Landscape transformations and changing perceptions at Chunchucmil, Yucatán

Aline Magnoni, Scott R. Hutson, Travis W. Stanton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

13 Scopus citations


People's experience of space and hence of landscape depends on how they interpret the world around them (Bruck 1998; B. Knapp and Ashmore 1999). Through the process of living and dwelling, people continually create, transform, experience, and imbue their surroundings with meaning, which in turn influences the behavior of those who inhabit those surroundings (Ingold 2000; J. Thomas 1993). Thus social landscapes simultaneously transform and are transformed by human action (Gosden and Head 1994). Yet while the perception and construction of landscapes are panhuman processes, the perceptions and constructions of landscapes are highly variable. Landscapes are perceived in ways that vary cross-culturally and over time because experience and perception are not simply physical but are also cultural processes (Bruck 1998; Carleton Jones 1998; Pred 1990). Moreover, people experience the same landscape in different ways, since each person occupies a distinctive position in relation to his or her landscape (Bender 1992, 2002; Bruck 1998; Hagerstrand 1976, 1985; Holmberg, Stanton, and Hutson 2006; Carleton Jones 1998; Layton and Ucko 1999; Mack 2004; Rodman 1992; J. Thomas 2001). Thus landscapes can be "multiple and fragmented" ( J. Thomas 2001:176). As suggested by geographers, social theorists, and anthropologists alike, space, experienced as a complex of places, is intrinsically tied to time (Bender 2002; Feld and Basso 1996; Giddens 1984; Hagerstrand 1976, 1985; Ingold 1993; Munn 1992; Pred 1977, 1990). Landscapes are the materialization of collective histories and individual memories (Curtoni, Lazzari, and Lazzari 2003; B. Knapp and Ashmore 1999; Van Dyke and Alcock 2003b) that may trace back to mythical times; the Australian Dreaming is a prime example (Tacon 1989, 1999; Tonkinson 1991). The reuse, reconstruction, and reinterpretation of landscapes through time attach multiple layers of symbolic, cosmological, or political meanings to existing landscapes-as, for instance, Aztec manipulation of Teotihuacan (see Arnold 2001; Hamann 2002; Matos Moctezuma 2002; Matos Moctezuma and Lopez Lujan 1993). These past meanings are always experienced and interpreted through contemporary social, cultural, and historical contexts (Gero and Root 1990) and can often be used to legitimize present conditions (e.g., Ayres and Mauricio 1999; Mulk and Bayliss- Smith 1999). In this chapter we explore the ways abandoned structures have been incorporated in later landscapes and how perceptions of the older vestiges have shaped the characteristics of these subsequent landscapes. We examine these processes at the archaeological site of Chunchucmil, Yucatan, whose landscape has been subject to more than two millennia of transformations. The social actors considered encompass prehistoric people, contemporary inhabitants, and visiting archaeologists.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRuins of The Past
Subtitle of host publicationThe Use and Perception of Abandoned Structures in The Maya Lowlands
Number of pages30
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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