Posted by: Johan Normark | September 26, 2012

The rotted town and the congregated town in early Colonial Yucatan, Mexico

Here is my abstract for the upcoming conference on Urban Variation at the University of Gothenburg in February next year.

The rotted town and the congregated town in early Colonial Yucatan, Mexico

The early modern contact between Spaniards and Maya in the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico came to change the settlement pattern in profound ways. Prehispanic Maya urbanism was characterized by low-density and no apparent centralized design apart from the monumental core and some cases of extended causeway systems. The so-called Maya collapse reduced the number of inland sites and intensified the dispersed settlement strategy during the Postclassic period that preceded the Colonial period.

After the conquest the Spaniards faced several problems which they tried to solve through a program known as the reducción. They congregated and reduced the number of Maya settlements in order to convert their inhabitants into a Christian order and to tax them. This resulted in the abandonment of earlier settlements. In Yucatan an abandoned settlement became known as lab cah, or rotted town. The Yucatec verb hedzic is of interest here. It means “to fix, to stabilize”, such as in the establishment of rotted towns. The same verb root –hedz was used to describe the establishment of Christianity. The rotted town and the congregated town were opposites but both were results of the reducción. One represented the past and the other was the future according to William Hanks. Still, in many new congregated towns there were often massive Prehispanic ruins and karst features that became central pieces of the early modern towns as well. I will look at two such examples: Ichmul and Sacalaca.


  1. […] today I presented my paper on “the rotted town and the congregated town in early Colonial Yucatan, Mexico.” Before the abstract was printed I had added “Settlement topology” to the […]

  2. What impact had this reorganisation on the population, ie did it mean a decrease in population numbers among the maya? If so how profound was the decrease?

  3. Population decreased and eventually the congregated towns partly dispersed.


%d bloggers like this: