2942 - Recognizing the Complexity of Urban Life at Ancient Maya Cities

The archaeology of urbanism in ancient Mesoamerica has been a controversial topic for the Maya area, but recent research contributes to a fundamental set of paradigm changes in how we define, recognize, and study ancient urban life in this region. As the discussant for this symposium, I will address how these northern Yucatan studies define important variation through space and time in urban complexity, as ancient urban life was not a monolithic phenomenon. I highlight two especially important dimensions of analysis. First, a consideration of regional context is essential to assess the functions that an urban place performs for its hinterland as well as its economic relationships with regional and more distant towns. One such relationship is the characteristic of economic interdependency among households (within an urban setting and across a region), a primary effect of urban life since the writings of V. Gordon Childe emphasized urban occupational specialization. Maya studies have been overly influenced by small scale investigations that argue for local autonomy, the antithesis of urban life. A second crucial dimension is the study of social diversity in urban places, which can tolerate degrees of plurality but also necessarily promote integration and state-level identity. This issue requires analysis at scales ranging from general-to-specific, and recognition of complex diachronic and synchronic variation of the social composition of cities as well as negotiated relationships between governors, mid-level administrators, and subjects.

Keywords: urbanism, Maya, archaeology

Author: Masson, Marilyn (University at Albany - SUNY, Ud States of Am / USA)


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