Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Coastal communities in the Maya Lowlands played a myriad of roles in the ebb and flow of political, economic, and social formations over the past 3000 years, yet these roles have remained along the periphery of Maya studies. While often small in size when compared to their inland neighbors, Maya coastal sites were integral to the early development of complex polities in the Formative period, provided refuge following the Classic Maya “collapse” in the 9th century A.D., and were home to cosmopolitan residents engaged in long-distance trade on the eve of Spanish contact. Though ever present, Maya coastal sites were atypical in terms of how they were imagined and lived-in by the Maya. Both social and environmental factors conditioned human-coastal relations, as dynamic markets, political forces, and ecosystems required constant negotiation.
I first discuss what we know about the watercraft used by the maritime Maya. I then turn to the question of who the maritime Maya were. Using ethnohistoric accounts from the Contact period provides insight (albeit through a Spanish lens) into how coastal Maya peoples (the Maritime Maya), at least in the Yucatan Peninsula, self-identified. This, when coupled with iconographic data from the Classic period, allows us to discuss the tensions present between coastal and inland populations on the Peninsula and how this influenced the historical trajectories of coastal sites. I then provide an overview of the archaeological evidence of the Maritime Maya, before turning to my particular project on the north coast of Quintana Roo. By correlating multiple facets of the changing paleoenvironment with broader social and economic changes, the Proyecto Costa Escondida research team is beginning to reveal the challenges faced, and opportunities pursued, by these coastal peoples.