PhD Dissertations: Michael Deal, 1984

Pottery Ethnoarchaeology Among the Tzeltal Maya

In the past decade Mesoamerican archaeologists have become more concerned with the excavation of residential units. They have come to realize that a better understanding is needed of the individual household, as the basic social and economic unit, before inferences can be made about larger, more abstract social groups (lineages, clans, etc.), and before a clear understanding of the economic basis of Maya civilization can be attained. The primary goal of this thesis is to provide Mesoamerican archaeologists, who are working at the household level of analysis, with descriptive models based on ethnographic data as aids for interpreting archaeological pottery assemblages. Specifically, those models are concerned with the production, use reuse and disposal of pottery in modern Tzeltal Maya communities. Emphasis is placed on the archaeological implication of the major factors contributing to the pottery variability (e.g. vessel frequency and type diversity) and patterning (spatial distribution) associated with each of these models.

The ethnographic data being used in this study was collected among the Tzeltal Maya of the villages of Chanal and Aguacatenango, Chiapas, during two field seasons (summer 1977 and winter 1979) with the Coxoh Ethnoarchaeological Project. Ethnographic data, collected in 103 Tzeltal households, included interview information, detailed maps of household compounds, material culture inventories, and photographs.

Some conclusions of relevance to archaeological interpretation include, (1) the possibility of recognizing archaeological potting households based on raw materials storage and the location of features and artifacts used in pottery production, as well as the distinctiveness of pottery making tools, (2) the indication that the frequency and diversity of pottery are more closely associated with household social status and social and ritual roles than with economic rank, craft specialization or family size, (3) the indication that economic factors are more likely to play a role when imported industrial vessels are considered as pottery equivalents, and (4) that the provisional storage of damaged and fragmentary pottery, which results in single vessels and vessel clusters being distributed in and around structures, may wrongly be interpreted as activity areas in archaeological housesites. These, among other considerations, are of considerable applicability in terms of the formulation of both archaeological and ethnoarchaeological research designs.