Opportunities for Advancement: Intra-Community Power Contests in the Midst of Political Decentralization in Terminal Classic Southeastern Mesoamerica

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Archaeologists traditionally investigate the emergence of complex sociopolitical formations at micro- and macroscales. As fruitful as these analyses have been, they ignore insights garnered from studying how the diverse members of individual communities contested for power and material resources during periods when former political capitals were in decline. Such volatile circumstances provide ample opportunities for those seeking power to experiment with novel political forms while their would-be subordinates maneuver to undermine these overweening ambitions. Site 128 in the Naco Valley, northwestern Honduras, witnessed these struggles during the Terminal Classic. Taking advantage of the waning power of the Naco Valley’s Late Classic rulers at La Sierra, magnates in this small community competed for control over clients and their labor. The resulting political configuration pitted corporate institutions against individual aggrandizers, each using a limited suite of valuable resources to capture the loyalty and labor of supporters. The inability of one faction to vanquish the other created an unstable situation ultimately undermined by unresolved tensions. Though studies of political decline usually highlight the falls of dynasties, there is much to be gained by studying those who scrambled, with varying success, to cobble together sociopolitical structures in the shadows of former states.


Latin American Antiquity





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