The Chichén Itzá - Ek Balam Transect Project: An Intersite Perspective on the Political Organization of the Ancient Maya

James Gregory Smith

PhD Thesis. 2000

This study examines the political implications of two polities in the Northern Maya lowlands of Yucatán, Mexico, during the late/Terminal Period (A.D. 700-1050/1100). The two polities of Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam were studied by first comparing and contrasting the two capital sites themselves and then systematically analyzing the settlement pattern found between them. Data was acquired by conducting surveys and excavations in a 20 km wide transect connecting Chichén and Ek Balam.

Using a dimensional approach to the study of political organization, the research themes addressed in the study include boundary structure, political centralization, power structure, and ethnicity. The boundary between Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam features the important minor center of Ichmul de Morley, found halfway between the two capitals. The evidence from Ichmul suggests that this site was not dominated by either Chichén or Ek Balam and was instead relatively autonomous. Other transect sites such as Yaxkukul, which has a Chichén style ballcourt but is physically closer to Ek Balam, suggest that the boundary was not a simple Thiessen line but instead sinuous and is best explained by social linkages rather than geographical distances.

Political centralization was studied primarily by analyzing the regional distribution of civic architecture and compared to Chichén Itzá, Ek Balam was more centralized. The replication or differentiation of civic architecture was used to study power structure (the vertical distribution of political offices). Chichén Itzá had a more hierarchical power structure because several types of civic architecture at the capital are not found replicated at its hinterland while the Ek Balam polity has a marked pattern of civic replication indicative of a pyramidal power structure. Ethnicity was studied by analyzing several "ethnic markers": classes of artifacts which are thought to reflect different aspects of ethnicity. Overall, there is more evidence for a multi-ethnic Chichén, especially amongst the elite, than at Ek Balam.

The study concludes by comparing the different dimensions and introducing other polities such as Teotihuácan and Monte Albán to see how Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam compare with other cases of social complexity in Mesoamerica.