Under the direction of Dr. Prudence Rice, Mr. William Duncan will collect data for his doctoral dissertation. Mr. Duncan has participated in long term NSF supported archaeological to reconstruct late prehistoric population distribution and social organization in the Peten lakes region of northern Guatemala. After devolution of classic Mayan civilization in this region, local Mayan groups nucleated into smaller social entities until their ultimate conquest by the Spanish. Through combined archaeological, historical and ethnographic work the team has traced continuities through time and correlated late prehistoric and extant Mayan populations. This provides an excellent opportunity to trace change over time and evaluate, for example, the impact of such events as the classic Mayan "collapse" and the Spanish conquest. Dr. Duncan will focus on burial ritual. Because burials - both skeletal remains and associated grave offerings - are often well preserved in the archaeological record they are the focus of considerable scientific attention. Most societies have strict rules governing their form and through analysis of grave remains it is often possible to work backwards and reconstruct multiple aspects of social organization. In the course of the Northern Peten work, many burials from multiple Postclassic groups have been recovered. With NSF support, Mr. Duncan will expand and analyze this sample. He has noted that burials vary along multiple axes. Some are "domestic" and associated with individual dwellings. Others are multiple in nature and likely took place in a broader civic context. Within this latter distinct variants are evident. Based on both Middle American and world wide ethnographic comparison it is postulated that different burial variants served different purposes: in some cases the goal was to move the soul onwards to an afterlife. In others, the reverse was the case. Based on an ethnographically derived set of criteria Mr. Duncan will analyze methods of burial and compare them across different contexts and different social groups. He will also conduct an analyses of the skeletons themselves and use a set of discrete dental traits with a high degree of heritability to examine degree of relationship among and between individuals.
This research is important for several reasons. It will provide insight into prehistoric Mayan social organization and the results will be of interest to many Middle Americanists. Through a unique combination of archaeological and biological approaches it will help to develop an analytic technique of potentially wide applicability. Finally it will assist in training a promising young scientist.