Constructing Power in the Preclassic: Monumental Architecture and Sociopolitical Inequality at Early Xunantunich, Belize
This research seeks to explore the emergence of inequality and divine kingship in the Preclassic Maya lowlands. This project contributes to the growing dialogue on the topic by exploring the role of monumental architecture in this process, utilizing ritual economy and performance theory frameworks. Furthermore, this research includes a cross-cultural analysis of strategies of centralization in order to better understand the ways in which an emergent elite would have legitimized and maintained their social standing.
This dissertation presents the results of archaeological research of a monumental platform, Structure F1 at the site of Early Xunantunich, Belize. The construction history of the platform, and the site of Early Xunantunich more broadly, spans both the Middle and Late Preclassic period, providing insights into an important transitional time in Maya prehistory, as it is during this time that the institution of divine kingship emerged across the lowlands.
The data collected for this study show that Structure F1 was likely the locus of integrative community rituals during the Middle Preclassic period. By the Late Preclassic, Structure F1 is associated with divine kingship, as evidenced by cached greenstone diadem jewels documented within the platform. A wider study of similar greenstone jewels demonstrates that the Structure F1 cache is part of a widespread Late Preclassic artistic canon and ritual economy which is contemporaneous with the spread of divine kingship across the lowlands. This apogee was short lived, however, and the site was abandoned by the end of the Late Preclassic. In keeping with more recently refined understandings of the size and density of Preclassic ceremonial centers, I argue that Early Xunantunich was not eclipsed by the nearby polity of Actuncan, but rather was more likely a ritual node of the same center which fell into disuse in the Terminal Preclassic.