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Power Plants: Paleobotanical Evidence of Rural Feasting in Late Classic Belize

  • David J. Goldstein
  • Jon B. Hageman
Chapter

Abstract

Our recent investigations into food use and preparation at Guijarral, a small-scale Late Classic Maya settlement in Northwestern Belize, confirm Douglas’s observations on the codes embedded in foodways (Keller Brown and Mussell 1997b). Rapid regional population growth after 700 B.C. led to increasing land scarcity, which fostered new forms of social organization, including lineages. Archaeological and paleoenvironmental studies convincingly support that centuries of erosion contributed to Late Classic ecological and social milieus, and forced the pressing of ever more marginal lands into agricultural production. In this instance the marginal lands are hill slopes with thin soil coverage and lowland seasonal swamps, or bajos. Agricultural landscape modifications, including terraces and check dams, were critical to the sustainability of human habitation in these areas. Such features generated agricultural microenvironments near residential groups where people could access a wider range of foodstuffs apart from those like Zea mays (maize), Phaseolus sp. (beans), Cucurbita sp. (squash), grown using more traditional means of shifting agriculture.

We recovered archaeobotanical datasets from two distinct contexts at Guijarral, a rural site in northwestern Belize. One is associated with periodic feasting near ancestor shrines, while the other is from daily domestic activities of housemounds unassociated with an ancestor shrine. In both instances the plant remains recovered represent materials grown in successional forest stands associated with the broken terrain where the terraces and check dams occur. We believe that within this archaeobotanical assemblage of plants from successional species, some “coding” for different types of commensal events is evident. When compared with daily meals, feasting provides the kind of contrast in food use that Douglas argues actively entrenches and codifies social hierarchy. Our data include plants generally held to represent comestibles outside the agricultural complex considered “traditional” by Mayanists (maize, beans, squash; Coe 1994; Fedick 1996; Reina 1967; Sharer 2005).

Keywords

Late Classic Site Center Rural Settlement Lineage Head Early Classic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The research was made possible with financial support from Northeastern Illinois University College of Arts and Sciences, as well as infrastructural support from Dr. Fred Valdez, the R.E.W. Adams Research Facility, and the University of Texas at Austin. Most critically, the authors thank a series of donors to the R.E.W. Adams Research Facility for the acquisition and upkeep of their Flote-Tech A flotation machine, without which this research would not have been possible. We thank our students Gardner Brandt, Meghan Walker, Bethany Arthion, Sylvia Deskaj, Abigail Middleton, Kim Knudsen, and Josh Halperin Givens who participated in both the fieldwork and the postseason laboratory work.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department Académico de Cs. Biológicas y Fisiológicas, Sección de Ciencias AmbientalesUniversidad Peruana Cayetano HereidaLimaPeru

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