Hydrology and classic Maya urban planning: a geospatial analysis of settlement and water management at Xultun, Guatemala
Ruane, Jonathan Donald
MetadataShow full item record
In this dissertation, I explore the relationship between water management, urbanism, and socio-political organization at the Classic Maya site of Xultun, Guatemala. In an area without permanent surface water, provisioning and maintenance of large stores of water was a necessity for agricultural stability. Combining evidence from archaeological survey, excavation, remote sensing, and geospatial analysis I demonstrate that settlement at Xultun was organized topographically. Elite ritual structures were concentrated on the highest areas, and in proximity to reservoirs. This gave leaders control over the release of water, and by extension control over their subjects. Xultun was built on a natural hill. Urban space was concentrated into three topographic areas: administrative on the summit, residential on lower terraces, and agricultural on the lowest land. Using geospatial analysis, I modeled the relationship between the site's public and private buildings, its 15 reservoirs, and its hydrology. Water was collected and stored within each of the three topographic zones for local use; however, administrative neighborhoods were located close to reservoirs in order to maintain tight control. Excavations at the site's summit revealed that the central reservoir was in use since the late Preclassic (400 BC-250 AD). They also revealed a complex drainage system that diverted water into an aqueduct that emptied into a canal feeding this reservoir. Overflow from the reservoir was directed to reservoirs further downhill. Drainage flowed from the administrative center to the cardinal directions in accordance with Maya cosmological principles. The link between water and authority is further illustrated by the discovery, in an administrative neighborhood, of a stela depicting a royal ancestor in the act of impersonating Chak, the Maya rain god. At Xultun, the association of administrative neighborhoods with reservoirs in all three topographic areas reflects centralized control and management of urban water resources. The arrangement of hydrological systems emphasized cosmological principles and reinforced authority through ritual association with the rain deity. Water management was instrumental in the maintenance of power. As a key element of statecraft, its stratified spatial organization supported the hierarchical social order that took root in the Preclassic and came to characterize Maya urbanism.