Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Development of Urban Structure and Government

Project: Research project

Description

Doctoral Dissertation Research: Urban Structure and Governance at Caracol, Belize.

Project Summary
Ancient Maya urbanism is uniquely characterized by both a relatively dispersed population spread over a large contiguous area and a reliance on seasonal precipitation for agriculture and subsistence. While Maya rulers, mostly known from stone-monument texts, reigned over Classic Period (550 CE 900 CE) cities and polities, court officials and support staff likely handled day-to-day administrative tasks. The ancient Maya provide an excellent case-study to review the role that both top-down (elite) and bottom-up (household) processes can impact the day-to-day governance of ancient cities. This research proposes to better define the nature of ancient Maya governance using the built environment and material record to answer the following two-part question. What was the urban structure of Late Classic Period Caracol, and how does that structure reflect the governance of this ancient Maya city?
This research project will lead to a more complete understanding of Maya urbanism and create a methodology that can be employed at other ancient cities for future comparative work. In this study, Chase assess the degree to which, aspects of the built environment including infrastructure, residential standardization, and neighborhood identities provide practical proxies for identifying governance at Caracol using the following three datasets: 1.) the distribution of urban-service facility features around the city as a proxy for the degree of infrastructural power, 2.) the degree of standardization of garden city features as a proxy for residential autonomy, and 3.) the patterning and distribution of ritual artifacts and their correlation with proposed neighborhoods as a proxy for the potential for collective action through neighborhood-level identity. In addition, this research will operationalize specific concepts at Caracol, including neighborhoods, districts, and urban service facilities. Essential to each of these considerations will be an attempt to differentiate gradients of top-down (elite-focused/autocratic) as opposed to bottom- up (household/collective) processes.
Caracol provides an ideal location for testing and refining research methods utilizing the built environment to investigate governance through LiDAR and material record datasets. The city is a well- documented Classic Period Maya site with nearly all areas occupied at its peak around 700 C.E. It is home to an active research project with over 30 years of excavation data, and has an associated LiDAR dataset providing an in-depth survey of the citys final built form. It is expected that the methods and results of this research will be useful for comparative urban research with other Maya and non-Maya cities.

Intellectual Merit
The proposed research will provide a more complete understanding of the urban organization at Caracol, and provide an operationalized alternative to the dichotomy between top-down and bottom-up power relations within Maya archaeology. This research will integrate concepts from urban theory with archaeological research and data at varying scales: citywide, district, neighborhood, and plazuela household through the operationalization of infrastructural power, household autonomy, and the potential for collective action. The data generated in this research will be made accessible to other scholars in order to facilitate comparative urban research projects. Additionally, after testing the methodology at Caracol, Chase and other researchers will be able to employ these methods to investigate other Maya cities so we can better understand the variance in governance structures among the ancient Maya.

Broader Impacts
This research has broader impacts in understanding Maya urbanism and improving international relations. Maya cities, like Caracol, were designed to harvest rainfall for both sustenance and agriculture, but these aspects alone did not provide for the longevity of these ancient cities. Caracol thrived for over 1000 years. Additional understanding of governance at Caracol will help elucidate how this city functioned and shed light on its longevity. In addition, research at Caracol involves cooperation between United States and Belizean citizens, building and reinforcing positive international ties between the countries on a variety of levels. US research not only provides training opportunities for Belizean and American students, but also leads to Belizean investments in tourism and cultural heritage management that promote both local economic stability and provide US citizens with safe tourism destinations. Publiclectures, public talks, and social media outreach to promote understanding of scientific research in Maya archaeology for both countries.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date6/1/187/31/19

Funding

  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $16,261.00

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Classic period
urban service
collective action
archaeology
autonomy
standardization
urban structure
city
tourism
garden city
agriculture
methodology
power relations
international relations
cultural heritage
research method
monument
subsistence
artifact
excavation