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The social implications of ritual behavior in the Maya Lowlands : a perspective from Minanha, Belize

  • Author(s): Schwake, Sonja Andrea
  • et al.
Abstract

The principal goal of this research is to elucidate the relationship between ancient Maya social organization and ritual behavior. More precisely, how the ancient Maya used the rituals surrounding death to promote their social goals. The research was undertaken at the site of Minanha, a medium-sized center located in the North Vaca Plateau of west central Belize. The site is located equidistant between the powerful lowland sites of Caracol to the south and Naranjo to the northwest, and the smaller sites of the Belize Valley to the north and southeastern Petén to the southwest. This location places Minanha at the center of an exciting frontier zone of interaction between all of these different polities. Excavations at Minanha were done within ritual architecture at three loci in distinct occupation zones of the site: the site center, its immediate periphery, and the outlying habitation zone in the distant periphery of the site. This sampling strategy creates a geographic and spatial transect that cross-cuts all the social strata represented at the site, from apical elites in the site center, to lesser elites surrounding the site center, to the supporting populations of commoners in the site periphery. The results of this research confirm that different groups of people at the site used the rituals surrounding death for diverse purposes. This manifested in very dissimilar material traces in each of the investigation locations. The apical elites tapped into a mythical past to legitimate their right to rule, the lesser elites emphasize their occupational specialization as scribes as a means to bolster their social status, and the commoners at the site chose to maintain the status quo of longstanding regional traditions through their mortuary practice. All social strata at the site emphasize group interment over individual interment, a pattern seen in a similar frequency from the central Petén to the site of Caracol, but a different strategy of meriting individual interment was seen along a large crosscutting swath of land following the river systems of the Belize Valley and southeastern Petén. Mortuary practice and social position are intricately linked for the ancient Maya in complex and dynamic ways

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