Depictions of movement in Late Postclassic and early Colonial Mesoamerican art, maps, and documents show a multi-faceted conception of movement as not only a means of physical travel through the landscape of the mundane world, but also a means to reach the cosmic realms of divine forces. In this thesis, I explored the intersection of movement and ritual in Late Postclassic Oaxaca by modelling a hypothetical ritual circuit around the Manialtepec Lagoon: a bioluminescent lagoon near Oaxaca's Pacific Coast that is significant in oral histories of the Indigenous Chatinos. The Manialtepec Basin lacks the level of continuous occupation or historic documentation that have proven integral in reconstructing prehispanic landscapes in other regions of Oaxaca. In a step towards determining whether sacred landscapes of Late Postclassic Oaxaca can be confirmed or predicted by a Geographic Information System (GIS), this project created a network of Least Cost Paths and natural features to predict ritual circuits and the sanctuaries visited along those circuits. Using a portion of the Nochixtlán Valley and the region of the Valley of Oaxaca containing the city of Mitla as well-studied test regions, the model's predictive capabilities were compared to the findings of archaeological surveys. The model predicted locations that coincided with ceremonial-use archaeological sites slightly better than archaeological sites in general, and twice the rate at which it predicted the locations of a spatially random dataset of polygons. Using the generated paths as well as ones that exist today, I proposed a hypothetical ritual circuit around the Manialtepec Lagoon. The circuit, as well as the predictive model itself, are demonstrative as proof-of-concept. Based on promising initial prediction results, this project will serve as inspiration for improved models and eventual use in recreating Postclassic Oaxacan landscapes and providing spatial focus for non-site archaeological surveys.


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Graduation Date





Barber, Sarah


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program



CFE0009597; DP0027620





Release Date

May 2024

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)