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Enchaining Kinship: Figurines and State Formation at Cahal Pech, Cayo, Belize

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This dissertation examines the use and deposition of ceramic figurine fragments from the site of Cahal Pech, Cayo, Belize over the range of occupation of the site from the Formative Period to the Terminal Classic Period (ca. 1,100 BC to AD 900). This research considers critically the similarities and differences in figurine use and depositional practices between the site core and smaller neighboring structure groups examined synchronically, while also charting similarities and differences across the entire site diachronically.

Mesoamerican figurines are often tied to notions of ancestor veneration and are generally, although not exclusively, believed to have been tools for ritual practice. An investigation of use and depositional practices of these figurines reveals that the rise of social and political complexity and the presence of ceramic figurine deposits at Cahal Pech have a negative correlation. This suggests that during the state formation process at Cahal Pech, ancestor veneration rituals involving figurines were either fundamentally changed to not include figurines in ritual practice or the importance of community based ancestor veneration ritual gradually ceased. Furthermore, the exploitation and decline of kin group autonomy associated with state formation is further examined to elucidate how the deposition of ceramic figurines tied to ancestor veneration were used as symbols of acquiescence and resistance to the marginalization of kin groups inherent in the state formation process.

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