A Study of Late Classic Maya Population Growth at La Milpa, Belize

John Janson Rose

PhD Thesis. 2000

The role of population growth in cultural evolution is common point of debate among archaeologists interested in complex societies. Some theories state that population growth is a natural characteristic of human populations, and given time, a population will grow to the maximum level allowed by the available resources. Population pressure may then cause the society to develop social inequality through development a managerial class. Other theories state that population growth is the result of taxation levied by elites on commoner households. In this case commoner households increase their size to meet increased production requirements. Neither of these theories satisfactorily explain the relationship between cultural evolution and population growth.

This dissertation examines the relationship between cultural evolution and population growth by testing an agrarian demographic model that addresses rapid population growth among the Late Classic Maya. The model is built on historic and ethnographic data and addresses the effects of economic stability and change on agrarian households. Settlement and lithic data collected from La Milpa, Belize are used to test the model. The study concludes that Late Classic Maya population growth was not caused by households converting from agricultural production to specialized production.