Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Exploring social interaction at the ancient Maya city of Copán, Honduras: A multi-scalar Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis of access and visibilty
by Richards-Rissetto, Heather M., Ph.D., The University of New Mexico, 2010, 865; 3409377
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation investigates late eighth and early ninth century social interaction at the archaeological site of Copán, Honduras. Two main research questions are addressed: (1) Did people of different social classes experience different degrees of social connectivity? and (2) Did people living in different parts of the city experience different degrees of social connectivity? A Geographic Information System (GIS) was used to quantify social connectivity, that is, degree of social integration or social segregation, using access and visibility as proxy measures for social interaction, and to examine whether Copán's inhabitants influenced social interaction by configuring their city to facilitate or impede communication and movement among people living at different site types and in different parts of the city.

In semiotic terms, people configure architecture and space to create "signs" that send different messages to different groups of people, and the way in which people respond to these "signs" influences how different groups of people interact in the landscape. The access and visibility of such "signs" provide information on how and to whom messages were sent; studies of the built environment indicate that people organize their surroundings (e.g., buildings, roads, walls) to restrict access, channel movement, and display visual messages—the how—in order to elicit distinct responses from different social groups—the whom.

While the majority of Maya studies on access and visibility focus on the internal spatial organization of a single architectural complex, usually civic, ceremonial, or elite in nature, this research investigated Copán‘s site configuration as a whole, integrating components of the built environment from all facets of society—civic-ceremonial buildings, royal compounds, elite and commoner residences, roads, and reservoirs—as well as natural features such as rivers, quebradas, hills, and mountains. Moreover, a multi-scalar approach was used to account for different levels of social interaction, ranging from sub-communities to urban and rural areas to the city as a whole.

The results indicate that Copán's layout served as a guide to daily interactions, potentially channeling people of particular social classes to specific locations and sending visual messages of wealth, power, and surveillance from and to certain groups of people and particular locations in the city. The research suggests that varying degrees of sociopolitical control existed in the Copán Valley and that there may have been intermediate-level interaction spheres controlled or managed by local leaders who played an integral part in Copán's sociopolitical landscape. The study also indicates that certain types of commoner and elite sites had more similar degrees of social connectivity than expected, suggesting that some sites in the Harvard Site Typology, based on economic status, are misclassified or represent temporal, functional, ethnic, or other differences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Buikstra, Jane E., Schwerin, Jennifer F. von
Commitee: Boone, James L., Dinwoodie, David, Watson, Richard P.
School: The University of New Mexico
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- New Mexico
Source: DAI-A 71/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, Geographic information science
Keywords: Accessibility, Ancient Maya, Copan, GIS, Geographic Information Systems, Honduras, Social interaction, Visibility
Publication Number: 3409377
ISBN: 9781124068374
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