Constructive hierarchy through entitlement: inequality in lithic resource access among the ancient Maya of Blue Creek, Belize



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Texas A&M University


This dissertation tests the theory that lithic raw materials were a strategic resource among the ancient Maya of Blue Creek, Belize that markedly influenced the development of socio-economic hierarchies at the site. Recent research has brought attention to the role of critical resource control as a mechanism contributing to the development of political economies among the ancient Maya. Such research has been primarily focused on the control of access to water and agricultural land. The examination of lithic raw materials as a critical economic resource is warranted as stone tools constituted a fundamental component of the ancient Maya economy. My research objectives include measuring raw material variability in the Blue Creek settlement zone and its immediate environs, assessing the amount of spatial and temporal variability present in the distribution of various raw materials, determining the degree to which proximity to a given resource influenced the relative level of its use, and testing whether differential resource access relates to variability in aggregate expressions of wealth. To meet these objectives, I examined 2136 formal stone tools and 24,944 pieces of debitage from excavations across the Blue Creek settlement zone, and I developed a lithic raw material type collection using natural outcrops. Significant spatial and temporal differences were observed in the use of various raw materials. Control of critical resources under conditions of scarcity is shown to have caused social stratification among the ancient Maya of Blue Creek. Initial disparities in use-right arrangements based on first occupancy rights produced substantial, accumulative inequality in economic capability and subsequent achievements. During the Early Classic period, these disproportionate allowances ultimately undermined the more egalitarian structure observed during the Preclassic. The Early Classic period at Blue Creek is characterized by increasing extravagance among the elites and increasing disenfranchisement throughout the hinterlands when compared to earlier periods. This suggests that elites at the site only became fully able to convert their resource monopolies into substantial gains in power, prestige, and wealth during the Classic period.