We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Classic Maya Provincial Politics

Edited by Lisa J. LeCount and Jason Yaeger

Publication Year: 2010

Most treatments of large Classic Maya sites such as Caracol and Tikal regard Maya political organization as highly centralized. Because investigations have focused on civic buildings and elite palaces, however, a critical part of the picture of Classic Maya political organization has been missing.

The contributors to this volume chart the rise and fall of the Classic Maya center of Xunantunich, paying special attention to its changing relationships with the communities that comprised its hinterlands. They examine how the changing relationships between Xunantunich and the larger kingdom of Naranjo affected the local population, the location of their farms and houses, and the range of economic and subsistence activities in which both elites and commoners engaged. They also examine the ways common people seized opportunities and met challenges offered by a changing political landscape.

The rich archaeological data in this book show that incorporating subject communities and people—and keeping them incorporated—was an on-going challenge to ancient Maya rulers. Until now, archaeologists have lacked integrated regional data and a fine-grained chronology in which to document short-term shifts in site occupations, subsistence strategies, and other important practices of the daily life of the Maya. This book provides a revised picture of Maya politics—one of different ways of governing and alliance formation among dominant centers, provincial polities, and hinterland communities.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (52.0 KB)
pp. ix-x

This volume is the product of a decade of field research by dozens of people who worked under the umbrella of the Xunantunich Archaeological Project (XAP) and the Xunantunich Settlement Survey (XSS). As detailed in chapter 1, these investigations were designed to understand the rise and fall of the Classic Maya center of Xunantunich and the...

read more

1. The Xunantunich Archaeological Project, 1991–1997

pdf iconDownload PDF (681.1 KB)
pp. 1-19

The first archaeological research at Xunantunich occurred more than a century ago, when Thomas Gann excavated at the site in the 1890s (Gann 1894–95). Despite this early start, subsequent investigations were infrequent and short, and our understanding of the site advanced slowly. In 1965, William R. Bullard could summarize the state of knowledge of...

read more

2. Provincial Politics and Current Models of the Maya State

pdf iconDownload PDF (133.5 KB)
pp. 20-45

The political landscape of the Classic Maya lowlands was a dynamic mosaic in which shifting social, administrative, and economic relationships integrated centers of different sizes into networks, both ephemeral and long lasting. Through these interactions, some centers became the capitals of powerful states, pursuing a variety of strategies to subordinate and...

read more

3. Antecedents, Allies, Antagonists: Xunantunich and Its Neighbors

pdf iconDownload PDF (211.8 KB)
pp. 46-64

In proposing a theoretical base for interpretation, Lisa LeCount and Jason Yaeger (chapter 2) focus critically on models for strategies of incorporation, outlining implications of these strategies’ application to Xunantunich. While the authors emphasize the interrelated roles of gift giving, tribute exaction, marriage alliance, warfare, and political ritual...

Part I: Xunantunich

read more

A Brief Description of Xunantunich

pdf iconDownload PDF (283.1 KB)
pp. 67-78

Xunantunich is one of the largest sites in the upper Belize River valley. Its monumental core of plazas, range structures, causeways, and pyramids covers 14 ha and is organized around the Castillo, a massive, multitiered acropolis that rises 39m above Plaza A-I (see fig. I.1). Despite its size, Xunantunich has close neighbors of almost equally impressive...

read more

4. Changing Places: The Castillo and the Structure of Power at Xunantunich

pdf iconDownload PDF (737.9 KB)
pp. 79-96

One of the most critical steps in understanding Maya political authority is to identify the ruler’s residential area or “palace” and determine its spatial relationship to important ritual areas and other elite residential groups. In essence, archaeologists must chart the microsettlement patterns within the site center. By identifying changes in the location and layout...

read more

5. The Carved Monuments and Inscriptions of Xunantunich: Implications for Terminal Classic Sociopolitical Relationships in the Belize Valley

pdf iconDownload PDF (220.5 KB)
pp. 97-121

Unlike many sites in the Belize Valley, Xunantunich has continuously attracted the attention of explorers and archaeologists over the course of the past century. Indeed, the first recorded visit to the site is attributed to Alfred Maloney, governor of what was then British Honduras, in 1891 (Morley 1937–1938:204), and controlled excavations took place as...

read more

6. Monumental Building Programs and Changing Political Strategies at Xunantunich

pdf iconDownload PDF (355.3 KB)
pp. 122-144

Maya rulers, through the design and construction of monumental buildings and architectural spaces and the associated placement of caches and burials, created landscapes filled with meanings (Ashmore and Sabloff 2002; Fash 1998; Miller 1998). When skillfully planned, these landscapes and embedded meanings reinforced the authority of Maya leaders among...

read more

7. Shifting Political Dynamics as Seen from the Xunantunich Palace

pdf iconDownload PDF (266.3 KB)
pp. 145-160

A Classic Maya palace was much more than the residence of a city’s ruling family, as Peter Harrison (1970, 2001a) demonstrated in his landmark study of Tikal’s Central Acropolis. It also provided a venue for a variety of activities that were central to a polity’s administration and its ruler’s authority. In recognition of this broader array of activities, Takeshi Inomata and...

read more

8. Elite Craft Production of Stone Drills and Slate at Group D, Xunantunich

pdf iconDownload PDF (216.1 KB)
pp. 161-183

The natural world contributes a variety of plastic materials that can be used to create an object imagined in the mind of the artisan. Chert is among the most versatile materials available to make tools, and it also leaves evidence valuable to the archaeologist who seeks to understand both the craftsperson and craft production. Although behavioral typologies...

read more

9. The Social Construction of Roads at Xunantunich, from Design to Abandonment

pdf iconDownload PDF (600.5 KB)
pp. 184-208

Roads are physical manifestations of power. They display the power to amass the labor required for their construction, the power to bring together previously disconnected entities, and the power to redefine the means and modes of communication across space. The Colonial Maya understood this basic equation and used the term...

read more

10. Mount Maloney People? Domestic Pots, Everyday Practice, and the Social Formation of the Xunantunich Polity

pdf iconDownload PDF (164.0 KB)
pp. 209-230

The association between pottery and people has long been a theoretical issue for archaeologists (see Hegmon 1992, 1998; Trigger 1989). For much of the twentieth century, culture historians defined archaeological cultures, such as the Bandkeramik and Beaker people, based on their distinctive pottery styles. The geographical distributions of these...

Part II: The Xunantunich Hinterlands

read more

Landscapes of the Xunantunich Hinterlands

pdf iconDownload PDF (550.2 KB)
pp. 233-249

Part II turns from the xunantunich site core outward to the surrounding countryside and the polity’s hinterlands. “Landscapes of the Xunantunich Hinterlands” sketches the natural, social, and political landscapes of the Mopan River valley, focusing on the Late and Terminal Classic periods. This landscape was thoroughly anthropogenic, the product of human activities and environmental changes over the millennia...

read more

11. Population, Intensive Agriculture, Labor Value, and Elite-Commoner Political Power Relations in the Xunantunich Hinterlands

pdf iconDownload PDF (414.8 KB)
pp. 250-271

Ester Boserup (1965) has argued that the effect of population growth on resources is an important independent factor that creates conditions leading to economic intensification. The basic causal factor in Boserup’s model is that population growth initially creates an imbalance in which consumer needs outstrip productive output. This imbalance is alleviated...

read more

12. Integration and Interdependence: The Domestic Chipped-Stone Economy of the Xunantunich Polity

pdf iconDownload PDF (214.2 KB)
pp. 272-294

Since social complexity and elite authority are founded on the productive base formed by commoner households, it is incumbent that we have a better understanding of the economic principles by which that base was organized. Rather than consider the relationships between elites and commoners, here we focus on the relationships that bind commoner...

read more

13. A Community to Be Counted: Chaa Creek and the Emerging Xunantunich Polity

pdf iconDownload PDF (634.2 KB)
pp. 295-314

It has been my long-standing concern that explanations of Maya political processes, even purportedly holistic (Blanton et al. 1996) and dynamic (Marcus 1993) models, suffer from an implicit top-down paradigm (Connell 2000, 2003). Joyce Marcus’ (1993, 1998) valuable dynamic model builds on the idea that Maya political processes were dependent on...

read more

14. Living in the Hinterlands of a Provincial Polity

pdf iconDownload PDF (309.2 KB)
pp. 315-333

In this chapter, we re-people the ancient commoner landscapes of the Xunantunich polity to illustrate the implications of commoner lives and decisions for provincial political organization. We begin with the premise that understanding the everyday lives of commoners and their integration within larger polities is of crucial significance for...

Part III: Summary and Discussion

read more

15. Conclusions: Placing Xunantunich and Its Hinterland Settlements in Perspective

pdf iconDownload PDF (264.8 KB)
pp. 337-369

In this chapter, we synthesize the data presented in the preceding chapters to reconstruct Xunantunich’s changing political organization during the Late and Terminal Classic periods. We do so to understand the processes that transformed this site from a minor political center into a powerful polity and to assess its shifting relationship with Naranjo. The...

read more

16. Provincial Politics at Xunantunich: Power, Differentiation, and Identity in a Classic-Period Maya Realm

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.3 KB)
pp. 370-383

The contributors to this volume provide an exciting, multifaceted perspective on the political history of the Xunantunich realm. There is no doubt that the work reported herein has great culture-historical value. Just as important are the implications of the research for addressing broader questions concerning how power contests waged among major states are...

References Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (263.2 KB)
pp. 385-434

About the Editors

pdf iconDownload PDF (51.5 KB)
pp. 435

About the Contributors

pdf iconDownload PDF (72.7 KB)
pp. 437-441


pdf iconDownload PDF (315.0 KB)
pp. 443-451

E-ISBN-13: 9780816502875
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816528844

Publication Year: 2010