Posted by: Johan Normark | May 27, 2010

Organization and droughts in the Cochuah region

I have just sent an abstract for the 15th European Maya Conference in Madrid. The theme is “Maya Society and Socio-Territorial Organization.” Let’s see if the organizers like my abstract this time (they know I am critical of Mayanist studies in general…). Here it is:

A fluctuating settlement pattern in the Cochuah region, directly east of Lake Chichancanab in the Northern Lowlands, indicates a long-term strategy to deal with recurrent droughts. During Prehispanic periods territorialization (“centralization”) towards permanent water sources occurred during wet phases (Early and Late Classic periods). Deterritorialization (“dispersion”) of settlement, particularly to “dry” caves where reterritorializtion took place, occurred during dry phases, most notably during the late Late Formative, Terminal Classic and Postclassic periods.

This is a pattern quite different from the Colonial and modern periods when such dispersion did not take place locally, probably due to the Spanish reducción program. Instead the colonial records mention long-distance migration out of the Spanish controlled areas during droughts and famines. The early colonial period settlements did not usually penetrate into areas lacking permanent water sources, such as cenotes. The Spanish colonial border therefore largely followed the extent of the Chicxulub fracture zone.  The Prehispanic settlements show no such limitation in distribution. This suggests that a Prehispanic organizational strategy to cope with recurrent droughts existed and that the Spanish presence discouraged the use of this strategy. Caves of various sorts appear to have been the target for these settlement dispersions. Most cave sites show settlement congregation during some Prehispanic droughts but no such congregation is known from the colonial period.

Was this settlement strategy hierarchically organized or did it emerge heterarchically? I suggest the latter since the hierarchically territorial assemblages imposed by the Spaniards appears to have ceased this strategy.

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