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91 5 • Situating Chan Although this book is divided into two sections—the first being more “theoretical” and the second being more “empirical”—the two sections are not isolated entities. As critical everyday life scholarship argues, theoretical and empirical research are dependent upon one another. There is a constant interplay between theoretical issues that develop from empirical studies and empirical problems that relate to theoretical arguments. The interrelatedness of theoretical and empirical work is a central aspect of an everyday life approach. If people create and are constrained by the material and spatial practices of day-to-day life, then an academic understanding of people cannot be found at the abstract level but must be located in the practice of studying people’s everyday lives. This is precisely what I set out to achieve in this section of the book. About Chan: A Summary Chan is a farming community with a two-thousand-year history (800 BC–AD 1200). The community is located in the upper Belize Valley region of west-central Belize, a peripheral part of the ancient Maya world (figure 5.1). Its two-thousand-year occupation spans the major periods of political-economic 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. Unremarkable in terms of community size or architecture, the farming community of Chan nonetheless flourished for two millennia while the fortunes of nearby major Maya civic-centers waxed and waned. The Chan research into farmers’ everyday lives reveals innovations in humanenvironment practices, religious knowledge, and political strategies and 92 · Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan yields new insights into the operation of power in ancient Maya society. The archaeological record of everyday life at Chan belies traditional notions of peasants as a passive, backwards, and simple folk. The majority of Chan’s residents were farmers, and their agricultural terraces were the most ubiquitous and substantial constructions at Chan. Farmers constructed terraces up and down hillslopes and across channels . Chan’s farmers lived in the midst of their agricultural terraces. Thus, rather than being a densely nucleated community, the Chan community consisted of clustered farmsteads around a community center. There were also many others who lived at Chan: craft workers, diviners, and political leaders. All of Chan’s residents, from its humblest farmer to its community leaders, lived in perishable buildings with thatch roofs constructed on stone substructures. The Chan settlement survey documented the remains of 274 households and 1,223 agricultural terraces in a 3.2-squarekilometer area surrounding Chan’s community center. Chan’s residents constructed their community around a community center, which they situated at the spatial and geographical center of the community on a local high point in the topography. The community Figure 5.1. Map of the Belize River valley and Maya area showing the location of Chan. (Map by Elizabeth Schiffman.) Figure 5.2. Top: Topography, settlement, and agricultural terraces at Chan. Black squares are mounds; gray linear features are agricultural terraces. Ten-meter contour interval. Bottom: Chan’s hilly terrain. Photograph taken from the Central Group looking south. (Photograph by James Meierhoff.) 94 · Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan center consists of two adjoining plazas: the plaza of the Central Group and the West Plaza (figure 5.3). The Central Group is the largest architectural complex and plaza at Chan and its main location for community-level ceremony, administration, and adjudication. It also houses a residence and associated ancillary structures for Chan’s leading family. On the east and west sides of the Central Group are an E-Group, a distinctive type of paired east and west ritual structures in which the east structure is a tripartite construction and the west structure is a single construction. These distinctive architectural complexes are common throughout the Maya area, and their particular architectural configuration was inspired by agricultural rituals (Aimers and Rice 2006). The east structure of the E-Group is the tallest structure at Chan, rising to a height of 5.6 meters . Chan’s community center met all the functions of large Maya civiccenters , albeit at a smaller scale, with the exclusion of a ball court. Chan’s landscape was heavily terraced—in fact, more so than other areas of the Belize Valley, itself known for high agricultural productivity —making Chan an important center of agricultural production in this agriculturally productive region. Terraces were more numerous and often larger than residences...


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