The nature of social organization at an archaeological site can be interpreted from many types of material remains. Exotic goods are particularly useful for making inferences about social organization because of their scarcity, utilitarian demand, and symbolic characteristics. Obsidian artifacts are some of the most abundant exotic goods among the Lowland Maya. The acquisition of these artifacts was the result of a wide net of commerce from the highlands of Guatemala and central Mexico into the Maya lowlands. The patterns of consumption and distribution of obsidian artifacts vary according the time and location. This variation is seen as the result of complex dynamics of trade and social interactions among the ancient Maya. Therefore, I argue that there is variability perceptible in the patterns of consumption and local distribution of obsidian between the elite residential groups at the site of Holtun. This study presents a descriptive and comparative analysis of the patterns of obsidian consumption observed in the samples from the excavations performed by the Holtun Archaeological Project from 2011 through 2016. The analysis contributes to the understanding of local processes in association with regional socioeconomic and political dynamics in the Maya Lowlands. Previous research has suggested that obsidian distribution in some times and places was centralized and controlled by powerful Maya polities. In addition, research performed on obsidian artifacts reveals a change in the consumption of different obsidian sources at other sites in the Yaxhá basin, the geographic location of Holtun. The data collected by Holtun Archaeological Project provide information that correlates with the broader trends of obsidian preferences in the area. Our findings suggest that during the Preclassic period (c. 600 BC to AD 250) the frequency of obsidian artifacts from San Martin Jilotepeque was higher than other sources and the artifacts from El Chayal were restricted to households especially associated with the first ritual and monumental construction at the site. Then, during the Classic Period (AD 250 to 950), the frequency of artifacts from San Martin Jilotepeque experienced a decrease in quantity and the artifacts from El Chayal were more accessible across the site. The process of excavation and mapping, and the subsequent laboratory analyses have allowed for the documentation of this variability in accessibility and consumption preferences within different elite residential groups. To facilitate these interpretations, a map of Holtun was created using Geographic Information Systems. It allows the inclusion of layers of information obtained during this research, constituting a point of reference for the understanding of socioeconomic and political changes experienced within the site during the intriguing transition from the Preclassic to the Classic period.


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Graduation Date





Kovacevich, Brigitte


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program










Release Date

November 2017

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)

Included in

Anthropology Commons