Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Anthropology

First Advisor

Richard M. Leventhal

Abstract

Collapse has been misunderstood to equate with the disappearance of civilizations, but political fragmentation is merely one aspect of the complex processes of social transformation. Other concepts, including resilience are useful to separate the effects of cultural continuity from political disintegration. This study approaches these topics from the level of an archaeological community or hamlet located at the periphery of a dynastic center or state. I present 4 broad arguments: 1) collapse and resilience are evolving processes best understood as different aspects of social transformation, 2) the role of agency in collapse and resilience studies is underappreciated, 3) lower elite and commoner populations play a role in these political dynamics, and 4) the changing relationship between dynastic centers and outlying communities is negotiated over time rather than static. The cultural context of this study is the political transformation at the end of the Classic period (AD 250–900) in the Southern Maya Lowlands that involved, in part, political fragmentation or collapse. The timing of this Classic period (AD 250–900) collapse in the Maya area has been informed by long count calendar dates on the final monuments of dynastic and subsidiary centers. However, archaeologists have noted that the subsequent demographic decline in the Southern Lowlands was a protracted process that operated at diverse rates across different subregions. I address these issues with a middle or community-level approach through settlement survey and the excavation of El Infiernito, a hamlet roughly equidistant from the Classic period dynastic center Piedras Negras and its subsidiary ally La Mar. Crucial to the resilience of the El Infiernito community was the reoccupation of a hilltop first modified during the Protoclassic period (100 BC–AD 350) and the construction and maintenance of defensive features to protect the site, agricultural terraces, and a karst spring. Further strategies involved the construction of C-shaped benches and subdivision of living space, ancestor veneration and other household rituals, accessing shifting trade networks, and controlling access to ritual caves. El Infiernito, therefore, provides a rare glimpse of the transition from the Terminal Classic to Early Postclassic periods in the Upper Usumacinta Basin.

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