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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Apr 7;112(14):4268-73. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1501212112. Epub 2015 Mar 23.

Development of sedentary communities in the Maya lowlands: coexisting mobile groups and public ceremonies at Ceibal, Guatemala.

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School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0030;
School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0030;
Department of Linguistics, University of California, Davis, CA 95616;
Department of Human Communication Studies, Ibaraki University, Mito 310-8512, Japan;
Department of Evolutionary Studies of Biosystems, SOKENDAI (Graduate University for Advanced Studies), Hayama 240-0193, Japan;
Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project, Guatemala City, Guatemala; and.
School of Natural and Living Sciences Education, Naruto University of Education, Naruto 772-8502, Japan.


Our archaeological investigations at Ceibal, a lowland Maya site located in the Pasión region, documented that a formal ceremonial complex was built around 950 B.C. at the onset of the Middle Preclassic period, when ceramics began to be used in the Maya lowlands. Our refined chronology allowed us to trace the subsequent social changes in a resolution that had not been possible before. Many residents of Ceibal appear to have remained relatively mobile during the following centuries, living in ephemeral post-in-ground structures and frequently changing their residential localities. In other parts of the Pasión region, there may have existed more mobile populations who maintained the traditional lifestyle of the preceramic period. Although the emerging elite of Ceibal began to live in a substantial residential complex by 700 B.C., advanced sedentism with durable residences rebuilt in the same locations and burials placed under house floors was not adopted in most residential areas until 500 B.C., and did not become common until 300 B.C. or the Late Preclassic period. During the Middle Preclassic period, substantial formal ceremonial complexes appear to have been built only at a small number of important communities in the Maya lowlands, and groups with different levels of sedentism probably gathered for their constructions and for public rituals held in them. These collaborative activities likely played a central role in socially integrating diverse groups with different lifestyles and, eventually, in developing fully established sedentary communities.


Maya; Mesoamerican archaeology; public ceremony; sedentism; subsistence

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