The houselots of Chau Hiix: A spatial approach to the study of non-elite domestic variability at a small Maya city

Andrew Sean Goldsmith
Dept. of Archaeology, University of Calgary
July, 2006


The study of domestic spaces among the ancient rural Maya continues to make a positive contribution to models that explore how the Maya civilization was built and maintained. This dissertation builds on important developments over the past thirty years in the field of Maya household archaeology, and offers suggestions for an expanded perspective on data collection methods. It is argued here that while valuable information can be learned through the excavation of surface-visible features, reconstructing many of the daily activities that characterize households requires investigation beyond the walls of the houses themselves. This study strongly advocates the use of a spatial methodology termed herein as a "houselot approach", which specifically aims to collect activity-related material from a sampling universe comparable to the spaces in which domestic activities were conducted. In the southern Maya lowlands, where soil development over the past millennium has been substantial, defining houselot boundaries and devising proper sampling methods present significant challenges. Suggestions for a multi-stage methodology are offered here, and are illustrated by reference to fieldwork performed at the site of Chau Hiix, Belize, between 1999 and 2003. Increasing numbers of scholars are now exploring the application of theories of practice and agency to explaining past cultural dynamics, especially as regards the creation of social identity, power structures, and inequality. To date, however, archaeological materials remain incompletely articulated to such an ambitious discourse, an issue which has led to much debate over the ultimate relevance of agency-based approaches to the study of the past. This dissertation asserts that household archaeology has been starkly underrepresented in that debate. It is suggested here that the archaeology of domestic spaces is keenly positioned in both the spatial and conceptual vantage between individual thought and action, and societal structure and process. Given such a braided socio-methodological pathway through this wild terrain, a firm recognition of how artifacts and abstraction may (or may not) relate to one another becomes essential. The "houselot approach" as used in this study was designed with that specific goal in mind.