A Zooarchaeological Test for Dietary Resource Depression at the End of the Classic Period in the Petexbatun, Guatemala

A Zooarchaeological Test for Dietary Resource Depression at the End of the Classic Period in the Petexbatun, Guatemala
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  A Zooarchaeological Test for Dietary ResourceDepression at the End of the Classic Periodin the Petexbatun, Guatemala Kitty F. Emery Published online: 28 August 2008 # Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008 Abstract  Zooarchaeological analyses of animal remainsfrom the Petexbatun sites in the Guatemalan lowlands provide proxy evidence to test a hypothesis of dietaryinsufficiency during the Maya  “ collapse. ”  Ecologicalforaging theory and resource depression models are usedto interpret animal use patterns before and after thedisintegration of the Petexbatun polity at the end of theLate Classic period (around  A.D.  800). Environmentalfailure models of the Maya  “ collapse ”  at the end of theLate Classic imply that a dietary insufficiency, and particularly a lack of animal resources, was associated withthe political and social transitions of this period. However,the results of this zooarchaeological study do not support this hypothesis and point instead to very limited earlyreductions of only highest-ranked dietary species. The lack of evidence for specific resource depression associateddirectly with the period of political collapse does not support a model of environmental failure during politicaldisintegration in the Petexbatun. Correlations are found between animal use patterns and the specifics of site sizeand periods of peak political activity, suggesting that small-scale resource depressions might have resulted at some sitesduring early periods of human population growth, siteexpansion, and increasing political activity. Keywords  Mayacollapse.Dietarybreadth.Resourcedepression.Zooarchaeology.Classic Maya Introduction The  “ Maya collapse ”  at the end of the Late Classic period of Maya prehistory ( A.D.  600  –  900) remains one of the enduring puzzles of Mesoamerican prehistory. Best interpreted as agradual social and political restructuring rather than acultural termination, this period of 200 years (varying from A.D.  800 to 1000 across the Maya world) was characterized by urban center abandonment and a cessation of elite political activity in many areas. It represented the culmina-tion of a millennium of Classic period artistic, political, andeconomic florescence, and a transition to Postclassic life-styles, that were encountered by the first Spanish arrivals inthe early 1500s (Demarest   et al.  2005; Webster  2002). Based primarily on paleolimnological data from thePetén Lakes region and the Copan Valley, current dis-cussions of this cultural transition continue to suggest that its roots lie in an environmental failure resulting from either environmental mismanagement or long-term climaticchange (Abrams  et al.  1996; Brenner   et al.  2002; Curtis et al.  1996; Gill 2000; Haug  et al.  2003; Hodell  et al.  1995;Leyden 2002; Rice 1993). Associated with this hypothe- sized failure, regardless of cause, is an implied reduction indietary resources (Culbert  1988; Deevey  et al.  1979; Gill2000; Rice  et al.  1985; Sanders 1979; Santley  et al.  1986;Webster  2002; Wiseman 1985). These models suggest that  as ecosystems were destroyed by mismanagement or weretransformed by global climatic shifts, the depletion of agricultural and wild foods eventually contributed to thefailure of the Classic period Maya sociopolitical system.Under these models, the  “ collapse ”  was correlated with adietary resource depression, the effects of which should bevisible in the archaeological record.For zooarchaeologists, an important element of thisequation is that animal nutrients would have been among Hum Ecol (2008) 36:617  –  634DOI 10.1007/s10745-008-9187-0K. F. Emery ( * )Environmental Archaeology, Florida Museum of Natural History,Gainesville, FL 32611-7800, USAe-mail:  the dietary requirements most difficult to sustain under  pressure of deforestation and other habitat shifts, changingclimates, and unsustainable hunting (Pohl 1990; Santley et al.  1986). Tropical animals have often been characterizedas sparsely distributed across the rainforest landscape(Janzen 1983; Mabberley 1992), and therefore coveted and limited resources for human hunters (Foley 1982; Hill1982; Sinclair  1975; Speth and Spielmann 1983). In the absence of domestic animals (in the Late Classic Mayaworld the only domesticate was the dog), a reduction in theavailability of wild animal prey could have been disastrous.Zooarchaeological remains excavated in the Petexbatunregion of the Petén of Guatemala (Fig. 1) provide data totest for resource depression associated with the periods of  political dissolution in the region. The Petexbatun politywas occupied from the Preclassic through Postclassic(approximately 600  B.C.  to  A.D.  1100), and during the LateClassic was a strong player in the economics and politics of the southern Maya lowlands (for a complete review, seeDemarest  2006). At this time the region saw a rapid rise in population size and density of settlement (see Table 1 for full details of chronology). At the end of the Late Classic period, societal disruption culminated in warfare and theabandonment of the region by the political elite around A.D.  800. Although environmental degradation was likelynot as profound in the Petexbatun region as in the PeténLakes or Copan Valley (Beach and Dunning 1995; Beachand Dunning 1997; Dunning and Beach 1994; Dunning et al.  1998), it has been cited as one possible causal agent for this societal instability, either as a result of Classic period GULF OF MEXICO CARIBBEAN SEAPACIFIC OCEAN  HONDURASBELIZE YUCATANCHIAPAS GUATEMALA PETEN EL SALVADOR Rio Motegua R io Pas ion  R  i   o   U   s  u  m  a  c  i   n  t  a     R  i o  C  h  i  x o  y R  i   o   G  r  i    j   a  l   v  a   Lag o Itz abal  Lago Peten Itz a  Lago At itlan  00100100 200 km200 miles PETEXBATUN REGION N AguatecaDos PilasSeibal TamarinditoBayak Altar de SacrificiosCancuenQuim Chi Hilan   Arroyo de PiedraPunta de Chimino Rio Pasion Fig. 1  Map of the Maya world (main) and the Petexbatun region (inset)618 Hum Ecol (2008) 36:617  –  634   population growth, land clearance, and overhunting, or  possibly as a direct result of territorial circumscription andresource limitations during periods of warfare (Demarest 1996; Demarest  1997; Dunning  et al.  1997).This study of dietary animal remains from the residentialdeposits of the Petexbatun sites compares zooarchaeolog-ical assemblages from six chronological periods at theseven major sites of the polity. Proportions of large to smallspecies and taxonomic diversity are presented as proxyevidence of changing resource availability based on modelsfrom foraging ecology. The results are discussed in terms of  political and social characteristics of the sites of thePetexbatunregion,particularlyduringtheperiodssurroundingsocial disruption and eventual abandonment by the ruling political elite.The Maya  “ Collapse ”  as Environmental FailureArchaeologists and others have proposed many variants of the environmental collapse model, most of which aresophisticated, complex, and multicausal (these are reviewedin excellent detail in such publications as Culbert  1988;Demarest  2005; Freidel 1986b; Sabloff  1992; Webster  2002). These models, based on evidence from paleolimnol-ogy, paleoclimatology, and microbotany, challenge socialcausality models that focus on warfare, foreign invasions,or economic realignments (some examples of which includeDemarest  1997; Freidel 1986a; Graham 1973; Hamblin and Pitcher  1980; Puleston 1979; Rice 1987; Sabloff  1992; Sharer  1977; Webb 1973; Webster  1985). The basic components of the environmental collapsemodel and its variants are as follows. During the Classic period, human populations and proportions of elite non- producers expanded rapidly, likely creating increaseddemands for subsistence products and status goods. Amongthese products were agricultural products, wild plant  products, and animals. The demand for animals as food,for their secondary products (such as leather, bone, sinew,etc.), and as status-enhancing ceremonial elements, ishypothesized to have resulted in overhunting of thenaturally dispersed tropical fauna to cause a failure in animal population regeneration, and specifically to have causeddepression in the availability of favored species (Culbert 1988; Pohl 1990; Santley  et al.  1986). This combinationmay have been exacerbated by a coincident and severelong-term drought caused by increasing temperatures andreduced moisture regimes (Brenner   et al.  2002; Curtis  et al. 1998; Hodell  et al.  1995; Rosenmeier   et al.  2002).The proposed final outcome is a reduction in theavailability of basic subsistence resources particularly toMaya residents in and around densely settled urban centerslike the Petexbatun sites. Some authors suggest that this in Table 1  Petexbatun site chronology and comparative ranking by size and political status within the Petexbatun politySite Occupation Size/complexity rank ReferencesPhase name DatesBayak Excarvado/Faisan 600  B.C.  –  A.D.  350 Small/non-elite community Killion  et al.  1991; O ’ Mansky et al.  1996; Van Tuerenhout  et al.  1993Quim Chi Hilan Nacimiento 1  A.D.  600  –  760 Small/non-elite community Van Tuerenhout  1996Punta de Chimino Excarvado/Faisan 600  B.C.  –  A.D.  350 Intermediate/regional capital/rankedcommunityDemarest and Escobedo 1997;Demarest and Sears 1996;Inomata 1989; Wolley 1991 Sepens/Tamarindo  A.D.  830  –  1100Jordan  A.D.  350  –  600Tamarindito Nacimiento 1  A.D.  600  –  760 Intermediate/regional capital/rankedcommunityFoias 1993; Valdes 1997  Nacimiento 2  A.D.  760  –  830Sepens/Tamarindo  A.D.  830  –  1100Jordan  A.D.  350  –  600Arroyo de Piedra Nacimiento 1  A.D.  600  –  760 Intermediate/regional capital/rankedcommunityEscobedo 1994; Escobedo 1997  Nacimiento 2  A.D.  760  –  830Aguateca Nacimiento 1  A.D.  600  –  760 Large/polity capital/urban center Inomata 1995; Inomata 1997  Nacimiento 2  A.D.  760  –  830Dos Pilas Nacimiento 1  A.D.  600  –  760 Large/polity capital/urban center Palka 1995; Palka 1997  Nacimiento 2  A.D.  760  –  830Sepens/Tamarindo  A.D.  830  –  1100Literature citations are provided for each site designation and overall for the relationships and chronologies presented. Note that site politicalstatus varies over time (for example Tamarindito, a capital during the Early Classic, was a subordinate during the Late Classic) but for purposes of comparison, this evaluation presents an average ranking for the entire period of occupation. Chronological designations from Foias (1996, Foiasand Bishop 1997), site size/political status from Demarest (1997). Hum Ecol (2008) 36:617  –  634 619619  turn led to diminishing dietary health, either to the extent that starvation spelled the end of the Maya civilization or that dietary insufficiency led to poor health and an inabilityto maintain defenses against the ravages of disease and highchildhood mortality (Santley  et al.  1986; Storey 1992; Storey 1999; Whittington 1999; Whittington and Reed 1997). This scenario is not supported by human biologicalevidence from the Petexbatun or other sites in the southernLowlands (Danforth 1999; Wright  2006). A less extreme model suggests that long-term limitationson essential subsistence resources led to a disruption of theClassic period political and economic systems by weakeningthe perceived ability of the ruling elite to predictably provideimportant resources. Regardless, a basic implication of theenvironmental-change model is that resource insufficiencycaused by environmental failure led to the collapse of thecomplex Maya political system and that the  “ collapse ”  andits coincident social restructuring would not have occurredhad the resource insufficiency been surmountable.Modeling Resource Depression through ZooarchaeologyResource depression, defined in studies of foraging ecologyas a reduction in the availability of essential resources withina territory or   “  patch ”  to a foraging predator (Griffiths 1975;Schoener  1979; Stephens and Krebs 1986:17  –  24), cannot  be measured directly in the Maya zooarchaeological record because the variations inherent in deposition, taphonomicconditions, and recovery methods mean that absolutecounts are too biased for direct numeric comparison (Emery2004a; Lyman 1994; Reitz and Wing 1999). However, both ethnographic and ecological researchshows that human resource acquisition activities and particularly responses to dietary resource depression are predictable, cross-cultural, and useful as indicators of change in resource availability over time. Ecologicalforaging models provide an avenue to tracing suchactivities and responses (an excellent review of theapplication of foraging theory to archaeological samples is provided by Grayson 2001). Two acquisition responses that can be evaluated with zooarchaeological remains are areduction in hunting efficiency correlating with the selec-tive removal of large prey from a hunting territory, and acoincident increase in prey diversity as alternative smaller  prey are incorporated into the subsistence regime.Research by Broughton and others (Broughton 2001;Broughton and Grayson 1993; Broughton  et al.  2007;Madsen 1993) based on foraging ecology theory from bothecology and anthropology (Alvard  et al.  1997; Stephensand Krebs 1986; Vickers 1991; Winterhalder  1981) indicates that resource depression is directly associatedwith a reduced acquisition efficiency over time. This dropin efficiency is defined as a reduction in the encounter andcapture of high-ranked taxa (in hunting terms, larger bodiedspecies or those providing high nutrient value per cost of capture, recovery, and carcass processing), and an increasein the use of low ranked taxa as fewer high-ranked speciesare encountered. Because the lower ranked taxa do not  provide as high a return of nutrient value per cost of recovery and processing, overall efficiency of resourceacquisition is reduced.A second measurably patterned response to resourcedepression is an increase in dietary breadth over time. Theincreaseduseoflowerrankedpreyspeciesoftenincludesboththe introduction of new or less favored species and anincreased taxonomic diversity of lower ranked species. Thishas been traced zooarchaeologically as an increase intaxonomicheterogeneityandrichness(BroughtonandGrayson1993; Madsen 1993). The zooarchaeological research is supported by ethnographic studies indicating that a primarycultural response to real or perceived dietary insufficiencyis an increase in dietary diversity and the incorporation of a broader range of less nutritionally efficient species (Smithand Wishnie 2000; Vickers 1991) and  “ famine ”  foods or foods that are less favored on a normal basis (Campbell1990; Colson 1979:21, Dirks 1980:27  –  28; Minnis 1985:35  –  36; Oliver-Smith 1996:310  –  311, 321).Although these foraging models have primarily beenapplied to non-hierarchical social systems unassociatedwith wide trade networks for dietary resources, they alsoapply to ancient Maya animal use. Hunting was asignificant part of ancient Maya lifestyle because peoplewere dependent on wild animals as their primary source of animal proteins and fats (a review of ancient Maya animaluse can be found in Emery 2000; Emery 2004b); the only domestic Maya animal during the Classic period was thedog (Clutton-Brock and Hammond 1994). The Maya alsoobtained most of their food animals from local sourcesalthough some may have been obtained from outside thecontiguous site area (primarily marine fish, Carr  1985;Hamblin 1985; Masson 2004; Mock  1994; but also see Carr  1996; Hamblin 1984 exploring the possibility of deer  imports to coastal Postclassic Yucatan sites). However,exotic species are rare in all Maya zooarchaeologicalassemblages, and non-food animals (such as marine mol-lusks, wild cats, and colorful birds, often obtained by trade or long-distance acquisition) are not considered in this dietaryevaluation. Ancient Maya communities were characterized byfood-sharing beyond family groups, a pattern not common inforaging analysis research, but this study evaluates animalacquisition at the community level, providing a generalized pattern that includes all animal products used by thecommunity during any one time period. Finally, althoughhuman responses to resource depression vary among culturesas a result of the different means and scales of resource procurement, extensive ethnographic research on agrarian/  620 Hum Ecol (2008) 36:617  –  634  non-agrarian and stratified/non-stratified cultures shows that responses to dietary insufficiency are fairly standard cross-culturally regardless of the effects of non-dietary factors inresource choices (Campbell 1990; Dirks 1980:27  –  28; Oliver-Smith 1996:310  –  311, 321), particularly when viewed as broad patterns across entire communities. In combinationthese arguments support the use of foraging ecology modelsas proxy evidence to test the hypothesis of changing hunting patterns associated with resource depression at the end of theClassic period in the Petexbatun region.The Petexbatun Study RegionThe Petexbatun zooarchaeological assemblage includesover 20,000 vertebrate and invertebrate remains identified by the author and excavated by the Proyecto ArqueológicoRegional Petexbatun (PARP), directed by A. Demarest of Vanderbilt University, and co-directed first by S. Houston(BYU) and later by J.A. Valdés (Universidad de SanCarlos). Between 1989 and 1996, the Petexbatun region,located in the Pasión river drainage of the southern Mayalowlands in the Petén of Guatemala, was the focus of multidisciplinary research aimed at understanding the political collapse and eventual abandonment of the Pasiónregion around 800  A.D.  (Demarest  1997; Demarest  2006). The Petexbatun region was occupied from the Preclassicto the Postclassic periods (Table 1), but was most denselysettled during the Late Classic, a time of intense politicalactivity under the joint control of the ruling elite of the twolargest sites, Dos Pilas and Aguateca (Foias and Bishop1997). The core of the region includes five primary sites(Dos Pilas, Aguateca, Arroyo de Piedra, Tamarindito, andPunta de Chimino) as well as various smaller communitiesincluding Quim Chi Hilan and Bayak, both studied here(Escobedo 1997; Inomata 1995; Inomata 1997; O ’ Mansky et al.  1996; Palka 1995; Palka 1997; Valdes 1997; Van Tuerenhout  1996). The primary sites vary in size and political complexity, with Dos Pilas and Aguateca being thelargest and most politically dominant of the cadre duringmost of the Classic period. Tamarindito was likely a politycapital during the Early Classic, and Punta de Chimino wasthe largest site during the Preclassic and Terminal Classicalthough the polity was not strongly developed during these periods so the site cannot be considered a capital. Since allcore sites were occupied fairly simultaneously, their residents would have interacted closely as members of asingle polity. At its widest extent, the Petexbatun hegemonyis thought to have extended south to the site of Cancuen,east to Seibal, and north to La Amelia (Demarest  1996;Demarest  1997; Foias 1998), though political cohesion was strongest between the core sites studied here.In the Petexbatun, construction of defensive structures at most of the central sites during the late phase of the LateClassic appears to have been concurrent with the dissolu-tion of the wider polity, and was rapidly followed bywidespread depopulation of the site cores throughout theregion by the Terminal Classic. Small, primarily non-elite populations remained at the major centers through theTerminal Classic, although at Punta de Chimino eliteoccupation continued for another 100 years. Methods of the Zooarchaeological Dietary Analysis Regional and community archaeological analyses are affect-ed by comparability among samples. In this study, standard-ized excavation and recovery methods used by the PARPmitigate this problem as does the identification of all remains by a single researcher, the author (details of the excavationand zooarchaeological analysis of the Petexbatun materialscan be found in Emery 1997). Sampling at the excavationand zooarchaeological level was standard among sites,following a randomized procedure that included householdsof all status levels, both site and intersite areas, and allchronological periods (Demarest  1997). Fine-gauge screen-ing was not used, but tests by the author of recovery using1/4 and 1/16 in. screens indicated that these did not significantly increase the recovery of small specimens or overall specimen counts (Emery, unpublished data). Sitehierarchies, chronology, and site provenience designationsare based on regional definitions created by the Petexbatunarchaeologists and used at all Petexbatun sites (Foias 1996;Inomata 1995; Palka 1995). Samples considered here vary in size. Paired sample  t  tests were used to evaluate sample size dependency, and inall direct comparative analyses, relative frequencies wereused to mediate the effects of differential sample size. Aswith most Maya faunal assemblages, the Petexbatunsamples are fairly small. This is a result of poor  preservation conditions and ancient disposal practicescommon in the humid tropics that included discard at adistance from the households and permanent discardthrough burning and burial. Biases introduced by smallsample sizes include a reduced likelihood of recovery for rare species or elements as well as their over-representationwhere they are included in the assemblages (Cannon 2001;Grayson 1984).Zooarchaeological identifications were completed by theauthor using comparative materials from the Royal OntarioMuseum as well as a limited set of comparative specimenscollected and housed in Guatemala for the duration of the project. Taxonomic nomenclature presented here is basedon faunal guides for the region (Emmons 1990; Howell andWebb 1995; Lee 2000; Reid 1997) and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (, retrievedJuly 2007. Although NISP (number of identified speci- Hum Ecol (2008) 36:617  –  634 621621
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