Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Rice, Prudence

Second Advisor

Barrios, Roberto


This study examines the emergence of status differentiation during the Early and Middle Preclassic periods (1200/1100-300 BC) in the Maya lowlands through the examination of pottery and its status as a valued object. Through macroscopic, contextual, and compositional analyses of previously excavated pottery from four sites in the Petén lakes region of Guatemala—Nixtun-Ch’ich', Tayasal, Ixlú, Zacpetén—this project focuses on the ways value was encoded into vessels. Unlike later polychrome wares, Middle Preclassic pottery displayed little status-marking decoration, suggesting that the "object-value" of pottery was based on function and use ("use-value") rather than attributes related to production (“production-value”). By integrating production attributes with contexts of recovery, this project explores the ways early pottery was produced, used, and deposited at a time when societal differentiation became identifiable archaeologically through the appearance of substantial architectural endeavors and access to exotic goods. This connects to the larger anthropological question of how emerging status differentiation in communities impacts the notion of value in material culture and the process through which prestige goods developed in complex societies.Data generated from this study of 27,870 sherds provide multiple lines of evidence for ways that value was encoded on early Maya pottery. To examine factors relating to production-value, macroscopic (type-variety analysis and modal analysis) and compositional (petrographic analysis of thin sections, INAA, and LA-ICP-MS) analytical methods are used to assess the presence of production-value markers. Attributes ranging from paste composition to surface decoration reveal the diversity in valuation at the beginning of vessel use-life. Use-value is examined through a contextual analysis of pottery and its deposition, with primary focus on the extensive excavations at Mound ZZ1 at Nixtun-Ch'ich'. On the basis of the findings, I conclude that the construction of value and prestige was carried out in many ways by emerging elites in the western Petén lakes area, but it appears that pottery’s role in this was not prescriptive, but supportive.Beyond investigating how early Maya pottery was valued, this study demonstrates the importance of an integrated methodological approach to artifact analysis that considers both contextual and physical attributes. This provides a way to operationalize a concept like object value, which can be difficult to access through the archaeological record. The complementary data presented here reflect the myriad ways in which object-value is affected by both production choices and social behaviors.




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