Late to terminal classic household strategies : an exploration of the art of feasting, storage, and gifting at La Milpa, Belize

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2014-12

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Riddick, Deanna Marie

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Abstract

This dissertation explores the social and political strategies performed by an intermediate elite household, Sak Ch'en, in an effort to maintain their social status and power in the evolving landscape of La Milpa during the Late to Terminal Classic Transition (A.D. 800-850/900). Explicitly, this research investigates how Sak Ch'en preserved the continuity of social order by exercising their funds of power and by feasting, gifting, and storing socially charged goods. Excavations were conducted at one residential complex during the 2009-2012 field seasons at the site of La Milpa, Belize, to delineate the political, social, and economic dimensions of intermediate elite household life during large-scale structural changes of the polity. Analyses of recovered ceramic assemblages and additional artifacts demonstrate the presence of feasting, the storage of socially valuable goods, and the production of cloth items during the Late to Terminal Classic period. Feasting in Maya society was enacted as a social, political, and economic strategy, which enabled the ruling elite to attract political support and create exclusive alliances. It is my deduction that at Sak Ch'en, feasting operated as a forum to display household rank, validate status, and maintain power through food acquisition, production, consumption, and distribution. By hosting a feast, Sak Ch'en inhabitants solidified existing political and socioeconomic relationships and encouraged the development of new household associations. Analyses of spindle whorls at Sak Ch'en revealed the production of cloth goods for local consumption and possibly gift exchange. Gift-giving may have been employed at Sak Ch'en as a strategy that binded individuals or groups into reciprocal debt relationships. Further, the gifting of food during this unstable period publicly displayed access to, or possession of, surplus at Sak Ch'en, which strongly reiterated asymmetrical economic power relations between households. Lastly, the storage of goods reassured the replication of activities and rituals tied to ideological concepts of social order. These strategies were implemented at Sak Ch'en as reiterative mechanisms operating to guarantee the reproduction of household power and status.

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