Edited by
Antonia E. Foias  and Kitty F. Emery

Published in 2012 by University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida (editor: John Byram), Maya Studies Series (general editors: Arlen Chase and Diane Chase), 2011


This volume addresses a major debate in Maya archaeology – the nature of political organization during the Classic period (A.D. 250-950). We present a coherent interdisciplinary body of archaeological and environmental data from the Motul de San Jose polity to delve deeper into the various models of the ancient Maya political and economic systems. Shifting attention away from the general concepts of centralization vs. decentralization, the Motul de San Jose Project sheds light on the internal relationships between political inferiors and superiors, between primary and subsidiary centers, on the development of an administrative cadre (or proto-bureaucracy), and on the nature of economic control by the elite in this small polity of the Central Peten Lakes of northern Guatemala. The value of this monograph is threefold: its focus on questions of politics and economics, its integration of archaeological and environmental datasets, and its detailed multi-disciplinary research perspectives.
The goal of the monograph is to present to the public a rich body of data and interpretations based on six seasons of fieldwork in the Motul de San José Polity including the capital city of the same name and its peripheral satellite sites. We present classic archaeological data from settlement mapping, ceramics, lithics, figurines, and the like alongside non-traditional data from soils, epigraphy, animal remains, and chemistry.  The data and interpretations are placed in a comparative perspective by providing a synthesis of knowledge of different aspects of Classic Maya civilization and society, with a particular focus on the intersection of politics, economy, and environment.   This allows the data to inform theoretical debates at a very broad level, beyond the boundaries of the Motul polity. The volume emphasizes the importance of multiple datasets and of combined archaeological and environmental data in approaching questions of politics and economics. Different specialists are brought together to highlight and underscore the importance of interdisciplinary research in archaeology. Archaeological and ecological investigations of the Motul de San Jose Project have underscored the involvement of regnal and non-regnal elites in a number of economic activities (such as figurine and pottery production, cloth manufacture, painting and paper production), apart from their investment in an extensive tribute system. The outlines of the politics and dynamics of the Motul de San Jose polity point to a more centralized political system than previously envisioned.
The different chapters in this book are also meant to build the foundation for the next stage of debates on social, political and historical issues in Maya archaeology. We end the volume with a new perspective on the critical questions and the importance of solid archaeological data as a foundation to such discussions. We emphasize the data in this volume, but also the interpretations reached, and how these interpretations and findings contribute to on-going discussions in this professional field. What makes our project fascinating is that Motul de San Jose is located in the Central Peten area, close to Tikal, and clearly involved in the politics of this super-state and its arch-enemy Calakmul. We have used new ecological analyses, such as soil stable carbon isotope analyses to consider the nature of agricultural production and its correlation with human settlement.  The epigraphic and artistic evidence from a significant but less used corpus (the Ik Style polychromes) illuminates details of political organization not available in other parts of the Maya lowlands where only the royal elites are recorded on large, public stone monuments.