Pine, Prestige and Politics of the Late Classic Maya at Xunantunich, Belize

By Lentz, David L.; Yaeger, Jason et al. | Antiquity, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Pine, Prestige and Politics of the Late Classic Maya at Xunantunich, Belize


Lentz, David L., Yaeger, Jason, Robin, Cynthia, Ashmore, Wendy, Antiquity


Introduction

Most studies of Precolumbian Maya trade and exchange base their inferences on the distribution of artefacts made of durable material such as ceramic, chert, obsidian, shell and jade. Charting the trade and exchange of plant products that are susceptible to decomposition is more elusive. Despite the challenges of retrieving plant materials from open sites in the Neotropics, systematic paleoethnobotanical sampling at three Late Classic sites, Xunantunich, San Lorenzo and Chan Noohol, in western Belize (Figure 1) produced a broad array of carbonised plant remains. In-depth analysis of the wood component of those remains revealed a non-random distribution of charred pine (Pinus spp.) in archaeological sediments. This paper discusses the implications of these unexpected results for the Late Classic political economy.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Pine in the Maya area, present and past

The natural vegetation around Xunantunich today is Neotropical deciduous forest dominated by broadleaf hardwoods. The largest nearby pine stands are in the Mountain Pine Ridge, 17km to the south-east (Figure 1). The acidic soils of the Mountain Pine Ridge, highly weathered and derived largely from granite bedrock, are unsuitable for agriculture, accounting for the low density of Precolumbian and modern habitation. The soils, however, do support extensive open-canopied pine forests in which the visual dominants are Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea vat. hondurensis [Senecl] Barr. et Golf.) and, at higher altitudes (600800m), red pine (P. oocarpa Schiede) (Perry 1991: 199-200; Balick et al. 2000: 49).

Modern Maya people employ pine for a variety of purposes. The Tzotzil and Tzeltal of highland Chiapas use pine to make furniture, domestic utensils, fences and houses (Berlin et al. 1974; Breedlove & Laughlin 2000). The Mopan and Kekchi of southern Belize also use the wood for house construction (Thompson 1930).

Pine is commonly burned for fuel, but because it produces a smoky fire, some contemporary Maya convert pinewood to charcoal first (Breedlove & Laughlin 2000; Wisdom 1940). Charcoal burns more cleanly, and it is lighter than untreated wood. This latter quality is important to traders who transport charcoal and other pine products to sell in regional markets (e.g. Wisdom 1940: 21). Maya carboneros from Cajole, Guatemala, harvest pine and hardwoods, burn the wood to make charcoal and then carry it in 36kg loads to the Quezaltenango market, 16km distant (Hehr 1967: 62). Because of its copious resin, pine heartwood is ideal for torches and fire-starting splints (Atran & Ucan Ek' 1999; Barrera Matin et al. 1976; Breedlove & Hopkins 1971; Breedlove & Laughlin 2000; Oakes 1951), and the Chorti often give pine torches to travellers as a gesture of hospitality (Wisdom 1940: 25).

Beyond these mundane applications, Maya people employ pine in rituals. In the highlands, pine boughs and needles adorn crosses and altars, and the resin serves as incense (Berlin et al. 1974; Breedlove & Laughlin 2000; Deal 1988; Tedlock 1982; Vogt 1969; Wisdom 1940). In the lowlands, the Lacandon (McGee 1990) and the Itza (Atran & Ucan Ek' 1999) burn pine resin as incense, sometimes mixed with copal resin. Pine also has medicinal properties; the Tzotzil use pine resin to make a tea to treat loose teeth and spider bites (Breedlove & Laughlin 2000).

Paleoethnobotanical data demonstrate the long history of utilitarian and ritual uses of pine in the Maya area. Pine occurs in diverse domestic contexts in Maya sites, especially middens and platform fill (Dickau & Lentz 2001; Lentz 1991, 1994, 1999; Lentz et al. 1996, 1997; Miksicek 1983, 1991; Morehart 2001, 2003; Wiesen & Lentz 1999). Archaeologists have also reported finding pine in caves, which were points of communication with the underworld (Morehart 2001; Morehart et al. 2003), and in caches at Caracol (Chase & Chase 1998: 317), tombs at Copan (Lentz 1991) and offerings at La Milpa (Hammond et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Pine, Prestige and Politics of the Late Classic Maya at Xunantunich, Belize
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.