Ancient maya rural settlement patterns, household cooperation, and regional subsistence interdependency in the río bec area: Contributions from g-liht

Scott R. Hutson, Nicholas P. Dunning, Bruce Cook, Thomas Ruhl, Nicolas C. Barth, Daniel Conley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Research on intensive agricultural features contributes to the social relations of farming, including the means by which farmers mobilize labor and the possible destination of surplus. Lidar provides high-resolution data on ancient houses and agricultural features at a regional scale. This paper uses lidar data from NASA’s G-LiHT airborne imager to derive insights about rural demography, interhousehold cooperation, and subsistence interdependency among the ancient Maya. We assess the differences in intensity of agricultural investment in rural and urban areas of the Río Bec region of southern Campeche and Quintana Roo, Mexico, leading to inferences about regional food exchange and complex economies. The scale of interconnected ridges and terraces clearly implies interhousehold cooperation, yet this cooperation was not centralized. Rather, we envision a landscape of smallholders who jointly planned the layout and articulation of agricultural features but pooled most of their labor at the level of the household.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-579
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Anthropological Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank David Stuart, Astrid Runggaldier, Samantha Krause, Timothy Beach and Shery Luzzader Beach for their contributions to the 2020 Sibley conference at UT Austin, where Hutson presented some of these results. Dr. Hank Margolis (Program Manager, NASA Terrestrial Ecology Program) oversaw the G-LiHT data collection with funding from a NASA Carbon Cycle Science award to PI Dr. Ross Nelson (Program Announcement Number NNH10ZDA001N-CARBON). Much of the analysis in the paper was supported by a sabbatical research leave awarded to Hutson by the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Kentucky. Fieldwork in the publications cited was permitted by the Department of Archaeology in Belize, the Insituto Nacional de Antro-pología e Historia in Mexico, and the Instituto de Antropología e Historia in Guatemala. We thank Tom Guderjan for allowing us to share data from Ruhl’s excavations of a ridge at Xnoha. Tim Beach, Marcello Canuto, and Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach improved this paper by commenting on early versions. Bill Turner and two anonymous reviewers added useful suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The University of New Mexico. All rights reserved.


  • Agricultural intensification
  • Economic anthropology
  • Landesque capital
  • Lidar
  • Maya Lowlands
  • Smallholders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Ancient maya rural settlement patterns, household cooperation, and regional subsistence interdependency in the río bec area: Contributions from g-liht'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this