Sociopolitical network interactions: A case study of the Classic Maya

Sociopolitical network interactions: A case study of the Classic Maya

Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28 (2009) 424–438 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Journal of Anthropological Archaeology journal ho...

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Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28 (2009) 424–438

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

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Sociopolitical network interactions: A case study of the Classic Maya Jessica L. Munson a,*, Martha J. Macri b a b

University of Arizona, School of Anthropology, P.O. Box 210030, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0030, United States University of California, Davis, United States

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history: Received 30 April 2009 Revision received 15 August 2009 Available online 24 September 2009 Keywords: Social network analysis Centralization Political organization Classic Maya

a b s t r a c t The organization of Classic Maya society emerged from diverse and overlapping social interactions which shaped a dynamic political landscape. Vying for power, elites legitimized their status by claiming ancestry from various supernaturals and engaged in conspicuous displays of competition, warfare, and ritual practice which were often recorded on stone monuments. By examining the inscribed relationships between Maya centers, we chart organizational changes in sociopolitical networks throughout the Classic period. Methods derived from social network analysis are used to examine temporal changes in the distribution and centralization of political power through different network interactions. We examine the intersection of antagonistic, diplomatic, subordinate, and kinship relationships and discuss how these overlapping networks contributed to dynamic changes in the Classic period. This case study demonstrates how current network analysis techniques can contribute to archaeological studies of the scalar dynamics and organizational changes of past social and political systems. Ó 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Introduction The operation and organization of political systems is central to archaeological studies of early state formation and institutional collapse. Groups of individuals negotiate and alter various social and economic situations using a variety of strategies in their struggle for power, control, wealth, and authority. These collective actions may produce new institutions and organizational forms which in turn influence the social lives of individuals (Giddens, 1984). Agency as social efficacy is a central means to initiate such change, but past conditions also constrain the form of future social and political circumstances (Lansing and Downey, in press). To investigate specific processes of social and political change in the past, archaeologists need methods to account for the myriad ways in which individuals and institutions were connected within their material and historical contexts. Following Mann’s (1986) notion of societies as ‘‘overlapping and intersecting sociospatial networks of power,” and Giddens’ (1984) theory of structuration, we employ methods from social network analysis as a means to empirically demonstrate the systemic consequences of particular kinds of social and political interactions. The context and material remains of these interactions provides archaeologists with data to make inferences about political organizational changes and the development of cultural institutions and geopolitical units. Applying locational geographic theory, Mesoamerican archaeologists have often used spatial patterning of * Corresponding author. E-mail address: [email protected] (J.L. Munson). 0278-4165/$ - see front matter Ó 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2009.08.002

material remains to infer political boundaries and changes in social organization (Beekman, 1996; de Montmollin, 1989; Kvamme, 1990; LeCount, 1999). In particular, Maya scholars have used data on settlement size, the distribution of exotic goods, and politicoadministrative titles to propose various arrangements of Classic Maya political organization. These are generally characterized as strongly centralized or weakly centralized polities but significant scholarly debate surrounds the diverse sociopolitical forms exhibited by the ancient Maya (see Lucero, 1999; Marcus, 1993). This territorial approach to ancient states, however, implies an organizational quality that lacks the connective tissue to elucidate patterned behavior between individuals, institutions, and the materials they leave behind. Moreover, no single model can characterize the diverse political landscape of the Classic Maya as different strategies guided the coordination and interaction of variably scaled social, political, and economic relationships. Acknowledging this problem, some archaeologists have proposed periodic cycles of centralization and decentralization (Iannone, 2002; Marcus, 1998) or rotating capitals of political power during the Classic period (Rice, 2004, 2007). However, a methodology for examining the dynamic operation of ancient polities with empirical data has yet to be established. In this paper we propose a network-based approach to examine changing forms of Maya sociopolitical interaction in the Classic period. Employing a diachronic perspective, we use epigraphic data to measure network centrality and chart shifting political alliances from the fourth through ninth centuries A.D. By examining the contributing roles of different social and political interactions to network centralization, we document the emergence and changing

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political structure of prehispanic Maya society from the perspective of the literate elite. In particular we examine how subordinate relations may have contributed to the formation of stable and centralized social networks while kinship ties formed weakly centralized networks in the face of societal fragmentation. The aim is to demonstrate how methods derived from social network analysis can be applied to archaeological data in order to evaluate the dynamics of political systems and examine patterns of social connectivity. Connecting pasts: a network approach for archaeology One of the most central problems in anthropology has to do with the question of social order and how individuals interact and relate with one another to form effective and enduring societies. Social network theory offers a coherent approach for examining numerous social phenomena, from the spread of cultural innovations to the rise and fall of different political institutions. Social networks are also adept at characterizing dynamic processes; as individuals form and break certain social ties they alter the organizational structure of the networks in which they participate. For archaeologists interested in the relatedness between material goods or the transmission of objects, people, and ideas across the landscape, network analysis offers a quantitative approach to examine interactions between patterned behaviors and institutional organization over long periods of time. In its most basic form, network analysis aims to identify who is linked to whom, the type of relationship that links them, and how that connection influences individual and collective behavior. Networks are typically displayed and analyzed in graphical forms with individuals represented as nodes and social interactions defined by a set of arcs or edges. Even though archaeologists often lack the resolution to identify human agents in the material record, nodes may represent sites (Smith, 2005; Tobler and Wineburg, 1971), households or kin groups (Hage and Harary, 1996; Schweizer, 1997), or artifact assemblages (Lipo, 2006). The configuration of these entities can be analyzed to determine how resources, including commodities and intangible forms of capital, are distributed (Fig. 1). Structural characteristics of the network, such as network density and centralization indices, along with behavioral properties of individual nodes (e.g., degree and rank) can also be quantified using statistical and modeling techniques. Theoretical work on the structural effects of different network configurations generated a formalized mathematical definition for network centrality (Freeman, 1979), which is an important measure used to evaluate the efficiency and organization of communication networks (Watts et al., 2002), the degree of social influence exhibited by certain nodes (Padgett and Ansell, 1993), and information flows (Borgatti, 2005). As a starting point, such analyses can lead to more detailed

Fig. 1. Four generalized network structures (after Borgatti et al. 2009). In network studies of archaeological data, nodes may represent sites, households, or artifact assemblages; each line represents a potential channel for interaction or transmission. The most central node in each network is colored gray.


explorations of how particular individuals affect structural and behavioral changes within the network. Beyond these descriptive enumerations of social relationships, network analysis offers a perspective that examines the consequences of particular network structures in terms of the kinds of interactions they facilitate (Lansing and Downey, in press). The concept of social networks has permeated the social sciences since the mid-twentieth century, but its application has taken varied forms. Anthropology and sociology followed divergent trajectories in terms of their methodological approach to theorizing and analyzing social networks (for full reviews see Knox et al., 2006; Mitchell, 1974). Until recently, many cultural anthropologists and archaeologists employed network concepts for their heuristic value of describing various forms of social relatedness in contrast to sociologists’ quantitative applications. Recent studies such as Mizoguchi’s (2009), however, demonstrate that a quantitative network approach can be applied to archaeological data to address questions of early state formation, social hierarchy, and political centralization in relation to discussions on agency and power. Although there has been relatively little dialog between archaeology and recent quantitative network approaches (cf. Bentley and Shennan, 2005), archaeologists are well-positioned to make significant contributions to network studies as their datasets provide unique opportunities to examine the evolution of networks over long periods of time. Researchers leading the ‘‘new” scientific field of network studies (e.g., Barabási, 2002, 2005; Newman et al., 2006; Watts, 2004) are challenged by the daunting task of collecting the type of longitudinal empirical data necessary to validate their models (but see Kossinets and Watts, 2006). With these analytical tools, archaeologists now have the opportunity to examine their datasets in ways that have the potential to generate new hypotheses about social evolution and the organization of society without limiting their interpretations to functionalist explanations.

Classic Maya politicking and scholarly debate on maya political organization The Maya hieroglyphic record is a rich source of historical information detailing instances of warfare, marriage, and ritual events accompanied by calendrical dates. Maya scholars have used these data in conjunction with the archaeological record to support arguments for both strongly centralized states (Chase and Chase, 1996; Folan, 1992; Marcus, 1976; Martin and Grube, 1995) and decentralized polities (Carmean and Sabloff, 1996; de Montmollin, 1995; Fox, 1988; Fox and Cook, 1996; Fox et al., 1996; McAnany, 1995; Pohl and Pohl, 1994; Schele and Freidel, 1990; Webster, 1997). By examining the spatial distribution of emblem glyphs, Mathews (1985, 1991) has argued that the Classic Maya political landscape was composed of numerous small and weakly organized states. Others have used the same epigraphic data to infer hierarchically organized polities (Marcus, 1973, 1976) or the presence of dual, antagonistic super-states (Martin and Grube, 1995, 2000). Although the differences between these organizational forms may be a result of social scale and diverse political strategies (Lucero, 1999), archaeologists still need to develop ways to examine how different political systems emerged and changed through time. Acknowledging that the simplified dichotomization between centralized and decentralized states can be misleading, we follow recent trends that advocate investigating the variability and dynamic shifts between these political institutions across time and space (Demarest, 1996; Iannone, 2002; Marcus, 1993, 1998). With recent advances in decipherment, numerous epigraphers have chronicled the story of dynastic relations between notable social actors (Johnston, 1985; Martin and Grube, 2000; Mathews and


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Willey, 1991; Schele and Freidel, 1990; Schele and Mathews, 1998). From the wealth of historical information encoded in these inscriptions, epigraphers can now create detailed timelines marking the dynastic lineages of rulers over several centuries. The full dynastic list recorded on Copan’s Altar Q is one demonstration of the importance of dynastic heritage in Maya society (Stuart, 2005). Additionally, Martin and Grube (2000) have reconstructed some of the many hierarchical and complex familial linkages between major Classic Maya sites using traditional epigraphic narratives. This seminal work provides an empirical foundation for the statistical network analysis of these sociopolitical relationships. Specifically, by increasing the size of the network and analyzing it along a temporal axis we gain a broader understanding of network dynamics. Building on the work by Martin and Grube (2000), the contextual approach taken here seeks to synthesize behavioral patterning in terms of the different social interactions and political strategies recorded in the epigraphic record. It should be emphasized, however, that these hieroglyphic data represent interactions between a small and elite segment of the overall Maya population, which supports recent arguments for protracted processes of societal collapse (Webster, 2006). Unlike ancient texts from other parts of the world, economic exchanges are not main subjects of these epigraphic data but instead focus on the political aspects of kingship and kinship. Despite increasing attention drawn to the dynamic model (Braswell et al., 2004; Demarest, 1996; Iannone, 2002; Marcus, 1993, 1998), there have been few systematic studies that measure the relative stability and variability of Maya political systems (but see Bove, 1981; Neiman, 1997; Premo, 2004). Examining the organizing principles and specific relations that created these political networks and evaluating how they changed through time can contribute a more holistic and synthetic understanding for processes of political expansion and contraction in Classic Maya society.

Maya hieroglyphic database This study uses epigraphic data from the Maya Hieroglyphic Database, intended ultimately to include all published texts inscribed on known Maya monumental architecture, books, and other portable objects, and are organized by individual glyph blocks (Macri and Looper, 1991-2009). When the analysis was conducted, nearly 37,000 glyph blocks from Classic texts had been entered into the database representing no fewer than 150 sites.1 The network analyzed in this study is defined by 101 sites which are represented as nodes and 1044 contextually defined place-name phrases or statements denoted as directed arcs or loops (Fig. 2). Since this study is concerned with intersite relationships, we identified all instances of place-name related glyphs in the database. Emblem glyphs are fairly standardized in that they typically occur at the end of passages and are composed of three signs: a prefix (k’uhul), a superfix (ajaw), and a main sign representing the variable design element identifying particular places (Berlin 1958; Mathews, 1991; Stuart and Houston 1994). The main sign may be used in other contexts (without the k’uhul ajaw affixes) to refer to specific places or to people from those places. Thus, we identified all instances of emblem glyphs (differentiating between local and non-local occurrences), site names or toponyms, and site titles (Table 1). In this study, we were especially interested in the appear1 This is a large and representative sample of glyphic texts, but falls short of all those currently available. As more glyphic texts are discovered and become available in publishable form, the Maya Hieroglyphic Database is updated to reflect these new additions. Despite the incompleteness of the database, the sample of texts used in this study is more comprehensive than previous studies (Marcus, 1973, 1976; Martin and Grube, 2000; Mathews, 1991; Mathews and Willey, 1991; Schele and Mathews, 1991).

ance and context of non-local place glyphs, that is, the occurrence of these different categories of glyphs at sites other than its own. A two-tiered classification system was defined to characterize the context of these place-name glyphs as they were used to modify particular events recorded in the inscriptions. Six different themes were selected as qualitative descriptors and were used to classify the general context of each place-name glyph phrase or statement (Table 2). These themes have been adapted from previous studies (Martin and Grube, 2000; Schele and Mathews, 1991) and are defined by the presence and transcription of specific verbs or nouns occurring in conjunction with the place-name glyph. For example, in at least two texts from the site of Naranjo, the verb pul-yi pulii precedes the place-name b’i-tal b’ital in the phrase ‘‘Bital was burned”; in another case, also from Naranjo, the same verb describes another burning instance: pul-yi säk-ha’ pulii sakha’ ‘‘Sakha was burned.” These statements document instances of burning and pillage and describe hostility between rival centers. Such antagonistic statements may also often involve subjugation as in these examples: u-b’a-ki ub’aki(l) ‘‘his captive” on Yaxchilan Lintel 8 referring to the prisoner of Yaxun B’ahlam and u-chan uchan ‘‘his guardian” on Aguateca Stela 1 naming K’awil K’inich as the guardian of the Cancuen ajaw. In contrast, statements of diplomacy represent friendly relations that are often forged through shared rituals as recorded with the verb yi-ta-hi yitah meaning ‘‘together with” or ‘‘his companion” as on the Tablet from Temple 17 at Palenque, ‘‘B’utz’aj Sak Chik, the companion of (together with) Ahkal Mo’ Nahb’, or yi-il yil ‘‘he saw it (witnessed it) as on Lintel 3 from Temple 3 at Piedras Negras, ‘‘the ruler from Yaxchilan witnessed it.” In addition to documenting historical events, epigraphic texts also provide information on social relations. Dynastic relationships based on kinship are well-documented at many sites. For example, on the Temple of the Cross at Palenque, the ruler Pakal is named as yal ‘‘the child of the mother” Lady Tz’ak Ajaw and Kan B’ahlam is named as unich (or u-ajaw) ‘‘the child of the father” Pakal. Non-kin based hierarchical relationships between rulers and their subordinates are another common occurrence in the inscriptions. The official title sa-ja-la sajal denotes a provincial governor or subsidiary war leader subordinate to the holy ruler, k’uhul ajaw. The majority of place-name glyphs in the database can be classified as neutral because they simply modify the name of an inscribed ruler by referring to his dynastic kingdom (Table 3). Since most of these neutral examples are self-referential, the possible ambiguity of including such a classification scheme is warranted as only non-local place-name glyphs were included in the analysis. In addition, many of the inscriptions involving place-name glyphs are indiscernible due to erosion or have not yet been deciphered. These were also excluded from the present study so that only the place-name glyphs modifying a clear social relation or interaction between two different sites were examined. Table 3 shows the relative frequency of all defined affiliation statements in the database. These data provide direct evidence for the types, occurrences, and absolute date of interactions between Maya centers. Each monument is inscribed with a dedicatory date which provides scholars with a calendrical equivalent for specific events described in the text. The Maya Long Count calendar is a vigesimal (base-20) system that can be calibrated to the Gregorian calendar by counting the number of days passed since August 11, 3114 B.C. (Table 4). By examining the evolution of network organization over time we can begin to understand the dynamic processes contributing to the larger-scale patterned phenomena we observe in the archaeological record. Houston makes an important point that epigraphers should be prudent and never interpret glyphic content at face value because these selective statements have been edited for particular religious and political values (Houston, 1993: 94). Glyphic inscriptions are seldom impartial, but rather are statements of propaganda used

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Fig. 2. Overview of Classic Maya network connections based on epigraphic data from the Maya Hieroglyphic Database (MHD). Line colors represent different relationship types and vertex colors signify regional groupings of sites from the MHD.

to lend authority to existing structures of control, and are limited in their representation of non-elite relations. As with any archaeological or historical context, it is necessary to carefully evaluate the situation in which these inscribed texts occur, with the understanding that they may reflect a biased view of the past. While the data analyzed in this study represents a large sample of Maya inscriptions, it does not yet include all known texts. With additional entries, new discoveries, and advances in decipherment, the interpretations drawn in this study are apt to change. The objective here, then, is not to delineate a new organizational model

of Maya politics, but rather to demonstrate how network analysis methods can be applied to these data to examine changing patterns of social and political interaction and develop testable hypotheses to account for these processes.

Network analysis methods Our approach to network analysis draws largely from the recent work of quantitative sociologists and others including Carrington


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Table 1 Summary of place-name glyph categories from the Maya Hieroglyphic Database. Glyph type



Local emblem glyph


The appearance of an emblem glyph, containing all three components (prefix, suffix, main sign), occurring at the site represented in the main sign.

Non-local emblem glyph


The appearance of an emblem glyph, containing all three components (prefix, suffix, main sign), occurring at a site different than that represented in the main sign.

Site name/toponym


The appearance of a main sign used to designate or refer to a site without prefix and suffix components. Includes both local and nonlocal occurrences.

Site title


The appearance of a main sign commonly used to refer to a person from a specific place. Includes both local and non-local occurrences.

et al. (2005), de Nooy et al. (2005), and Wasserman and Faust (1994). As the number of network models and statistical techniques being developed in the fields of sociology and mathematics grows, it is increasingly difficult for non-specialists to determine which analytical methods are most appropriate for analyzing empirical datasets. In this section we describe the renormalized centralization index (Butts, 2006) used in this study, and provide justification for its application for studying changes in ancient Maya political organization. In network vernacular, the dataset analyzed in this study is a directed longitudinal network with multiple relations, which means that the relationships between nodes (i.e., sites) are asymmetric, vary in value (i.e., context), and change over time. These characteristics favor certain network analyses over others. For example, in a directed network such as this, in-degree and out-degree measures the directionality and number of lines incident to a node which characterizes the relative prestige of sites based on the total number of incoming and outgoing statements. Nodes with large in-degrees are often regarded as popular sites in the network because their emblem glyphs appear at many sites other than its own. In contrast, nodes with large out-degrees represent sites that inscribe many non-local emblem glyphs and may indicate secondary ranking. While this was the main approach used by Marcus (1976) to

Table 3 Aggregated network summary statistics and frequency of relationship types for all place-name glyphs analyzed. Relationship (theme)



Antagonistic Subordination Diplomatic Lineage Neutral Unknown Total

135 83 71 67 457 231 1044

12.93% 7.95% 6.80% 6.42% 43.77% 22.13%

No. of loops No. of multiple lines Density (loops allowed)

744 910 0.1023

(s2 = 0.0148)

differentiate primary and secondary sites, basic degree measures are limiting in their ability to characterize broader network properties. In order to document the distribution of political power and organizational changes in sociopolitical networks, it is important to characterize the location of particular sites in the network and be able to make comparisons between different networks.

Table 2 Classification schema of theme and contextual statements employing place-name glyphs. The theme category represents six different types of sociopolitical relationships identified and analyzed. For a detailed discussion of the glyphic representation and comparison of these relationships see Macri et al. (2009). Theme


Antagonistic: hostile relationships involving subjugation u(-cha?)-chan(-nu) u(-cha?)-chan(-nu) ya-te-a pul-yi, pu-lu-yi hub’?-yi chu-ka-ja u-na-ka-wa u-ch’äk(-ja) Diplomatic: non-hostile, friendly relations often involving ritual practice yi-ta-hi ye-te(-he) yi-chi-nal pi-tzi-ja (yi-)il(-li) [non-local period ending] Lineage: familial and/or dynastic relations ya-al(-la) u-nich? Subordination: hierarchical relationship involving subjugation ya-ha-wa, ya-ajaw sa-ja-la u-kab’-hi(-ya) [non-local accession]


English gloss

uchan? uchan? yate’ah? puluy hub’uy? chukaj unak-wa ch’äk

‘his guardian’ (+ captor’s emblem) ‘his guardian’ (+ captives’ emblem) ‘prisoner’ ‘burned’ ‘fell’ ‘was captured’ ‘attacked’ ‘attacked, cut’

yitah yetel yichnal pitzaj il

‘together with’ ‘by, with’ ‘in his company’ ‘played ball’ ‘witnessed’

yal unich?

‘her child’ ‘his child’

yajal sajal ukab’i/ukahi

‘his ajaw’ ‘his ajaw’ ‘under his authority’

Neutral: impartial, equitable relationship often in the local instance when none of the other criteria are present Unknown: indiscernible due to erosion, decipherment, or lack of information

J.L. Munson, M.J. Macri / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28 (2009) 424–438 Table 4 Chronology for Classic Maya period. Long count dates were calibrated to the Gregorian calendar using the Thompson-582,285 correlation coefficient. Temporal period

Long count date

Gregorian date (AD)

Early classic

8.17 8.18 8.19 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09

376 396 416 435 455 475 495 514 534 554 573 593 613

Late classic

9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 9.14 9.15 9.16 9.17 9.18

633 652 672 692 711 731 751 771 790

9.19 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03

810 830 849 869 889

Terminal classic

Although geography may play a role in overall network structure, one of the advantages of network analysis is that it does not assume patterns of relatedness based on proximity. Network centrality is one of the most widely studied and basic methods for analyzing social networks (Wasserman and Faust, 1994: 176). There exists a family of centralization indices, but the general index (called degree centralization) measures the variability of individual actor centralities according to their position in the network. This group-level index allows comparison between different networks and characterizes the ability of information or resources to spread across a network (Wasserman and Faust, 1994: 176). A highly centralized network is dominated by one or a few very central nodes while the remaining nodes may be viewed as residing in the periphery of a centralized system. It is implied that if these central nodes are removed or disabled, the network may quickly fragment or ‘‘fail”. In contrast, less centralized networks have no single points of failure and may be resilient in the face of intentional attacks or random failures (Callaway et al., 2000). The general mathematical definition for centralization was originally developed by Freeman (1979) and has remained a fundamental measure in social network studies. The classic degree centralization index is normalized to an interval between 0 and 1 (Wasserman and Faust, 1994: 180); however, it has recently been pointed out that not all values within this range are feasible (Butts, 2006: 284). In this paper, we use the renormalized degree centralization index (rCI) which derives exact bounds for attainable values as a function of order (network size), density, and maximum degree (Butts, 2006). By adjusting the measurement for density and order, this renormalized centralization index permits reliable comparison between different networks. All graphs and network analyses in this study were conducted using the network software Pajek (Nooy et al., 2005). Centralization indices and organizational dynamics of Classic Maya networks The network analyzed in this study is directed, longitudinal, and contains multiple asymmetric relations. These unique characteris-


tics enable comparisons between different types of networks and examination of chronological changes within the same dataset. Since we were interested in the political relationships between Maya sites—indicated by the appearance of non-local place-name glyphs—we removed all loops from the dataset so that self-referential statements would not produce duplicative results. Previous studies of Classic Maya epigraphic data have correlated temporal trends in the appearance of long count dates and emblem glyphs with patterns of collapse in the lowland region (Bove, 1981; Mathews and Willey, 1991; Morely, 1946; Neiman, 1997; Premo, 2004). Data from the Maya Hieroglyphic Database replicates these earlier findings (Figs. 3a and b), although by examining the contextual usage of place-name glyphs we can control for finer-grained analyses and evaluate different models with this empirical data. In general, the overall network structure can be characterized as weakly centralized (rCI = 0.325), although it is more centralized than a random network (rCI = 0.080) given similar network parameters. At the coarsest level of interpretation, this suggests that the Classic Maya political network, as defined by epigraphic data, was not dominated by a single capital or even two ‘‘super-states.” Instead, such a weakly centralized network could have been composed of heterogeneous agents employing combinations of strategies at different times to assert their authority or dominance as we will suggest for the Classic Maya case. Multiple network interactions Comparing the renormalized centralization indices of multiple networks demonstrates the relative importance of these different relationships to the overall structure and organization of Classic Maya polities (Fig. 4). Lineage statements produce the most centralized sub-network in this dataset, although the rCI value (0.547) indicates this is only a moderately centralized network. The remaining sub-networks exhibit more weakly centralized patterns where many sites may be tied to a few other sites, but no single site dominates the network with a large number of links. The familial relationships mentioned in the inscriptions form a well connected network, which suggests that Classic Maya rulers may have descended from a relatively small number of dynastic families. The rich epigraphic record from the Petexbatun and Pasión regions provides a clear example. Based on epigraphic records from Dos Pilas, the founding family of this center traces its dynastic roots to B’alaj Chan K’awiil who was originally from Tikal. He married at least two women, including a royal woman from Itzan, and was the father of the eventual warrior queen Lady Six Sky who established a new dynastic line at Naranjo (Adams et al., 1981; Houston, 1993; Martin and Grube, 2000 55–67). Although patrilineal statements are more common in the inscriptions, references to marriage and royal women are prominent at Yaxchilan where rulers highlighted their political ties to other sites through these nuptial statements (Martin and Grube, 2000: 128–133). Political networks based on these kinship relations support decentralist positions regarding the organization of Classic Maya society (Fox et al., 1996: 798–800). Proponents of this idea are interested in the way in which kinship relationships intersect with the roles of kingship and other key institutions. Fox et al. (1996) suggest that Classic Maya polities were an assemblage of internally ranked communities with each group led by a dominant lineage who was tied to a primary center; kings were not only politicians, but also worked as ritual specialists and marriage brokers to disseminate their power and govern segmentary lineages. This implies that kinship along with some other hierarchical relationship (e.g., subordination) worked in concert to create a stable sociopolitical system. Ethnohistoric data, such as Carmack (1966) and Vogt’s (1969) work on the patrilineal organization of landholdings and political office among some highland Maya groups, is com-


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Fig. 3a. Total number of dated place-name glyphs from monuments in the Maya Hieroglyphic Database.

monly used to draw analogies to and support decentralized interpretations of Classic Maya society (Fox and Cook, 1996). However, with network analysis we can evaluate these models by measuring the actual contribution and intersection of these institutionalized relationships using archaeological data. Although the role of lineages in the lowland Maya region is ambiguous during Colonial and Postclassic times (Farriss, 1984; Fox et al., 1996: 798; Haviland, 1968, 1972), this network analysis suggests that ancestral ties may have been one of the principal organizing forces of Classic Maya polities. The strength of lineage ties, however, does not preclude the importance of other political alliances. Relationships based on subordination, antagonism, and diplomacy also contributed to the organization of Classic Maya society, although these networks were more weakly centralized across the Maya lowlands (Fig. 4). The sub-network of subordinate relationships supports the idea

that Classic Maya political organization was not dominated by a single capital or dual states. The low rCI value (0.254) indicates that subordinate sites were not tied to a central capital, but rather were linked to a wider population of primary centers dispersed across the Maya lowlands (Fig. 5). The directionality of these subordinate statements reveals the heterarchical organization and distribution of power between centers. Comparison of in-degree and out-degree measures shows that inscriptions from secondary centers provide the most information on these asymmetric relationships. Dominant centers such as Calakmul rarely assert their central status by inscribing such outgoing messages; instead, subsidiary sites assert their secondary role by recording political alliance to primary centers. In many cases though it is unclear whether these inscriptions were carved by local scribes or made by scribal artists ordered from the royal court. Thus, it is difficult to determine whether these inscriptions were a product of the

Fig. 3b. Total number of dated texts in the Maya Hieroglyphic Database.

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Fig. 4. Renormalized centralization indices for multiple networks in the Maya Hieroglyphic Database.

dominant ruler or a local expression of political allegiance. The use of the sajal title, however, does lend some support for the former interpretation because these elite officials were frequently responsible for governing local provinces under the direction of the royal court (Houston and Stuart, 2001). Regardless of who was responsible for ordering these statements of political allegiance, these inscribed relationships support claims of over-lordship whereby subordinate centers employ the emblem glyph of dominant centers (Martin and Grube, 2000: 18–21). By examining the context of these subordination statements we can also document changes in political affiliation between centers. For example, the capture of a Ceibal ruler by Dos Pilas in A.D. 735 was commemorated on several monuments in the Petexbatun and its widespread depiction represents political fragmentation in the region during this time as discussed below. As Classic Maya centers vied for power and authority in an increasingly unstable sociopolitical climate, many sites were engaged in the inscription of ritual acts and hostile relations. The antagonistic and diplomatic sub-networks examined in this study have equal rCI values (0.235) identifying them both as weakly centralized networks. This supports the notion that hostile and diplomatic relationships were widespread across the sociopolitical landscape and not concentrated in any single center. Although these networks have similar centralization index values, there is little intersection between their connections indicating that the social structures of these networks are quite different (Figs. 6a and b). Although somewhat intuitive, this means that it is unlikely that a pair of sites linked by diplomatic relations would simultaneously make antagonistic statements towards one another. To further investigate the structural differences between these networks, we calculated the average geographic distance between paired sites for each sub-network to determine whether neighboring sites were more likely to be friends or foes (Table 5). Sites engaged in hostile behavior tend to be located closer to one another than those connected by diplomatic ties, suggesting that there was more competition and conflict between neighbors. Examples of these local conflicts are well-illustrated in the epigraphic and archaeological records from the Petexbatun and Pasión regions (e.g., Demarest et al., 1997; Houston, 1993; Inomata, 1997). For a listing of several hundred examples of antagonistic glyphic expressions such as hub’uy ‘‘was conquered,” puluy ‘‘burned,” lok’ ‘‘forced out,” etc., currently coded in the Maya Hieroglyphic Database, see Macri et al. (2009).

Diplomatic relationships, on the other hand, are forged through longer distance social ties which may have provided loyal allies in times of heated conflict with rival neighbors. Based on shared experiences, diplomatic ties may be established and reinforced through infrequent gatherings, perhaps based around the ritual calendar. For example, the inscription on Stela 10 from Ceibal describes the katun-ending celebration of with a scattering event (chok MZS) by Ceibal’s Terminal Classic ruler, Wat’ul K’atel and three other rulers identified by the emblem glyphs of Tikal, Calakmul, and Motul de San Jose. Such ceremonies may have also been times for important political meetings as rulers from distant sites gathered to discuss current events and future challenges. Since these different networks represent varied sources of power (Mann, 1986: 1–33), their intersection and structural differences represent a range of social interactions and strategies employed in the distribution and acquisition of political power. These contextual statements offer a finer-grained analysis of the varied network connections between Classic Maya centers, but are limited in their capacity to evaluate network dynamics. By examining temporal changes and the relative contribution of these different relationships at different points in time we can investigate the stability of different network combinations and the factors contributing to fluctuating periods of centralization and decentralization. Network dynamics through time Fig. 7 shows chronological changes in overall rCI values throughout the Classic period. The x-axis is divided into 20-year k’atun periods according to the Maya Long Count calendar which marks many important period-ending rituals. The appearance of non-local place-name glyphs does not occur until the end of the Early Classic period ( 534); all other statements inscribed prior to this time reflect self-referential statements (loops) which were excluded from this analysis. Network centralization is also highest around this period, but is only composed of a small number of inscriptions from two sites. Although the renormalizing method takes into consideration network size, the small sample size of this network (n = 2) does not represent the range of sociopolitical complexity documented in other material contexts during the Early Classic period (e.g., Bell et al., 2004; Braswell, 2003). We thus focus only on network changes during the Late and Terminal Classic periods ( 633– 830).


J.L. Munson, M.J. Macri / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28 (2009) 424–438

Fig. 5. Subordinate network (rCI = 0.254) showing the relative degree based on the size of each node. Arrows indicate the directionality of non-local relationship statements. Vertex colors correspond to geographical regions identified in the Maya Hieroglyphic Database.

Temporal changes in rCI values document strongly centralized networks at the beginning of the Late Classic period followed by increasing fragmentation and decentralization through the seventh and eighth centuries ( 633– 810). A slight resurgence in network centralization is observed during the Terminal Classic period (ca. 810– 830). To determine how different relationships contributed to these changes we calculated a multivariate correlation matrix (Table 6) and analyzed sequential multiple regression models (Table 7).

The correlation matrix indicates that subordinate relationships are the strongest and only positively correlated variable with network centralization; all other network relations tend to decrease overall network centralization. The positive contribution of subordinate relationships to produce a more centralized network structure may be a product of the longer distance interaction between primary and secondary centers; if more distant centers are linked by a positively correlated bond, the more centralized and stable the network. Not surprisingly, antagonistic relations significantly contribute to decentralized network structure, and as we’ve

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Fig. 6a. Antagonistic and subordinate networks (rCI = 0.235 for both).

discussed, were a major contributor to the increasing social and political fragmentation exhibited during the Late Classic period. Antagonistic and lineage-based relations are significantly inversely correlated with subordinate statements, which suggests that some combination of these three variables may contribute to the observed fluctuating patterns in rCI values. Although the lineage sub-network was previously characterized as the most centralized network in this dataset, when we examine the dynamic interactions of these network relationships over time we see that variable combinations of these factors more accurately characterizes changes in overall network centralization (Fig. 8). Sequential multiple regression models were analyzed to determine which network variables contribute most significantly to changes in rCI (Table 7). The initial model included all network relations excluding the unknown category since we cannot determine the specific context of these statements. Working in a stepwise procedure, we removed variables with the lowest bcoefficient or those that contributed least to each previous model; we also evaluated all combinations of three variables (models 3–6). In the case of model 2 we chose to remove neutral statements as these represent ambiguous or undefined social contexts. The results indicate that antagonistic, lineage, and subordinate relationships produce the most parsimonious combination of factors influencing changes in network centralization (model 3). Although diplomatic statements were prevalent and important to maintaining long-distance allies, they do not significantly contribute to changes in rCI values. The relative importance of antagonistic, lineage, and subordinate relationships can be obtained by taking the ratio of the squares of their respective b-coefficient (Table 8; Kachigan, 1991: 182–184). In terms of the ten time-steps examined ( 633– 810), antagonistic statements contribute two and a half times as much of the variance in lineage statements and nearly four times as much of the variance in subor-

dination statements to overall rCI. Thus, a greater input of antagonistic statements will lead to a decrease in overall rCI values, which is supported by previous epigraphic and archaeological studies as discussed below. However, subordination and lineage-based statements also significantly impact the trends we observe. Even though antagonistic sentiments continue to be inscribed throughout the Late and Terminal Classic periods, there is a resurgence in network centralization at the beginning of the ninth-century (ca. 810– 830). As subordination statements begin to increase in frequency near the end of the Late Classic (ca. 751) and lineage statements drop out altogether by the end of the eighth-century ( 790), overall network centrality rebounds according to the input of these stronger and more positively correlated variables. In the early part of the Late Classic, inscriptions were dominated by statements of subordination which contributed to a highly centralized sociopolitical network. However, as the frequency of longdistance bonds between primary and secondary centers declined, the Classic Maya network became increasingly fragmented and reorganized along more weakly centralized kinship lines. Such findings are in line with other archaeological models of political decentralization in the Maya lowlands whereby population increase and nutritional stress fostered a competitive environment among a growing population of lineage heads contending for a limited number of political offices (Fash, 1986; Fash et al., 2004; Fash and Sharer, 1991; Sanders, 1989). This pattern also supports more generalized models of political decentralization that identify the formation of lineage-based alliances when opposition (i.e., to the primary center) diminishes (Fox et al., 1996; Kuper, 1982; Sahlins, 1961). With the rising number of political elites, rulers at primary centers may have had a more difficult time establishing and maintaining control of these populations especially at more distant subsidiary centers, which also could have resulted in increasing


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Fig. 6b. Cross-intersection network map showing the few relationships that are shared between the antagonistic and subordinate networks.

conflict. As these subordinate relationships broke down, the social network reorganized along a more weakly centralized system based on lineage and antagonistic relationships. The most politically fragmented period occurs during the sixteenth k’atun between A.D. 751 and A.D. 771 and is also characterized by the most heterogeneous distribution of epigraphic statements. This period also marks the time of the dramatic war in the Petexbatun region which resulted in many sites being abandoned (Houston, 1993; Inomata, 1997; Martin and Grube, 2000: 62–67). The collapse of the Dos Pilas hegemony had rippling con-

Table 5 Average geographic distance between sites in each of the defined sub-networks. Network

Average distance (km)

Antagonistic Subordinate Diplomatic Lineage

26.16 39.87 30.76 25.97

sequences for adjacent kingdoms as this void left room for other sites to grow and regain their foothold in the political landscape


J.L. Munson, M.J. Macri / Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28 (2009) 424–438 1

Renormalized Centralization Index

0.9 0.8 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.1 0

Fig. 7. Temporal changes in renormalized centralized indices. Analysis of multiple network dynamics focuses on the period from 633 to 830.

Table 6 Multivariate correlation matrix. Values in bold indicate a strong relationship based on the multivariate scatterplot matrix. Antagonistic Antagonistic Diplomatic Lineage Neutral Subordination rCI


0.0806 0.1693 0.0533 0.6321 0.4873


0.3979 0.1920 0.0231 0.2012

0.4440 0.6069 0.3771



0.0279 0.2754


Table 7 Multiple regression analysis model results (n = 10 for all models). Variables Model 1




0.7405 Antagonistic Diplomatic Lineage Neutral Subordination

Model 2

Model 3

Model 4

Model 5

Model 6

0.1210 0.0306 0.0279 0.0361 0.0202




0.7974 0.1047 0.4666 0.3342



0.7100 0.4479 0.3609

0.0994 0.0155 0.0317 0.0169


0.0625 0.0788 0.0343



1.0078 0.3333 0.5719

0.0910 0.0315 0.0283 0.0381


0.0886 0.0267 0.1006



0.5632 0.3045 0.5218

0.1172 0.0200 0.0443 0.0244


0.0450 0.0536 0.0496



0.5253 0.1349 0.4918

0.1237 0.0374 0.0346 0.0249


0.0462 0.0108 0.0468

0.5298 Antagonistic Diplomatic Subordination


0.0701 0.0084 0.0821 0.0318

0.5137 Diplomatic Lineage Subordination



1.1797 0.2410 0.4341 0.3134 0.2649

0.8409 Antagonistic Diplomatic Lineage

Adj. R2


0.1038 0.0193 0.0764 0.0472 0.0252

0.6837 Antagonistic Lineage Subordination


0.1523 0.0729 0.0368 0.0406 0.0912 0.0253

0.7002 Antagonistic Diplomatic Lineage Subordination

Std Error

(Johnston, 1985; Mathews and Willey, 1991). These dynamics are evident by the slight resurgence in network centralization at the beginning of the ninth-century. At this time Ceibal regained its autonomy from Dos Pilas and resumed using its original emblem

glyph. Other centers in the Petexbatun and Pasión regions, including Itzan, Cancuen, and Machaquila also show renewed vitality in erecting monuments, if only for a short time (Mathews and Willey, 1991). Based on our network analysis of the epigraphic record, this


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Fig. 8. Frequency distribution of contextual place-name glyph statements throughout Classic period.

Table 8 Squared ratios of beta-coefficients provide an estimate of the relative contribution of each variable pair.

Antagonistic Lineage Subordination



2.5 3.9


resurgence is associated with a growing frequency of subordination statements supporting the idea that such relationships are key factors in achieving political network centralization. Around this time of renewed political centralization (ca. A.D.), we also find the disappearance of lineage statements and lower frequencies of antagonistic inscriptions, which signals the end of a long period of internal strife and competition. Although there is excellent archaeological data to support the notion that intensified conflict and warfare in the Petexbatun and Pasión regions contributed to the political collapse of Classic Maya kingdoms (Demarest et al., 1997; Inomata, 1995, 1997; O’Mansky and Dunning, 2004; Palka, 1997), this analysis reveals that antagonism was only one factor of several that contributed to Classic Maya network dynamics. The resurgence of subordinate relations during the Terminal Classic period seems to have helped renew, or at best stabilize, a more centralized sociopolitical network; additional archaeological and epigraphic research will help clarify the specific social and material contexts of these political interactions. Social connectivity and political organization in prehistoric networks This network analysis has captured some of the structural and dynamical interactions between Maya centers bearing an emblem glyph during the Classic period. After much endorsement of the dynamic model (Demarest, 1996; Iannone, 2002; Marcus, 1993, 1998), this study uses epigraphic data to identify variable shifts in network centralization and correlates these patterns with specific contextual statements of political affiliation. Marcus’s (1998) dynamic model of the cyclic expansion and contraction of Maya polities supports generalized patterns of network centralization

identified in this study. The major difference from, and an important extension of, her model is that the network approach enables quantitative analysis and graphical display of the complex relationships between a large sample of sites (Marcus, 1998: 62). Network analysis provides methods to evaluate the consequences of node failure, such as the collapse of Dos Pilas-Aguateca and the subsequent reorganization of power on the political landscape. Since these patterns of state expansion and political dissolution are common in numerous early state societies (Marcus, 1998: 60–61), a network study of the relationships and interactions contributing to these processes would provide archaeologists with new tools to study the emergence of social and political complexity. Identifying patterns of social connectivity in the Maya epigraphic record reveals that different types of relationships and interactions contributed to variable forms of network organization. Lineage statements represent important social links that connect local political elites through time and legitimize their status and right to rule. Such strategies were common in the Maya area, not only among Classic dynastic families, but also within commoner household groups practicing ancestor veneration (McAnany, 1995). Although the lineage network represents the most centralized set of linkages in this dataset, this organizing force did not produce highly centralized networks. Rather, the intersection of diverse social and political relationships contributes more to the overall patterns of connectivity and network dynamics. Similar network studies have also identified the crosscutting role of kinship and marriage in the development of banking guilds in Renaissance Florence (Padgett and McLean, 2006). Network analysis facilitates investigation of these crosscutting relationships, which can be immensely beneficial for archaeologists studying the dynamics and complex organization of social, political, and economic systems. Network analysis of these epigraphic data provides archaeologists with a unique opportunity to identify and examine specific social relations and historical events and link them to broader patterns of institutional change. Conclusion This case study demonstrates a new application of social network analysis to archaeological and epigraphic data. Examining the renormalized centralization indices of overlapping longitudinal

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networks facilitates study of the dynamic processes accompanying social and political changes in early state societies. By examining the intersection of these political networks, archaeologists can map the potential flows of power, capital, and knowledge between emerging centers. This study uses the notion of overlapping networks (Mann, 1986) to examine the different social and political interactions between Classic Maya polities. A contextual approach to these network data facilitates analysis of these relationships as they contribute to the organization of Classic Maya society. In this case study we have demonstrated that subordinate relationships contribute the most towards centralized network structure, while increased statements of kinship affiliation set against a backdrop of intense conflict and war correlates with fragmenting and decentralized social networks. Diplomacy is also an important tie between Maya centers, but whether or not these have a significant impact on network centrality is unclear; additional texts from the Early Classic period and continuing advances in epigraphic decipherment will contribute towards more conclusive statements. Social network analysis represents a powerful suite of methods available to archaeologists to examine the connection between patterns of material relatedness and complex social, political, and economic processes involving multiple agents. This approach favors a perspective that examines multiple classes of information and investigates how these entities are connected and intersect. Archaeologists are poised to embrace these methods and make contributions to the study of network dynamics as our datasets often provide robust temporal controls. Moreover, an analytical approach to networks will provide archaeologists with the tools to examine organizational structure and energy and information flows on multiple levels. Future archaeological network studies may also benefit from examining the mixed-level agency between individuals, institutions, and artifacts. Acknowledgments This paper originated as a presentation in the symposium ‘‘Networks in Archaeology” at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Vancouver, B.C. in 2008 organized by Jonathan Scholnick and myself. I am grateful to all the participants and discussants Sander van der Leeuw and Luis Bettencourt for their insights. The comments of Stephen Lansing, Takeshi Inomata, and two anonymous reviewers are much appreciated. Responsibility for the ideas expressed in the final version rests entirely with the authors. References Adams, R.E.W., Brown, W.E., Culbert, T.P., 1981. Radar mapping, archaeology, and ancient maya land use. Science 213 (4515), 1457–1463. Barabási, A.-L., 2002. Linked: The New Science of Networks. Perseus, Cambridge. Barabási, A.-L., 2005. Network theory – the emergence of the creative enterprise. Science 308, 639–641. Beekman, C., 1996. Political boundaries and political structure: the limits of the teuchitlan tradition. Ancient Mesoamerica 7 (1), 135–147. Bell, E.E., Canuto, M.A., Sharer, R.J. (Eds.), 2004. Understanding Early Classic Copan. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia. Bentley, R.A., Shennan, S., 2005. Random copying and cultural evolution. Science 308 (877–879). Berlin, H., 1958. El glifo ‘‘emblema” en las inscripciones Mayas. Journal de la Société des Américanistes 47, 111–119. Borgatti, S.P., 2005. Centrality and network flows. Social Networks 27 (1), 55–71. Borgatti, S.P., Mehra, A., Brass, D.J., Labianca, G., 2009. Network analysis in the social sciences. Social Networks 323, 892–895. Bove, F.J., 1981. Trend surface analysis and the lowland classic maya collapse. American Antiquity 46 (1), 93–112. Braswell, G.E. (Ed.), 2003. The Maya and Teotihuacan: Reinterpreting Early Classic Interaction. University of Texas Press, Austin. Braswell, G.E., Prager, C.M., Bill, C.R., Schwake, S.A., 2004. The rise of secondary states in the southeastern periphery of the maya world. Ancient Mesoamerica 15, 219–233.


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