Material culture matters: a methodological approach to the study of shell artifacts from the southern Maya lowlands
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This dissertation proposes a methodology for the formulation of a catalogue for shell artifacts that belong in a special category of portable material culture, most commonly referred to as “small finds” in Mesoamerican Maya research. To do so, this dissertation explores the methodology of the type-variety classification scheme as seen applied in Maya pottery and tests its applicability for defining types of shell artifacts. To date, there is no formal and systematic procedure for the classification of these finds as there is for Maya pottery. Instead, these “other” or “miscellaneous artifacts,” have been presented in a descriptive manner in publications as they pertain to southern Maya Lowland sites. A clear basis of classification generally has remained implicit. Its principles have not been specified and the criteria for a type definition have remained sufficiently flexible to accommodate collections encompassing a great diversity of size and material composition. A compilation of published descriptions of shell artifacts recovered from eight southern Lowland sites serves as data for this study. I propose a preliminary standard format for the presentation of these artifacts that aims to integrate the best aspects of each of these earlier publications in the Maya area, possibly add new descriptive categories, and hopefully combine them in an original and useful manner. The format for the presentation of shell artifacts as proposed in this study, if adopted widely, could serve three purposes: 1) operate as a guideline for the written presentation of artifacts’ specifics and would aid in bringing some form of uniformity to identifications of shell artifacts; 2) help to bring a greater body of artifacts into print by emphasizing the study and recording of individual artifact types and varieties; and 3) establish a common language that will support meaningful discussions between analysts.