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1 1 • Introduction Understanding Everyday Life She woke up on a warm morning in AD 750. The Maya farming community of Chan was thriving, and more and more people were moving into the community. This meant clearing new land for agricultural fields. As her grandparents had taught her, and their grandparents had taught them, she went to help clear the fields nearby her home with some new neighbors after a warm meal of corn gruel prepared from freshly ground corn from her family’s fields. Working with her chert adze, she carefully cleared the understory but was always conscious to leave the productive mature tropical-forest canopy trees—fruit trees, mahogany trees, chico zapote, and many others, standing. Agriculture and the forest could exist together. As she may or may not have been aware, this was one of the reasons why health remained consistent in her community, and why health was declining at this same time for people living in the nearby Maya city of Tikal, where much of the mature tropical forest had been depleted. • I woke up on a cold midwestern morning in AD 2012 with a wind chill factor of 30° below. I went to the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of organic cereal, a product of Canada, for breakfast. Like countless other people from all walks of life and all across the globe, I went outside and got in my car to drive to work. I usually don’t drive to work in the morning , as I live only one mile from Northwestern, but when it is 30° below, I drive that one mile. As an individual act, my getting in my car in the morning and driving to work seems inconsequential. But because this act is repeated by a multitude of others and across time, its consequences are, 2 · Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan in fact, far from trivial and have quite a dramatic effect on our world. Still, we get in our cars and drive to work. • Both today and in the past, the things people do in their everyday lives are not as mundane as they first appear. They are sometimes quite extraordinary , and they are always profoundly implicated in what is going on in the world and the long-term social dynamics of societies. The two vignettes presented above illustrate the critical explanatory power of exploring the everyday. In the ancient Maya case, the way people cleared the forest for agricultural land affected both the health of the forest and human health, which had significant implications for both human societies and the natural world. In the contemporary case, the act of driving to work produces transformations in climate, economy, and power. Scholars can learn much about people and society by understanding ordinary acts of everyday life. • This book is about everyday life and why it matters. The title of the book, Everyday Life Matters, is a double entendre. First, everyday life matters because what people do on a daily basis is critical in the construction of their societies. Second, everyday life is the matter of much of archaeology—archaeologists dig up the minutiae of what people did on a day-to-day basis. In this book I develop theories and methods for a critical analysis of everyday life in the past through the engagement of recent thinking in archaeology and social theory. I then draw upon my archaeological research on the two-thousand-year history (800 BC–AD 1200) of ancient Maya farmers at Chan, Belize, to explore the importance of everyday life in understanding human societies. I developed a collaborative, international , multidisciplinary archaeological research project at Chan between 2002 and 2009 (Robin 2012a). Chan is located in the upper Belize Valley region of west-central Belize, a peripheral part of the ancient Maya world. Its two-thousand-year occupation spans the major periods of politicaleconomic change in Maya society (the Preclassic, Classic, and Postclassic periods), making it an ideal place to explore how everyday life intersects with broader transformations in society. During this time, the great lowland Maya cities of Tikal, Copán, Calakmul, Palenque, and many others rose, flourished, and fell, while in Europe the Roman Empire rose and fell and prehistory gave way to the Middle Ages. Introduction: Understanding Everyday Life · 3 For two millennia, while the fortunes of nearby major Maya civiccenters waxed and waned, the farming community of Chan flourished. Although the Chan community can be characterized as unremarkable, in terms of the size...


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