Under the supervision of Dr. Takeshi Inomata, Kenichiro Tsukamoto will examine the spatial formation of a peripheral architectural group at the Maya site of El Palmar, Mexico. This regional center is situated at the intersection of three competing political spheres, Tikal, Calakmul, and Río Bec (A.D. 400-800). With only traditional technologies and neither wheeled vehicles or domestic animals the Mayans were able to construct complex societies in an inhospitable lowland environment. Social scientists wish to understand how such systems functioned and what links served to bind large numbers of individuals together. Many traditional societies exist in the world today and knowledge gained about the past is relevant in a contemporary context.

El Palmar is located in southeastern Campeche, Mexico and it consists of the civic-ceremonial core or the Main Group and seven peripheral architectural groups surrounding the Main Group. The proposed research specifically focuses on the Guzmán Group, one of these peripheral groups located 1.3 km north of the Main Group. The previous survey identified a hieroglyphic stairway adjoined to a small pyramidal temple along with six other structures around a plaza in this group.

This research will assess the evidence for the social status of residents at the Guzmán Group and their political and ideological relationships with ruling elites at the Main Group. Specifically, this study evaluates five alternative hypotheses: the Guzmán Group was inhabited by 1) sub-royal or higher elites; 2) intermediate or lower-status individuals; 3) commoners with a temple sponsored by El Palmar rulers; 4) no residents; the group was a purely ritual place representing the northern part of the cardinal worldview, and 5) people resided after the collapse of the El Palmar polity. These hypotheses will be tested through extensive excavations, surface survey, and laboratory analyses. The excavations of the plaza and six structures around it are designed to uncover inscriptions of a hieroglyphic stairway, construction materials of all the buildings, and their associated artifacts. Surface survey will examine the presence of a causeway that connects both groups, which will serve to assess whether the Guzmán Group was symbolically connected to the core area. The analysis of artifacts will focus on the quantity and distribution of prestige and exotic materials. The results will be compared with data from the Main Group to discern the nature of power and ideological relations between both groups.

Hieroglyphic stairways were usually constructed at the civic-ceremonial core to legitimize the political power of ruling elites, and the case of El Palmar stands as exceptional to this general tendency. A detailed examination of the social processes resulting in the construction of a hieroglyphic stairway in a peripheral area may reveal the dynamic nature of power struggles and ideological negotiations in Classic Maya society. Furthermore, this study will highlight the relationship between the formation of center-periphery relations within a polity and changing broader geopolitical relations among neighboring regional centers during the period of political upheavals (A.D. 400-900). New evidence about the social group and their practices at a peripheral architectural group will broaden our current knowledge on varying strategies of rulers and other social groups in response to external political dynamics.

This research will provide important collaborations among U.S., Mexican, and Japanese students and academic professionals. The substantial results from this project will be disseminated broadly through publications and presentations at scholarly conferences as well as through public outreach in U.S., Mexico, and Japan. The recovered materials and information will be available for other researchers and students at the laboratory of the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH) in Mexico City.

Project Report

Kenichiro Tsukamoto traveled to Mexico from December 1, 2010 to February 14, 2011 and from May 28 to August 17, 2011, (1) to conduct extensive excavations at the Guzmán Group of the Classic Maya center of El Palmar, Campeche, Mexico (2) to document and analyze the inscriptions of the hieroglyphic stairway at the Structure GZ1, (3) to conduct surface survey and topographic mapping in a transect between the Main Group and the Guzmán Group, and (4) to analyze archaeological materials recovered during fieldwork. Through extensive excavations, He reconstructed activities associated with the Guzmán Group. The results show that the Guzmán Group was mainly occupied from ca. A.D. 600 until 850. During this period, Structures were modified six times, displaying the intensiveness of construction activities and ideological reinforcement of a group identity. Meanwhile, the Main Group had a long period of occupation from the Late Preclassic period (250 B.C.-A.D. 250) to the Terminal Classic period (A.D. 800–1,000). Epigraphic analyses suggest that the Guzmán Group was a residence of secondary officials. There were officials subordinate to rulers, but around A.D. 726, a descent of these officials claimed bottom-up power relations. A diplomatic event associated with other large centers such as Calakmul and Copan was recorded. The north location of the Guzmán Group and the presence of the causeway between this group and the Main Group suggest that the Guzmán Group was built as the cosmological representation of cardinal directions. Artifact analyses suggest that power relations through economic distinctions between rulers and thier subordinate officials are not reflected in the quality of prestige goods. The quantitative difference of the goods between the two groups remains unexplored. Thus, competition for political power between rulers and secondary officials within the El Palmar center may have been reflected in the building of the hieroglyphic stairway. Intellectural Merit This project contributes to a better understanding of power struggles between rulers and intermediate elites in Classic Maya society. Particularly, this project provides new kinds of evidence to examine how intermediate elites negotiated power and ideological relations with rulers through discourse, spatial formations, and ritual practices. Moreover, insignificant differences in the quality of portable artifacts between rulers and intermediate elites will allow us to reevaluate the relationship between exotic artifacts and social status in Classic Maya society and facilitate future objective comparison with other areas of Mesoamerica and beyond. The contribution of this project extends to the area of social science in general. The textual evidence of bottom-up relations between intermediate elites and rulers as well as insignificant differences in portable artifacts will help to evaluate theoretical and methodological approaches in studying power and ideological relations among different social segments. Rather than the access to exotic materials, the access to ritual and calendric knowledge may be important in some complex societies. The bottom-up relations evidenced in the hieroglyphic stairway provide a basis for examining political organization and social relations in complex societies. In addition, the project contributes the understanding that the site planning of a society does not always hold to a master plan, but rather it is the result of continuous transformations through human practices. Broader Impact The project provided a crucial opportunity for organizing international teams, including U.S., Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Japanese scholars as well as local workers. The project is contributing to the resources for research and education by providing baseline data on ceramic and lithic assemblages in the central Maya lowlands. The samples are available in the Lowland Maya Laboratory at ENAH in Mexico City for both research and educational purposes. Furthermore, in comparison with a large number of other samples which Kenichiro Tsukamoto and Javeir López Camcho recovered from other centers in Campeche and Quintana Roo states in Mexico over the last ten years, these samples will greatly add to our better understanding of broader regional interactions in Classic Maya society. All samples are available for other researchers as well as undergraduate and graduate students. Moreover, the publication of the discovery in popular magazines such as that of the National Geographic Society and Mexican newspapers has contributed to diffuse to the general audience further insights into pre-Columbian culture. This will contribute to public concern for the preservation of archaeological sites and prevent tropical forests from further deforestation. Druing this award, Kenichiro Tsukamoto has developed field skills in excavations, surface survey, and topographic mapping. His fieldwork has provided experiences in directing international crews with different areas of expertise. In the laboratory, he developed macroscopic analyses of ceramics and lithics, epigraphic analyses of Classic Mayan, petrography, and radiocarbon analyses. The project also provided experiences in collaboration with other institutions. The grant significantly helped him improve his dissertation.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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University of Arizona
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