Chan: An Ancient Maya Farming Community

Chan: An Ancient Maya Farming Community

Chan: An Ancient Maya Farming Community

Chan: An Ancient Maya Farming Community

Synopsis

The farming community of Chan thrived for over twenty centuries, surpassing the longevity of many larger Maya urban centers. Between 800 BC and 1200 AD it was a major food production center, and this collection of essays reveals the important role played by Maya farmers in the development of ancient Maya society.
Chan offers a synthesis of compelling and groundbreaking discoveries gathered over ten years of research at this one archaeological site in Belize. The contributors develop three central themes, which structure the book. They examine how sustainable farming practices maintained the surrounding forest, allowing the community to exist for two millennia. They trace the origins of elite Maya state religion to the complex religious belief system developed in small communities such as Chan. Finally, they describe how the group-focused political strategies employed by local leaders differed from the highly hierarchical strategies of the Classic Maya kings in their large cities.
In breadth, methodology, and findings, this volume scales new heights in the study of Maya society and culture.

Excerpt

While farming is generally recognized as forming the basis for the rise of complex societies, few archaeological researchers have actually focused on the excavation of basic farming households and their relationships to broader social and political structures. Yet that is precisely what the longterm, multidisciplinary research at Chan, Belize, was designed to accomplish. The investigations reported by Cynthia Robin and her colleagues within this volume use the lens of a small farming community to frame the rise and fall of Classic Maya civilization. The site of Chan was occupied from 800 BC to AD 1200 and provides a relatively long vantage point from which to view the role of farmers in a changing Maya society. The smaller community of Chan is only 4 km away from the more architecturally impressive center of Xunantunich. However, rather than assuming that Chan reflected the policies and lifeways of the larger neighboring site, the archaeological project at Chan found a long-term adaptation that was different from the one immediately adjacent in Xunantunich. The detailed study within this volume resulted from almost a decade of fieldwork at Chan that emphasized extensive horizontal excavation; it succeeds in demonstrating the heterogeneity that existed within this community and the ways in which it both supports and contradicts paradigms that are currently accepted in archaeology.

The investigations at Chan focused on the role of farmers and its farming community through the course of Maya prehistory. Archaeological work emphasized households and their relationships to the built and natural environment. Households at Chan participated in both agricultural and nonagricultural production. Material remains and ritual contexts show both intracommunity and pan-Maya connections. Chan was at times community-centered and at other times more outwardly focused. Chan residents were integrated into greater Xunantunich, but the self-sufficiency of farmers and their “leaders” within this community also afforded them a degree of independence. Thus, this volume provides the opportunity to view farmers not only as respondents to events occurring within a broader world but also as self-directed individuals and, potentially, as agents of change for that broader universe.

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