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


This dissertation addresses social differentiation among rural residents of Chunhuayum, an ancient Maya village in northwest Yucatan, from the Late Preclassic to the Late Early Classic (300 B.C. – A.D. 600/630). The three axes of social differentiation investigated are household wealth, occupation, and social connectivity to external networks. Using a practice theory approach, my research seeks to identify how material and social practices shaped and expressed social differentiation among Chunhuayum households, as well as how these may have shaped the particular history of Chunhuayum within its regional context. Throughout Chunhuayum’s occupation, residential architecture was the most salient marker of wealth disparities, although nuanced variation found among households’ possessions, including decorated and serving ware, obsidian, and shell, suggest households also differed in occupation, social connectivity, and local authority. I argue wealth inequalities emerged during the Preclassic, likely based on household size as larger labor pools could produce and transmit greater social and material resources to later generations. Chunhuayum’s Early Classic residents continued shaping locally meaningful differences through both habituated uses of everyday objects and innovative action. The greater resources accumulated by two households, N148 and N141, enabled them to engage in locally innovative strategies of socio-material wellbeing during the late Early Classic—shell crafting and group oriented ritual orchestration—that ultimately had different outcomes. N148 hosted village-wide, group oriented, rituals within their household compound starting in the Late Preclassic through the Early Classic. These rituals not only benefited the N148 household in establishing greater authority and wealth within the village, but also likely supported the community’s longevity by fostering inter-household obligations and a shared sense of place that would continue into the Postclassic. Crafters at N141 made disks out of conch shell using some of the large amounts of obsidian they procured, which they likely traded outside of Chunhuayum. N141’s more “open” livelihood strategy enabled this household to increase their social connectivity and portable wealth during the Early Classic, yet did not enable the household’s to maintain their wealth or social connectivity into the Late Classic.

This dissertation adds to the growing literature underlining the rich and multifaceted lives of ancient rural populations and supports a number of points concerning ancient Maya rurality. Notwithstanding their shared commonalities, people were active and at times innovative in shaping social differences locally and beyond. While Chunhuayum lacks the archaeological proxies often associated with elite social identity, rural residents shaped locally intelligible differences through the materials, skills, ritual spaces, and social relations available to them. Moreover, following the disintegration of the Uc. polity during the Early Classic, residents actively engaged in increasingly complex relations within and beyond their village and strengthened local forms of authority, suggesting that local processes are inherent to rural complexity, which cannot be simply understood as a trickling-down of normative hierarchical structures. Finally, Chunhuayum presents an example of how most rural communities were neither wholly dependent nor fully isolated from larger centers but instead practiced a combination of open and closed-community strategies. The varied practices and relationships of rural residents, including strategies in facing new circumstances, led to diverging outcomes for both households and the community at large. Understanding how people distinguished themselves within a rural context challenges underlying cultural hierarchies concerning rural populations— embedded in archaeological research as they are in society writ-large—and highlights the nuanced ways a variety of people partake in social processes.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Wenner-Gren Foundation, Dissertation Fieldwork Grant. Project Name: “Constructing Community and Complexity: Hinterland Interactions at the Ancient Maya Settlement of Crescencio, Mexico.” 2016.