Doctoral Dissertation Research: Davies: Resilience In Adaptation To Social Change

Grants and Contracts Details


Overview: Page A The Atitlan Archaeological Project (AAP) will investigate how rural communities in the Lake Atitlan Basin of the southwestern Maya highlands negotiated the challenges of the Classic to Postclassic transition (c. 800 - 1200 AD). Previous investigations(e.g. Lothrop 1933) indicate that this was a pivotal time in the region’s political, economic, and cultural development involving the abandonment of the traditional center of power, Chuk’muk, and the founding of the hilltop fortress of Chutinamit, the future capital of the powerful Tz’utujil Kingdom (Orellana 1984). However, a lack of rural settlement pattern data from the rest of the lake and a dearth of Early Postclassic sites mean that it is currently impossible to assess the magnitude of this event for the local population. The AAP will address this lacuna by generating baseline settlement and chronological data for the southwestern corner of the lake. Surface survey, mapping, test excavations, and laboratory analysis will be conducted for all habitable portions of the municipios of San Pedro and San Juan La Laguna. Part of the core of the Tzutujil Kingdom in the Postclassic period, this area’s prehispanic heritage has been almost entirely overlooked despite early recognition of its archaeological importance (Lothrop 1933; Luna 1910). Preliminary reconnaissance by the Co-PI in 2011, however, confirmed the survival of several small civic-ceremonial centers, numerous surface artifact scatters, house features on ancient terraces, and an abundance of rock art. Detailed horizontal data combined with household series data (Hirth 1993) recovered from a range of settlement locales will enable the AAP to identify "patterned responses to system-wide conditions" (1993:25) and to plot long-term trajectories of community resilience. Intellectual Merit : The AAP breaks new ground in Maya research by illuminating the nature of the "Classic Collapse" and its aftermath in the poorly studied southwestern Maya highlands. Long an important focus of studies in the Maya Lowlands, this period remains seriously under-researched in the highlands (Borgstede 2007), where one author has described it as the "least understood period" in the region (Braswell 2002:299). This lacuna not only prevents synchronic comparisons between the highlands and other regions, it also critically undermines our understanding of the origins and development of the major socio-political formations of the Late Postclassic (e.g., the Tzutujil, K’iche and Kaqchikel), perpetuating myths of ?Mexicanization? and diminishing the importance of autochthonous adaptations and achievements. The AAP also breaks new theoretical ground by integrating community resilience and quality of life concepts with anthropological approaches to communities. In doing so it lays the foundation for future archaeological research on resilience and wellbeing, concepts which, thanks to their popularity, have enormous potential for comparing past and present social dynamics (Smith in Press)and for acting as boundary objects to facilitate cross-disciplinary research (Brand and Jax 2007). Broader Impacts : The AAP will lay the foundations for future collaborations between the University of Kentucky (UK) and the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG), institutions which are both dedicated to disseminating knowledge of Maya culture. The AAP will form the core of Gavin Davies’ doctoral dissertation and continue his long-term research in the Atitlan region, which is expected to include at least five seasons of work beyond the PhD project and thus to produce educational benefits for up to 10 graduate and 25 undergraduate students. Participation in this research will provide students with valuable scientific skills (e.g. excavation, recording, mapping, and data analysis) and through working with local Maya and living within a contemporary Maya community will encourage positive engagement with ethnic minorities and the poor in the US. The AAP will provide a wide range of benefits to the communities of San Pedro and San Juan, including: 1) employment and training; 2) knowledge and ownership of local history, 3) appreciation for the fragility of the archaeological record, 4) enhancement of museum displays, and 5) increases in cultural tourism. The results of the project will be disseminated in the Atitlan area through public talks, laboratory open-days and presentations and in the United States through chapter and article publications and regional, national, and international conference presentations. The results will also be preserved permanently in an open access digital archive such as tDAR.
Effective start/end date1/1/1512/31/15


  • National Science Foundation: $24,847.00


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