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Creating community: ancient Maya mortuary practice at mid-level sites in the Belize River Valley, Belize

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This research focuses upon the intersection of social complexity and leadership among commoners in complex societies as expressed through mortuary ritual. I study how ideology, materialized through treatment of the

This research focuses upon the intersection of social complexity and leadership among commoners in complex societies as expressed through mortuary ritual. I study how ideology, materialized through treatment of the deceased body, was a potential source of power among commoners in ancient Maya society and how this materialization changed through time. Mortuary data are drawn from mid-level settlements of the Belize River Valley, located in western Belize within the eastern Maya lowlands. The primary research question addresses whether mid-level leaders in the Belize River Valley targeted certain human bodies for ancestral veneration through tomb re-entry and ritual interaction with skeletal remains. The ritual-political strategy of mid-level leaders is measured using archaeothanatology, an analysis of grave taphonomy based on forensic data, to reconstruct cultural beliefs about death based on treatment of deceased bodies, radiogenic strontium isotope analysis to reconstruct residential history, and analysis of dental metrics to assess biological kinship. While preservation of osseous material was poor, results indicate that the frequency of disarticulated and secondary burials was higher in eastern structures than in other locales, although eastern structures were not the only loci of these types of deposits. Overall, it does not seem like secondary burials were regularly and purposefully created for use as ritual objects or display. Radiogenic strontium isotope data enrich this analysis by showing that eastern structures were not a burial locale exclusive to individuals who spent their childhood in the Belize Valley. Data from upper-level eastern structures also suggests that within that part of society local birth did not guarantee interment in a local manner; perhaps the social network created during one's life shaped treatment in death more than residential origin. Biological distance analyses were inconclusive due to missing data. Comparison of mortuary practices to nearby regions shows distinct mortuary patterning across space and time. This is consistent with reconstructions of ancient Maya sociopolitical organization as regionally diverse and moderately integrated.

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  • 2015

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The role of kin relations and residential mobility during the transition from final Neolithic to Early Bronze Age in Attica, Greece

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This dissertation addresses the role of kinship and residential mobility during the transition from Final Neolithic to Early Bronze Age (ca. 3500 – 2500 BC) in Attica, Greece. It examines

This dissertation addresses the role of kinship and residential mobility during the transition from Final Neolithic to Early Bronze Age (ca. 3500 – 2500 BC) in Attica, Greece. It examines descent systems, ancestor formation, and the interplay between biological, social, and spatial structure in mortuary practices. It also evaluates the nature and degree of residential mobility and its potential role in the formation and maintenance of social networks. Archaeological hypotheses on the kin-based structure of formal cemeteries, the familial use of collective tombs, marriage practices and mate exchange, and relocation were tested focusing on the Early Helladic cemetery of Tsepi at Marathon. Tsepi constitutes the earliest formally organized cemetery on the Greek mainland and it has also contributed to enduring debates over the nature of the interaction between the eastern Attic coast and the central Aegean islands.

This study integrates osteological, biogeochemical, and archaeological data. Inherited dental and cranial features were used to examine biological relatedness and postmarital residence (biodistance analysis). Biochemical analysis of archaeological and modern samples was conducted to examine the geographic origins of the individuals buried in the cemetery and reconstruct mobility patterns. Osteological and biogeochemical data were interpreted in conjunction with archaeological and ethnographic/ethnohistoric data.

The results generally supported a relationship between spatial organization and biological relatedness based on phenotypic similarity at Tsepi. Postmarital residence analysis showed exogamous practices and tentatively supported higher male than female mobility. This practice, along with dietary inferences, could also be suggestive of maritime activities. Biogeochemical analysis showed a local character for the cemetery sample (96%). The common provenance of the three non-local individuals might reflect a link between Tsepi and a single locale. Burial location was not determined by provenance or solely by biological relatedness. Overall, the results point towards more nuanced reconstructions of mobility in prehistoric Aegean and suggest that burial location depended on a complex set of inter-individual relationships and collective identities. The contextualized bioarchaeological approach applied in this study added to the anthropological investigations of social practices such as kin relations (e.g., biological, marital, social kinship) and residential relocation as diachronic mechanisms of integration, adaptation, or differentiation.

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  • 2015

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Ritual Violence and the Perception of Social Difference: Migration and Human Sacrifice in the Epiclassic Basin of Mexico

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Archaeologists have long contended that large-scale human migrations played an essential role in the cultural development of pre-Hispanic central Mexico. During the Epiclassic period (600-900 CE), migration is implicated in

Archaeologists have long contended that large-scale human migrations played an essential role in the cultural development of pre-Hispanic central Mexico. During the Epiclassic period (600-900 CE), migration is implicated in the appearance of new forms of material culture, sociopolitical disruptions, and the emergence of new regional polities. Sweeping social changes accompanied these developments, including demographic reorganization and increased levels of violence. Research across the social sciences finds that violence directed at individuals perceived as categorically distinct also typically increases during such periods of socio-political upheaval. This dissertation investigates identity-based violence in the Epiclassic Basin of Mexico to consider how diverse social identities contributed to the selection of victims of ritual violence.

This research examines the skeletal remains from a sacrificial deposit at the Epiclassic shrine site of Non-Grid 4 in the Basin of Mexico, where a minimum of 180 human crania were interred as ritual offerings. The project reconstructs patterns of paleomobility and biological relatedness to determine whether individuals with distinct categorical social identities were more likely to become victims of human sacrifice. It answers the questions: (1) Were the sacrificed individuals predominantly locals who lived in the Basin of Mexico throughout their lives?; (2) Were the sacrificed individuals comprised of a single kin-group biologically continuous with pre-extant populations in the Basin of Mexico?; and (3) If victims were migrants biologically discontinuous with antecedent populations, from where in ancient Mesoamerica did they originate?

Results indicate that a majority of sacrificial victims were immigrants originating north and south of the Basin of Mexico. Biogeochemical analyses of sacrificed individuals find that 80% are non-local migrants into the Basin, suggesting that they were likely targeted for violence based on their divergent residential histories. Multi-scalar biodistance analyses of Non-Grid 4 sacrificial victims demonstrate that they represent two biologically distinct groups. There was evidence, however, for both biological continuity among victims and pre-extant central Mexican populations, as well as for migration from northern and southern Mexico. This project therefore not only improves knowledge of migration during the central Mexican Epiclassic, but also contributes to broader anthropological understandings of the social context of violence.

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  • 2020