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1 Introduction 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 reflect the nature of power, legitimacy , and authority. Other questions of importance include, What were the economic resources of the city? Who controlled them? How did the persons in power interact with each other and with other cities? While there is debate about whether ancient Maya communities were cities or not, I take the position that we cannot impose models of urbanism developed elsewhere onto the Maya.1 Instead, to understand Maya cities, it is necessary to create models of them in their own terms. In other words, the semantic wall created by the “cities or not” debate does little to enhance our understanding of ancient Maya life.Whether we call them“cities ” is less important than whether we can understand what Maya life was about. Another goal of this volume is to introduce the reader to the archaeology of Blue Creek, a Maya community that existed for two millennia. Over time, it became an economic and political center of some 15–20 thousand people. Since 1992, Blue Creek has been the focus of a multidisciplinary, multinational research effort . This research has created new insights into the Blue Creek Maya and the ancient Maya in general. However, many new questions have been raised and remain unanswered. This is, of course, the nature of archaeological research and all scienti fic inquiry. Therefore, I hope that Blue Creek as a case study provides the reader with a better understanding of what we know and what we do not about this fascinating part of humanity’s past. Finally, this is a case study of the complexity of large-scale archaeological research . How archaeologists come to know about the past is often an obtuse process, unlike that in most sciences. Further, understanding this process has become a justi fiable obsession of many scholars in the field. Some of our best-known scholars are not known for their“great discoveries”but for their contributions to our methodologies .2 Most fieldworkers are like myself—we focus on understanding the past 2 Chapter 1 but are still deeply concerned with the approaches taken to research. Typically, we express this concern in a research design written prior to undertaking fieldwork.As years go by, especially in large-scale field projects, research designs tend to change and grow with our knowledge about our subject. So, this book is also an appraisal of more than a decade of research design change and growth as each year’s fieldwork caused our perceptions to change.3 Most books on archaeological projects are written after the completion of the fieldwork. In this case, that is not so. The Blue Creek project is designed to incorporate 20 years or more of intensive study of a single part of the Maya area in northwestern Belize. I directed the project for its first decade (1992–2001) and Jon Lohse succeeded me from 2002 to 2005. During these years the project took a regional approach , leaving most additional work at Blue Creek to me when I returned in 2006. During my second directorship, my colleagues and I will be addressing very different questions than we did in the first decade. This book documents some of the first decade of fieldwork and brings its disparate parts together into one integrated whole. While doing these things, I make the assumption that the reader already has a familiarity with the subject. It is not within the scope of this book to introduce a new reader to the fundamentals of Maya archaeology. At the same time, I did not attempt to write this book at a level only understandable to scholars who specialize in Maya studies; that role is for articles in scholarly journals. So, I hope to walk the line between these two positions in a way that will make our work understandable to the nonprofessional and meaningful to the professional. The Role of Research Designs Going about the business of archaeology requires much more than just going out and digging. Where one excavates is a function of what one wants to know. Part of the creative process is to ask a question of the archaeological record, then to determine how to best collect data to address the question. Research designs are simply another way of stating the purposes of fieldwork. Research designs keep us...


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