Lecture: An Isolated Early Maya Public Monument from Belize: E-Groups as Stages for Community Ritual

Mon. May 2 2016, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm


Dr. Runggaldier is presenting for the 2016 Archaeological Studies Seminar sponsored by the UT College of Liberal Arts Department of Anthropology. 

An Isolated Early Maya Public Monument from Belize: E-Groups as Stages for Community Ritual

Recent archaeological work in the Maya lowlands has demonstrated that public monumental works and ritual space, in particular plazas and E-Groups, constitute the earliest forms of planned architectural design in settled communities. At the site of Hats Kaab in Belize, a large-scale architectural complex has features noticeably consistent with the layout of well-known E-Groups, albeit not as ancient as the earliest known complexes. However, the location and setting of the Hats Kaab group – amid dispersed settlement and isolated from prominent urban centers – is strikingly different from most other known E-Groups. In this presentation I propose that the category of early Maya public monuments like E-Groups be considered in broader terms, to include also the occurrence of more isolated complexes, dis-embedded from the urban cores of important political centers that evolve into dynastic polities. I argue that the original development and function of E-Groups may have been linked to construction efforts tied to the shaping of community identities in early settlements, where most members shared the daily practice of agricultural work patterned by the path of the sun along the horizon. Like public plazas served as the setting for large-scale activities, so E-Groups provided the stage for community rituals in which the entire population, not just the elites, congregated. Such events, repeated with the predictable cadence of the solar and agricultural calendar, served to forge and reaffirm each community and its ties to its local landscape, in a bottom-up process of identity formation, in contrast with interpretations of top-down strategies through which elites shaped ritual ideology. The existence of Hats Kaab suggests that other rural E-Groups, in contrast to the better-known urban ones, might stand witness to a social developmental pattern that has been obscured by later architectural accretion at other sites.

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