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  • An Inconstant Landscape: The Maya Kingdom of El Zotz, Guatemala ed. by Thomas G. Garrison and Stephen Houston
  • Jennifer Loughmiller-Cardinal
An Inconstant Landscape: The Maya Kingdom of El Zotz, Guatemala. Edited by Thomas G. Garrison and Stephen Houston. Boulder: University of Colorado, 2019. Pp. 448. $90.00 cloth.

This volume presents findings of six recent seasons of archaeological fieldwork at the ancient Mayan kingdom of El Zotz, Guatemala. It specifically addresses El Zotz and nearby sites as independent entities, their chronology and diachronic changes, and the influences of the evolving power dynamics at nearby neighbor Tikal, and later the hegemonic polity of Calakmul, in Mexico. El Zotz is located midway into the Buenavista Valley of Petén, Guatemala, strategically near water, with an elevated [End Page 470] vantage point, and has long been a corridor of significant lowland trade and travel. These attributes contributed to its 2500-year history.

The volume’s introductory chapter, by Garrison and Houston, offers a broad but concise history of both the Buenavista Valley and the modern archaeological investigations at el Proyecto Arqueológico El Zotz (PAEZ). The following chapters are chronologically sequenced to describe the Middle Pre-Classic through the Post-Classic periods (1000 BC to 1500 AD), detailing archaeological evidence for the development and devolution of the area and its people. Doyle and Piedrasantas (Chapter 2) consider pottery composition, types, and form with changing pollen concentrations indicating a Late Pre-Classic (100 AD) shift from the cities El Palmar and La Avispa toward Bejucal and El Zotz. Chapter 3, by Roman, Garrison, and Houston, establishes the Early Classic (300 AD) origins of the Pa’ka’n “Split/fortified Sky” dynasty through monumental building campaigns, the coalescing of locales of interest, and ideological consolidation within the Buenavista valley. This sets the stage for a late fourth-century power shift, with the Teotihuacan insertion centralized at nearby Tikal.

Carter, Gutiérrez Castillo, and Newman (Chapter 4) develop the Late Classic (550 to 850 AD) context of suzerainty over the Pa’ka’n kingdom, which alternated between Tikal and Calakmul. Relying on the limited number of El Zotz texts, the authors provide evidence of shifting alliances of punctuated intensity. Newman, Garrido, and Carter (Chapter 5) describe the fluctuations and rupturing of political and social norms during the Terminal Classic period (850 AD), indicated by known collapse patterns of discontinued monumental architectural and art. They demonstrate a reordering of El Zotz’s economic interests that allowed the valley to delay its deterioration. Kingsley and Gamez (Chapter 6) conclude the chronology by describing the Post-Classic re-emergence of El Zotz in its less grand expression of household complexes, showing that the material culture represents conservation of common traditions and customs as well as changes in resource acquisition.

The second half of the volume supplies detailed technical analyses supporting the prior chapters. The environmental survey conducted by Beach, Luzzadder-Beach, Doyle, and Delgado (Chapter 7) focuses on water management and quality, soil and geomorphology, and a paleo-ecological context consistent with changing population density, food production, and water maintenance. Czapiewska-Halliday, Carter, Kingsley, Newman, and de Carteret (Chapter 8) examine pottery evidence reflecting processes of rise, change, and decay within the valley. Hruby (Chapter 9) details lithic distribution, morphology, and sourcing that highlight aspects of the changing alliances, economics, and periods of instability such as the Terminal Classic proliferation and intensification of weapon forms. De Carteret and Garrido (Chapter 10) discuss El Zotz’s participation in Southern Lowland traditions of figurine design and their behavioral context, while Mesick Braun (Chapter 11) considers the nature of architectural selections and construction methods for identifying and evaluating [End Page 471] diagnostics of interest. Scherer (Chapter 12) concludes with assessments of human remains, including fragments left in looted contexts, to understand the former populations at El Zotz through potential details of health, cause of death, and burial treatment.

In their preface, the editors contend that the wealth and diversity of such a site are better summarized and presented in edited volumes, rather than traditional monographs that reflect on specific aspects of completed work or voluminous reports too numerous to wield. This volume succeeds at highlighting why. Garrison and Houston...


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