Maya Archaeology – Notes 7 of 13

Theories concerning the emergence of social stratification/differentiation in Mesoamerica:

(1) External theories –

Teotihuacan influence

Located in the Valley of Mexico (200/300 BC to 700/750 AD).

Trade and political relations central in Maya world.

Volcanic Eruption

Illopongo (200/250 AD)

(2) Internal Theories –

Circumscription (Proposed by R. Corneiro)

Population pressure due to limitations imposed by social and geographic conditions.

Theory postulates that this population pressure led to social issues including gains in territory, increased warfare. Organization needed in warfare, the theory explains, brought about social differentiation.

Bosserup’s Theory

Theorized that population growth was a trigger mechanism for stratification and with that advances in new technologies.

Witfogel’s Theory

Theorized that technology was trigger mechanism that brought about stratification. These advances, the theory explains, brought about population growth and differentiation between social groups.


An economic theory about social differentiation. This theory explains that differentiation originates from unequal access to important goods especially, in this time, land. The theory explains that as a surplus is developed, obligations are created resulting in vertical differentiation within societies.

Jones’s Theory

Theory explains that trade and movement of goods through Tikal, an ancient city located in between two river systems, brought about social differentiation.

An issue with this theory is that it is restricted to Tikal and doesn’t account for similar changes found in Seibal, Cerros, and Lamanai.

Rathje-Core-Buffer Zone Theory

Theory works on assumption that the lowlands had similar resources to the highlands. Trade-only among buffer and Highlands. In order to join system, the core region developed a political and religious system with iconography that was shared with others.

This theory also explains why the economic core collapsed as the other regions adopted and re-appropriated the iconography. At this point, the core was no longer needed as the ideology spread to other areas.

Friedal’s Theory

Friedal proposed a social and religious model to discuss emergence of social differentiation in this region. This emerged from unequal access to the “Gods” or religious prestige through shamanism. His archaeological team found evidence for the rise in power of shamans in local, small villages. Their main site for discovery was Cerros.

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