The Archaeology of Colonial Maya Livelihoods at Tahcabo, Yucatán, Mexico Public Deposited

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  • Dedrick, Maia
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • Farmers rarely feature prominently in accounts of Spanish colonialism. When they do, it is often because they assisted in staging rebellions. However, in Yucatán, Mexico, and elsewhere, the vast majority of the population consisted of farmers, who lived in places with long histories. The everyday decisions that they made about how to support the well-being of their households and communities influenced colonial trajectories. This dissertation tracks common farmers’ livelihood strategies at Tahcabo, Yucatán, throughout the Colonial period as a way of understanding how they negotiated colonial impositions and restrictions. The research presented in this dissertation included interviews with current farmers, site survey, and excavation within residential and garden areas. Interviews provided information about the factors that farmers consider as they make agricultural decisions, and in particular how they use and understand dry sinkholes called rejolladas—landscape features often employed as gardens when located within settlements. The results of excavation within the rejolladas of central Tahcabo demonstrated some consistency in their specialized use through time. Excavations also took place at Colonial period residential areas located near the edges of town, where non-elite or recently arrived farmers lived. Colonial policies enacted violence on rural livelihoods, resulting in food insecurity and inadequate resource access. In particular, they worked to narrow and constrict farming households’ activity portfolios, and encouraged dependence on field agriculture. After forcing many farmers from settlements across the countryside to relocate into designated towns, friars demanded that extended family households break apart into nuclear house lots. Nonetheless, excavation results show that, during the early Colonial period, town residents continued to live in extended family groups and pursued diversified livelihood activities, which included extended hunting and fishing trips. Nuclear family house lots were evident by the middle Colonial period. Heavy demands for commodities imposed as quotas for each adult family member led to activity intensification. Farmers responded to colonial violence through both mobility and place-making—strategies which remained in tension throughout the Colonial period. In short, this project provides new insights into the daily lives and livelihood decisions of ordinary families attempting to survive colonialism in Yucatán, Mexico.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • McAnany, Patricia A.
  • Scarry, C. Margaret
  • Tomášková, Silvia
  • Agbe-Davies, Anna
  • Colloredo-Mansfeld, Rudi
  • Batún Alpuche, Adolfo Iván
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2020

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