Ceramic Production and Distribution: Testing a Middle Preclassic Ceramic Economy in the Mopan River Valley, Belize




Villarreal, Alessandra Noelle

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This project develops a testable model to study Middle Preclassic (1000 - 300 BCE) ceramics from two sites in the Mopan River valley. Early Xunantunich and San Lorenzo may typically be considered opposite ends of the sociopolitical scale. Early Xunantunich boasted monumental construction as early as 800 BCE and likely served as a location of communally integrative feasting and ritual performances. Visible from this early monumental site was the Middle Preclassic community of San Lorenzo, represented archaeologically by few known perishable dwellings and a large, buried chultun.

Through a lens of ritual economy, I initially hypothesized that Early Xunantunich was a node of intercommunity gathering activities that hosted community members from surrounding settlement sites, including San Lorenzo. Community participants likely brought offerings in ceramic vessels, which were ultimately left at the site after the event. This was tested through a compounding, multistage methodology that assessed the model's material correlates using type-variety, petrography, and Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA), and ethnoarchaeological collaboration.

This methodology confirmed that Early Xunantunich was a node of an inter-community, and indeed interregional, network that likely gathered at the site for rituals, feasts, and the construction of Structure E-2-3rd. However, it also revealed that residents of San Lorenzo likely also performed complex intra-community rituals at home, supplied by community-specific potters. These findings shine new light on the sociopolitical and economic relationships of the Mopan River valley in the Middle Preclassic period, and warrant more exploration into our assumptions about the interactions between monumental sites and surrounding "hinterland" communities.



Archaeological Method, Ceramic Analysis, Maya, Middle Preclassic, Neutron Activation Analysis, Petrography