Ancient Lowland Maya neighborhoods: Average Nearest Neighbor analysis and kernel density models, environments, and urban scale

Amy E. Thompson, John P. Walden, Adrian S.Z. Chase, Scott R. Hutson, Damien B. Marken, Bernadette Cap, Eric C. Fries, M. Rodrigo Guzman Piedrasanta, Timothy S. Hare, Sherman W. Horn, George J. Micheletti, Shane M. Montgomery, Jessica Munson, Heather Richards-Rissetto, Kyle Shaw-Müller, Traci Ardren, Jaime J. Awe, M. Kathryn Brown, Michael Callaghan, Claire E. EbertAnabel Ford, Rafael A. Guerra, Julie A. Hoggarth, Brigitte Kovacevich, John M. Morris, Holley Moyes, Terry G. Powis, Jason Yaeger, Brett A. Houk, Keith M. Prufer, Arlen F. Chase, Diane Z. Chase

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Many humans live in large, complex political centers, composed of multi-scalar communities including neighborhoods and districts. Both today and in the past, neighborhoods form a fundamental part of cities and are defined by their spatial, architectural, and material elements. Neighborhoods existed in ancient centers of various scales, and multiple methods have been employed to identify ancient neighborhoods in archaeological contexts. However, the use of different methods for neighborhood identification within the same spatiotemporal setting results in challenges for comparisons within and between ancient societies. Here, we focus on using a single method-combining Average Nearest Neighbor (ANN) and Kernel Density (KD) analyses of household groups-to identify potential neighborhoods based on clusters of households at 23 ancient centers across the Maya Lowlands. While a one-size-fits all model does not work for neighborhood identification everywhere, the ANN/KD method provides quantifiable data on the clustering of ancient households, which can be linked to environmental zones and urban scale. We found that centers in river valleys exhibited greater household clustering compared to centers in upland and escarpment environments. Settlement patterns on flat plains were more dispersed, with little discrete spatial clustering of households. Furthermore, we categorized the ancient Maya centers into discrete urban scales, finding that larger centers had greater variation in household spacing compared to medium-sized and smaller centers. Many larger political centers possess heterogeneity in household clustering between their civic-ceremonial cores, immediate hinterlands, and far peripheries. Smaller centers exhibit greater household clustering compared to larger ones. This paper quantitatively assesses household clustering among nearly two dozen centers across the Maya Lowlands, linking environment and urban scale to settlement patterns. The findings are applicable to ancient societies and modern cities alike; understanding how humans form multi-scalar social groupings, such as neighborhoods, is fundamental to human experience and social organization.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0275916
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11 November
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by National Science Foundation (BCS-DDIG-1649080, KMP and AET; BCS-0620445, KMP; HSD-0827305, KMP; BCS-DDIG-1914638, M. Bermann and JPW; BCS-DDIG-1743448, KMP and RAG; BCS-DDIG-1822230, M.E. Smith and ASZC; BNS-8619996 D. Freidel, S. Jaeger, and AFC; DBI-0115837, T. Dupras, AFC, and DZC; SBR-9311773, AFC and DZC; SBR-9708637, DZC; SBE/BCS-1952503, JM; BCS- 9910545, B. Dahlin and TA; BCS- 9307435, B. Dahlin; BCS-1144511, TSH, M. Masson, and B. Russell; DGE1255832, CEE; BCS-1460369, D. Kennett and CEE; BCS-1430954, BK and MC; SBR-9321503, W. Ashmore); Post-PhD Research Grant, Wenner-Gren Foundation (2015, JM); FAMSI (AFC and DZC); The Alphawood Foundation (2009-2015, KMP; AFC/DZC, 2019, 2021, TGP; HM; BC/JRY/MKB); NASA Space Archaeology Program (NNX08AM11G, J.F. Weishampel, AFC, and DZC); GeoOntological Development Society (2017, 2018, 2019, DBM); National Geographic Society (6492-99, 6774-00 to B. Dahlin and TA; HM); Explorer's Club of New York Exploration Fund (2013, AET); Rust Family Foundation Archaeology Grant (2017, JM; JPW); Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation (AFC and DZC); USAID/Government of Belize (AFC and DZC); Dart Foundation (AFC and DZC); Stans Foundation (AFC and DZC); Ahau Foundation (AFC and DZC); Glick Foundation (AFC and DZC); Geraldine and Emory Ford Foundation (AFC and DZC); Trevor Colbourn Anthropology Endowment Fund (2019, 2021, GJM); Hellman Foundation (HM); Tilden Family Foundation (San Francisco, California) (JJA); Social Science Research Council of Canada (JJA); Exploring Solutions Past ~ The Maya Forest Alliance (2014-2019, AF); Experiment. com Archaeology Grant Challenge (2016, SWH); German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) (01UG1244A, Reindel; 01UG1244B, Zipf); The University of New Mexico Roger's Research Award (2015, 2016, AET); University of Pittsburgh International Studies Fund (JPW; JAH); University of Pittsburgh Department of Anthropology (JPW; JAH); University of Pittsburgh Center for Latin American Studies (JPW; JAH); American Institute of Archaeology Cotsen Grant, (2017, JM); Lycoming College Professional Development Grant (2016, JM); University of California Merced Center for Humanities (HM); University of California (HM); Merced Faculty Senate (HM); University of California Merced GIS Center (HM); University of Nevada Las Vegas Friends of World Anthropology Award (2017, 2018, ECF); Penn State Department of Anthropology Hill Fellowship for graduate student research (CEE); The University of London Gordon Childe Fund of (JJA); Pomona College (AFC); & University of Nevada Las Vegas (AFC, DZC). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: © 2022 Thompson et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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