058545
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Nature of an Ancient Maya City

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Subject Headings

  • Hondo River Region (Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize).
  • Mayas -- Urban residence -- Hondo River Region (Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize).
  • Blue Creek Ruin (Belize).
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Hondo River Region (Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize).
  • Maya architecture -- Hondo River Region (Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize).
  • Mayas -- Hondo River Region (Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize) -- Antiquities.
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