UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Political change in an ancient Mesoamerican community : Kaminaljuyu within the Valley of Guatemala (500 B.C. - A.D. 1000) Ryan, Michael W


This thesis examines the causes and processes of culture change in complex society in ancient Mesoamerica. Facets of political and social change are attributed to the effects of competition for status, power and prestige. The position is taken that, although competition is not directly observable, it is visible in its patterned effects on the material record. Thus, the study examines the uses of material culture in sociopolitical terms, and then attempts to explain socio-political interaction and change using the archaeological remnants of material culture. The archaeological record for Kaminaljuyu and vicinity within the Valley of Guatemala is used as a test case. Essentially, status competition, underwritten by material and consensual support, leads to efforts to promote economic production and population size. Responses to increases in polity scale and complexity lead to political adjustment and change. A processual model is proposed which focuses on change within and between two dominant economic and status support systems, the local subsistence system and the regional wealth trade system. Relevant social variables are linked to archaeological materials to enable operationalization of the theory. Thus political support is represented by aspects of settlement (population size and distribution) and by economic production (land use, craft production). Status demonstration is represented by construction activity and-political maintenance is represented by the provision of administrative space. The main findings for Kaminaljuyu are that: 1) Long-distance wealth trade in commodities and status goods was associated with maximization of all types of economic production, centralization of political power, rural population increase and population dispersal. 2) The local subsistence system was associated with decentralization of political power, localized economic productivity, centralization of population (crowding) and possible social conflict. The method also led to the investigation of and insights into the record for Kaminaljuyu. The analysis demonstrated a two-period cycle of socio-political change, each cycle conforming to the sequence of change proposed in the model. This pattern conforms to well-known cycles of political centralization and decentralization. This approach was useful for investigating the archaeological record for this type of complex polity.

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