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Social Complexity and the Middle Preclassic Lowland Maya

Abstract

Intensified social complexity emerged in some parts of the lowland Maya region during the Middle Preclassic period (800–300 BC). Though data for Middle Preclassic complexity remain very thin, states may have formed in the Mirador Basin and other areas that exhibit settlement hierarchy, evidence of centralized administration, and specialization. However, these developments have been obscured by a shift from a more cooperative to a more competitive system during the Late Preclassic period (300 BC–AD 200). Unilinear thought has confused this change in organization with a shift toward greater complexity. Such positions incorrectly assume that divine kingship and its accouterments are a baseline for complexity. Judging Middle Preclassic period complexity according to Classic period developments is dubious given the cooperative–competitive oscillations; the tendency in the Maya area for states to have been secondary with longstanding interactions among Chiapas, Pacific Coast, Isthmian, and the Gulf Coast areas; and internal innovations. New data are needed to characterize early complexity in the Maya lowlands on its own terms.

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adapted from Hansen et al. 2018, fig. 7.13)

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Acknowledgments

I thank the various scholars who provided the research summarized in this manuscript as well as the reviewers and Ruth Anne Phillips. I also appreciate Evelyn Chan and the other members of Proyecto Itza, the Vergara Family, the Dumbarton Oaks Library and Archives, the National Science Foundation, The Wenner Gren Foundation, and the City University of New York. I apologize for any research inadvertently left out of this manuscript. The data of Proyecto Itza have been published in various articles and is currently housed at https://www.itzaarchaeology.com/ though the most recent data are currently password protected.

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Pugh, T.W. Social Complexity and the Middle Preclassic Lowland Maya. J Archaeol Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10814-021-09168-y

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Keywords

  • Maya
  • Preclassic
  • States
  • Cooperative
  • Urbanization
  • Hierarchy