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Early Households and Ritual in the Preclassic Maya Lowlands

Jessica MacLellan, University of Arizona, Junior Fellow 2016–2017

My dissertation is based on excavations of an early residential area at Ceibal, Guatemala. I am investigating the role of domestic ritual in the development of complex societies. I pored over hard-to-find site reports from earlier projects in the Maya lowlands, and found surprising parallels and differences between the Ceibal households and contemporaneous material at sites in Belize and Mexico. I developed a new understanding of the social processes that took place across the region following the transition to permanent farming villages. Conversations with other scholars here have helped me to reframe some of my theoretical perspectives. Rather than assuming early household rituals helped create a top-down hierarchical society, I now think it probable that they fostered horizontal relationships in the community, in opposition to the public rituals in Ceibal’s monumental plaza. I will complete my dissertation next year, at the University of Arizona. In addition to sections of the dissertation, I wrote two chapters for edited volumes, one conference paper, and a draft of a journal article.