Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Scott R. Hutson


The Lake Atitlan Basin of highland Guatemala boasted fertile soils and was rich in natural resources, making it an attractive area for permanent settlement. However, the region lacked a number of important items, such as salt, cotton, and obsidian, all of which had to be obtained through trade. Good agricultural land was also scarce in certain parts of the lake and the steep hillslopes were easily eroded, making it necessary for communities to maintain access to emergency supplies of corn. Lake Atitlan’s communities were therefore highly dependent on exchanges with neighboring groups who occupied contrasting ecological zones, especially those in the Pacific Coast. However, the Pacific piedmont was a corridor of interregional trade and a source of valuable goods such as cacao; factors which made it a focus of political contestation and instability. Additionally, the lower coast appears to have been vulnerable to episodes of drought, prompting periodic migrations to higher altitudes.

All of these factors must have made it challenging for the communities of Lake Atitlan to maintain access to the resources they needed, and therefore to sustain their way of life. And while there is currently no evidence to suggest a collapse or abandonment of the lake, the majority of the existing data comes from a small number of sites concentrated near the southern shore and the lack of rural settlement data makes it impossible to assess the impact that broad scale political, economic, and environmental changes had on the general population of the lake and their internal organization.

The Lake Atitlan Archaeological Project (PALA) set out to rectify this situation by generating systematic settlement and ceramic data for an important sub-region of the lake, namely the southwestern shore. The current dissertation combines the data generated by this project with data from previous investigations, to provide a more comprehensive synthesis of the cultural-historic development of the lake and to place this development in its broader Mesoamerican context.

Drawing on resilience and world systems concepts, the two main questions that I set out to answer in this dissertation are: How did Lake Atitlan’s socio-cultural systems adapt to broad scale fluctuations in the Mesoamerican world system, and, did these adaptations succeed in producing a more resilient society?

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

NSF Award No. 1458535