Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

E. Christian Wells

Keywords

Central America, Cultural heritage management, GIS, Mesoamerica, Settlement patterns

Abstract

The present study examines the spatial relationship between archaeological sites on the island of Roatán, Honduras and their topographical and biophysical location, as well as how these relationships are and continue to be impacted by the island's current socioeconomic context. Despite several studies and explorations conducted on the island's history, archaeology, and geography since the early twentieth century, little is known of its place and role within the larger cultural and socioeconomic spheres of interaction in this region: Mesoamerica and the Intermediate Area. Previous archaeological research has shown that hilltops on Roatán were chosen in prehispanic times for the location of the largest and most prominent sites, and several hypotheses have been put forward to explain the unique location of these sites. Despite the island's potential for addressing questions regarding the culture and history of this poorly understood region of Honduras, Roatán's status as Honduras' top tourist destination has resulted in the altering of its landscape in irreversible ways, including the destruction of archaeological sites. Given this unique situation, site preservation and the study of settlement patterns on Roatán are intricately related, and they both need to be carried out simultaneously if research into the past of this island is to continue, since without immediate site preservation what little we can learn on prehispanic settlement patterns might be lost.

Using data compiled from previous archaeological research on Roatán, as well as data acquired through pedestrian survey carried out during the 2009 season of the University of South Florida (USF)'s Project Roatán, I have developed a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) geodatabase in order to provide a broader perspective on both prehispanic and modern settlement patterns. An analysis of site locations with regards to their topography shows that the majority of sites recorded on Roatán are in fact located on hilltops, an observation which, when complemented with other archaeological and ethnohistoric data from northeast Honduras, suggests a possible ritual importance of these spaces. An analysis of current settlement and urban growth patterns shows the degree to which development has encroached upon previously untouched areas of the island, which has impacted an increasing number of archaeological sites. I analyze the various factors and agents that have resulted in this situation, and highlight the need to carry out archaeological research that has heritage management and site preservation as one of its core priorities. These efforts must address the various components that define the management of archaeological heritage in Roatán and Honduras, including local socioeconomic context, national and international policy and law, as well as the various stakeholders with vested interests in cultural heritage. Due to the lack of adequate structures for managing and preserving archaeological resources on Roatán, I argue that approaches such as community participation and increased engagement from the part of researchers outside of Honduras' heritage management sphere are adequate and realistic short-term solutions to the pressing issue of protecting archaeological sites constantly in danger of being affected or destroyed.

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