One of the most common “architectural” features found during surveys in the northern Maya lowlands are the albarradas. They are particularly common features near inhabited areas. Albarradas are low free-standing walls that divide or enclose space. They are constructed by stones of varying size and are stacked up to over one meter in height without mortar. The basal course is usually composed of larger stones set upright.
The albarradas in the Cochuah region are primarily of Colonial or Modern date. They were and are used for boundaries or cattle management and are usually indicators of a Colonial or Modern resource and land-use. Areas in-between albarradas became streets. Albarradas sometime incorporate Prehispanic ruins in defining contemporary land rights, such as those between house lots. Albarradas are therefore good indicators of the spatial extent of Colonial period and later settlements.
Prehispanic albarradas encircling contemporaneous patio groups have been found at Yo’okop in the Cochuah region. They are also known from Cob, Becan, Mayapan and at sites along the east coast. The Prehispanic site with the most elaborated system of albarradas is the large site of Chunchucmil. The albarradas mark residential units and separate residential structures from civic and religious structures. These albarradas form 2 to 4+ m wide streets, or callejuelas. From above the albarradas form a honeycomb-like pattern.
The walls at Chunchucmil did not primarily delimit garden plots since less than ten percent of a house lot was devoted to fertilized gardens. The albarradas may have differentiated private residential spaces from each other. Scott Hutson, who was my opponent when I defended my dissertation, has written a book which partially deals with these residential units. This book, Dwelling, Identity, and the Maya: Relational Archaeology at Chunchucmil, will be released later this year.