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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Thomas Killion

Second Advisor

Stephen Chrisomalis



Investigations into creation and uses of power have become a focus in anthropology, archaeology included (Earle 1997, Moore 1996, Montmolin 1988). With this knowledge, human networks are illuminated and a better understanding of organization and evolution of human society is realized. In archaeology, the temporal element and lack of observable behavior create a situation where we must fall back on the patterns of material remains to answer the questions of behavior. Among the Ancient Maya processes in the creation and maintenance of power have been investigated using artifacts, settlement patterns, architecture, and agricultural symbolism. (Inomata 2006, Ashmore 2002, Ashmore & Knapp 1999, McAnany 1995, Adams & Jones 1981)

In order to more fully explore this question, this thesis focuses on elements of architectural symbolism that I believe have been overlooked so far. Open courtyard space is a common theme in Mesoamerican domestic architecture, indeed in most architecture in tropical zones. This space was used as workspace, ritual focus, and place of gathering. I believe there is a process by which this common feature is appropriated for higher level purposes and this project explores possible avenues of the creation and maintenance of power by elite lords, legitimizing their position in a hierarchy of unequal resource access through the use of common architectural forms.

The thesis builds on an approach first used by Patricia McAnany in her 1995 publication; Living with the Ancestors: Kings and Kingship in Ancient Maya Society. One of the approaches McAnany employed was an appropriation of agricultural symbols by elites in their statements of lineage. Here I employ the McAnany model of power creation and apply it to architectural symbolism using ethnohistorical, linguistic, and archaeological evidence as lines of evidence to suggest the fact that this central focal space that began its existence as a household courtyard conceals another metaphor of space, the plaza as a representation of work area, linking power and ritual critical to rulership with the tasks required to maintain a household. .

The ubiquitous nature of this courtyard feature served to create a powerful key symbol that was an advantage used by the elites in achieving their own goals. I believe this work will broaden the way in which power creation can be studied, models of micro-landscape are as critical to the creation of power as macro-landscapes. The addition of another tool into the interpretive framework will provide a fuller understanding of the evolution of hierarchal formation, advancing the aim of the discipline; the explanation of cultural change over time, or more simply, how we became who we are.

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