The central goal of this research is to understand how within traditional societies (such as those which characterize many parts of the developing world today) urban and rural dwellers are linked together through social and economic ties and how these linkages are affected by environmental change. Archaeology provides an excellent context for analyses of this type because it can trace and correlate changes in social organization and environmental context sometimes over millennial time scales.

This NSF-supported investigation will reconstruct the economic foundations of agrarian life through time in the northern Maya area in Yucatan, Mexico. The power and complexity of the economic foundations of pre-modern states is acutely reflected in the impacts that governmental institutions had on the humblest, most peripheral residents of society. Such effects can be positive, neutral, or negative. For example, thriving market networks can connect rural houselots to larger spheres of interaction with the outside world that bring opportunities for affluence and occupational specialization. Alternatively, commoners situated within a matrix of competitive city states may suffer suppressed opportunities for prosperity, due to higher levels of taxation or instability associated with warfare. Of equal importance are bottom-up processes by which ordinary citizens innovate or reproduce economic strategies that foster household maintenance and survival. Understanding the economic organization of rural populations is essential for evaluating the prospects for a sustainable agrarian food base needed to support urban towns and cities of this arid region.

The primary research objective is to document the degree of diversity in farming, craft production, and service industries that characterized the work lives of rural residential groups through time. Related factors will also be evaluated, including the degree of wealth, stability, and longevity of the hinterland commoner house groups, as well as their level of dependency on local and regional exchange for the essentials of daily life. An extensive program of household archaeology will provide the data needed to address these research objectives, building on a previous NSF-supported investigation that located thousands of dwellings across a continuously-occupied area of 40 square kilometers, using LiDAR remote sensing. Rural life in two contrastive political geographic settings will be compared. Initially, Late and Terminal Classic era houselots were located in an extremely marginal position, far from towns or cities of significant size. Later, Postclassic homesteads were within four kilometers of a major political capital, the site of Mayapán, a large urban center that emerged in this area. This study will document the resulting transformations to regional political economy. The study will examine long term viable strategies for farming in a drought-prone environment in an area that suffered repeated catastrophic demographic collapses, followed by remarkable resilience and demographic recovery. Although prior surface surveys revealed that the Yucatecan countryside was surprisingly populous in ancient times, with rural densities of at least 6 persons per hectare across vast tracts of the outback, no prior study has targeted the household economies of the non-urban Maya countryside.

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Suny at Albany
United States
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