Power, production and practice: Technological change in the Late Classic ceramics of Piedras Negras, Guatemala

Arturo Rene Munoz
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Arizona
July, 2006


The Classic Maya site of Piedras Negras is a located at the western edge of El Peten, Guatemala. From 1931 to 1939, and again from 1997 to 2000, the site was subject to investigation, first by a project directed by Linton Sattherwaite of the University of Pennsylvania, and later by a project directed by Stephen Houston and Hector Escobedo. Beginning in about A.D. 650 the ceramics of Piedras began to undergo a period of rapid and profound changes that culminated in the development of a distinct regional polychrome style distinguished by the use of an elaborate resist and resist-reserve technique with few analogs elsewhere in the Maya Lowlands. At most Classic Maya sites, the development of a regional ceramic style involved the elaboration of known and widely practiced decorative techniques, such as positive painting. At Piedras Negras, Guatemala, however, this development was manifested by the creation of a distinct tradition emphasizing the use of an elaborate true resist technique. Because the development of this style was the result of new technological practices, rather than the elaboration of extant styles, we are allowed a unique perspective on material culture change. Rather than invoking rational, deterministic explanations to account for the transformations visible in the Piedras Negras ceramics, change is framed primarily as a social phenomena whose study requires a uniquely historical, social, and cultural point of view.