Family, "foreigners [untitled]: a bioarchaeological approach to social organization at late classic Copan

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In anthropological models of social organization, kinship is perceived to be fundamental to social structure. This project aimed to understand how individuals buried in neighborhoods or patio groups were affiliated,

In anthropological models of social organization, kinship is perceived to be fundamental to social structure. This project aimed to understand how individuals buried in neighborhoods or patio groups were affiliated, by considering multiple possibilities of fictive and biological kinship, short or long-term co-residence, and long-distance kin affiliation. The social organization of the ancient Maya urban center of Copan, Honduras during the Late Classic (AD 600-822) period was evaluated through analysis of the human skeletal remains drawn from the largest collection yet recovered in Mesoamerica (n=1200). The research question was: What are the roles that kinship (biological or fictive) and co-residence play in the internal social organization of a lineage-based and/or house society? Biodistance and radiogenic strontium isotope analysis were combined to identify the degree to which individuals buried within 22 patio groups and eight neighborhoods, were (1) related to one another and (2) of local or non-local origin. Copan was an ideal place to evaluate the nuances of migration and kinship as the site is situated at the frontier of the Maya region and the edge of culturally diverse Honduras.

The results highlight the complexity of Copan’s social structure within the lineage and house models proposed for ancient Maya social organization. The radiogenic strontium data are diverse; the percentage of potential non-local individuals varied by neighborhood, some with only 10% in-migration while others approached 40%. The biodistance results are statistically significant with differences between neighborhoods, patios, and even patios within one neighborhood. The high level of in-migration and biological heterogeneity are unique to Copan. Overall, these results highlight that the Copan community was created within a complex system that was influenced by multiple factors where neither a lineage nor house model is appropriate. It was a dynamic urban environment where genealogy, affiliation, and migration all affected the social structure.