Fractious farmers at tikal

David Webster, Timothy Murtha

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


Our chapter presents both data and a dilemma. It explores two fundamental issues concerning the Classic Maya - how kings, lords, and common farmers asserted rights to basic agrarian resources and how these rights and resources were managed as conditions changed (Webster 2002b, 2005; Murtha 2002). The dilemma is that we have almost no information about these topics from inscriptions, art, and archaeology. What is clear is that Maya people contended through time with increasingly complex, risky, and demographically saturated agrarian environments. Such changes stimulated competitive processes and status rivalry, which led to reduced sociopolitical resilience and contributed heavily to eventual collapse. J. E. S. Thompson (1954) argued that peasant revolts undermined Classic polities. We do not subscribe to this view, but our perspective resembles Thompson’s in emphasizing internal discord. Our main focus is on niche construction and niche inheritance, concepts that have recently entered the Maya literature (see Webster 2013). Niche construction is “the process whereby organisms, through their metabolism, their activities and their choices, modify their own and/or each other’s niches” (Odling-Smee et al. 2003: 419). As Hardesty (1972) observed, culture is the human ecological niche. Humans, like other organisms, engage in inceptive and counteractive perturbation and relocation, but they uniquely evolve transgenerational cultural niches or “traditions.” Such niches are literally inherited or otherwise culturally allocated through time. The dynamic cultural and sociological dimensions of agrarian niche construction and inheritance are central to understanding how Classic Maya polities were structured and their eventual fates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTikal
Subtitle of host publicationPaleoecology of an Ancient Maya City
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781139227209
ISBN (Print)9781107027930
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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