Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Scott R. Hutson


The main focus of this project is to chronicle whether or not social inequality increased among households and community-level interactions in Ucanha, Yucatan, Mexico, at the time it was physically integrated with a larger regional polity headed by Ucí around the Terminal Preclassic/Early Classic (50 BCE – CE 400) transition. My research seeks to identify how social distinctions emerged during the early moments of social inequality and how these distinctions did or did not become a threat to social cohesion, as seen in the Early Classic “collapse” in some areas. Using a relational theoretical perspective, I argue that political authority and economic practices are embedded in moral expectations of a household quality of life that is negotiated by all actors. Trenching and broad-scale horizontal excavations document five variables of social distinction—architectural energetics, feasting, diversity of household assemblage, caching/burial practices, and the use of space—at three dwellings. Gini scores that calculate the distribution of fancy ceramics and labor investments in architecture also contribute to measuring household wellbeing at Ucanha. Results highlight differential, yet relatively high, quality of life during the Late Preclassic and then greater inequality and an overall decreased quality of life by the middle of the Early Classic (CE 400/450 – 600). Excavations from contexts associated with monumental architecture indicate vast labor inputs into Ucanha’s built landscape around the time of broader regional integration. Excavations and multi-elemental chemical analyses from the Central Plaza suggest this large public space was built during the Late Preclassic and was used for a variety of rituals that incorporated the populace through processions and performances. By the first few centuries into the Early Classic, however, the Central Plaza was walled off and access became limited and more tightly controlled. Thus, it appears emergent leaders at Ucanha, as evidenced by the presence of iconography related to centralized decision-making and possibly kingship, were successful in providing a high quality of life for their citizenry in exchange for labor and devoted followers during regional integration. Yet, during the Early Classic, household quality of life diminished, access to fancy ceramics became highly curtailed, and many residential platforms were abandoned likely as a result of leaders failing to meet the expectations of their followers.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

National Science Foundation, Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (#1638536)

Lambda Alpha Honor Society, Lambda Alpha Graduate Research Grant

University of Kentucky (Department of Anthropology), Robert M. O’Dear Award

University of Kentucky (Department of Anthropology), Susan Abbott-Jamieson Pre-Dissertation Research Award

University of Kentucky (Department of Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies University of Kentucky) Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies Program Travel Grants for Research in Latin America and the Caribbean

University of Kentucky, Association of Emeriti Faculty Endowed Fellowship