Water management strategies are intrinsically associated with the development of complex societies. Traditional approaches have often characterized these strategies as homogenous and monolithic. Recent studies have shown that water management among the ancient Maya was a significant source of power, but the strategies implemented, and the outcomes are highly variable and dependent on the landscape. The case of Holtun, a modest-sized site, adds to the growing body of water management research in ancient Maya archaeology as most water management systems are investigated in large primary centers. Although water resources at Holtun are relatively small, they supported large communities during the history of the site. Holtun developed social complexity during the Middle Preclassic period. The site flourished with some centralized and neighborhood-based water catchment, but most of the springs and water pools remained outside of formal control networks on the outskirts of the site. During the Late Classic period, a monumental group, Group HTN19_20, emerged 1.3 kilometers east of the civic-ceremonial center of Holtun, claiming the territory around the eastern natural water reservoirs. Archaeological excavations conducted in this group indicate signs of status and social power amid similarities and differences from monumental architecture and residences in the site's core. The relationship between this group, its proximity to water, and the civic-ceremonial epicenter of the site is not completely clear. However, its location on the landscape and material remains suggest that water procurement and control were a motivation for its establishment. The emergence of group HTN19_20 in this location on the landscape added complexity to the sociopolitical dynamics of Holtun and may be the result of competing political factions. This differs from findings at many other Maya sites, demonstrating the complexity and heterogeneity of ancient Maya water management strategies and their importance in the development and maintenance of social complexity.


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Graduation Date





Kovacevich, Brigitte


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Integrative Anthropological Sciences


CFE0009181; DP0026777





Release Date

August 2022

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Included in

Anthropology Commons