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The Dynamics of Political Eclipse: The Shifting Roles and Strategies of Classic Maya Intermediate Elites

Walden, John, P. (2021) The Dynamics of Political Eclipse: The Shifting Roles and Strategies of Classic Maya Intermediate Elites. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation assesses how the rise of the Late Classic (AD 600-900) Maya polity of Lower Dover, Belize impacted the lives of people living in the immediate vicinity. In the past, scholars have examined the emergence of higher tiers of political decision-making by comparing the fates and fortunes of commoners at the bottom of the social hierarchy with the ruling kings and queens at the top. No society has ever been solely composed of just kings and commoners. This dissertation uses the concept of the “intermediate elite” to examine the changing roles and political strategies of three low-level Classic Maya elite households and reconstruct their relationships with their subordinates over a ~2000-year period (900 BC-AD 1000). Three dimensions of ancient life are reconstructed using archaeological materials: 1) inequalities in wealth and wellbeing, 2) economic exchange and production, and 3) ritual and religion.
Investigation revealed that before the emergence of the Lower Dover polity, the local elites were all pursuing similar roles and strategies. Each of the three elite households were hosting ancestor veneration ceremonies and feasts in their small ceremonial plazas. However, these dynamics changed quite dramatically after the larger polity rose in the area. While all three intermediate elites became less wealthy, their ability to secure commoner labor increased. Some intermediate elites relied on strong relationships with their subordinates and augmented their historical roles and strategies, others allied themselves more closely with the emergent ruling elites. These different intermediate elite strategies had clear repercussions for their commoner subordinates. Some commoners saw little to no change through the transition, others fell upon difficult times. This dissertation showcases the importance of including intermediate elites in our reconstructions of political dynamics. The intermediate elite provides an important lens through which the policies of rulers were filtered before they manifested at the commoner level.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Walden, John, P.jpw61@pitt.edujpw610000-0002-7703-0748
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMarcBermann,
Committee MemberDrennan,
Committee MemberArkush,
Committee MemberPutnam,
Committee MemberHoggarth,
Date: 8 October 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 3 December 2020
Approval Date: 8 October 2021
Submission Date: 6 August 2021
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 884
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Political anthropology Archaeology Intermediate Elites Social Inequalities Political Strategies
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 20:26
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2023 05:15


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