Classic Maya ceramic technology and political dynamics in the central Peten Lakes region, Guatemala
Moriarty, Ellen Spensley
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Despite much debate, the role played by Late Classic Maya elites in day-to-day economic matters remains poorly defined. Archaeologists have characterized the Late Classic economy as both centralized (under elite control), and decentralized (no elite oversight). Recently, archaeologists have tried to clarify this issue by defining specific sources of economic power for specific rulers and/or political entities. The research presented in this dissertation provides one such perspective on elite involvement with the economy by examining ceramic production and distribution in the Motul de San José area, just north of Lake Petén Itzá in northern Guatemala. Motul emerged as a regional political center during the second half of the Late Classic period, into an area with several pre-existing communities. It is thus possible to highlight elite engagement with the ceramic economy by investigating the intervals before and after Motu! was present in the area. This dissertation analyzes ceramics from three major groups: Cambio Unslipped, Tinaja Red, and Saxche-Palmar PolychTome. These groups comprise the bulk of Late Classic ceramics recovered in the Motul area, and represent both utilitarian and luxury goods. Sherds from Motul and five additional sites were subjected to modal and petrographic analyses in order to address various aspects of production and distribution. Together, these analyses demonstrate an increase in the number of ceramic producing groups during the second half of the Late Classic period. This production was not, however, regulated by elites at Motul, where potters produced ceramics using a distinctive stylistic mode and paste recipe that set their assemblages apart from others in the area. Distribution patterns suggest that ceramics circulated through a central market both before and after Motul was present in the area, but a shift in the proposed location of this market to Motul itself indicates that elites were involved with some portion of the ceramic economy. These results demonstrate that it is too simple to characterize the Maya state as either centralized or decentralized. In the Motul area, the shifting of a market to the new seat of political power suggests that partial economic control represented one source of power for Late Classic elites.
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