Performing identity in an ancient Maya city: The archaeology of houses, health and social differentiation at the site of Baking Pot, Belize

Jennifer Claire Piehl
Dept. of Anthropology, Tulane University
July, 2006


This dissertation examines the construction of social identity through the archaeological investigation of houses in the ancient community of Baking Pot, a medium- sized center located in the Belize Valley. Excavations in five residential structures form the basis of a holistic analysis of Late and Terminal Classic domestic material remains. Analyses of architecture, ritual and refuse deposits, ceramics, lithics and faunal materials are presented with the goal of creating an internal framework of identity construction, focusing on evidence of cohesiveness and differentiation in domestic activities.
Osteological analysis of human remains from Baking Pot, and stable isotopic analysis of individuals from sites throughout the Belize River Valley, integrate data on health and diet into interpretations of social identity. Constructions of identity among house groups focus on cohesiveness within the Baking Pot community, but social differentiation can also be identified. The residents of Baking Pot possessed and used a set of material remains that show more internal similarity than in larger and more differentiated lowland communities. Health and diet also show little differentiation, confirming similar strategies in the daily lives of residents throughout the valley. Location of houses, architectural elaboration, and use of high-quality construction materials were, in contrast, found to reliably differentiate house groups.
Ceramic and lithic samples from the residences have much in common, including the artifact types that form the foundation of each industry. Imported items, painted ceramics, and formal chipped stone tools are not differentially distributed among residences. Ceramic assemblage size, glyphic and figural decoration on ceramics, concentration of painted ceramic types, chert quality, and lithic artifacts such as grooved stones and incised limestone spheres do, however, differentiate among houses. The lithic sample from the most elaborated residence demonstrates less involvement with agricultural activities for the members of this house group. Ritual activities, health, and dietary data do not show variation that relates to socioeconomic differentiation. This dissertation stresses the importance of seeking indicators of differentiation within residential assemblages, rather than relying on external models of socioeconomic status to interpret domestic behaviors and interactions.