Summer Field Research Grants for Graduate Students in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Iberian Peninsula

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1 Summer Field Research Grants for Graduate Students in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Iberian Peninsula Settlement Patterns at the Pre-Classic Maya Site of Xtobo, Yucatán Scott A. J. Johnson Department of Anthropology Tulane University The Pre-Classic Maya site of Xtobo on the Northwestern Yucatan peninsula is currently being excavated by David Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate of Tulane s Anthropology department. His doctoral dissertation research is focused on the internal activities and structures of this site. My work this summer was taking part in the mapping the settlement pattern of architectural mounds surrounding the site center. The study of commoner structures at Maya sites has recently become a popular aim of archaeological research. By collecting data on the size, shape, and location of architectural features in relation to each other and the site center, archaeologists can draw many conclusions about the site. For instance, the size and density of house mounds can be used to extrapolate population estimates for the site. The size of house mounds or compounds can also be interpreted as socio-economic class indicators. The arrangement of structures around the site center can also be used to define the edges of the site proper. The Site of Xtobo: Located in the Northwest corner of the Yucatan Peninsula, the site of Xtobo was only first recorded in 2002, along with hundreds of other newly found sites (Robles C. and Andrews 2003; cited in Anderson 2005: 2). Based on a 2004 survey and the initial recording (Anderson 2004: 2-4), the site covers approximately 1 km 2 and dates from the middle Pre-Classic period ( BCE). The site has more monuments than suggested by it size, boasting a plaza on a low platform, a small ballcourt, a large pyramid (35x27m basal, 7.5m high), a number of smaller pyramids, and a surprisingly high number of sacbe ob (causeways) (Anderson 2004: 4). Although it was only recently found, there have been interesting discussions about regional site hierarchies and interaction with the nearby sites of Kintunich and Nuevo Chalmuch suggesting Xtobo was a small regional center (Anderson 2004: & 2005: 16-20). These discussions have been based on data gleaned from the initial 2002 and subsequent 2004 surveys. The possibility of future interpretation is wide open for research. Before this summer, only surface survey and test pits had been dug at the site (Anderson 2004: 1). The first step of the project is to create an accurate topographic/site map and second, to begin more extensive excavations (Anderson 2007: personal communication). Previously recovered ceramics have been analyzed and the monumental site center has been mapped, as can be seen in Figure 1. Figure 1 shows the current mapped region of Xcopte. The area highlighted in red was mapped in a previous field season. The mounds (indicated on the map by the concentric topographic circles) which are found outside of the shaded area were mapped during this field season. The areas to the West and North are still in the process of being mapped, as there was not enough time to complete this aspect during my field season. Fieldwork: The primary goal of the summer was to create a topographic map of the settlement architecture outside of the site center of Xtobo. After clearing permit hurdles with the Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia e Historia (INAH), David Anderson, 8-10 Yucatec Maya-speaking workers, and I began to create a grid of trails over the entire 1 square kilometer of the site. This was done by use of a total station (surveying equipment) and brute force. David and I laid out stakes to guide the workmen as they used machetes and axes to cut absolutely straight trails through the entire site. Each trail ran directly North/South or East/West and were spaced at 100 meter

2 intervals. The resulting criss-crossing of trails created a grid of 100 by 100 meter squares, seen in Figure 2. Each of these squares was systematically searched by David, our workers, and myself, looking for the low mounds of rubble that indicated a 2000 year-old building had stood there. When a new mound was encountered everybody would work to clear it off. After which, David and I would use the total station to map in topographic points (points taken in three-dimensions), which would later be entered into the computer to create the map seen below. As with all archaeological fieldwork, the method is rather straightforward but is a matter of repetition, as hundreds of new mounds have been encountered. Findings: I would like to first introduce the expected findings of this summer's research, and then contrast this with what we have been observing on the ground. First, I had hoped that with the data gleaned from this mapping season, I would be able to present results on the decrease of of large, elite houses, as distance from the site center decreased. Second, I was interested in looking at how the nearby centers affected the settlement pattern around Xcopte. My final goal would have been a predictive model of fall off of settlement density at greater distances from the site center. Unfortunately, a number of factors prevented me from collecting all of the necessary data for such analysis. Luckily, however, a number of other significant findings can be reported in their place. As to why my initial research goals cannot be fully addressed: There are innumerable factors that can impede and slow the collection of archaeological data. First, delay in acquiring the permission of the national government of the host country is an unfortunately common occurrence in archaeology. In our case, this caused a minor delay in the official start of our field season, but lab work kept us busy at the project house. Second, we encountered a further short delay because the municipality which owned the land on which Xcopte sits, Ucu, wanted to have a town meeting before the project could begin. Once we started, opening the 20 linear kilometers of grid trail took a considerable amount of time, before we could even begin to map in new mounds. After we completed the grid system, we began to find larger and more mounds than expected. This was of course a boon for statistical significance of the data we were collecting, but it also slowed our progress. By the time I returned, after 12 weeks in Mexico, we had only been able to map about half of what we had expected. Therefore, I am only able to draw conclusions from the South and Western portions of the site. My initial questions should be answerable when David has concluded the mapping portion of the site, sometime in mid-october. I hope to report on them during my oral presentation. Regarding my hypothesis, a number of observations can be made. Structures do appear to generally decrease in size and density although even at great distance from the center, there are relatively large structures. In regards to elite houses decreasing in quantity at greater distances from the center, it will be difficult to comment on this until excavation data are available to better assign mounds to their correct social strata. Even the preliminary data have indicated a few surprising results. Unlike the vast majority of sites in Latin America, the structures at Xcopte are oriented radially, facing the site plaza instead of alignment along a site axis. This is true of structures that are far enough from the center that it may not have been visible. Furthermore, the expected total of outlying structures was 250 but with half of the outside mapped looks like this figure should be doubled, suggesting that the population of this early site was extremely high and dense. Another significant finding this summer was the identification of more sacbeob (causeways), the majority of which lead to the site center (recently, however, a perpendicular sacbe has been found, confounding all current theories).

3 Figures: Key Pueblo Permanent, Previously Dry Surveyed Land Area 0 100m Marsh 200m Land TN 1 Figure 1: Current Topographic map of Xtobo (work still in progress, after map courtesy of David Anderson)

4 Figure 2: Grid system map of Xcopte (courtesy of David Anderson).

5

6 Works Cited: Anderson, David S A Report on Activities at Xtobo, Yucatán, México. Electronic document, accessed February 13, Xtobo and New Visions of the Maya Preclassic. Paper presented at the Archaeology Lunch Talk Series, Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Robles C., Fernando and Anthony P. Andrews (editors) 2003 Proyecto Costa Maya: Reporte interino, Temporada 2002: Reconocimiento arqueológico de la esquina noroeste de la peninsula de Yucatan. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Centro INAH Yucatán, Mérida.

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