Prehispanic Social Organization in the Jamastrán Valley, Southeastern Honduras

Eva L. Martinez

PhD Thesis 2010

This research explores the social organization of prehispanic communities in the Jamastrán Valley in Southeastern Honduras. It reconstructed the demographic patterns of a 250 km² region through a full coverage systematic survey. Our ceramic evidence indicates that the Jamastrán Valley was occupied between about 600 and 1000 AD. Therefore, the analysis in the chapters that follow is fundamentally synchronic since it deals with a single period of occupation which ceramic analysis does not, at present, enable us to subdivide. Evidence derived from the comparison of different social trajectories in regions of western, central, and eastern Honduras, points to three common factors that stand out as crucial elements for understanding the development of social hierarchies in those regions; access to prime agricultural land, craft production and local exchange and interregional interactions.

Each of these factors can be understood as components of two basic political strategies: economically or prestige-based ones. The articulation or combination of these factors, and the ability to connect economic and prestige strategies to each other, enabled the consolidation of permanent forms of social inequality in many regions of prehispanic Honduras. We suggest that the demographic history of the Jamastrásn Valley is related to processes of acute political centralization, population growth and expansion of interregional exchange networks in west-central and eastern Honduras beginning at around 500 AD, and to opposite processes (political decentralization, disruption of existing exchange networks, and population dispersal) later in the social trajectories of most archaeologically known regions in Honduras. Our research in Jamastrán also indicates that local aspiring leaders in the valley seem to have failed to articulate in a complementary fashion both economic and prestige-based strategies in order to strengthen their social status.

We propose that hierarchical structures in the Jamastrán Valley were incipient and that their frailty is reflected in the communities´ inability to resist and/or adapt to the pressures toward decentralization and population dispersion experienced throughout prehispanic Honduras between 900 and 1000 AD.