Variable use of a monumental space at the ancient Maya site of La Milpa, Belize
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This dissertation examines the variability in the ways a monumental space was accessed and used by its community at the site of La Milpa, northwest Belize, between Late Preclassic (ca. 400 BCE – 250 CE) and Terminal Classic periods (ca. 780/850 – 900 CE). An analysis of the literature concerning the study of ancient Maya public monumental spaces shows that these spaces are often perceived as the material extensions of a privileged social class. This paradigm has also fostered an interpretive framework that largely disregards the presence and agency of the non-elite majority of the ancient Maya population, who likely interacted with these same spaces in their own distinct, nuanced ways. Using practice and agency theories, landscape anthropology, and the study of commoners in ancient Maya society, I analyze the material culture present in and around Structure 3, a large pyramidal temple at the largest plaza at La Milpa, to examine how groups of people from various socioeconomic contexts used, accessed, and impacted this space over the course of the occupation of this site. In order to study patterns of access and use of Structure 3, I focused on the identification of activity areas. I employed excavations, artifact analysis, volumetric analysis, geochemical analysis through ICP-MS, and sediment micromorphology to recover as wide a dataset as possible for the examination of activity areas. The data collected from the research area shows that the space framed by Structure 3 was accessed and used by the La Milpa community in very distinct ways over its life-history. From a relatively narrow range of activities in the Late Preclassic to Early Classic periods (ca. 400 BCE – 600 CE), the level and variability of activities occurring in and around Structure 3 greatly increases in the second half of the Late Classic to the Terminal Classic periods (ca. 650/700 – 900 CE). The transformation in how Structure 3 was accessed and used in the second half of the Late Classic to the Terminal Classic periods was likely a product of the changing needs of a dynamic community undergoing dramatic demographic and political transformations in this period.