Posted by: Johan Normark | January 21, 2011

Sociopolitical network interactions

For the past decade and a half Mayanists have favored Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube’s “super-state” model in which two major states or alliances dominated the geopolitical landscape during the Classic period. In 2009, Jessica Munson and Martha Macri published an interesting study that challenges this model. They study epigraphic data from a diachronic perspective to measure network centrality in order to chart shifting political alliances between AD 300 and 800. In their analysis they use 1044 place-name phrases or statements from 101 sites.

According to their study, “the Classic Maya political network, as defined by epigraphic data, was not dominated by a single capital or even two “super-states.”” (p 429). Instead it was a weakly centralized network that “could have been composed of heterogeneous agents employing combinations of strategies at different times to assert their authority or dominance” (p 429).

They define the nature of relationship in various statements as: antagonistic, subordination, diplomatic, lineage, neutral and unknown. Familial relationships form a well connected network which suggests that the rulers may have descended from a small number of dynastic families. Kinship and subordination appears to have “worked in concert to create a stable sociopolitical system” (p 429). The sub-network of subordinate relationships indicates that there was no single capital or dual states. Subordinate sites were not tied to a central capital but rather to several primary centers.

The antagonistic and diplomatic sub-networks were weakly centralized networks. This means that hostile and diplomatic relationships were widespread rather than concentrated to a single center. Hostile sites were located closer to each other than those connected by diplomatic ties. Diplomatic ties tended to be established and reinforced through infrequent gatherings, such as Period Endings.

Subordinate relationships are the only positively correlated variable within network centralization. All other network relations decrease the overall network centralization through time. Subordination statements increase in frequency near the end of the Late Classic and lineage statements disappear at the same time. This indicates that the overall network centrality rebounded again for a brief period. There were also lower frequencies of antagonistic statements (around AD 790). This latter trend is interesting if we consider the various claims that the “Maya collapse” was caused by endemic warfare. There appears to have been fewer hostilities during the so-called collapse than during the earlier phases of the Late Classic.

Munson, Jessica L.  and Martha J. Macri (2009). Sociopolitical network interactions: A case study of the Classic Maya. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 28:424-438.

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