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When Spain, the 16th century European superpower, spread into the Americas it created a plethora of “situations of contact,” transforming all groups involved. Foreign items are often appropriated as luxury goods in sociopolitical struggles for power, and European colonialists realized they could use trade goods to manipulate local politics and loaded their ships with such items. Indigenous peoples often transformed desired trade goods into inalienable objects, which played critical roles in local political systems. The competition of local elites for these goods and their subsequent use as power objects transformed political systems and, in some cases, encouraged the formation of internal factions. Dr. Timothy Pugh and his team of researchers from universities in the United States and Guatemala is exploring the shifting role of European objects in the Itza Maya socio-political system during the Contact period (A.D. 1525-1697). They believe that European “trade good politics” with the Maya resulted in increased internal competition as well as the reconfiguration of networks of power, and are testing this hypothesis through archaeological research at Nixtun-Ch’ich’ and Muralla de Leon in Petén, Guatemala. Learn more about their work in tonight’s episode!
Dr. Timothy Pugh is an Associate Professor in the Anthropology Department at CUNY Queens. His interests include the Maya, architecture, spatial analysis, ritual, social memory, and cultural contact. His archaeological research focuses upon reconstructing the political geography of 15th to 17th century central Petén, Guatemala. Dr. Pugh obtained is PhD in Anthropology in 2001 at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His dissertation examined how the Kowoj of Petén utilized ritual architecture and performances as foundations of ethnic identity. He conducted excavations at Zacpetén, a site that lies in the former Kowoj region, and found that in the mid-15th century, the ceremonial architecture of Zacpetén was reconstructed to resemble that of Mayapán. He compared the architecture and activity areas of Zacpetén with those of sites both inside and outside Petén to understand how ritual practices and architecture helped to differentiate the Kowoj from other ethnic groups in Petén. This project is significant beyond the clarification of historical facts as it adds to the understanding of how ritual performances contribute to the construction of ethnic boundaries; how history is used as a foundation of social identity; and the processes of ethnogenesis that follow the collapse of complex societies.