Identity formation among the Ancient Maya as reconstructed from late Preclassic to early Classic domestic contexts at the site of Actuncan, Belize

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This research examines the visual properties of household ceramics to gain an understanding of domestic ritual construction and the diacritics of kinship, socio-economic status, and polity at the site of Actuncan, Belize. Ritual deposits associated with dedications, terminations, and burials are considered to be the remains of performances in which material markers of identity may have been deployed to foreground social identities including kin, status, and polity affiliations. In the absence of clear iconological emblems, more subtle variations in the physical appearance of ceramic vessels, including vessel size, surface finish, and color, are explored as potential markers of social identity. Comparisons of these variables are made between households and across socio-economic status categories and time periods. The evidence presented here provides a better understanding of ritual and the selective use of ceramic bowls, dishes, and plates during its enactment. Two categories of domestic ritual, dedications and terminations, were found to follow distinct patterns in their display of shared cosmological constructs, particularly in the use of surface color, luster, and style (as measured by ceramic type). Additionally, these types of rituals are considerably different in their degree of malleability over time. Termination rituals, in particular, were more flexibly constructed and stood out as venues for demonstrating social differentiation among Actuncan households as the site underwent political and ideological shifts in the Early Classic period. Differences in the use of surface color and luster in open vessel forms, rather than closed forms, speak to internalized cosmological and social orders. Exploring these further will assist archaeologists in identifying emic categories of social identification.

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