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Archaic Origins of the Lowland Maya

  • Jon C. Lohse (a1)

Abstract

The earliest Lowland Maya are commonly recognized by permanent architecture and the appearance of pottery. However, when other lines of evidence are considered, strong continuities with late Archaic populations can be seen. Reconciling these views relies on more than simply gathering more data. It is also necessary to consider the effect of decades of scholarship that defines the precolumbian Maya as “civilization” rather than considering the historical contexts of important transitions, such as the one that culminated with sedentism, the adoption of new technologies, and participation in long-distance exchange. The Archaic-to-Preclassic transition was relatively brief and largely obscured by the practices of establishing permanent dwellings. Nevertheless, this period must have been extremely dynamic and marked by significant cultural change, making it important to researchers interested in early Mesoamerica. Using three lines of evidence—subsistence, economy and technology, and stratigraphically controlled radiocarbon data—this article argues that the Lowland Maya had their cultural origins at least in the late Archaic and that the case for pottery before ca. 1000 B.C. remains uncertain. Future research is needed to determine precisely how far back in time certain cultural practices that characterize Preclassic and Classic Maya society can be documented.

Resumen

La investigación arqueológica sobre los orígenes de las tierras bajas mayas ha tendido a enfocarse en la cerámica y la arquitectura permanente, y ha favorecido explicaciones que involucran influencias externas. Sólo recientemente la evidencia de depósitos precerámicos pre-aldeanos ha cambiado sustancialmente este punto de vista. Esta perspectiva tradicional resulta ser un enfoque de umbral para estudiar el cambio cultural, en el cual la presencia de ciertos rasgos reorienta la investigación hacia un conjunto diferente de planteamientos poco relacionados con los que caracterizan a el o los periodos precedentes en las cronologías regionales o culturales. Un resultado de este enfoque es que en los análisis antropológicos se pierde el contexto histórico en el cual ocurrieron esas transiciones culturales. Este artículo se enfoca en la transición de la vida precerámica a la aldeana, ca. 1100–900 a.C., en las tierras bajas mayas. La evidencia indica que la cerámica y la vida aldeana reconocible parecen haber sucedido casi al mismo tiempo; si es que existieron aldeas precerámicas, los arqueólogos aún no las han identificado. A fin de contextualizar el surgimiento de la sociedad sedentaria, se comparan tres amplias líneas de evidencia para el Arcaico Tardío y la parte temprana del Preclásico Medio (subsistencia, economía y tecnología, y fechamiento absoluto). Como resultado de esta visión comparativa, se destacan desarrollos importantes, pero también se hacen evidentes las fuertes continuidades con las tradiciones previas. Una de las metas de este estudio es esbozar un marco para investigar la transición desde el Arcaico Tardío hasta la parte temprana del Preclásico Medio a lo largo de las tierras bajas, y así postular que los patrones culturales mayas pueden trazarse sistemáticamente desde las adaptaciones pre-sedentarias. Un segundo objetivo es abordar argumentos epistemológicos que han existido por mucho tiempo en cuanto a cómo se define lo “maya.”

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