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Figure 1: The 2013 Crew of the Actuncan Archaeological Project
Figure 1: The 2013 Crew of the Actuncan Archaeological Project

The Actuncan Archaeological Project directed by Dr. Lisa LeCount conducted summer excavations funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration at the ancient Maya site of Actuncan in Belize, Central America.  Using the corporate-network leadership model, the Project evaluated material and symbolic resources found in two elite households and an E-Group (a commemorative astronomical civic complex) to determine if corporate leadership persisted into the Classic period (AD 250 to 1000) at the site after network-based leadership arose in other polities, such as Tikal.  The 2013 field season was one of the largest so far with six graduate students and four Ph.D. researchers supervising 26 Belizean men and women in the field and lab.  University of Alabama personal included Dr. John Blitz, Luke Donohue, Borislava (Bobbie) Simova (now in the Ph.D. program at Tulane), and Emma Koenig, as well as others from Washington University in St. Louis, University of South Florida, and University of Mississippi (Figure 1).

Figure 3: Emma Koenig & Amirto Uck excavating the apron molding of Str. 23-1st.
Figure 2: Emma Koenig and Amirto Uck excavating the apron molding of Str. 23-1st.

To test the nature of early Maya leadership, the Project conducted excavations at two elite households, Strs. 29 and 73 that, based on their size and location, are likely candidates for an early ruler's residence at Actuncan.  Investigations at the site’s E-Group also examined the nature of early Maya leadership.  Studies have shown that the onset of dynastic kingship, and accompanying transition to network-based authority, was marked by a shift in caching and burial practices at civic monuments. Initially, ritual practices revolved around the placement of caches in sacred monuments, but later, rulers' ancestors were interred in them to fuse human and divine realms allowing living kings to claim descent from divine ancestors.  However, the timing of these practices is site dependent, presumably tied to the timing of the shift from corporate to network-based authority. 

Figure 3: Bobbie Simova excavating the apron modling of Str. 73a.
Figure 3: Bobbie Simova excavating the apron molding of Str. 73a.

Excavations at the two elite structures found that occupants of these houses occupied a similar social status, conformed to an architectural style canon, and displayed a uniform identity.  During the height of the center’s authority, each house sported an apron molding (Figure 2).  This façade style has pronounced top and bottom edges that frame a central register made by stacking and tenoning limestone blocks, which were ultimately covered in stucco and painted red.  Apron moldings are not unusual in the Maya lowlands, but they have not been reported for this area.  At Str. 73, the apron molding is substantially larger than that at Str. 29 or any other elite house at Actuncan, measuring at least 2 m high (Figure 3).  The amount of labor required to build Str. 73 would have far exceeded that of other elite houses indicating its construction required extra-household labor.  Structure 73 also is auspiciously located given that it is the closest house to the Triadic Temple Complex.  For these reasons, Dr. LeCount suggests that Structure 73 is likely the early king’s house.  Nonetheless, this house does not display a significantly different layout nor does it appear to be substantially wealthier in material possessions than other elite households.  These findings confirm that early leadership strategies at Actuncan were corporate in nature.

Figure 4: Four eccentrics from Structure 26.
Figure 4: Four eccentrics from Structure 26.

E-Groups are monumental complexes containing an eastern platform and a western radial pyramid, which are thought to function as solar observatories and locations for Preclassic agricultural rituals.  Excavations at Actuncan’s E-Group, directed by Luke Donohue, began in front of the central pyramid on top of the eastern platform.  After locating the central staircase, he discovered caches and artifacts associated with rituals performed on these stairs.  Staircases were the location of many activities including feasting, dancing, performances, presentations, offerings and sacrifices.  At Actuncan, Donohue found features associated with many of these, including a staircase cache, a termination deposit, a staircase block burial, and chert eccentrics.  Eccentrics are large formally shaped lithics used as offerings to ancestors, deities and sacred places (figure 4). Their position on top of the collapse suggests that they were placed there after the building had fallen apart.  These practices are consistent with other instances of revisitation and veneration of sacred houses and monuments found at the site.  On the summit of the pyramid, stacked stone represents the remains of a late altar. The pyramid itself was built of alternating cobble and sterile sand fill, and in one layer, many large bifaces interpreted as agricultural hoes were found.  These ritually cached hoes indicate that the construction of this pyramid was tied to agriculture or annual cycles.  

This summer’s excavations lend evidence to suggest that early kingship at Actuncan was more corporate than exclusive in nature.  Research in the summer 2014 will continue excavating to date the earliest levels of the E-Group, and also be directed at completing two Ph.D. research projects.

Graduate Student Awards

Doctoral student Paul Eubanks received a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant for his project "Caddo Salt Production in Northwestern Louisiana." Congratulations to Paul and his adviser, Dr. Ian Brown. Paul is our seventh doctoral student to receive an NSF DDIG. This speaks, first and foremost, to Paul's great promise as a scholar and also to the strength of our young doctoral program.

Doctoral student Erik Porth was received the Richard A. Krause Award at the 2013 Holiday luncheon. The Krause Award, established in 2008, is given in recognition of outstanding scholarship by a graduate student in Anthropology. Porth, whose research focus is the historical process of placemaking at Moundville, has consistently exemplified this in his dedication to research, teaching, and service to our department.

Master's student Kelsey Herndon was honored with a Graduate Student Association award to support travel to the South-Central Conference on Mesoamerica to present "Structure from Motion Mapping and Remote Sensing at the Maya Site of Chan Chich, Belize."

Undergraduate Meghan Steel
Undergraduate Meghan Steel

The Graduate School and Anthropology Department provide awards several times a year for meritorious research projects and for travel to present research at conferences.  A total of seven proposals were submitted to the Anthropology Graduate Committee for the Fall 2013 round, all of which were subsequently forwarded to the Graduate School for consideration and received awards. The following students (in alphabetical order) received awards in the fall 2013: Jolynn Amrine Goertz, to support travel to the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to present "Fragments and Field Notebooks: Franz Boas and the Chehalis Oral Tradition"; Paul Eubanks, to support travel to the Southeastern Archaeological Conference (SEAC) to present "The Timing and Distribution of Caddo Salt Production in Northwestern Louisiana"; Lynn Funkhouser, to support travel to SEAC to present "An Analysis of Near-Mound Cemeteries at Moundville"; Jessica Kowalski, to support travel to SEAC to present "Mississippian Period Settlement Size and Soil Productivity in the Southern Yazoo Basin, Mississippi"; LisaMarie Malischke, to support travel to the Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology to present "The Heterogeneity of Early French Forts and Settlements. A Comparison to Fort St. Pierre (1719-1729) in French Colonial Louisiane"; Ross Owens, to support thesis research on "How Smart Phones Affect Skin Conductance and Social Support Systems Among Students at the University of Alabama"; and Max Stein, to support travel to AAA to present "Religion as Resilience: Evaluating the Intersections of Religious Collectivity and Disease in Limon Province, Costa Rica."

Undergraduate Awards

This year, the C. Earle Smith Award for the most outstanding senior goes to two students--Maryanne Mobley and Meghan Steel. The Hughes Prize for a student who shows great potential and perseverance goes to Katie Moss. They do our department proud with their excellent grades, drive and determination, and wonderful personalities.