'Tab' figurines and social identity at La Blanca
Long, Michael James, 1985-
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This thesis examines a special group of Middle Preclassic (900-600 BC) figurines excavated at La Blanca, an early Mesoamerican site on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. Figurines at La Blanca are ubiquitous and derive from both elite and non-elite household contexts. Because of their widespread distribution, archaeologists associate figurines with daily practice and household ritual in ancient Mesoamerica. They represent a rare opportunity to examine materializations of the human body across social strata, and because their depositional contexts do not seem to suggest ritual care, their context of use remains enigmatic. With the dawn of the Middle Preclassic period, the community at La Blanca was at the center of a dramatic transition: in addition to the reconfiguring of political, social, and economic structures, the nature of personhood was profoundly transformed during this period. I argue that figurines were actively involved in the ongoing negotiation of social identity and personhood at La Blanca during this important transitional period. I specifically discuss a group of figurines from La Blanca called 'tab' figurines, which are remarkable for their exaggerated sexual characteristics and distinct approach to depicting the human form. I examine the 'tab' figurine assemblage in depth and examine how aspects of their context, form, and function helped their makers negotiate social identity at La Blanca.