Professor Heather Richards-Rissetto
Date of this Version
For decades, many archaeologists did not consider ancient Maya centers such as Tikal, Palenque, and Copán to be cities. While today most archaeologists would agree that large Maya centers were cities, the nature of Maya urbanism is still little understood. Maya cities seem different, and in attempt to explain these differences, they have been termed “garden cities” and “low-density agrarian-based cities.” In this thesis, I apply Settlement Scaling Theory (SST) — a quantitative framework for examining the mathematical relationships between human population, social connectivity, and other socioeconomic urban properties — to examine the quantitative relationship between population and area for communities in Copán, Honduras in order to investigate community organization in the Late Classic period (ca. 695-820 CE). This timeframe spans the reigns of Copán’s final four dynastic rulers (13-16) culminating with the dynasty’s collapse in the early ninth century. The intent of this study is to contribute to the broader research on Maya urbanism, starting with ethnographically defined boundaries (i.e., sian otots) and investigating the implications of scaling relationships on urban dynamics in the ancient Maya city of Copán, Honduras. Among other things, SST predicts that an urban system will become proportionally denser as population increases,
yet as low-density urban systems ancient Maya centers such as Palenque exhibit an inversion of the expected area-population relationship (Smith, Stuardo, and Lobo 2018). The results presented in this thesis, however, indicate that ancient Copán exhibits an area-population scaling relationship closer to the predicted model of SST where settlement density increases with population. This suggests that Copán may not share the same low-density urban organization as other Maya centers, which exhibit increased settlement area with population, and that there may be additional factors at play that affect settlement scaling, or possibly regional variations in scaling among cultures.
Advisor: Heather Richards-Rissetto