Political Dynamics in Cahal Pech, Belize during the Middle Preclassic
How leaders persuade or coerce others to accept subordinate status and how social inequality becomes institutionalized are topics of persistent interest among social scientists concerned with early social complexity. In order to approach these topics, my research builds on the dual-processual model developed by Blanton and colleagues who distinguish two contrasting strategies of social control, network and corporate. In addition, I go further and explore the material correlates of these contrasting power strategies. I argue that a comparative study of architecture, associated activities, and the distribution of artifacts is needed to study the emergence and development of Maya chiefdoms in Belize and beyond.
Therefore, in my dissertation, I assess the range of power strategies employed by leaders and chiefly elites at Cahal Pech, Belize to obtain, enhance and legitimize their power over others throughout the Middle Preclassic period (1100-350 B.C.). The Middle Preclassic presents a crucial time period for the rising and institutionalization of social inequalities in the Maya lowlands. Cahal Pech is one of the few sites in this area of Mesoamerica that offers the opportunity to document long trajectories of social change. This Maya center has a lengthy, continuous, and well-documented occupation spanning approximately two thousand years (1100/1000 B.C. - A.D. 1000).
As my dissertation reveals, social differentiation arose at Cahal Pech during the second part of the Cunil phase (1100-900 B.C.) when valuable resources were already becoming restricted in their use. The transition between egalitarian and chiefdom political formations occurred at some moment during the early facet of the Kanluk phase (900-600 B.C.). At that time, ranking developed from the manipulation and integration of economic and ideological sources of power. Chiefdom political formation developed further in the second part of the late facet of the Kanluk phase (600-300 B.C.), when the elites extended their social control over more resources and towards the periphery of the site. As my dissertation shows, many of the political and economic dynamics associated with the Late Preclassic and Classic periods in the Maya lowlands were already in place in regions that would later be considered peripheral, including western Belize.