Classic Maya Settlement Patterns

Classic Maya Settlement Patterns - E. Christopher Mare...

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E. Christopher Mare Spring 1999 Classic Maya Settlement Patterns Much insight can be gained into the nature of a culture and society by careful analysis of its settlement patterns. Settlement patterns can be defined as: “…the way in which man (sic) disposed himself over the landscape in which he lived. [The term] refers to dwellings, to their arrangement, and to the nature and disposition of other buildings pertaining to community life. These settlements reflect the natural environment, the level of technology on which the builders operated, and various institutions of social interaction and control which the culture maintained. Because settlement patterns are, to a large extent, directly shaped by widely held cultural needs, they offer a strategic starting point for the functional interpretation of archaeological cultures” (Willey 1953: 1). ( Italics my own). To this I would add that not only cultural needs but fundamental cultural beliefs can be ascertained, especially at the scale of larger settlements associated with civilization. It has been proposed that all pre-Colombian, Mesoamerican peoples shared a common ‘civilization’, with shared beliefs, practices, and overall outlook on life (Carmack 1996). It is my intention to demonstrate that the Classic Maya, specifically, possessed a unique civilization, incongruent with the patterns of contemporaneous civilizations in Mexico, and representing a brilliant model for settlement patterns of the 21 st century. First I will clarify the term “civilization”: Civilization is derived from the Latin root civitas , or city; civilization is the culture of cities --- city-life. It is generally employed to describe a culture which has developed to the point of centralized government, craft specialization, a religious hierarchy, the invention of writing, the pursuit of science, etc. The convergence of a large population into a single settlement pattern has the potential for maximizing diversity and facilitating a true flowering of human potential. Unfortunately, an historical survey reveals that the centralization of power associated with civilization inevitably leads to a corruption of the potential and eventual demise. Initial gains in cultural refinement are soon overtaken by the unsustainability of the pattern --- a city, by definition, is so large that it exceeds the
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carrying-capacity of the ecosystem it inhabits. An idle, ambitious, and voracious centralized power structure is then required (or has the excuse) to project its power into neighboring regions to extract resources to be drawn back to sustain the center. This extraction from the hinterland inevitably assumes the character of force, with subsequent subjugation of outlying populations. A standing army of disgruntled, without-opportunity city-dwellers is purposefully organized to project this power, and a militaristic mindset is the result. Inevitable competition with other cities/ civilizations/ power centers for ever scarcer resources
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Classic Maya Settlement Patterns - E. Christopher Mare...

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