Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

David A Freidel


This dissertation focuses on the study of a pyramidal mound housing multiple construction phases spanning the Late Preclassic Period: ca. 400 BCE - 250 CE) at the ancient Maya site of El Achiotal, in northwestern Guatemala. The foundation for my arguments relies principally on the documentation and analysis of archaeological materials and iconographic programs, primarily associated with two construction phases in the sequence, Structure 5C-01-sub 4 and -sub 2. The theoretical frame of reference I employ is that of early states, emphasizing archaeological variables used to study the processes and structure of complexity and the institutions forming the Late Preclassic Maya state. I contextualize my research at El Achiotal in the regional setting of the Late Preclassic Period political geography and argue that it functioned as a frontier center between the Central Karstic Uplands and the wetland and riverine system to the west.

My results indicate that El Achiotal was settled during the transition from the Middle to Late Preclassic Periods. It subsequently grew into a small ceremonial center with monumental architecture that was decorated with murals and modeled stucco in local styles but conceptually following regional trends. I argue that Structure 5C-01-sub 4 was a bundle house symbolizing kingship and the political economy. The integration of a symbolic vocabulary embedded with themes of kingship, mythology, forces of life, power, wealth, ancestry, and currency suggest multiple meanings. Depending on the scale of analysis, the murals represent bundles, open bundles, and altogether bundle the building.

Following El Achiotal's heyday in the Late Preclassic Period, architectural and iconographic evidence indicate the center responded to systemic problems, namely the demise of El Mirador as a dominant power. In the late 2nd century CE, monumentality increased and iconographic displays changed stylistically to become mainstream and can be compared with examples from other contemporaneous sites. I interpret these changes as an attempt by the ruler(s) at El Achiotal to reassert their status with regard to centers in the core area of the Central Karstic Uplands.


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