Focal Nodes and Community Dynamics in the Ancient Maya Hinterland Community of San Lorenzo, Belize
Many studies on the nature and organization of communities focused either on the means and methods of elite control of commoners, or worked from households up to settlement zones, often focusing on economic aspects of society. A growing number of studies are using middle-out approaches, focusing on community organization, identity, and diversity. Even as the number of studies focusing on rural and hinterland communities grow, few focus specifically on public, communal spaces within these broader settlement zones. In this study, I use ritual economy and social memory perspectives to investigate a civic-ceremonial focal node within the Rancho San Lorenzo area in western Belize to better understand how these structures reflect the socio-political organization of the community, and how long-term dynamics may reflect or influence larger regional power structures. By focusing on the focal node SL-13, I will address broader questions about the fluid nature of Maya community identity and ritual practice over time. Drawing from similar studies of integrative features, I explore practices of affiliation and the ways they are expressed at a civic-ceremonial community space. Specifically, I argue that focal nodes are necessary to community organization and that the practices enacted within such spaces allow associated groups to negotiate and display their status within the community and to larger regional polities that formed and transformed over time.