Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2016

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



Archaeological investigations in the Maya region abound, yet there is much that we do not know regarding the use of plants in both the domestic and ritual sphere. This study focuses on ancient plant use at La Corona and El Peru-Waka, two sites in northwestern Petén, Guatemala, occupied during the Late Classic and Terminal Classic (ca. A.D. 600- 950). I utilized macro- and microbotanical data to shed light on the diets and ritual activities of ancient people living at these sites. Specifically, I consider what plants were consumed at the household level and which were utilized in the ritual sphere to prepare dishes and beverages for elaborate feasts and to metaphorically feed divinities. To further elucidate the archaeobotanical data, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and iconographic sources of information were also consulted. Three main archaeological contexts were considered for analysis: a monumental fire shrine at El Peru-Waka; two feasting deposits at La Corona; and a Terminal Classic household at La Corona.

The first context, an eighth century A.D. monumental fire shrine or Wite Naah, was discovered on the frontal platform (adosada) of Structure M13-1 at El Peru-Waka. I interpret the charred plant remains and other materials recovered from this giant hearth as evidence for agricultural-themed fire ceremonies. These rituals were likely influenced by the arrival of Siyakh Kahk from Teotihuacan in the late fourth century A.D., and persisted for centuries until the end of dynastic rule at the site. This study lends support to the idea that pan-Mesoamerican rituals of fire existed, and continue to exist among indigenous populations.

The second context consists of two Late Classic feasting deposits that were identified within the ceremonial core of La Corona. The first deposit, recovered inside a chultun, is closely associated with Structure 13R-10, while the second was a midden adjacent to Structure 13R-7. Macro- and microbotanical data provided clues to the types of foods and beverages served and consumed during these events, one of which was likely a large-scale, community-wide feast. Based on the types of plant remains recovered, I argue that the nature of feasting or the value attributed to some plant taxa by the ancient Maya, especially with regards to edible greens, may need to be reconsidered.

Finally, evidence of occupation during the Terminal Classic, a period that is equated with large-scale abandonment and social collapse, suggests that the inhabitants had access to a range of plant foods similar to those available in the Late Classic. I argue that the recovery of diverse root crops in starch grain form suggests that tubers were not famine foods but rather played a more prominent role in the ancient Maya diet. Finally, this research provides the first data on environmental reconstruction at La Corona during the Terminal Classic.

The study of these diverse contexts brings attention to the fact that plant remains, both macro- and microbotanical, can be successfully recovered from this area of the Maya region, and provides evidence for previously unreported taxa in the area. It further demonstrates the existence of complex relations between ancient Maya people and their natural environment: a landscape of vast ecological variability and resource availability. When carefully considered, these data serve to further elucidate the nuances of ancient ritual practices and contribute to the ongoing discourse regarding the range of foods consumed by the ancient Maya even in times of possible social and environmental stress.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Gayle David J. Fritz Freidel

Committee Members

Marcello A. Canuto, Robert Lamberton, David L. Lentz, Fiona Marshall,


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