Methodologies in the Archaeology of Warfare: Toward a Study of Practice and Social Relations at Tzunun, Chiapas, Mexico

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This dissertation examines how preparing settlements for war (i.e. fortification) relates to the maintenance of power relations. Violence has psychological and physical effects that can lead to asymmetries of power and extreme forms of social inequality (Brumfiel 1998; Carneiro 1970; Earle 1997; Fanon 1968; Farmer 2005; Flannery and Marcus 2012; Foucault 1977; Scheper-Hughes 1992; Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois 2004; 2004; Tilly 2003). Violence can be a means to dominate others. However, when manifest as warfare, violence is also a practice in which people work together to engage in conflict. In other words, war is a collective practice that entangles cooperation with conflict and domination. War can also be liberating and a means to challenge the status quo (Fanon 1968). I examine the relationship between warfare and relations of power through the excavation of fortifications, dwellings, ritual and administrative areas at the Maya archaeological site of Tzunun, Chiapas, Mexico. I conducted a full coverage survey of 5.65 ha of the site. Through 15 test pits and 361 shovel test pits, I sampled one temple group and 11 of Tzunun’s 65 potential residential mounds. I also sampled all of Tzunun’s potential fortifications with 8 test pits and 2 trench excavations. My inquiry began by asking, is war central in the development and maintenance of ample socioeconomic hierarchy? By combining settlement patterns with excavated chronological and socioeconomic data from the Mensabak region, I argue Preclassic (2000 BC – AD 200) Tzunun lacked fortifications and evidence of socioeconomic hierarchy. However, during the Postclassic/Early Spanish Colonial period (AD 900 - 1600), Maya peoples who returned to live at Tzunun constructed multiple fortifications and lived in a stratified society. Initially, comparing the site’s lack of Preclassic hierarchy and fortifications with broader evidence from the Maya lowlands suggest that warfare was an important factor in how people institutionalize socioeconomic hierarchy. However, the following chapters highlight that models of past warfare and social life should be modified to account for martial practice in particular cultural contexts. When scholars examine martial practice, numerous examples support the proposition that people can have war but not build fortifications (Arkush 2011; Field 1998; Gat 2015). Sparta did not have fortifications until 300 – 200 BC; well after the Battle of Thermopylae, Peloponnesian War and in a period when the power of the polity was fading (Lawrence 1979; Waywell 1999). For much of Classical Antiquity, Spartans relied on the surrounding mountains and an army to protect their capital city (Thucydides 2009; Waywell 1999). Without a history richly documented in antiquity, would archaeologists accuse the Spartans of being peaceful prior to 300 – 200 BC? Webster (2000:74) argues, “in many cultural traditions communities commonly are not formally fortified even where warfare is rampant; the Basin of Mexico is a good Mesoamerican example.” My findings support that interpreting the bellicose or peaceful aspects of the human past is more complex than noting the presence or absence of fortifications. Depending on how people practice war in particular cultural contexts, they may or may not build fortifications. Therefore, this dissertation examines how archaeologists analyze warfare and proposes that a study of martial practice in particular cultural contexts provides an important conceptual framework for investigating the human experience.

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  • 10/26/2018
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