Negotiated survival: an archaeological and documentary investigation of colonialism in Beneficios Altos, Yucatan, Mexico
Kaeding, Adam Richard
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Mayan peoples of the Yucatán peninsula were colonized subjects of the Spanish empire from 1546 until 1821. Often, the events of nearly three centuries are viewed as a singular struggle between European hegemonies and a monolithic indigenous community that oscillated between passivity and rebellion. This dissertation shows that responses to colonial circumstances can be best understood by paying particular attention to the scale of interpretation. Analysis of extensive and intensive archaeological survey data from Beneficios Altos, a frontier Spanish colonial province, reveals the effects of colonial policy on nearly every segment of society. Archaeological materials are complemented by an interrogation of geographically relevant documents collected from Mexican archives. These two lines of information combine to suggest that investigation of the colonial process benefits from a microhistorical perspective that focuses on the roles of individuals and communities surviving colonial circumstances. This dissertation focuses on one element of the colonial relationship: the negotiation of alienating pressures from a hegemonic authority that sought to define every aspect of daily life and interaction. Negotiation took place not between idealized collective Spaniard and Maya entities, but rather between persons seeking to improve their personal circumstances either as agents of the colonizers or as members of the colonized--often a fluid distinction. Individual negotiation and alienating pressures are presented in this dissertation as they were materialized upon Beneficios Altos landscapes. Employing a microhistorical focus but heeding macrohistorical trends, this study examines negotiated survival through the following watershed events and processes: sixteenth century battles of the conquest period; rapid redefinition of the physical and spiritual layout of the region by the Catholic Church; establishment of foundational politics and economic policies of colonialism; world events that inspired a dramatic reversal of demographic trends within this frontier region; nineteenth century eruption and chaos of a violent military conflict known as the Caste War; and the identities of those who resettled the fractured landscape during the twentieth century. This dissertation focuses on individual interactions and highlights the importance of frontier areas and archaeological landscapes in crafting a new perspective on the nature of colonialism.