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Personhood, Dwelling, and Identity: A Relational Approach

Scott Hutson, University of Kentucky, Fellow 2005–2006

My project of developing a relational model of identity in ancient Mesoamerica was advanced in several ways at Dumbarton Oaks. I wrote three chapters of a book on this subject, each chapter extending the model beyond the original grounds from which I launched the project: household archaeology at the ancient Maya site of Chunchucmil, Yucatan, Mexico. The first chapter, presented as my Dumbarton Oaks research report on November 15, 2005, uses the context of the production of graffiti at the site of Tikal to highlight the social and interactive aspects of learning and the development of personhood. This chapter also contributes to a topic that has received little attention in the New World: the social experience of childhood. The second chapter explored the culturally peculiar logics of power relations as revealed by forms of sacrifice (in Peru, central Mexico, and Yucatan) that manifest extremely dialectical forms of relatedness: human sacrifices in which a lord subsumes and consumes the subjectivity of the victim and in which retainers of a lord are killed upon the death of the lord. The final chapter is an ethnographic analysis of how contemporary indigenous Yucatecans construct their identity through their daily relations to and action in a landscape filled with ancient Maya ruins.

In addition to my work on the book, I also advanced my project in other ways. For example, I prepared two manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed journals. The first manuscript concerns the discard of garbage in ancient households. Discard is often seen as a behavior dominated by practicality and expedience. My data show, however, that communally-held and historically-transmitted structures of meaning govern, in part, what is considered practical. The second paper concerns results of phosphate analysis of ancient soils in domestic contexts. Since phosphate analyses help identify activity areas, they add much to an understanding daily life. Consequently, understanding daily life promotes a relational perspective insofar as identity is built from everyday relations to people, places and things. Finally, I used my time at Dumbarton Oaks to perpetuate my field research on this topic by writing the field report from the previous summer's investigations at Chunchucmil and the permit proposal for research in the upcoming summer. Such reports and proposals enable my colleagues and I to continue doing archaeology in Mexico and to continue to contribute new information and new questions to the field of Pre-Columbian Studies.